Christianity, as a religion, stands or falls upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb. In the first gospel sermon, the apostle Peter accentuates the death and resurrection of Christ as central components in the scheme of human redemption (Acts 2:23-32). The resurrection remained the foundational emphasis of Peter’s second recorded sermon (Acts 3:13-15). It was on account of their preaching the resurrection of Christ from the dead that Peter and John were arrested (Acts 4:1-2) and ordered to cease and desist preaching the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). However, immediately upon their release, they continued preaching, “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33).
The resurrection of Jesus from the grave elicited more emphasis by the apostles than we are accustomed to hearing from the pulpit today. It was the keystone upon which Christianity was established, but also upon which Christianity sustains its existence. Many years after the initial preaching of Peter and the other eleven, Paul referred to the resurrection as the very linchpin of Christianity, explaining to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…and if Christ be not raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 17).
Absent the resurrection, Christians are the most pitiable of all men (1 Corinthians 15:13-19); however, if Christ was indeed raised from the dead, Christianity is, without doubt, the only hope of eternal life for mankind. The grave of Confucius remains wholly intact; the resting place of Buddha is still undisturbed; the crypt of Mohammad continues in occupation; even the sepulcher of the patriarch David “is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). The empty tomb belongs uniquely to Jesus Christ and His church.
The truth of His resurrection is the keystone of the believer’s faith. Devoid of the resurrection, Christianity is just another dead religion following the dead philosophies of a dead founder. The resurrection of Jesus is the essential of essentials of the Christian faith. Everything of a spiritual consequence and significance depends upon the empty tomb produced by the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, thus making the resurrection the most important event in human history. As such, one would expect the resurrection to be sufficiently attested by convincing and conclusive evidences.
This article is not intended, by any stretch, to examine all the evidence which exists to authenticate the resurrection of Christ; it is, however, the intent to provide the auditor with seven reasons to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. These seven reasons should be weighed carefully and honestly, allowing the actual evidence to either confirm or deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. The non-Christian reader is encouraged to forego casualness or flippancy while contemplating the seven reasons for believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Eternal destinies are determined by what is believed about Christ; therefore the magnitude of the matter cannot be over-emphasized.
Reason # 1
Although Unexpected, the Resurrection was Prophetically Foretold
In the very early days of Christ’s ministry, He appeared suddenly in the temple as the purifier of iniquity (John 2:13-17; cf. Malachi 3:1-3). When confronted by the Jews demanding a sign of His authority to reprove temple activities, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 2:19).
Though misunderstood by His antagonists as referencing the physical temple in Jerusalem, John (writing years after the event) explains how “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21). The Jewish temple was the accommodative dwelling place of God in the presence of humanity, but as God incarnate, the human body of Jesus became the literal dwelling of God (cf. Colossians 2:9) in the presence of men. The apostle John continued the explanation of Jesus’ early statement, saying, “So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:21-22).
It is interesting that John mentions the Scriptures in this connection. The resurrection of Christ was not some last minute happenstance, but it had been carefully prophesied in the long ages of God’s preparation for the coming Messiah and His appointed appearance in the world and at the cross. An accurate assessment of the Scriptures clearly indicate that the Messiah (Christ) was to be killed, but would then be raised from the dead.
During the first gospel oration, Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-11 as proof that God raised Christ from the dead. The ancient psalm was written by David; but as Peter clarified, the content did not apply to David as “he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn with an oath to seat one of his descendents on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay” (Acts 2:29-31).
The resurrection is vividly displayed in these words. Death is the separation of the human spirit from the human body (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5-7). Although Christ was put to death by the hands of godless men, His “flesh” (i.e. body) was not allowed to suffer corruption or decomposition, nor was His eternal spirit retained in the Hadean realm (i.e. the intermediate state of departed spirits). The psalmist accurately depicts the bodily resurrection of Christ c. 1,000 years before the actual event.
The prophet Isaiah indicated the resurrection c. 700 years before the momentous occasion occurred. In the famed 53rd chapter, the servant of God suffers brutally, being “cut off out of the land of the living” (v. 8). His grave, though initially assigned “with wicked men” (i.e. the two malefactors crucified alongside Christ), was made respectable by “a rich man (i.e. Joseph of Arimathea; cf. Matthew 27:57-60) because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (v. 9).
Though dead and placed in the rich man’s tomb, Isaiah continues the narrative by indicating that the Lord “would prolong His days” (v. 10). As Coffman noted, “For one who was indeed put to death, this is undeniably a prophecy of his resurrection from the dead. By no other means, whatever, could it be said that of one who had poured out his soul unto death that he would ‘prolong his days’” (1990, p. 517).
The prophet Jonah is a remarkable character indeed. Of all the Old Testament prophets, Jonah is singularly distinguished by Christ as an authentic type of Himself. When pressed again by the indignant Pharisees concerning a sign of Jesus’ authority, Christ retorts, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40).
Following his three days and three nights in the belly of the great sea creature, Jonah was expelled to life again (Jonah 2:10). In similar fashion, after three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (i.e. the grave; cf. Psalm 63:9; Ephesians 4:9), Jesus was resurrected to life again. The deliverance of Jonah to life is made the arch-type for the resurrection of Christ from the grave.
As noted in the opening comments of this particular reason, Jesus also foretold His resurrection from the dead. Not only did He mention it to the Jews who harassed Him for a sign, but He often spoke of His impending death, burial and resurrection with His disciples. While descending the mountain following Christ’s glorious transformation before the eyes of Peter, James, and John, He charged them “not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead” (Mark 9:9).
After Peter’s great confession that Jesus was indeed “The Christ of God,” Jesus forbade the apostles to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:20-22; cf. Matthew 16:21). At a later gathering in Galilee, Jesus again foretold of His looming death and resurrection, saying, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:22-23).
Prior to the last week of His life, Jesus took the twelve aside and briefed them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day will be raised up” (Matthew 20:18-19; cf. Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34). At the conclusion of the Last Supper in the upper room, as Jesus and the apostles made their way toward Gethsemane, Jesus announced to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27).
The post-resurrection conversation between Jesus and the two despondent men on the Emmaus road reveals the antiquity of prophecies concerning the resurrection. Because of their lost faith in Him as the Messiah of prophecy, Jesus admonished the men, saying, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27). Here is direct testimony from Jesus claiming the Old Testament contains prophecies of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.
Based upon these accounts, it is certain that the bodily resurrection of Christ was foretold from long before by the prophets of God, and then restated many times by Christ Himself, including a mention of His resurrection on the eve of His arrest and subsequent death. Although unexpected, the resurrection was prophetically foretold.
Reason # 2
A Public Execution Ensured His Death
Before a resurrection is possible, a death must occur. Because of man’s unique constitution of a dichotomy of body and spirit, the Bible uses language which depicts “death” as a “separation.” The word “death” in the NT translates the Greek thanatos. Note the proper definition assigned to this word by Greek scholars Vine and Thayer:
thanatos – a. the separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material
part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…
b. the separation of man from God… “Death” is the opposite of life; it never denotes
non-existence. As spiritual life is “conscious existence in communion with God,” so spiritual “death”
is “conscious existence in separation from God (W. E. Vine, 1996, Vine’s Complete Expository
Dictionary, p. 149).
thanatos – 1. properly, “the death of the body,” i.e., “that separation (whether natural or violent) of
the soul from the body by which the life on earth is ended. 2. metaphorically, “ the loss of that life
which alone is worthy of the name,” i.e., the misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on
earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body. 3. “the miserable state of the wicked
dead in hell” (J. H. Thayer, 1958, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
Although denied by the Sadducees (cf. Acts 23:8), the Old Testament clearly evinces that the ancient people understood the dual composition of man, accurately distinguishing the body of man from the spirit within which separates from the body at death, the spirit continuing consciousness in another realm of existence (see Genesis 35:18; I Kings 17:20-22; Psalms 88:10-11; Job 34:14, 15; Ecclesiastes 12:7).
The New Testament reveals the same awareness (Luke 8:40-55; James 2:26). Jesus, of course, understood the difference (Luke 16:19-31), committing His own spirit into the hands of the Father (Luke 23:46), and even Steven, the first recorded Christian to be martyred, fully appreciated the difference in the body and the spirit, beseeching Christ in prayer, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59). Though the body of Steven fell silent in death, his conscious spirit was prepared to depart and be with the Lord.
The dead body – whether entombed or not – slowly decomposes back into dust from whence it was originally created (Genesis 2:7; cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7), but the conscious spirit returns to God. The word “resurrection” translates the Greek anastasis – from ana, “up,” and histemi, “to cause to stand” (Vine, 1996, p. 41). It is the body that “lies down” at death, and hence it is the body that “stands up” in the resurrection. The presence of the immortal spirit is the determining factor as to whether the body is rendered inert or not.
When Jesus was summoned to the house where the daughter of Jairus lay dead, He found a gathering of mourners who were lamenting with loud weeping and wailing. Luke describes how at the command given by Jesus for the girl to “arise,” that “her spirit returned, and she rose immediately” (Luke 8:55; cf. James 2:26). The body absent the spirit was dead, but when the spirit returned, the body resumed life.
Critics of the bodily resurrection of Christ have labored vainly to explain the empty tomb as something other than a resurrection. One of the proposals is that Christ did not actually die, but merely swooned in near lifelessness until the coolness of the tomb revived Him. This hypothesis calls the integrity of the Roman executioners into question, along with the Jewish authorities who stood by, watching the drama of the day unfold.
The public trial, flogging, and crucifixion of Christ ensured His death. The Romans were experts in the art of torture and execution. The condemned would not escape death as ordered by the ranking Roman officer – in the case of Jesus, the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. The execution of Jesus was conducted by a detail of soldiers under the watchful eye of a Roman Centurion, i.e., a Captain of 100 soldiers (Mark 15:44-45; Luke 23:47). To allow a prisoner to escape was to forfeit one’s own life in his place.
The death of Jesus was hastened by the terrible scourging ordered by Pilate (Matthew 27:26). While the Jews were limited to 40 lashes (2 Corinthians 11:24), the Romans were not so bound. The instrument of scourging was a three-thong plaited leather whip, studded with pieces of bone, glass, metal, or other celebrated items of mutilation. The pitiful victim was stripped of clothing, tied rigidly to a whipping frame, and mercilessly beaten from the upper back to the lower extremities of the legs.
The Roman flagellation was notoriously brutal. As prestigious scholars have admitted, “In many cases it was itself fatal. It usually preceded crucifixion. It was so terrible that even Domitian was horrified by it. Women were exempted. We know little about the details. The number of strokes was not prescribed. It continued until the flesh hung down in bloody shreds” (Kittel, 1964, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 517).
In an article which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. W. Edwards wrote: “The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical” (p. 1458).
Following the brutal scourging which literally left Jesus torn to shreds, He was publicly crucified outside Jerusalem at the “place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull” (Matthew 27:33). The Bible describes Jesus as having been nailed to the cross (John 20:25; cf. Colossians 2:14). Because the Romans were not always uniform in their execution practices, some have attempted to discredit the Bible by protesting that “nails” were never used by the Romans in crucifixion. This line of argumentation was silenced in 1968 when the remains of a crucified man were discovered in Jerusalem. A seven inch metal spike was still lodged through the man’s heel with a piece of olive wood firmly attached (Tzaferis, pp. 47, 52).
Furthermore, the Jewish historian, Josephus, describes how – during the height of the Jerusalem siege – the Romans were apprehending “every day 500 Jews, nay, some days they caught more.” To serve as a broker of surrender for the remaining inhabitants, Titus ordered these to be crucified. “So the soldiers out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies” (War of the Jews, 5.11.1).
Regarding Jesus, He would have been laid down upon the cross with His arms outstretched and nails driven through the wrist where the radius and ulna connect. The oft pictured wound in the palms of Jesus is inaccurate; the weight of the body could not be sustained by nails driven through the palms. The Greek cheiras (hands, John 20:27) includes “the arm” (Liddell, 1996); “Since it exerts the power of the arm, the arm may also be called the cheir” (1964, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).
From the Old Testament comes this picturesque description: “And they put bracelets on the hands of the women…” (Ezekiel 23:42). It is obvious from this passage that the wrist or lower arm was considered part of the “hand.” When Peter had been arrested and “bound with two chains,” an angel awoke him in the night, “And his chains fell off his hands” (Acts 12:7). These chains would have been fastened with clasps around the wrists, demonstrating that the wrist was commonly accepted as the “hand” in those days.
Jesus was nailed to the horizontal crossbar through the wrists, and His feet securely fastened to the upright beam. The nail through the wrists would have crushed the median nerve, inducing blinding pain similar to when the “funny bone” (lit. the ulna nerve) of the elbow is struck. The Romans excelled in inflicting tortuous punishment. The anguish of crucifixion was so intense that a new word was coined to describe it: excruciating. “Literally, excruciating means ‘out of the cross’” (Strobel, 1998, p. 264).
Death by crucifixion normally occurred over the course of two or three days. The method was designed to precipitate a prolonged, agonizingly slow death. The final cause of death was asphyxiation. As the body continued to weaken, the victim was unable to push up on the feet to enable the lungs to fill with oxygen. Lacking oxygen, the body slowly poisons itself, leading to death.
However, because the execution of Christ and the two malefactors was taking place on the eve of the Jewish Passover (John 18:28; 19:14), the Jews requested that the legs of the condemned might be broken and the bodies removed (John 19:31). The barbarous act of breaking the legs would hasten the conclusion as the victims would immediately lose the ability to push up with the legs in order to breathe. Death would commence quickly.
Although the legs of the other two were broken, it was determined that Jesus was already dead, and thus His legs were not broken, fulfilling the Scriptures which foretold, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken” (John 19:33, 36). Yet acting without official orders, one of the soldiers thrust his spear into the side of Jesus, fulfilling another prophecy which declared, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (John 19:37). The thrust of the spear was the soldier’s assurance that Jesus was dead. Entering the side of Jesus from below, the spear point would have sliced upward through the heart/lung cavity of the upper torso. Even if Christ had not previously been scourged and crucified, the spear in the side would have killed Him.
In recording the event, John says, “…immediately blood and water came out” (19:34). Because of the trauma inflicted by crucifixion, a clear fluid known as “pericardial effusion” would have collected around the heart and “pleural effusion” around the lungs. Based upon the eye-witness testimony of John who would not have known why “blood and water came out,” it is evident that the spear pierced the heart/lung cavity. There is absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.
The Roman soldiers were trained in the skill of killing. Whether by slow, tortuous means like crucifixion, or by impaling the victim with the point of a spear or sword in order to achieve immediate death; knowing how to kill was their primary occupation. Having been condemned to die, these nefarious dispensers of death did not allow Jesus to escape with His life. Their integrity as disciplined soldiers for the Roman Empire ensured death for Jesus, and the fact that His execution was conducted publicly, before the eyes of the people and the rulers who stood watching (Luke 23:35), as well as all who were passing by (Mark 15:29), guaranteed that Jesus was dead.
His death is further evidenced by the appeal made by Joseph to Pilate, requesting permission to take the body of Jesus from the cross (Matthew 27:57-58). Pilate, ever careful to avoid a possible ruse, summoned the centurion and inquired if Jesus was indeed already dead. Receiving an affirmative reply from the centurion in charge of the execution, Pilate granted Joseph permission to take possession of the corpse (Mark 15:44-45). Every link in the Roman chain of execution was satisfied that Jesus was dead. A public execution ensured His death.
Reason # 3
In Spite of Being Sealed and Guarded, the Tomb was Empty
One of the more interesting preliminary developments of the resurrection story is narrated by Matthew. On the day after the crucifixion, “the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together with Pilate, and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again’” (27:62-63). Here is evidence that the prophecy of the resurrection uttered by Jesus (cf. John 2:19) was well known, and though it was unexpected by His disciples, Jesus’ enemies anticipated the possibility.
To protect against a claimed resurrection, the Jews requested that Pilate, “give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead’” (Matthew 27:64). Pilate accommodated the Jewish request, “And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone” (27:66).
As Coffman sagely stated, “In all history, where is there another case of a posted guard and sealed tomb to prevent reports of a resurrection? True, graves have been sealed and guarded many times, but never before or since for such an ostensible purpose as this” (1974, p. 505).
The actual security of the tomb began with the design of the large stone against the entrance. Due to the discovery of first-century grave sites by archaeologists, the description given by the four Gospel accounts harmonizes well with excavated tombs that have a slanting ramp upon which the huge disk shaped stone was rolled downward to the low tomb entrance. Once in place, a smaller stone was used to secure the disk.
Although it was relatively easy to get the large disk to roll down the ramp, it was a much more difficult task to reverse the stone and roll it away from the entrance. Working from inside the tomb as proposed by the “swoon” theory, it would have been impossible for one man – or even a couple of men – to roll the huge disk over the smaller wedging stone to facilitate an exit from the sepulcher. As stated previously, even a large group of women knew they would be unable to budge the stone in order to gain entrance to complete the burial anointing (Mark 16:3), and based upon excavated tombs, it would require the strength of several men to roll the stone back up the grooved ramp way.
The tomb was likely sealed by stretching a rope across the stone door, fixing the ends with wax or clay stamped with the official seal of the Roman government. It was a serious crime to break the seal. A decree from the time of Claudius Caesar made it a capital offense to remove a corpse without official authorization.
The precise location of a tomb sealed in this manner would have been recorded by the executives in order to avoid any issue of fraudulent dealings; thus the theory that everyone simply went to the wrong grave site in search of Jesus is preposterous. Besides, Jesus was laid in a new tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, “a prominent member of the Council” (Mark 15:43); a tomb “which he had hewn out in the rock” (Matthew 27:60). Joseph did not suddenly forget the location of his own personal tomb.
With the body of Jesus sealed inside Joseph’s tomb, a detachment of guards was posted. These soldiers were charged with guarding the tomb, protecting the body of Jesus. Failure to complete the task would result in the forfeiture of their own lives (cf. Acts 12:18-19). Discipline of this nature ensures the dependability of guards.
Despite being sealed and guarded, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. The authorities had done everything in their power to thwart an empty tomb, but all to no avail. Early on Sunday morning, a group of women arrived at the tomb of Jesus only to discover the stone rolled away and the grave empty (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:1-6; Luke 24:1-7). In each account, the women were the first to find the tomb empty, being informed by angels that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The fact that women are reported as the first witnesses is compelling evidence that no forger penned the narratives. The testimony of women was of no value in the Hebrew culture; therefore, if written to be persuasive evidence to first-century Jews, a story teller would not have invented women as the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. The veracity of the account is actually vindicated by the embarrassing arrival of women to discover the empty tomb. Again, no story teller would have made this unseemly claim.
If the independent detailed narrative by the previous three writers is not sufficient evidence, the apostle John provides convincing eye-witness testimony describing the empty tomb. Having been informed by the women, the majority of the apostles believed the report to be “nonsense” (Luke 24:11), but Peter and John made haste to the tomb. Although the body of Jesus was no longer present, John describes how the undisturbed grave clothes remained conspicuously in place (John 20:1-7).
This was no grave robbing! Who ever heard of a corpse being taken, yet leaving the mummy wrappings completely intact with no visible means of having extracted the body? The credibility of this evidence convinced John that the Lord had indeed risen from the tomb (20:8). John’s eyewitness testimony offers compelling and credible evidence that the tomb was found empty.
In addition to the disciples’ testimony of the empty tomb stands the fact that nobody in that age was claiming the tomb still held the body of Jesus. No record exists of any rebuttal ever being made by the Jews or the Romans that the body of Jesus remained confined to the grave. The question has always been, “What happened to the body?” If the authorities of the day never questioned the empty tomb, certainly we can rest assured that despite being sealed and guarded, the tomb was empty.
Reason # 4
Written Testimony of Eyewitnesses Who Saw Jesus Alive
The story of the resurrection does not end with the empty tomb. Over the course of “forty days,” Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). The evidence of such appearances is contained in the explicit details contained within the written testimony of eyewitnesses. In addition to these eyewitness accounts, further testimony describes multiple appearances of Jesus to a host of others.
According to Mark’s testimony, Mary of Magdala was the first to witness Jesus alive (16:9). John added more detail, describing how Jesus appeared to her as she wept near the empty tomb (John 20:11-17). Mary announced the news to John and some others, saying, “I have seen the Lord” (11:18). The next to witness Jesus alive was a group of women who met Him as they hurried to report the news of the empty tomb. When greeted warmly by Jesus, they “took hold of His feet and worshipped Him.” Jesus encouraged them to not be afraid, but to “go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me” (Matthew 28:8-10).
Jesus would later sternly chastise the apostles “for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14). Again, no forger of that day would have dared to cast women in such favorable light while denigrating the men – the commonality of such demeaning in present day entertainment venues (e.g. movies, sitcoms, advertisements, etc.) is certainly no commentary on the attitudes of first-century Palestinians.
Luke recounts the appearance of Jesus to two men traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The description of Jesus appearing in an unrecognized form while discussing the events of the day and then making Himself known to the men during supper before vanishing from their sight adds corroborating details that bespeak of a new life for Jesus that is beyond the limitations of His earlier existence (Luke 24:13-31; cf. Mark 16:12-13). The reaction of these men in recovering the seven miles to Jerusalem at such a late hour is also what one would expect in view of their claim to have seen Jesus alive again.
John provides eyewitness testimony of Jesus appearing to himself and nine other apostles in the upper room that same night. Even though the “doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst,” allowing them to inspect His hands and His side (John 20:19-20). John relates another appearance a week later in the same room, but this time Thomas was present with the other ten (20:26-29).
John further testifies about Jesus appearing to seven of the apostles while they were out fishing. Having caught nothing all night, a stranger on shore calls out to the men, telling them to cast their nets on the “right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” When the net was suddenly full of fish, John identified the stranger, saying, “It is the Lord” (John 21:1-7). John knew that no one but Jesus could announce where to catch fish (cf. Luke 5:1-11).
Swiftly returning to shore, the seven men enjoyed a breakfast of fish and bread with Jesus by the Sea of Galilee. Concluding his narrative of this appearance, John testified, “This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:14).
Matthew relates the appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee as promised. It was during this appearance that the Apostolic Commission was ordered (28:16-20). Mark and Luke record how Jesus instructed the men, and then ascended into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:4-11). The four gospels offer abundant testimony from those who saw Jesus alive; however, some are wont to dismiss this evidence on the basis that these were all friends and acquaintances of Jesus who might have colluded together to purport a resurrection hoax.
The favorable eyewitness testimony of friends will always raise suspicions of deceit, but in the case of Jesus, it wasn’t only His friends who claim to have seen Him alive. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee of Pharisees (Acts 26:5); a man who had done “many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (26: 9). He had cast his vote against Steven and stood by as he was stoned to death for the cause of Christ (Acts 7:58; 8:1; cf. 26:10). He arrested Christians, punished them, relentlessly pursuing them wherever they were found (Acts 26:10-11). Saul was an enemy of Jesus.
But it happened that while Saul was seeking more Christians in Damascus, the Lord Jesus appeared to Him (Acts 9:1-6). Years later, going by the name Paul, he was seized in the Jewish temple and recounted the story of Jesus appearing to him on the Damascus road (Acts 22:6-11). Paul also described a conversation with Jesus that occurred while he was praying (22:17-21). While testifying before Agrippa, Paul rehearsed the appearance of Jesus on the Damascus road again (Acts 26:12-18).
Luke records that Jesus spoke to Paul while he was in Corinth (Acts 18:9). And during one of Paul’s early confinements in Jerusalem, Luke relates an occasion where Jesus stood at Paul’s side and encouraged him (Acts 23:11). Paul defended his apostleship by asking, “Have I not seen the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1). This first-hand testimony of a sworn enemy of Jesus corroborates the testimony of those examined previously who were His friends; but Paul was not finished.
In demonstrating the overwhelming facts of the resurrection to the Corinthian church, Paul stated, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Here we have the direct personal testimony of one who initially sought out and killed those who simply believed in the resurrection of Christ, but who now boldly confesses, “He appeared to me.” But Paul goes even further, providing incredibly influential testimony of specific individuals and groups of people who saw Jesus following His resurrection, and he is writing this at a time when the witnesses were still alive and could be approached for examination. This is the very reason Paul provides their names. He is inviting skeptics to examine the witnesses personally. Noteworthy is the fact that not one witness of the resurrection is ever recorded as changing or backing down from the claim that they saw Jesus alive.
The resurrection of Jesus was confirmed by literally hundreds of individual witnesses in the first-century. The written testimony of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive is but a smidgen of the evidence that existed originally. There were multiple appearances to numerous people, and several of the instances are reported by more than one writer. The book of Acts is littered with individual testimony to the fact that “God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 3:15; cf. 2:24, 32; 3:26; 4:10; 5:30; etc., etc.).
So much empirical evidence cannot be dismissed. If all the witnesses named in the New Testament were called to testify before a court, with each witness allotted a mere fifteen minutes of individual testimony, and continuing the hearing around the clock with no recesses of any kind, the hearing would begin early on Monday morning and would not conclude until Friday evening! If mandatory death sentences may be determined in courtrooms today based upon only a fraction of the eyewitness testimony as may be called to confirm the resurrection of Christ from the grave, just how strong is the case for life concerning Jesus Christ?
It is in the court of human hearts where the decision must be made today concerning whether Jesus rose from the dead or not; but the decision should not be made hastily without a thorough examination of the evidence, for the sentence of life or death is an eternal one. Why should one believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? One good reason is the written testimony of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive.
Reason # 5
The Amazing Transformation of the Apostles and Others
Everything about Jesus was so dissimilar from what was customary in Judaism that even the closest companions of Jesus found it difficult to believe He was all that He claimed to be. The core group of men who eventually became His apostles to the world were often rebuked by Christ for their lack of faith (Matthew 8:26; cf. 14:31; 16:8; Luke 12:28). Even the Lord’s half-brothers – James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) – “did not believe in Him” (John 7:5).
The consensus of scholarly opinion is that the New Testament epistles of James and Jude were written by the half-brothers of Jesus. The letter of Jude opens, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.” Although initially skeptical of Jesus and His seemingly eccentric claims, at least these two brothers were changed in their opinion of Jesus. What induced this transformation?
In defending the resurrection of Christ to the church in Corinth, Paul related how the Lord Jesus “appeared to James” (1 Corinthians 15:7). Despite his earlier cynicism, James became a “pillar” in the infant church (Galatians 2:9; cf. Acts 15:13ff). The post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His brother must have been the catalyst to his acceptance of Christianity.
The apostles eventually came to believe Jesus was the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy (Matthew 16:13-20), but they retained a common Jewish view of the Messiah that envisioned an earthly kingdom which restored the fortunes of Israel as experienced under the Davidic and Solomonic dominions. The apostles, therefore, often found themselves envious of the greater positions of authority they imagined would appear, igniting heated debates concerning which of them was to be accounted “greatest” (Luke 22:24; cf. Matthew 18:1-5; 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37; 10:41-45; Luke 9:46-48).
Their unscriptural view of the Messiah resulted in a complete loss of faith in Jesus following the crucifixion. On the night of His arrest, “all the disciples left Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). From that point onward, their aspirations regarding Jesus began to seriously wane. Subsequent to His death and entombment, the disciples of Jesus lost all confidence that He was the Messiah, because they believed anyone who was crucified was accursed of God (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23).
The two despondent men on the Emmaus road provide eloquent testimony concerning the turbulent emotions of all the disciples. After describing the current events involving Jesus, they lamented, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). As Wayne Jackson noted, “They had entertained the common messianic conviction that he would overthrow Rome and reestablish Israel’s dream of a revived monarchy” (2011, p. 136). Jesus admonished these men for being “slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).
The apostles also received a stern censure from Jesus on account of “their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14). Even on the mountain in Galilee where the Lord had arranged a meeting (Matthew 28:7), while some of the apostles “worshipped Him,” unnamed others “were doubtful” (28:17). These men were the closest companions of Jesus, but throughout their association with Him, they are presented as continually weak in faith and wishy-washy in loyalty.
But then an amazing transformation occurs. After meeting with Jesus over the course of forty days (Acts 1:1-4), and witnessing Him ascend into heaven (1:9) while two angels appear offering a sobering promise of a future return (1:10-11), these same men are witnessed abandoning normal Jewish life, embarking upon a public ministry that is founded upon a very unique message – Jesus is the Messiah of God who was put to death on the cross, was resurrected to life on the third day, and we are witnesses to these facts.
While the resurrection was the foundation of the apostles’ doctrine, the proof of the event was their own testimony as eyewitnesses (Acts 2:32; 315; 5:32; 10:39; etc.). These men went everywhere preaching that Christ had been raised from the dead, insisting that the Old Testament prophets foretold the event (cf. Acts 10:42-43). The duration of their preaching the bodily resurrection of Christ from the grave is not dated in weeks or months, but the apostles preached for years, even decades, spanning the remainder of their lives. Not one apostle can be demonstrated as having ever recanted the testimony that they had seen Jesus alive, even while facing severe torture and certain death.
The apostle James was the first to die for the Lord’s cause (Acts 12:1-2). He was put to death by Herod Agrippa I, but there was no withdrawal by James regarding the resurrection of Jesus. Nothing would have satisfied the enemies of Christ more than a retraction of the resurrection message, but try as they might by utilizing every tortuous device and threat of death, the eyewitnesses were unrelenting in proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
These men gained nothing by their preaching that is commonly considered important from the human standpoint. They gained no wealth, no lands, no prestige, or any other thing valued by man; rather, the apostles suffered a life of hardships, receiving from men harsh imprisonments, flagellations, and death. Why did these men give the remainder of their lives to preaching the resurrection of Christ when previously they were inconsistent in their faith, even fleeing into the darkness when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:50)?
The only plausible answer is these men were telling the truth! They were absolutely positive they had seen Jesus put to death, buried, but then appear alive again bearing the proof that it was Him in His hands, feet, and side (John 20:19-29; Luke 24:38-39). It is a well known fact that men will often die for what they believe to be the truth (as in the case of Muslims dying for Allah based upon the teachings of Muhammad), but the apostles were in a position of knowing whether or not their own statements were true or false. They did not simply believe the reports of others – in fact, they refused to believe in the resurrection on the word of others alone (Mark 16:9-11, 14).
The apostles had to see for themselves; and after many appearances over the period of forty days, threats of punishment and death issued no consequence to the message they preached. These men died claiming to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. Critics have proposed that Jesus faked death in order to deceive these men into defending the resurrection; but where is the evidence? The idea that Jesus could have suffered all that was imposed upon Him and then pretended death in a desperate subterfuge to fake a resurrection is a crass proposal indeed.
Accepting – in theory – that Jesus could have been thrashed mercilessly by a Roman scourging, suffering a mutilated backside and immense loss of blood; that nails could be driven through His hands and feet; that His arms would have been dislocated from His shoulders by the weight of His body pulling downward on the cross (cf. Psalm 22:14); that He would have suffered from hypovolemic shock and respiratory acidosis; that a spear was plunged into His heart and lungs, but somehow He managed to survive, existing inside the tomb three days and three nights without medical care or even anything to eat or drink, and by some means freeing Himself from the tightly bound grave wrappings (John 19:40), but doing so in a way that the wrappings appeared undisturbed (John 20:3-8); and then somehow removing the huge stone that sealed the tomb (a stone so large that five or more women knew they could not move it (Mark 16:3), and once opened, that He could have evaded the sentry of guards standing by; the question begs to be asked: What kind of resurrected man would have emerged?
It is not a matter of Jesus simply showing up alive after being presumed dead. The apostles watched the horrible ordeal of death unfold at the cross; they saw the spear thrust into His side; they witnessed the lifeless corpse prepared for burial and placed into the tomb, and if Jesus suddenly emerged from the tomb on the third day suffering the intense pain that the human body normally experiences for weeks or even months after serious wounds like those inflicted upon Jesus, the disciples would not have been rejoicing over a victorious resurrection, but they would have been nursing a weak, pitiful, traumatized, near death patient back to health; and they would have been doing so for many weeks.
The repeated appearances of Jesus for forty days guaranteed that He was alive and well, requiring no medical attention though still exhibiting the open wounds. It has been alleged that the resurrection of Christ was not bodily, but only spiritual. The first point of rebuttal to such an absurd allegation is: What happened to the body in the tomb? The empty tomb was not denied even by the authorities in charge, but stands as a dramatic witness that the resurrection of Christ was a bodily resurrection.
Furthermore, Jesus invited the apostles to touch Him, saying, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:38-39). Many years afterward, the apostle John stresses this very evidence as He continued touting Jesus as raised from the dead. In opening the epistle, 1 John, he writes, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you…” (1:1-3).
The apostles preached a victorious Christ resurrected in bodily form. It is preposterous to think that if Jesus appeared alive only in a broken and near death state that these men would have been induced to begin a worldwide proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy and that God had raised Him from the dead, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is the Son of God. These men did not go to their deaths for preaching a mere escape from the jaws of death by a pitifully abused friend, but they preached Jesus was raised from death by God to never die again.
Regarding the Lord’s appointment of Saul to the apostleship (Romans 1:1-6), we have even a more remarkable transformation than witnessed in the twelve. As previously noted, Saul was an enemy of both Jesus and the resurrection; that is until the Lord appeared to Him, too (Acts 9:1-19). Within a matter of days, he begins proclaiming Jesus in the Jewish synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). What brought about this dramatic change? Paul answers, “He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9).
Because of his violent past against Christianity, Paul never considered himself as more deserving than any other Christian (cf. Ephesians 3:1-8). Instead, he labored all the more, diligent about the task appointed him by the resurrected Christ of preaching the gospel to both Jew and Gentile (Acts 26:14-20). However, on account of his preaching the resurrection, the self-acknowledged persecutor of Christianity suddenly became the persecuted apostle of Christ.
How much did Paul suffer for preaching the bodily resurrection of Christ? As a servant of Christ, Paul explained his sufferings “in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was ship-wrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers in the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Here we have a man who at first hated the church of Christ, enjoying the rank and privilege due an officer of the court sent to arrest, punish, and even put to death believers in the resurrected Christ, but suddenly he relinquishes his Jewish position and authority, joining the side of the infidels…who could believe it? Yet his own personal testimony appears time after time, not only in the writings of Luke recorded in the book of Acts, but throughout the Epistles written by Paul’s own hand or dictated by an amanuensis. Paul went to his death in Rome preaching the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
In brief summary, the half-brothers of Jesus, the twelve apostles, and even Saul of Tarsus, the whip against the Way, all demonstrated a transformation of faith that apart from the truth of the resurrection of Jesus has no plausible explanation. Either these men saw Christ alive, retaining the visible proof of His resurrection from the dead, or there is no viable rationalization for their conduct. The eyewitnesses were all – to a man – changed from their former way of thinking. Christ became the center of their world. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is evinced by the amazing transformation of the apostles and others.
Reason # 6
Jewish Christians Changed Their Day of Worship
The Law of Moses had been in effect for c. 1500 years at the time of Jesus. During those years, the nation of Israel was under commandment to observe the Sabbath day as a day of “complete rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:1-3). It was through Moses that God made the Sabbath known to Israel (Nehemiah 9:13-14), being inaugurated in the wilderness of Sinai “as a sign between Me and them” (Ezekiel 20:10-12; cf. Exodus 31:12-18).
God acknowledged the reason why the Sabbath was to be observed by Israel, saying it was a day for them to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, but that He had “brought them out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15). Thus the Jewish Sabbath was a day of reflection on the deliverance power of God.
The faithful remnant of Israel strived hard to be obedient to the laws given by God through Moses; however, there were some who despised the Sabbath as a day of wasted opportunity, costing them precious material gain through deceitful trading practices. Through the prophet Amos, God spoke of those who complained, “When will the new moon be over, so that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, to make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest scales…” (Amos 8:5).
The Lord answered their question, saying, “It will come about in that day…that I will make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight” (8:9). The only day ever recorded that fits this description is the day of Christ’s death upon the cross (Matthew 27:45; cf. Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45). God condemned the unfaithfulness of Israel through the prophet Hosea, warning, “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her festal assemblies” (Hosea 2:11).
With these things in mind, it becomes very interesting to notice the great change which occurs among Jews who became Christians. All the apostles of Christ were of Jewish descent. Paul categorized himself as “a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion” (Acts 26:5). These men had observed the Sabbath all of their lives; however, following the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, these Jewish men started a religious movement that observed the first day of the week as a day of remembrance (Acts 2:42; cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-33; 16:1-2).
The apostle Paul addressed the end of the Sabbath, encouraging Christians not to succumb to judges regarding “food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16-17). Does Paul not recognize the end of all these things in accordance with God’s words spoken through Hosea (cf. 2:11)? Jews resistant to Christ brought Paul before the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, charging him, saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13). The law called for men to worship on the Sabbath. These Jews did not denounce Paul for not worshipping God, but for worshipping “contrary to the law.”
When Jesus came forth from the tomb on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9), a great change was enacted by God. The bodily resurrection was the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 1:1-4). The hope of Israel had looked back through the keeping of the Sabbath to the physical deliverance of God’s people from bondage in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15), but following the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, a new spiritual hope in God had arisen.
The shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross became the means by which sinful man could be redeemed from the bondage of sin and death (1 Peter 1:17-21; cf. Revelation 1:4-5). It was no longer physical deliverance from slavery in Egypt that gave man hope, but hope was now realized though the shedding of Christ’s blood by which sins are forgiven. It is by this hope that we are saved (Romans 8:24; cf. 1 Peter 1:3; Colossians 1:22-23). This is the message Paul often preached, claiming though Christ “everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses (Acts 13:26-39).
The resurrection vindicated Jesus from the charges of blasphemy as alleged by the Jews, and since the resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, the first day, and not the Sabbath, became the day of Christian remembrance. The first day of the week appears prominently in the development of Christianity. Consider these points:
1) Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week.
2) He made several appearances that same first day of the week.
3) He appeared to the eleven apostles on the following first day of the week.
4) Pentecost and the beginning of the church occurred on the first day of the week.
5) Years later, the church still assembled to break bread on the first day of the week.
6) Paul issued orders for the church to collect offerings on the first day of the week.
7) It was on the Lord’s Day that John received the final revelation of Jesus Christ.
Modern day Sabbatarians reject the first day of the week as being equated with the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10, but the belief that it did refer to the first day of the week is long standing in Christian literature. A letter from Ignatius to the Magnesians (c. 105-115 A.D.) states: “…no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death” (9).
A brief excerpt by Clement of Alexandria (c. 194 A.D.) identifies the term “Lord’s day” as a reference to the day of resurrection, not the Jewish Sabbath. Clement described the one who “keeps the Lord’s day” as “glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself” (Ante-Nicene Fathers II, 545).
Near the end of the second-century, Tertullian discussed at length the variance between Christians, Jews, and Pagans, noting the days each observed for worship. Concerning the practice of Christians, he made the statement, “By us, to whom Sabbaths are strange…” He continued by addressing the observance of the Pagans, that they kept “Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even if they had known them, would they have shared with us…for to the heathens each festive day occurs but once annually: you [Christians] have a festive day every eighth day” (ANF III, 70). The first day of the week was designated the Lord’s Day because it marked His triumphant resurrection from the dead. Jesus spent the entirety of the Jewish Sabbath sealed inside the tomb, but on the Lord’s Day, He rose victorious from the grave.
Literally speaking, it was Jesus who began the observance of the first day of the week; the Holy Spirit subsequently concurred in observing the day (Pentecost always fell upon the first day of the week; Leviticus 23:16). Afterwards, the church – under leadership of the chosen apostles – continually honored the first day through an assembly of worship in which the Lord’s Table was eaten in remembrance of Christ (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-21).
Another ancient writing concerning early Christianity is called the Didache (c. 60-120 A.D.). It reads: “But on the Lord’s day after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure” (7:14:1). The Lord’s Day is clearly Sunday, the first day of the week on which the church met for worship.
Note one more piece of evidence from c. A.D. 150: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the country gather together in one place. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president teaches and urges us to imitate these good things. Then we all rise together and pray. When our prayer is ended, bread, wine and water are brought, and the president offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen” (Justin Martyr, Apology, Part II).
The resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week was brilliantly depicted in the Jewish wave-sheaf offering. The law enacted by God regarding the wave-sheaf states: “When you enter the land which I am going to give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11). This event occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which began with the Passover; the very time Jesus died and was resurrected.
That the ancient wave-sheaf offering represented the resurrection of Christ is made clear by the apostle Paul who wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
The wave-sheaf offering, as arranged by God, typified the resurrection of Christ and the beginning of the church (Pentecost marked the beginning of the wheat harvest – always occurring on the first day of the week; cf. Leviticus 23:16). The wave-sheaf revealed new grain rising from the old kernel, promising the continued sustenance of God’s people. The observance of the wave-sheaf on the first day of the week following Passover was the most striking symbol of the resurrection found in Judaism. The resurrection of Christ represented new life arising from the old body, promising the continued sustenance of God’s people.
Christ had announced to His disciples concerning the resurrection, “because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). The wave-sheaf of first fruit being raised to God on the first day of the week had signified throughout the duration of Judaism that Christ would be raised from the dead on the first day of the week. When the event occurred, Jewish believers abandoned the observance of the Sabbath as forecast in the Old Law (Hosea 2:11), inaugurating the Lord’s Day as the day of worship and holy convocation.
The confirmed resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week is the only plausible explanation for why pious Jews would abandon the weekly observance of the Sabbath, meeting together instead as the assembled body of Christ for the purpose of remembering the death of Jesus on the day He was raised. The resurrection of Jesus is the only warrant justifying Jewish Christians changing their day of worship.
(For additional evidence that Sunday is the day of Christian worship, please see article on this site: The Day of Christian Worship).
Reason # 7
The Existence of Christianity Vindicates the Resurrection
Utilizing every conceivable means within his limited power, Satan tried desperately to squelch the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus. It is often alleged by critics that there were no eyewitnesses to the resurrection, i.e., no one literally viewed Christ exiting the tomb. However, this may or may not be true. It is conceded that the list of witnesses examined under Reason # 5 where not eyewitnesses of the actual resurrection, but these simply affirmed that they had encountered Jesus alive following His resurrection.
However, it should be recalled that guards were present at the sealed entrance to the tomb. While the exact number of guards is not known, the indication from Scripture is that there were at least three, probably more. These guards were present at the time of the actual resurrection. Although they may have missed seeing the actual rise of Jesus out of the sealed tomb, they were eyewitnesses to who broke the seal and removed the stone from the entrance.
Matthew records the occurrence of an earthquake, and then the appearance of “an angel of the Lord” who descended and rolled away the stone (28:2-3). Having witnessed the angel beaming with radiant white light, the usual fearless guards trembled in terror while a severe state of psychological “rigor mortis” overcame them. These soldiers were present and were eyewitnesses to the supernatural opening of the tomb.
They remained at the tomb as the women arrived, finding the sepulcher already opened and vacant. The guards arrested no one, but “some of the guard” returned to the city and reported “all that had happened” to the chief priests (Matthew 28:11). This is most significant. Their report of “all that had happened” would have included the earthquake, the angel who appeared as “lightening,” the rolling away of the stone, the arrival of the women and their entrance into the tomb, the announcement of the angel saying Jesus “has risen,” the missing corpse, the burial garments lying in orderly arrangement, and the hasty departure of the women to announce the empty tomb.
Upon hearing the soldiers’ testimony, an emergency meeting with the elders was called. Satan was keenly aware that only a narrow window of opportunity existed before the word of the resurrection spread like wildfire through the masses assembled for the Days of Unleavened Bread. Rather than allow the truth to stand, “hush money” was offered the soldiers to suppress the facts, and a lie implemented in place of the truth. Although insulting to the soldiers’ integrity as guards, and a certain death sentence awaiting if word of their contrived disgraceful conduct reached the ear of the Governor, sufficient funds were exchanged to bribe the men into falsifying the truth in favor of a demeaning cover story, saying the disciples of Jesus stole the body during the dead of night while the guards were sleeping.
A more preposterous cover story has perhaps never been invented. The desperation of Satan is painted all over this particular lie. Who ever heard of a “sleeping witness”? And in this particular case, an entire shift of “sleeping guards” all claiming to identify the midnight culprits as a band of rag-tag miscreants associated with Jesus – in what court would these shut-eyed witnesses be allowed to testify? Even if they had fallen asleep, could it be thought that they could have all slept so soundly as to not be awakened by the grinding of the heavy stone door as it noisily rolled out of its sealed position only a few feet away? Yet, the fabricated cover story remains popular today as skeptics vainly search to explain the empty tomb.
Following the initial lie of Satan, an intense persecution soon arose against the apostles and the infant church. Men and women were arrested and put to death; not for stealing the body of Jesus, mind you, but for believing that Jesus is the Christ who rose from the tomb. Similar to his evil actions intended to destroy Jesus during His infancy (Matthew 2:16-18), Satan attempted every blow to fragment and annihilate the Christian religion while it was still in the infant state.
The existence of Christianity vindicates the resurrection. Within a matter of days, the church in Jerusalem claimed 10,000 Jewish believers (Acts 2:41; cf. 4:4 where 5,000 men [Greek: adult males] are numbered; thus not including women or younger males in the count). By the death of Steven (Acts 7), scholars estimate the Jerusalem church had swelled to around 20,000 members. The population of the city has been estimated at only 55,000. The ranks of Christianity were overwhelming the very city that condemned Christ to death.
When the purported lie of the guards failed to stop the flow, Satan initiated a storm of violence against the fledgling church (Acts 8:1). Though the power of hell was leveled against her, the power of heaven prevailed her protection (Revelation 12:13-17). Despite every attempt to smother or stomp out the fire of the gospel, the resurrection of Christ was preached in every part of the world by the apostles of Jesus (Romans 15:25-27; cf. Romans 1:1-6; Colossians 1:5-6, 23). In less than twenty years, Christians were walking the streets of Rome, establishing a church in the very capital of the heathen empire.
Both Jews and Gentiles were abandoning treasured beliefs associated with their former religions in order to access God through Christ, and the most fundamental sacraments associated with Christianity imparted important witness to the resurrection. Those desiring to become Christians were baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3), honoring His death by being lowered beneath the water, but celebrating His resurrection by being raised in “newness of life” the same way Jesus was raised from the grave (Romans 6:3-11).
Having become a Christian, the New Testament church assembled on the first day of every week to eat and drink from the Lord’s Table (Acts 20:7). Instead of gathering to revere the glories associated with His remarkable teachings or various activities of miraculous healings, the church met on Sunday (the day of His resurrection) to remember His violent and certain death on the cross. The death and resurrection of Jesus mark the entrance into and sustaining power of the New Testament church. Christianity ceases to exist without the resurrection.
Notwithstanding Satan’s vicious and continuous assault upon the church, Christianity not only survived, but it flooded the world, overwhelming the entire Roman Empire and extending to every place where people are found. During the days of its inception, when the apostles first began preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, who would have believed that Christianity – led by a handful of common, uneducated men preaching a message touting the rise of a Jewish peasant from the grave – would have swept through the earth, ushering in the collapse of the world’s ruling government?
The rise of Christianity under these conditions is almost as remarkable as the resurrection itself, and rightly so, for the hand of God is seen in both. No one believed Christ would literally be raised from the dead, but God accomplished it; neither would anyone have ever believed that the movement touting Jesus’ resurrection by such a small group of uneducated men would eventually topple the most powerful kingdom of the world, enduring century after century for almost two full millennia at present, but God also accomplished this astonishing feat. The preaching of the apostles was by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; 4:31, 33), as God supported the fledgling church until she was prepared to engage Satan in battle through the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
Christianity has made its mark on the world in so many ways. Since the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, not a Sunday has gone by without the faithful church assembling in honor and recognition of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although many people and nations choose to reject Christ, the continued existence of Christianity vindicates the resurrection.
The evidence supporting the bodily resurrection of Jesus should be thoroughly vetted. Multiplied numbers of acclaimed skeptics have reversed their initial rejection of the resurrection after carefully investigating the facts. These seven reasons constitute some of the most straightforward evidence:
1) Although Unexpected, the Resurrection was Prophetically Foretold
2) A Public Execution Ensured His Death
3) In Spite of Being Sealed and Guarded, the tomb was Empty
4) Written Testimony of those Who saw Jesus Alive
5) The Amazing Transformation of the Apostles and Others
6) Jewish Christians Changed Their Day of Worship
7) The Existence of Christianity Vindicates the Resurrection
In addition to these seven reasons, points of proof extend into the very core of the biblical fabric, reaching all the way back to the writings of Moses and continuing throughout the Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 44).
The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the tomb is the centerpiece of Christianity. The entire scheme of human redemption is based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. His death accomplished the necessary propitiation for the forgiveness of sins. His burial was the assurance that He did, in fact, die for the sins of the world. His bodily resurrection vindicated His claim to be the Son of God (Acts 13:30-39), proving that He held the power of life over death (John 10:17-18).
Christ has promised to raise all men from the grave; some to “a resurrection of life,” and others to “a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Each case will be determined on an individual basis. Entrance into life and the eternal kingdom of heaven is granted to those willing to submit in humble obedience to the teachings of Christ in this present life (Matthew 7:21-27; Hebrews 5:9). To the disobedient, the “resurrection of judgment” will have them tried before the court of God and condemned by the very words of Christ (John 12:44-50).
The resurrection is proof that Christ is God incarnate who came to save humanity from eternal damnation. Based upon the seven reasons cited above, we encourage every reader to act bravely and boldly, stepping out of skepticism and into belief in Christ as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. The simple steps of obedience to become a New Testament Christian are available at the following link: The Salvation of Mankind.
We hope in Christ because of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. God bless.
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Thayer, J. H. (1956), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).
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Gerhard Friedrich. electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
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