Why “Must” the Christ Rise from the Dead?

In John 20 we read the eye-witness account of the first moments after Mary Magdalene discovered that Jesus’ had risen from the dead. She was the first to come to the tomb and when she arrived she found the tomb open and his body missing. She runs and tells Peter and John and then they run to see the spectacle for themselves.

In verses 8 and 9 we read the very interesting words:

“Then the other disciple, [John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

-John 20:8 and 9

At this moment something clicked for those that we are the tomb that day. Verse 8 says that John went in and saw and believed. What did he believe?

From what follows in verse 9 we gather that he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. For John (and eventually the others too), the reason for the missing body was not that someone had relocated it (see John 20:3), but that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

I find the way verse 9 is worded quite interesting. Why “must” Jesus rise from the dead?  That is the topic that I want to take up for a few moments here.

Why the Christ Must Rise

The first reason is stated right in our passage today:

Because the Scriptures say so.  Scripture cannot be broken.  If God says something is going to happen, it’s going to happen, otherwise God is a liar. Those of you who were with us for our Good Friday service will remember us reading the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  When the soldiers and Judas and the religious leaders came to take Jesus into custody, one of the disciples cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest.  And then Jesus said these words in Matthew 26:52-54:

“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?

-Matthew 26:52-54

Jesus was going to die and rise again because that is what God himself had said would happen. Period. “The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  What God says will happen, happens.

Old Testament prophecy pointed towards the resurrection of the Christ.  One place that the New Testament itself interprets for us in this way is Psalm 16:10 which says:

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

-Psalm 16:10

Peter points out in his sermon in Acts 2 that this Psalm was written by David, yet David both died and was buried. Peter says that:

“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Acts 2:30-32

Another place we see this is one we looked at this morning at our sunrise service when we read the story out of Luke 24.  When Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead he says:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

-Luke 24:44-47

So, the first reason that the resurrection had to happen was because God Himself, in Scripture, had spoken that it would happen.

The second reason that the resurrection must happen is because it insured several things for us:

Three things it’s going to insure for us.  The restoration of our hearts, the restoration of our righteousness, and the restoration of our bodies.

#1. The restoration of our hearts.  Back in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the world and overtook all of us.  Our hearts became hard, filled with fear and shame and sin.  But because of the resurrection of Jesus, all who put their faith and trust in Him are given new hearts.  Our hearts become what they were intended to be in Eden.  Take 1 Peter 1:3 for instance:

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

Here Peter says that we are born anew, that we are given new life, through the resurrection of Jesus.  If it were not for the resurrection of Jesus, we would still be spiritually dead; our hearts would be lifeless, filled with sin.  The cross paid our debt and satisfied the judgment of God, but it is the resurrection that grants us new spiritual life in Jesus. It is essential if we are to have and experience the same resurrected life that Jesus has.

#2. The second thing that the resurrection insured for us is the restoration of our righteousness.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  We’ve all done things worthy of death.  If we are to be with God forever in Heaven, we must be righteous for God is righteous and perfect. 

But sinners cannot just take a bath to get the sin off.  We need new hearts, which as we just saw, the resurrection accomplishes that.  But we also need a formal declaration of righteousness.  A fancy word for this would be justification.  Justification means to be declared not guilty or to be declared righteous.  We need all those things that we’ve done to be erased and we need a new record or resume.  And in the resurrection of Jesus we get exactly that. 

In Romans 4:25 it says that Jesus:

“…was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

-Romans 4:25

When Christ was raised up from the dead it was God the Father giving His approval of the work that Christ had accomplished in living and dying for His people. 

Wayne Grudem (whose systematic theology was very helpful to me on these points), writes:

“By raising Christ from the dead, God the Father was in effect saying that he approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, that his work was completed, and that Christ no longer had any need to remain dead.  There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for, and no more guilt remained.  In the resurrection, God was saying to Christ, ‘I approve of what you have done, and you find favor in my sight.’”

-Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 615.

This is significant for us because all of us who believe in Jesus are united to Him and raised up with Him it says in Ephesians 2:6.  If we are united with Christ and raised up with Christ, then God’s declaration of approval of Christ is also his declaration of approval of us!  It is a restoration of our righteousness.

We could not stand in God’s presence without this restoration.  And because God wants us to be with Him, and because He loves us and desires us, this was a necessary part of bringing us home to be with Him for eternity.

#3.  And the third thing it insures for us is the perfect restoration of our bodies. 

Now I don’t know about you, but there are days when I am just fed up with this body.  My joints ache, I have allergies, I’ve had several surgeries in my life to fix problems, my eyes are only getting worse and my hair is starting to fall out.  And compared to many, I’m doing okay.  That’s not to speak of cancer, diabetes, and all sorts of horrible illnesses than many of you out there are dealing with.  Right now, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who have been or are sick with the Covid-19 virus. 

Who will deliver us from these bodies of death?

Jesus will.

Now, when those who have put their faith in Christ are raised from the dead, they will not have the same body that they had before, they will be given a new, resurrected body.  I don’t think that means we will look different or have all the features that we’ve longed for, but we will have a perfect version of our current bodies. 

So take Lazarus for instance.  When Lazarus was raised, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago together, he got his old body back.  Granted it was healed, but it was still weak, sinful, mortal, decaying, body.  It wasn’t a new, resurrected body like the one that Jesus had when he was raised and the one that we will have when we are raised up on the last day. 

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20).  The first fruits are those first crops that are harvested.  And the first crops give an indication of what the rest of the harvest is going to be like.  So Jesus here is the first fruit and he shows us what the rest of the harvest is going to be like.  His resurrected body is like the one that each of his followers will receive on that glorious day. 

In the words of a beautiful song written by Sandra McCracken:

We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more

-Sandra McCracken

In that day, all because of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, all those who put their trust in Him will have their hearts restored, their righteousness restored and their bodies restored.  God will do it. 

And just as the Scripture could not be broken in regards to Christ’s own resurrection, so too, He will be faithful to His promise to raise us up on that great day when He returns. 

This is good news people.  In fact, this is the best news you will ever hear. 

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

-Romans 10:9

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or failed to do.  This is a second chance.  This is the offer of a new life, a life lived in the same resurrection power that Christ lived in.  I invite you and encourage you to believe. 

Why the Resurrection Matters

As the Easter season will soon give way to the season of Pentecost, I thought it appropriate to once again ask the question: why does it matter that Jesus was raised from the dead?

There are many reasons why the resurrection matters. Here are just a few:

The first reason is a simple but obvious one.  The resurrection is very important because if it is not true, then the Bible is not true, and if the testimony of the bible regarding the resurrection is not true, then we might as well go ahead and throw out the rest.

In a courtroom setting, if a lawyer can prove that a witness is a liar, then their credibility goes out the window and the judge and jury are not going to regard their testimony with much weight.  If the bible is not telling the truth about the resurrection, then why should we suppose that it’s telling the truth about Christ’s death? Or about miraculous healings? Or about the fulfillment of prophecy?  Or what it says about the future?  Or anything for that matter?  So the resurrection is an important part of the bible’s teachings.

The second reason is related to the first. The resurrection is vitally important because Jesus himself said he was going to be killed by the chief priests and the scribes of his day and then rise again on the third day. 

For example, Luke records Jesus saying these words in the 18th chapter of his gospel. 

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

-Luke 18:31-33

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, not only is the reliability of the Scriptures called into question but the honesty of the Lord himself is now in question.

The third reason the resurrection is important is because from the very earliest days it has been considered an essential part of the good news about Jesus.

N.T. Wright, a world class New Testament scholar says:

“There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief”

-N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Easter, p. 14

The Bible says that the resurrection is of “first importance”:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 

-1 Corinthians 15:3-8

The overwhelming majority of scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, believe that this passage is an early creed that was formulated within just a couple of years after the time of Christ’s death and resurrection.

All of that is to say that believing in Christ’s resurrection as a historical fact is an essential part of not only the Christian message but of the very gospel itself.  That makes it very important.

A fourth reason the resurrection is important is because it revealed the validity of the message of Christ. 

Luke wrote another book in the bible tilted Acts.  In chapter two of that book, he records a portion of one of Peter’s sermons.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 

-Acts 2:22-24

Notice all the supernatural elements here that Peter mentions.  These supernatural elements validate Jesus’ claims. In verse 22, he notes that Jesus was a miracle and wonder worker, “as you yourselves know he said.”  This was well known information that nobody dared dispute.  Even his arch enemies didn’t question the miracles themselves but attempted to write them off by saying that he used Satan’s power to do them somehow (Matthew 12:27).

Luke mentions foreknowledge in verse 23.  Somehow Christ’s death and resurrection was foretold and foreknown.

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

-Luke 2:23

That’s supernatural.

One scholar writes this:

“Jesus’ death was no surprise to God, nor was his suffering.  All the texts that Luke-Acts has cited about Jesus’s suffering point to the idea that God planned or knew that Jesus would suffer.”

-Darrell L. Bock, Acts, BECNC, p. 120.

Now notice the whopper in verse 24.  Who does Peter say raised Jesus from the dead?

“God.”

God raised Jesus from the dead.  In so doing, God gave his personal stamp of approval on the person of Christ and the message of Christ. 

Every other religious figure before and after Jesus, has died.  Somewhere out there is a headstone marking their spot.  But Jesus’ headstone was a massive rock that was rolled away when he rose.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was another one of those moments in the life of Christ when God was saying loud and clear, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased”, fully validating his message .

A fifth reason that the resurrection is so very important is because it is a part of our salvation.  In other words, the resurrection is important because without it, we would not in fact be saved.

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

-Romans 10:9

In another place Paul says that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).  And if we are still in our sins, we are still under the curse and judgment of God.

So it is fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ saves us!

How does it do that?

While the analogy is not a perfect one, think of an airplane.  If you are in an airplane, you are going to go where the airplane goes, correct?  If you are in the airplane and it takes off, you are going with it.  If you are in the airplane and it lands, you are landing with it.  If you are in the airplane and it crashes, you are crashing with it. 

The bible teaches over and over again that those who believe in Jesus are “in Christ.”  Of course, this is not a physical thing like the airplane analogy but the idea is similar.  The bible says:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

-Romans 6:3-5

Because we are in Christ, when Christ died for our sin, we died too, and because believers are in Christ, when Christ was raised from the dead, we too were raised to new life. 

We see this in other places in Scripture too:

“…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

-Ephesians 2:5-6

Somehow, in the spiritual realms we that believe are “in Christ” and because we are “in him” and he was raised, we too are raised along with him.  So if Christ were not raised, then we would not be raised either.

This point was so very important that Paul took time to address it in a letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth.  In that letter he writes these words (this is from 1 Cor. 15):

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Do you hear just how important the resurrection is?

The sixth reason the resurrection is important is because it gives value to our earthly sacrifices and labors that we do for Jesus.

If the resurrection didn’t happen and Jesus’ bones are out there somewhere decomposing in some grave, then I’m wasting my time writing this blog entry. As Paul said in the passage I just read a moment ago, not only am I misrepresenting God by saying that He raised Jesus from the dead, when in fact, He did not raise Jesus from the dead, but I’m making sacrifices that have no meaningful reward.  Paul says that if we hoped in Christ only in this life, we are of all men, most to be pitied.

If Jesus was just an ordinary man that died like all men do, then why make the sacrifices in his name that so many have made over the centuries? Why be thrown to the lions?  Why be crucified upside down?  Why move to India and live in a remote village among the sick and the poor for 50 years?  Why live in a remote jungle in Central America and spend the better part of your life in sweltering heat creating an alphabet and translating a book that’s full of errors and lies?

It’s not worth it if Jesus did not rise because one cannot be guaranteed of anything beyond the grave at that point.  Is there life?  Who knows?  If there is life, is there someone there who will bless us or reward us for what we’ve done?  Who knows?  Probably not if we’ve been misrepresenting Him all along.

The resurrections gives us assurance not only of life after we die, but that our efforts to tell others about the way into that life are not in vain.

“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”

-Mark 9:41

Jesus will be sure that all receive their rewards, because he is raised from the dead.

The seventh reason the resurrection is important is because it gives us hope for the future.

We were watching National Treasure the other night and there’s a scene where they are trying to figure out the meaning of the phrase “the debt that all men pay.”  Eventually they came up with “death.”  Death is the debt that all men will pay.

Everyone will die.  You will die.  I will die. 

But it is because of the resurrection that we can look into the casket of our loved ones and know that this is not the end of the story.

Matthew Barrett, who is professor of the theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writes:

“If your loved ones believe in Christ then even though they have “fallen asleep” they have fallen asleep “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:18). And since they are united to this resurrected Christ, they have not perished but their soul has gone to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23), and they await that day when they will receive their resurrected body. As Paul tells the Corinthians, Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits of that great harvest to come. Though death came by the first Adam, in the second Adam “shall all be made alive” (15:22).”

-Matthew Barrett

The resurrection gives us hope beyond the grave and that is priceless. 

I’ve given you seven reasons this morning that the resurrection of Jesus matters.

Only For Those Who Trust Christ

This hope and these blessings are only for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.  So I invite you now to put your trust in Jesus. 

He died and rose again so that you and I might have eternal life.  But you must receive Him. 

Jesus said:

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

-John 6:39-40

Look to Jesus in faith, today.

Fairy Tales and Real Life

Have you ever read your children a fairy tale and come to the final words, “And they lived happily ever after”, and paused to consider the implications of such a bold statement?  Too often we are consumed with the everyday concerns of life that we fail to see that it is a whole story that we live out, divinely authored, and with a certain end in mind.  Now, I’m not implying that life is like a fairy tale, or am I?  Consider this tale for a moment.

Long ago two people, our ancestors far removed, by the name of Adam and Eve, inhabited a veritable Paradise on earth.  Not a bad place to start a fairy tale in the grand tradition of such stories.  In this Paradise they communed with God, were clothed in immortality, had divine knowledge infused into their nature, and were free from all pain and suffering.  Their only burden (if it could ever be considered as such) was to remain in obedience to one simple command of God.  Now into this happy realm came Satan, the enemy of mankind (and of God for that matter), the arch-fiend, followed by his two hideous offspring, Sin and Death.  In minds that had never known anything other than blessedness he sowed deceit and, by the twisting of God’s word, provided the occasion whereby our two ancestors fell from grace through disobedience.  Then the judgment of God came swiftly.  Paradise was lost.  The man and woman were exiled from the presence of God and the full effects of sin and death were laid upon their nature. The earth itself was cursed deeply because of their sin.  No longer would it remain a paradise, but it brought forth hedgerows of thorns and thistles to confound the man.  Thus burdened under the curse of death, our ancestors cried out to the God who had created them, “a boon, Lord, a boon!”  Now that may not have probably been what Adam said, but it’s in keeping with the poetic tradition of a good story, so hear me out.  In mercy, the Creator of the universe looked upon the man and woman whom He had created and loved, and gave a cryptic promise concerning a divinely-appointed deliverer who would one day overthrow their enemies and restore all things.

And now the story jumps far into the future, to the fullness of time, an appropriate place to pick back up.  This promised deliverer was born of a virgin in a Bethlehem stable, grew to maturity in Nazareth, was despised and rejected in Jerusalem, was put to death at the hand of godless men, and was sealed in a tomb.  Wrapped by the chains of death, having borne upon His body the sins of all mankind, having had the just curse and judgment of God exacted upon His person, He descends into Hell, the realm of Satan himself.  Now we get to the good part!  There the divine promise, the seed of hope for mankind, begins to blossom forth.  The head of the serpent is crushed beneath the Deliverer’s feet, the chains of death are broken and cast aside, and Hell is turned inside out as the conquering Deliverer leads captivity captive in triumph through the heavens, the keys of Hell and Death firmly grasped in His hand.  Heaven’s gates swing open full wide once more to mankind, and the proclamation that we are no longer slaves to the baser elements which once held sway over us, but that we are now sons and daughters of God once more is heralded through the kingdom.  A new race from every tribe and nation and tongue is born with their Deliverer-King as its head.

Now that’s a pretty good storyline.  I can’t remember reading one more glorious or exciting.  But what makes this story different from all so many other fairy tales that have the same elements of romance, happiness, heroism, virtue and triumph is this: it is absolutely true.  And this very story is that story of life in which each of us moves and has a part to fulfill.  It would do us some good (eternal good) if we allowed ourselves to be reminded of that truth during this season of Resurrection and see again the panorama of human history, and our own lifetime, from God’s perspective.

And if that’s not enough reason to be uplifted in body and spirit, I’ll let you in on another marvelous thing.  I peeked at the end of the book, and guess what?  All of God’s people live happily FOREVER after–all by the grace of God.  In this season of Resurrection let all glory and power and honor be given to His Name, both now and forever, world without end.  Amen.

The IF and BUT of Resurrection Sunday

“…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…”  I Corinthians 15:14

Webster’s dictionary defines vain as “having no real value, marked by futility or ineffectualness, foolish.”  That which is vain has an appearance that would make it desirable to our eyes, but it has no substance or worth behind its facade; it is a costume-jewelry diamond.  That which is vain has an appearance of strength and security, but has no foundation or underlying reinforcement; it is a house built upon sand.  That which is vain has an appearance of direction and purpose, but it is always bound up in the experiential and has no real basis outside itself; it is a pipe-dream, a grand and glorious promise that can never deliver.  That which is vain has an appearance of power and effect, but it lacks the integrity and harmony to accomplish anything; it is a broken tooth, or a limb out of joint.  And the Apostle Paul states emphatically that our religion, our doctrine, our faith, our liturgy, and our heritage is vanity if Jesus Christ be not raised.  Consider what this means.

If Christ be not raised, mankind remains dead in their sins, destined to be forever separated from their Creator.  If Christ be not raised, then our only destiny is death, and after death a certain awful judgment.  If Christ be not raised, then the soul of mankind remains chained in captivity forever, and the gates of heaven shall never be opened to them.  If Christ be not raised, then all the souls of the righteous dead have no hope of the promise of God being fulfilled for them.  If Christ be not raised, then we are not just lost, but deceived, and our religion and life is void of purpose.  It is a charade.  If Christ be not raised, then we are squandering what little life we have upon this earth pursuing the wind.  If Christ be not raised, then this world and all contained within it are shrouded even now in darkness, and will always bear the curse of sin as its lot.  If Christ be not raised, then all creation is subjected to Satan’s dominion and his unholy lordship mocks the Name of God.

That is, if Christ be not raised.  But Resurrection Sunday shouts hallelujah, He is raised; and because He is, our sins are forgiven, we have fellowship as sons and daughters of God, we have eternal life, heaven’s gates are opened wide to us, we are joined in the glorious communion of saints before God’s throne, our religion is alive and able to touch mankind’s heart, our lives have purpose which goes beyond this age, light has come in the world and people have seen it, and the serpent’s head has been crushed and his mocking accusations silenced forever.

For a time our world had been shrouded in darkness, and for a season Satan had his dominion. But the winds have changed, the fullness of time has come, and this season now belongs to us.  It is a season of light and life, a season of joy and grace, a season of healing and deliverance, a season of power and the breaking in of the kingdom of God.

So lift your eyes to the heavens and hear the words of the angel proclaim, “He is not here, He has risen!”  Hear those worlds of life and know that all the promises of God have become “Yes” and “Amen” in Jesus Christ.  And then go forth in joy, knowing that the season of darkness has passed away with the rising Son, and that the salvation of our God has today been made manifest in our hearts!  Christ is risen, truly He is risen!  We are a Resurrection people and Hallelujah is our song.

Did Jesus Appear to the Apostles?

Did Jesus’ disciples claim that he rose from the dead? If they did, were they sincere in this proclamation? This area is something else that many critics of the resurrection of Jesus often attack and it is an area I will address in this post. Do we have reasons to think that the disciples claimed Jesus rose from the dead and do we have reasons to think that they believed it?

They Claimed It

In order to figure whether they claimed it we will look at nine early and independent sources that fall into three categories: the testimony of Paul about the disciples; the oral tradition that passed through the early church; and the written works of the early church.

Paul’s Testimony

Why should we trust the apostle Paul? Paul claims that his own authority in the church was equal to that of the other apostles.1 That authority was acknowledged by a number of the apostolic fathers soon after the completion of the New Testament.2 Paul reported that he knew at least some of the other disciples, even the big three, Peter, James, and John.3

Acts reports that the disciples and Paul knew and fellowshipped with one another.4 It’s because of all this that we should take Paul seriously on what he says about the other disciples.

After writing on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul said he worked harder than all of the other apostles, but that whether “it was I or they, this [i.e., Jesus’ resurrection appearances] is what we preach.” Thus, Paul knew the apostles personally and reports that they claimed that Jesus rose from the dead.

Oral Tradition

Throughout the New Testament, specifically in the letters of Paul, are oral creeds or summaries that predate Paul’s letters. One that is of special interest is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

“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.”

There are many factors scholars have noted why this is an oral creed and that it predates Paul’s letter. In addition, many critical scholars believe that Paul received this creed from the disciples Peter and James when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion. If true, we have source material within 5 years of the resurrection showing that the disciples experienced appearances of Jesus.

Since tape recorders were unavailable in the first century, recorded dialogues, such as the sermons of Jesus and his apostles, had to have been summaries prepared after the fact by those who had heard them. Most sermons last longer than five minutes. Yet most of the sermons of the New Testament can be read in that amount of time or less. For these reasons and others, most scholars agree that many of the sermons in Acts contain oral summaries included in the text that can be traced to the earliest teachings of the church and possibly to the disciples themselves.

At minimum, these appear to have been standard sermons preached during the earliest times of the church, that are contemporary with the apostles, attributed to the apostles, and in agreement with Paul’s eyewitness testimony that this is what they were preaching. Admittedly, this does not prove that these sermons proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and appearances were coming from the apostles. But if we are not there then we’re awfully close.

Written Tradition

In regards to written sources, we have to consider the Gospels. No matter what you think of them, they are ancient biographies written within the first century and attests to the resurrection of Jesus as well.

In addition we must consider the writings of the apostolic fathers, Clement, Bishop of Rome (c. 30-100 AD) and Polycarp (c. 69-155). These two specifically taught that the apostles were dramatically impacted by Jesus’ resurrection.

In regards to Clement of Rome, he wrote 1 Clement which is dated to 95AD but probably written earlier than that. Irenaeus5 (185 AD) and Tertullian6 (200 AD) mention in their own letters that Clement had seen the apostles and had fellowshipped with them, particularly Peter. This should render great historical value to Clement’s writings concerning the apostles and their teachings. In 1 Clement, Clement wrote that they were assured of Jesus’ resurrection and went out and spread the news of it.7

In regards to Polycarp, Irenaeus tells us that Polycarp was taught by the apostles, taught others what he had learned from them, appointed by the apostles as bishop of the church in Smyrna, and had talked with many who had seen Jesus.8 Tertullian further wrote that it was the apostle John who appointed Polycarp as bishop in Smyrna.9 Similarly with Clement, Polycarp talks about in his own letters about Jesus’ resurrection and the apostles witnessing Jesus after his crucifixion.10

So in conclusion we have nine early eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus. The late New Testament critic of the University of Chicago, Norman Perrin (who rejected Jesus’ resurrection), wrote, “The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.”11

The Believed It

Well how do we know that the disciples’ were willing to suffer and even die for their proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead for the forgiveness of their sins. This blog post is running long already so I’ll keep everything in the end notes for those interested. We have the accounts in Acts and the testimonies of Polycarp,12 Tertullian13 (200 AD), Clement of Rome14 (95 AD), Ignatius15 (110 AD), Origen16 (185-254 AD), and Dionysius of Corinth17 (writing about 170 AD but cited by Eusebius around 325 AD).

  1. 2 Corinthians 10:8; 11:5; 13:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 4:2; Philemon 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:4.
  2. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 51.
  3. Galatians 1:18-19; 2:2-20.
  4. Acts 9:26-30; 15:1-35.
  5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.3.
  6. Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 32.
  7. Clement, First Clement, 42:3.
  8. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4.
  9. Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, 32.
  10. Polycarp, To the Philippians 9:2.
  11. Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 80.
  12. To the Philippians 9:2.
  13. Scorpiace, 15.
  14. 1 Clement 5:2-7.
  15. To the Smyrnaeans 3:2.
  16. Origen, Contra Celsum, 2:56.
  17. Ecclesiastical History 2.25.8; 3.1.

Is the Tomb Empty?

stack of old books

Another way someone denies the truth of the resurrection is through attacking the historicity of Jesus’ burial and empty tomb on the third day. In order to give a case that Jesus was buried and his tomb was empty we must look at three factors: the Jerusalem factor, enemy attestation, and the testimony of women.

The Jerusalem Factor

Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem. His post-mortem appearances and empty tomb were first proclaimed publicly there. 1  The point is that because of these inconvenient facts, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb.

Had the Roman government and/or the Jewish Sanhedrin wanted to, they could have located the tomb and dragged the body all around Jerusalem for everyone to see. After all, they know where the tomb is because two Pharisees buried Jesus: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

If there was a decaying body in the tomb of Jesus we would expect Christian apologists in the 2nd and 3rd century (like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen among others) to be talking about this and explaining it away. We would be expecting this from 2nd century critics of Christianity like Celsus to mention an occupied tomb. Yet no one made this claim in the first, second, or third century AD.

Enemy Attestation

If someone loves you and says you’re an honest person, we may have no reason to believe this person. After all, that person might be biased. However if someone who doesn’t even like you says, “Yeah that person is pretty honest…and I still hate him.” Chances are he’s telling the truth. People who have a bias against you have no reason to lie about you in a positive way. This is what we have with the empty tomb. Rather than point to an empty tomb, early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing away his body. 2  Why go on accusing the disciples of stealing the body if the body is still in the tomb? Yet this is the position of the early pagan and Jewish critics of Christianity claimed of Jesus’ empty tomb. This is the only early opposing theory we know of that was offered by Jesus’ enemies.

Testimony of Women

When we read the accounts in all four gospels we notice that women are the first eye-witnesses of the empty tomb whereas men appear only later and in only two gospels. If the gospels are just made up propaganda to get more followers then why use women as eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. This is a rather odd invention considering that in Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable, certainly not as credible as a man’s. Let’s consider some Jewish writings:

Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women. 3

The world cannot exist without males and without females—happy is he whose children are males and woe to him whose children are females. 4

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.  5

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman. 6

It’s no wonder that the disciples did not believe the women’s testimony at first, if they were brought up in such a culture.

“But these words seemed like nonsense to them [the disciples], and they did not believe the women.” Luke 24:11

Some Romans shared a similar attitude toward women. The Roman historian Suetonius (115 AD) writes of Caesar Augustus who was emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth through 14 AD:

Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock. 7

If the account of the empty tomb was made up by liars then why list women as the first eyewitnesses especially when the disciples didn’t believe them and the Jewish and Roman culture at the time did not hold a woman’s opinion in high regard? The only credible explanation is that the tomb was really empty and the women were the first eyewitnesses to that event. Thus the empty tomb seems rather historically credible given how embarrassing it is for the Christian writers of that day.

Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes: All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.  8

  1. Testimony from the New Testament – Acts 2 and Tacitus reports the church started in Judea – Annals 15:44.
  2.  Matthew 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30.
  3.  Talmud, Sotah 19a.
  4.  Talmud, Kiddushin 82b.
  5.  Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15.
  6.  Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8.
  7.  Gaius Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus 44, Robert Graves, trans. (New York: Penguin, 1989), 80.
  8.  William Wand, Christianity: A Historical Religion? (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1972), 93-94.

Thomas and the Resurrection of Jesus

Doubting Thomas putting his fingers in Jesus' side, painting

” Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.'”  Mark 9:23-24

Faith is an important part of the Christian life, the doorway as it were by which we enter the Kingdom.  “For by grace you have been saved, through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8).  But, too often, we turn it into a kind of coin of the realm, something we barter in exchange for mercies received from the King.  We see this attitude most often when prayers go unanswered.  “If you had enough faith, God would hear”, is the familiar rebuke that is leveled against us in these times.  To be sure, there have been men and women of great faith.  Their names make up the litany of faith contained in Hebrews 11….Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and more.  But let’s be honest with ourselves.  Most of us will be saved by our faith, but it’s not likely we will be remembered for our great faith.  But even a little faith is sufficient for Jesus Christ to work in someone’s life.  The man or woman who knows the limitations of their faith, that point where doubt, confusion, ignorance, or even unbelief creeps in to steal away the blessed assurance of God’s favor, is a person who can be transparent before God.  “I can go this far, but no further Lord”, they may say; or as stated in our opening scripture “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  Such a man was Thomas the Apostle who is best remembered not for his great faith but rather as Thomas, the doubter.

Thomas’ name in Syriac means “Twin”, and that is why he is referred to in John 11:16 by the Greek equivalent, Didymus.  He appears in each of the four lists of Apostles found in the synoptic evangelists, but it is in John’s gospel that we catch a glimpse of his personality.  In John 11:1-16 we have the story of Jesus returning to Bethany to heal Lazarus, his friend.  His disciples were fearful, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You and are You going there again?”  Whether in the beginnings of true faith, or only in resignation Thomas says “Let us also go that we may die with Him.”  Thomas was always the optimist!  In John 14:1-6 as the Lord teaches concerning His imminent death Thomas questions Him saying “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  To this Jesus replies directly to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also…”  This mild rebuke would have turned Thomas’ uncertainly back to the one thing He was most certain of, Jesus.  But the incident by which he is best remembered is found in John 20:24-29.  Jesus has appeared in His resurrected glory to the other disciples, but “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.”  When confronted by their account he responds characteristically “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

We might think this the height of unbelief, but I see it more as an honest confession of the limits of Thomas’ faith.  He had been with the Lord during that last week as had the others.  He saw Him betrayed, condemned, put to death, and at last buried.  Lest we be too hard on Thomas remember that Luke 24:11 records the rest of the disciples’ reaction to the words of the women who had seen Jesus risen and alive,  “their words seemed to them [the disciples] like idle tales, and they did not believe them.”  But at just that point where Thomas’ faith was not yet enough to sustain him, Jesus came specifically to him.  “Reach your finger here and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  And as he touched the wounds of his Lord, Thomas’s faith was made whole so that he freely confessed to Him, “My Lord and my God.

This much but little more the Scripture reveals to us of Thomas.  When the general Jewish persecution came upon the early church the apostles and disciples were scattered over the whole world.  In the apocryphal work called “The Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas” it says “we portioned out [by lot] the regions of the world in order that each one of us might go into the region that fell to him, and to the nations to which the Lord sent him.”   There is some truth in this account, for Eusebius, in his “History of the Church” Book 3 Section 1, tells us that “Thomas was chosen for Parthia.”  This is part of what we know today as Iran.  Tradition further tells us that he was also active in Carmania (southern Iran), Hyrcania (northern Iran), Bactria (Afghanistan), and Pakistan, eventually extending his mission field to the southwestern coast of India.  At this location it is recorded that he established seven churches on the Malabar Coast.  The tradition seems to be confirmed since there have been a group of believers at that location dating back into the middle ages who call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas” and who claim to trace their faith back to the first preaching of Thomas in Malabar.  It was at Calamine that Thomas’ faith was tried and found sufficient, as he suffered martyrdom by the spear.

Back to the question of faith.  How much is sufficient?  The Lord’s own teachings seem to indicate that if we could but have faith as the grain of a mustard seed, divine power might be ours to move even mountains into the sea.  But the Lord brings it into perspective in Luke 10:19-20 “I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy….. nevertheless do not rejoice in this that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  Thomas may never have overcome the limitations of his faith while on the earth, but in his heart he already knew “the way, the truth, and the life” and that was sufficient for the trials and work of each day.    His life may not have been a testimony to great faith, but it is a testimony to the power of Jesus Christ to faithfully remain “the author and finisher” of his faith.  When the spears of martyrdom came upon him Thomas’ testimony echoed the words of St. Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12  “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”  May our faith be sufficient for the day at hand, and may we never be afraid to confront our lack of faith.  It is only then, as we place our fingers in the nail-scarred hands of our Savior and look once more into his eyes that all of our doubt, confusion, and fear is swallowed up in the confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.

The Case for Easter

This is the question of all questions for Christianity: Did Jesus Rise?  Many religious philosophers and historians believe that if you can adequately show that Jesus rose from the dead, then you can prove the whole of the Christian worldview from there.  Even hard core skeptics see the crucial place of this doctrine in the Christian worldview.  Lee Strobel writes of his perspective as an atheist, legal editor working for the Chicago Tribune before his conversion to Christianity:

The starting point [to disproving Christian claims] seemed obvious to me: clearly the resurrection was the linchpin of the Christian faith.  After all, anyone can claim to be the Son of God.  But if someone could substantiate that assertion by returning to life after being certifiably dead and buried–well, that would be a compelling confirmation that he was telling the truth.  Even for a skeptic like me. 1

We are in the middle of what we Christians call Lent: a season of preparation for Easter Sunday, the day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead some 2000 years ago.  Appropriately, it is a time to ask the very real question: did Jesus actually rise from the dead?

On Easter Sunday this year we will be giving away a book that looks at some of the evidence for the resurrection.  The former skeptic turned believer, Lee Strobel, has penned a handy little book just over 90 pages long entitled The Case for Easter in which he gives his personal testimony about his journey sifting through the facts about Jesus’ resurrection.  He looks are three important questions:

(1) The medical evidence: Was Jesus’ death a sham and his resurrection a hoax?

(2) The evidence of the missing body: Was Jesus’ body really absent from his tomb?

(3) The evidence of the appearances: Was Jesus seen alive after his death on the cross?

Come out and get your free copy this Easter Sunday, April 20, and hear about the powerful evidence for the historical reality of this massive, earth shattering event!

  1. Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 8.

Women and the Resurrection

The resurrection is one of the most central beliefs in Christianity.  It is also one of the most disputed.

Among the unchurched there is a commonly held conviction that the miraculous claims of the Christian faith were non-historical amendments created after the fact by religious zealots “with an agenda.”  For these folks, the resurrection would fall into this category.  It was a hoax; a concoction created to establish some kind of religious power structure.

Most Christians in the world would reject this idea.  For us, the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion is historical fact.  We know this because it is recorded in the Bible by eye-witnesses.  Time and space will not permit me to outline an entire defense of this belief, but here I offer one piece of evidence for skeptics to chew on for now: the Bible says that it was  a group of women that first discovered the empty tomb (see Mark 16:1-8).

What significance does this have on whether or not the resurrection is a historical fact?

Two things: First, skeptics have to explain how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection thrived in the very city where he was publicly crucified.  How could anyone have embraced such a ridiculous idea if Jesus’ body still lay in the tomb?  Could not the authorities have produced the body at any moment to silence them?  The belief in the resurrection hinges completely on the fact of the empty tomb.

It is safe to say that such a public and controversial execution as that of Jesus would have been well know in all its details; Jew and Gentile alike would have known where Jesus’ tomb was.  Street preachers declaring that he had risen from the dead would have no doubt induced examinations of the burial site.

Secondly, not only do we have no known record of anyone producing the body of Jesus after the disciples preaching on the resurrection began, but the Bible says that it was women who first discovered the fact of the empty tomb.

To see the significance a person must understand the low status of women at the time this event is supposed to have happened.  In first-century Jewish culture, the testimony of a woman was not considered credible.  Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37–100) wrote in his book Antiquities of the Jews, in a section describing the rules regarding admissible testimony: “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of their inconstancy and presumption of their sex.” 1  Paul L. Maier, an authority on Josephus and 1st-century Christianity, adds in the commentary on this section in Josephus’s Antiquities: “None of our copies of the Pentateuch say a word [about not legally allowing a woman’s testimony in courts of justice].  It is very probable, however, that this was…the practice of the Jews in the days of Josephus.” 2   In other words, this practice was not a biblical one, but had its roots in the patriarchalism of first-century Jewish culture.

Here’s the rub: if the story of the resurrection as we have it in the Bible is a product of legendary development or tinkering on the part of Biblical scribes hundreds of years later, why would they depict women discovering the empty tomb?  These women would have been the chief witnesses to the empty tomb, yet their testimony was considered worthless by the culture of the time; so why fabricate a story built upon such a sketchy foundation as this?

Don’t you think that if later writers were trying to amend the facts and make the story more believable they would have placed Peter or John at the empty tomb?

Mark’s placement of women at the empty tomb first can only be plausibly explained if they actually were the discoverers of the empty tomb, and the gospels faithfully record what for them was a very embarrassing fact.  3

This does not prove the whole of the resurrection account, but it does cast some doubt on the claim that the Bible is merely the product of later legendary development.

 

  1. Josephus, Antiquities, IV.8.15.
  2. William Whiston, trans., Paul L. Maier, Commentary, The New Complete Works of Josephus,Rev. (Kregal: Grand Rapids, 1999), 165.
  3. William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 2010), 228-229.