The Resurrection of Jesus

garden-tomb

The resurrection of Jesus is the most fundamental and foundational evidence of the truth of Christianity. Douglas Groothuis explains how, If Christ has not been raised, then: “(1) Christian preaching is useless; (2) Christian faith is useless [and] futile; (3) Christians are false witnesses about God; (4) Christians are unforgiven and left in their sin; (5) those who have died in Christian hope are lost; and (6) those who in in Christ are supremely pitiable, since their hope ends with this life.”[1] If the resurrection of Christ did not take place, life becomes meaningless and there exists no future hope, since Christianity is premised upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This miraculous event separates Christianity from every other false religion and it provided its early followers new meaning and gave them a new mission. N.T. Wright explains, “There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief. Nor was this belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge; it was the central driving force, informing the whole movement.”[2] Groothuis supports this theory by further illustrating how, “The church’s institutions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper presuppose the resurrection of Christ and the Gospel accounts… [And] these sacraments have been used to instruct and disciple new believers since the middle to later first century and are primary to the story of Jesus.”[3]

The reliability of the New Testament is a vital component in proving the death and resurrection of Jesus truly took place and offers many historical facts about His crucifixion, the empty tomb, and His postmortem appearances. Additionally, studies like that conducted by William Edwards et al., with The Journal of the American Medical Association cite and counter the swoon theory[4] by demonstrating, “The weight of historical and medical evidence indicate Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung, but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured His death.”[5] Edwards et al. also explain, “The time of survival for Roman crucifixions ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging.”[6]

The burial of Jesus in a known tomb was also critical, since the disciples would later claim to have witnessed an empty tomb. Most scholars agree, Joseph Arimathea, who was a member of the Jewish court owned this tomb.[7] This is an important fact because if the disciples did not know the location of Golgotha, none of them would later be able to proclaim the risen Lord. Groothuis holds to this theory and adds, “First, no other burial traditions exists as a competitor. Second, the account is well established through multiple attestations in Mark, Matthew, and John. Third, that Jesus was buried is also corroborated by Paul’s early report in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Fourth… Joseph Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.”[8] The empty tomb is mentioned in all four Gospels and is an absolute necessity in proving the resurrection account.

The postmortem appearances of Jesus occurred under multiple circumstances to a multiplicity of people. As Groothuis points out, it is interesting how women were among the first witnesses, especially considering the testimony of women in those days were not highly regarded. This important detail leads to the conclusion the account was not made up by Christians, because if the church were going to invent a resurrection story, it would have surely listed a much more prominent male character to lend credibility.[9] In all, the New Testament lists twelve separate appearances over a forty-day period leading up to Jesus’s ascension. Jesus would appear to: Mary Magdalene;[10] Mary and the other women;[11] Peter;[12] two disciples on the road to Emmaus;[13] ten apostles;[14] eleven apostles;[15] seven apostles;[16] all of the apostles;[17] five hundred brethren;[18] James;[19] again to all the apostles;[20] and finally to the apostle Paul.[21]

The transformation of Jesus’s disciples was clearly evident, after seeing Him with their own eyes. Groothuis demonstrates how the disciples, “Went from being dejected, dispirited, and grieving followers of a crucified rabbi to apostles, those who had beheld the risen Christ and who, on that basis, preached Him as the Lord of life and the Judge of history.”[22] Even Paul, the great persecutor of the early church, would have a divine encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, which would transform him to becoming a great champion for Christ and the early church. However, if the resurrection had not occurred, there exists no rational argument for the radical change found in the disciples’ behavior and that of Paul. Groothuis illustrates why “The actual resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the disciples’ transformation from cowardice, despair, and confusion to confident proclamation and the willingness to suffer persecution, hardship, and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus and His gospel.”[23] It is also hard to fathom the spread of Christianity across the world if the resurrection had not taken place. Noting the origin and rise of Christianity cannot be explained without the resurrection, C.F.D. Moule affirms, “The birth and rapid rise of the Christian church therefore remains an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.”[24] Another distinct transformation exhibited by the disciples and the early church was the worship of Jesus as being divine. Paul even speaks of Christ’s preexistence, His incarnation, and His exaltation in his letter to the Philippians.[25]

The final transformation is evidenced by three practices of the early church. The first practice involved believers being baptized to symbolize the death to old sinful ways and being raised to a new life in Christ. The second practice was the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which was a symbol of Jesus’s life given for all who would believe.[26] Neither of these observances would serve a point, without the resurrection, leading to the third practice of observing Sunday as the new holy day. Groothuis explains, “Very quickly after the death of Jesus, the early church began meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week,[27] [which] went against the religious grain of Jewish observance that honored Saturday, the seventh day, as the Sabbath ordained by God.”[28] Because of the resurrection, the early church chose to meet on Sunday in honor of the risen Lord.

Alternative naturalistic explanations for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus all fail, as Francis Schaeffer demonstrates, “For the supernatural was so intertwined with the rest [of Jesus’s life] that, if they ripped out all the supernatural… no historical Jesus remained; [and] if they kept the historical Jesus, the supernatural remained as well.”[29] Thus, Blaise Pascal presents the dichotomy of: “If Christ be not raised, the disciples were either innocently deceived or culpable deceivers.”[30] The most common argumentation, according to Groothuis is, “The resurrection appearances were hallucinations of some kind and not objectively real, which meant this visionary encounter needs to be explained supernaturally (Christ is risen) or naturally (the disciples were deceived.)”[31] With so many appearances to so many different people, this theory seems hard to defend, especially given the empty tomb. Nonetheless, hallucination theory has seen a recent renewal in some scholarly circles.

A second explanation rests on the existence of a Christian conspiracy. For such a thing to exist, there must be both motive and the means to carry it out. While there could conceivably be motive, there would be no means by which the disciples could carry out such a deception and as Pascal noted, “The human heart is too weak to perpetuate a known falsehood under such intense pressures to recant.”[32] Another conspiracy theory rests on the tomb being empty due to the disciples stealing the body of Jesus or from grave robbers. Once again, this theory of a corpse heist fails due to the Roman guards who were positioned to stop just such a thing from happening. As Groothuis further demonstrates, “Even if theft could explain the empty tomb (which it cannot), the appearances of Jesus still demand a sufficient explanation.”[33]

The alternative naturalistic explanation, which presents the greatest challenge, is always going to be one rooted in the will to disbelieve. Some scholars any many atheists argue over discrepancies found in the Gospel accounts, maintaining these are grounds that they are fiction. The best response according to Groothuis is, “Some minor differences in the telling of this story indicates authenticity, not substantial error and if each account perfectly mirrored the rest, this would likely be a sign of collusion, not accurate history told from differing perspectives.”[34] The best way then to handle any naturalistic explanation opposing the miraculous resurrection of the risen Lord is to first find common ground, address various differences, and then present the gospel and all the documentary and circumstantial evidence available in a loving and caring way. It is important to remember “Only the fool says in his heart there is no God,”[35] but it is equally important to remember all were once lost and that Christ gave His life when all were still sinners.

Bibliography

Edwards, William D., Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association. 255, no. 11 (1986): 1463.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Moule, C. F. D. The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1967.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées 322/802, Ed. and Trans. Alban Krailsheimer. New York, NY: Penguin, 1966

Schaeffer, Francis. The God Who Is There, 30th Anniversary Edition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2008.


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 528-529.

[2] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2008), 67.

[3] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 535.

[4] Swoon theory is belief that Jesus either was not crucified, or that He survived and is buried in India.

[5] William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255, no. 11 (1986): 1463.

[6] Edwards et al., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” 1460.

[7] Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; and John 19:38-42

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 543.

[9] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 548.

[10] John 20:10-18

[11] Matthew 28:1-10

[12] Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5

[13] Luke 24:13-35

[14] Luke 24:36-49

[15] John 20:24-31

[16] John 21

[17] Matthew 28:16-20

[18] 1 Corinthians 15:6

[19] 1 Corinthians 15:7

[20] Acts 1:4-8

[21] Acts 9:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 15:8; 9:1

[22] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 551.

[23] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 551.

[24] C. F. D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1967), 13.

[25] Philippians 2:5-11

[26] Translates as to trust or to surrender completely.

[27] Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

[28] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 554.

[29] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 30th Anniversary ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 72.

[30] Blaise Pascal, Pensées 322/802, ed. and trans. Alban Krailsheimer (New York, NY: Penguin, 1966), 127.

[31] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 556.

[32] Pascal, Pensées 310/801, 125.

[33] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 561.

[34] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 562.

[35] Psalm 14:1

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