Christ’s Historical Resurrection

From the March 2005 Creation Answers Newsletter
Wayne Spencer  

    Easter comes and goes and is often less celebrated than other holidays.  For some it revolves around special kids activities, “Easter eggs,” and a focus on the coming of Spring.  But let us not forget that Easter is a celebration of the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Christ’s resurrection is, of course, a crucial truth to Christianity.  If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then he just would not be who he said he was and he would not have power to save today.  But because his resurrection was a real event in history, there is a sense in which the resurrection has empowered believers to live a life of victory over sin.

    Of course, many have challenged the Bibles teaching on the resurrection.  Nonchristian religions take a variety of views of it.  Many among the scientific community would not accept the concept of a historical bodily resurrection because they simply reject the possibility of the supernatural.  Because the scientific method cannot be used to investigate events of the past, science cannot disprove the resurrection or any other supernatural event in the Bible.  As I see it, when God intervenes supernaturally in history, he is superceding natural law, not undoing it.  It is much like how the directions of a policeman directing traffic at a stop light takes precedence over the usual routine law of how the traffic light works.  In fact, Scripture teaches that even natural laws depend on God in some way.  

    Some treat the resurrection as a concept that has symbolic and spiritual meaning but which did not really happen as the New Testament lays out.  Many scholars today, even many Bible scholars, do not believe that all the details from the gospels and the New Testament writings of the Apostles are really historically accurate.  But if the New Testament is not historically accurate in everything, how can we trust even the spiritual truths?  If the historically verifiable information in the Bible is not accurate, how can we count on the information we cannot verify historically?  Of course, the experience of the Christian verifies the truth of the New Testament.  But it is important to remember that the personal experience of the Christian has its basis in facts of history.  It also hinges on the truth that Jesus Christ was a real person who did what the Bible describes.  Only someone who was both fully human and fully God could do what Jesus Christ did.  Following are some reasons that I think we should believe in Christ’s resurrection according to the New Testament.

    First of all the documents in the New Testament were written by people who were either eyewitnesses of the events or close associates of eyewitnesses.  Luke, though he may not have been an eyewitness, his writings have earned a very strong reputation for factual accuracy among archeologists.  Also, if Jesus’ disciples had been fabricating a story of Jesus having rose from the dead or had they hidden the body, there were many hostile witnesses that could have proven them wrong.  At the time the Apostle Paul wrote I Corinthians there were people who had been eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus who were still alive at the time Paul wrote the letter!  Also, when Paul spoke before Roman authorities, they also were familiar enough with the facts that the Apostles could not have fooled many people for very long.  

    Consider also what it would have meant if the Apostles who had been with Jesus actually had lied and made up some sort of resurrection story.  They would have known this was a lie and they would have suffered and died terrible deaths (except John) for something they would have known was a lie!  Why would they do that?  The resurrection dramatically changed the lives of Jesus’ disciples.  They went from staying virtually in hiding to boldly witnessing to many and sometimes being arrested for their testimony.  

    The various theories put forward to try and explain away the resurrection are easily refuted, even just with a little common sense. The resurrection could not have been merely a spiritual or symbolic idea because even nonbelievers had to deal with the consequences of what had happened.  Also, Jesus appeared to a number of different people, both followers and opponents, as well as individuals and groups.  Jesus ate and let people touch him.  My own father once commented that the claims of the resurrection were hallucinations.  But this is just not possible.  There were groups of people, including a large group of 500 who saw the risen Jesus.  No two people have the same hallucination since it is a problem of a very individual and personal nature.  

    Some of the best indications of the historical truth of the resurrection comes from facts about the Roman guard.  Josh McDowell’s books give some very enlightening information about the Roman guard and how it made it impossible for someone to disturb the body.  There has been some controversy among Bible scholars about whether the guards at the tomb were Jewish temple guards or Roman guards.  There are some pretty good reasons that they must have been Roman guards.  The guards at the tomb went to the Jewish priests after Christ had risen (Matthew 28:11-15) because Roman guards who left their post, went to sleep, or in some other way failed to do their duty while on guard, were executed.  This is why the priests bribed the guards to keep them quiet and told them they would keep them from getting in trouble with Pilate.  Temple guards were treated similarly for leaving their posts but they would not have needed to worry about the Roman governor.

    Matthew 28 also describes the guards fainting from fear when they saw an “Angel of the Lord” sitting on the stone.  These were not people easily frightened, but Roman soldiers.  It is not known just how many soldiers were there but scholars knowledgeable about Roman practices suggest at least 4 and possibly as many as 16 or 20.  It’s been said that a Roman guard group was trained to defend a small area of ground against an army and hold it.  There is no way Jesus’ disciples could have been expected to somehow overpower the Roman guard and take the body.  That was exactly why the guard was posted.  The Jewish leaders expected that the disciples might have tried that very thing (Matthew 27:62-66).

    There are many other interesting aspects of the evidence for the resurrection I will not mention.  There are other details regarding the stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb.  There are interesting medical arguments regarding when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus side to make sure he was dead.  Jesus definitely was crucified and died and he definitely rose from the dead bodily.  Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection on multiple occasions, though his disciples did not understand.  Later, after the resurrection, the Apostles and New Testament writers emphasized the significance of it.  The Apostle Paul sums it up in Acts 17:31:

“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.
He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”


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