Bible says that, three days after Jesus died on the cross and was
laid in the tomb, God resurrected him from the dead. He appeared
to many, he spoke with them and let them touch him, he prepared
food for them, and he taught the disciples for 40 days about the
kingdom of God. Then he was bodily lifted up into heaven.
statements about Jesus bodily resurrection are thoroughly
documented in Scripture. The question, for many, is whether they
question is important for several reasons. (1) Jesus bodily
resurrection, if it occurred, is strong evidence that he was indeed
the Son of God, God who came to earth and lived with men for a time.
(2) Jesus resurrection demonstrates that God is a God of the
supernatural, who can do things far beyond mens experience
or scientific understanding. (3) The power by which God resurrected
his son Jesus is the same power which works in those who believe
in Jesus; without the resurrection we would not have that power.
(4) The resurrection of Jesus is, I believe, central to and inextricably
woven into the gospel of Jesus Christ.
are two viewpoints from which one can look at this question. One
is what I will call the materialist/humanist viewpoint. This says
that our only source of knowledge is our own minds, our own five
senses, and what we can detect by scientific instruments. It says
that the universe either existed always or came into being by chance,
and that it runs by a set of immutable laws which cannot be violated.
Because the resurrection of Jesus does not fit those laws it cannot
have occurred. This is the viewpoint which my father held, and which
I held for much of my life.
other is the Scriptural viewpoint. This says that there is a God
who created the universe and keeps it running. He is able to do
things that are outside what men call the normal rules; we call
these supernatural occurrences. He acts in peoples lives.This
is the viewpoint I now hold.
tend to associate what we call the "scientific method"
with the materialist/humanist viewpoint. This has not always been
the case. Newton, Galileo and many other early scientists believed
in a God with supernatural power. They considered the task of science
to be that of discovering how that God had set up the universe.
Today, as when these men lived, it is perfectly possible to be a
scientist, who seeks to discover and understand the normal rules
by which the universe operates, and still to recognize that there
is a God with supernatural power who is not bound by the "rules"
that men have identified. To say that there is a supernatural God
is not contrary to science; it merely recognizes that, valuable
as science is, there are some things it cannot explain.
this viewpoint, Gods supernatural actions do not violate the
"laws of nature." What we call the "laws of nature"
are not laws; they are the best effort of scientists, based on the
information and understanding available to them, to describe how
Gods creation seems to operate. Since mans ability to
observe and his understanding are both limited, these descriptions
(which we call laws) are also limited, as is evidenced by the fact
that they change from time to time as men achieve new observations
or understandings. God does not change and his actions are always
consistent with his own nature. His supernatural actions simply
show that our scientific understanding of how the universe operates
is incomplete, and that there are sometimes occurrences which the
"laws" that our scientists have formulated cannot adequately
you start with an unshakeable assumption that nothing like the resurrection
could have occurred, then no amount of evidence is apt to get you
to change your mind. But if you are willing, at the start, to set
aside your assumption that supernatural events never occur and to
look at the evidence objectively, then I believe you will find the
evidence quite convincing that the resurrection of Jesus Christ
you deny that supernatural events ever occur, then, I believe, you
are denying that God exists and you are saying that you do not believe
in Jesus Christ. The God of Scripture is a supernatural God. Jesus
incarnation was a supernatural event. Jesus did supernatural things
(miracles). If you try, as some German scholars did early in the
20th century, to take the supernatural out of the Bible, you are
left with nothing. Some today say that the resurrection of Jesus
has great significance, but it was not a historical event. This
is treating the resurrection like a placebo.
way of looking at this is to say that we can read the Scriptures
from the point of view of their authors, who believed in a supernatural
God who acts supernaturally, or we can read them through the filter
of our current materialistic/humanistic mindsets and edit out or
ignore everything that does not go through that filter. In Romans
12:2 Paul admonished believers, "Do not conform any longer
to the pattern of this world." What justification have we for
distorting the plain meaning of Scripture to try to make it conform
to the materialist/humanist pattern of 19th and 20th century Western
the following pages one of the things I hope to do is to show how
intimately the resurrection of Jesus is bound to many of the doctrines
of Christianity. Paul said, "If Christ has not been raised,
our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians
15:14). (Scripture quotations are from the N.I.V. unless otherwise
noted.) Paul declared, and I believe he was right, that the physical
resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian gospel, and
that without it the gospel does not make sense. If the gospel account
ends with Jesus a corpse lying in a tomb then there is no victory
and no hope; the hope of the gospel is because the tomb could not
hold Jesus and he rose out of it. Those who profess to follow Pauls
teachings cannot ignore this and other statements by Paul as to
what his teachings were based on.
The Historical Record
order to determine whether a historical fact occurred we look at
available writings, archeological discoveries and other data. We
examine those data to see whether they are authentic and internally
consistent and whether their source is credible. In the case of
the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have a remarkably large number
of fairly contemporaneous writings, originally written as separate
documents by different authors over a period of some years, and
later compiled into what we call the Scriptures. We have, so far
as I am aware, no documentary or other evidence to contradict them.
When we examine these documents objectively, without any philosophical
preconceptions as to whether such an event could have occurred,
I believe we must conclude that the historical documentation for
the resurrection is remarkably strong and convincing. In this section
I shall review what the available documents tell us. In a subsequent
section I shall examine some questions that have been raised about
the credibility of those documents. I believe that Scripture is
a divine revelation of spiritual truth, but in this paper I shall
look at it simply from the point of view of a historical record
of events that occurred and words that were spoken.
avoid encumbering this paper with Scriptural references I have listed,
in an appendix, all the Scriptural references I could find to the
resurrection of Jesus. I have also included references, far fewer
in number, to the closely related teaching about the future resurrection
of believers. As 1 Corinthians chapter 15 makes clear, the latter
teaching rests explicitly on the fact of Jesus bodily resurrection.
me start by commenting on how extraordinarily numerous the references
to resurrection are. Six whole chapters of the New Testament deal
almost exclusively with resurrection, and I have listed 69 other
direct references to resurrection in the Appendix. (I may have missed
some.) Resurrection is mentioned in 17 of the 26 books of the New
Testament, including all the major ones. The whole teaching of the
New Testament is that, in spite of his physical death on the cross,
Jesus is still alive and it is because of that fact that we can
have hope. So pervasive is the concept that I think it fair to say
that to reject the fact of Jesus resurrection is to reject
the New Testament and to reject any form of Christianity that is
based on the Bible.
believe a reading of all these references will show that the New
Testament account is remarkably coherent and consistent. Jesus expected
to be resurrected; he was resurrected and appeared to many; the
fact of his resurrection was seen by the disciples as the conclusive
proof of who he was and was a primary emphasis of their teaching
and preaching; and it was central to the teaching in the epistles.
Once you are willing to accept the premise that a supernatural God
was capable of resurrecting Jesus from the dead, everything in the
Biblical record fits together quite logically. Those who do not
accept that premise try to find flaws in the historical record,
but their arguments, by ordinary standards of historical verification,
are quite unconvincing.
Jesus knew he would be resurrected.
tells us that, as Jesus approached his crucifixion, he knew "all
that was going to happen to him" (John 18:4). One of the things
he knew was that he would be resurrected. Some time before Jesus
entered Jerusalem in the final week of his life, Matthew records
that "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands
of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he
must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life" (Matthew
16:21). It sounds as if he said this to the disciples many times.
Scripture records five. (See Appendix, paragraph 2.)
alluded to his resurrection on at least three earlier occasions.
John records that at the beginning of his ministry he told the priests,
"destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days."
John explains that "the temple he had spoken of was his body"
and that "after he was raised from the dead, his disciples
recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and
the words that Jesus had spoken" (John 2:19-21). Matthew records
that, fairly early in his ministry, the Pharisees and teachers of
the law asked him for a miraculous sign. He replied that "as
Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish,
so the Son of Man [his term for himself] will be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mat 12:40). John records
that he said, "I lay down my life, only to take it up again...
I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again"
(John 10:17-18). It would seem that Jesus knew, from the start of
his ministry, that he would be crucified and resurrected.
says that Jesus, "for the joy set before him, endured the cross,
scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne
of God" (Hebrews 12:14). Perhaps part of the joy he anticipated,
and that enabled him to endure the shame and agony of the cross,
was the knowledge that he would be resurrected. At any rate, he
made it clear that he went to his death voluntarily. Jesus said
"No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own
accord" (John 10:18). Luke records that "As the time approached
for him to be taken up into heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for
Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). He knew that Judas would betray him
but did nothing to stop him. On the night he was arrested he even
went to his accustomed place so that Judas could find him easily.
At the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed repeatedly, "If it is
possible let this cup be taken from me. Yet, not as I will but as
you will" (Matthew 26:39). When Peter struck out with his sword
at Jesus arrest, Jesus told him, "Put your sword back
in its place... Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he
will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must
happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:52-54). During six hours of
agony on the cross, Jesus could at any time have asked his Father
to end his suffering, but he did not!
may ask, "how could Jesus have known ahead of time what would
happen?" The short answer is that Scripture is very clear in
saying that he did. Whether we can understand it or not, that is
the historical fact. A historian (or any scientist) has no right
to ignore a fact because he cannot explain it. But the statement
can be understood in at least two ways. Scripture makes it very
clear that Jesus was sent to earth by God and would return to God
(see e.g. John 13:3). I believe he knew, before he came to earth,
what he would be called on to do and what would happen to him. It
was all part of a plan, which was carried out as it was planned.
But also, God has given to some the gift of prophecy, and has said
that he never does anything "without revealing his plan to
his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). If ordinary mortals
are told in advance what God plans to do, why should it surprise
us that Jesus, the Son of God, had such advance knowledge?
Other references by Jesus to resurrection
of the gospels record a discussion by Jesus of what will happen
at the "resurrection of the dead" (Matthew 22:23-32, Mark
12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40). Jesus told Martha, the sister of Lazarus,
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me
will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25). (In numerous
other places he said that those who believe in him will have eternal
life (e.g. John 3:16, 17:2)). He said, "Just as the Father
raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life
to whom he is pleased to give it" (John 5:21). He said that
God had given him the power to judge all men, and went on to say,
"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who
are in their graves will hear his [Jesus] voice and come out
- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have
done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:28-29).
The resurrection accounts
have four accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, one in each of
the four gospels. The beginning of Acts adds further information,
and there is an account in Pauls first letter to the Corinthians
summarizing the appearances of the resurrected Jesus. (See references
in Appendix). The first three gospels were probably written about
the same time; they often duplicate each other. Johns gospel
was written some time later; he tends, as would be expected, not
to repeat material in the other gospels but to add additional material
which they do not contain.
of these accounts describe the actual resurrection. No one was there
to see it. They do tell of Jesus followers coming on Sunday
morning and finding the tomb empty, and then of various times when
Jesus, in his resurrection body, appeared to one or more of them.
accounts vary somewhat in detail. I think we can expect that of
any accounts of an event. (Indeed if the accounts were identical,
the sceptics would probably argue that that was proof that the disciples
cooked up a false story.) But the same basic elements are present
in all of them.
accounts are striking in their detail. They are wholly unlike the
usual accounts of ghostly apparitions. It is hard to imagine that
all this detail of the persons present, their actions, and the words
spoken, could have been invented. If you can put aside the preconception
that the resurrection could not have happened, and look at them
objectively, they ring true.
The empty tomb
died on the cross on Friday and was buried in a cave, with a large
stone rolled across the mouth. Marks account makes it clear
that the stone would have been too heavy for the women to roll away
(Mark 16:3). A Roman guard was set over the tomb. I think there
can be no doubt that Jesus died. Johns gospel tells us that
the soldiers went to break the legs of the victims (which would
cause them to suffocate), but when they came to Jesus they found
he was already dead (John 19:31-34). The Roman soldiers had officiated
at hundreds of crucifixions; they were experts in knowing when a
crucified man was dead.
Sunday morning some women among Jesus followers went to the
tomb to anoint Jesus body with spices. (All four accounts
mention Mary Magdalene and all but John mention an "other Mary,"
perhaps the mother of Jesus.) Three accounts say (and Matthew implies)
that when they got there they found the stone rolled away and the
tomb empty. All four accounts record that one or two angels appeared;
three record that the angel(s) said, "He is not here. He is
risen." Both Luke and John say that Peter went into the empty
tomb and saw the burial cloths folded up; Johns gospel says
that John also entered the tomb.
and Luke do not use the term "angel"; Mark speaks of "a
young man dressed in a white robe," and Luke of "two men
in clothes that gleamed like lightning." Scripture not infrequently
uses "man" to describe what is clearly an angel (Se, for
example, Daniel 10:5-6; Gensis 18:10 and 19:2; Joshua 5:13; and
may question these references to angels. Scripture records many
appearances of angels and tells us quite a bit about them, and some
people today report seeing angels. I think there can be little doubt
that angels exist although few have seen them, just as there is
little doubt that atomic particles exist although few have ever
this were all we had it would, I believe, be sufficient proof that
the resurrection occurred. But there is much more.
The appearances of the resurrected Jesus
records a number of occasions when the resurrected Jesus appeared
to various people. As might be expected, different gospels record
different appearances. Putting them all together we have a very
extensive list. Some of the accounts are quite detailed, as to the
circumstances and as to what Jesus said and did.
Mark and John say that he appeared and spoke to Mary Magdalene;
Matthew says he appeared and spoke to both Marys.
Luke describes at length, and Mark mentions, an appearance to and
long conversation with two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus,
a town near Jerusalem. Jesus broke bread and gave it to them and
Mark, Luke and John all describe an appearance in Jerusalem to the
disciples. John says that Thomas was absent at the first appearance,
and that Jesus appeared again a week later when Thomas was present.
John describes another appearance to the disciples at Lake Galilee.
Matthew describes an appearance on a mountain in Galilee.
Acts 1:3 says that "After his suffering [Jesus] showed himself
to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about
the kingdom of God."
Acts 1:4 tells of a conversation he had "while he was eating
with them," and of what seems to be another, later, conversation.
Acts 1:9 says that at his last appearance with the disciples he
was taken up bodily into heaven. A large number of disciples were
present. Both Mark and Luke also report the Ascension. (Jesus predicted
his Ascension (John 6:62 and 20:17) and the epistles often refer
to it (Ephesians 4:8-10; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:14;; see also
Hebrews 1:13 and 10:12).)
When Stephen was being stoned he "looked up to heaven and saw
the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God"
Paul summarizes these appearances and adds others as follows:
appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that he appeared
to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most
of whom are still living, although some have fallen asleep. Then
he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all
he appeared to me also" (1 Corinthians 15:4-8).
The nature of Jesus resurrection body
1 Corinthians 15:35-54 Paul says that a resurrection body differs
from a usual physical body in a number of ways; it is imperishable,
has no weakness, and is a spiritual body. Jesus body as seen
in these resurrection accounts was not the same as the body he had
before his death.
looked like an ordinary body. Mary Magdalene thought it was the
gardener (John 20:15). On the way to Emmaus the two men walked and
talked with him for a long time before they realized it was he.
Thomas apparently put his finger in the wounds at Jesus hands
and side. Luke tells us that Jesus ate a piece of fish; John says
he broiled some fish, and gave the disciples bread and fish; Acts
says that he ate with them. Luke also says he broke bread and gave
it to the men on the way to Emmaus. He clearly had a physical body.
As he told the disciples, "A ghost does not have flesh and
bones, as you see I have" (Luke).
this was not just an ordinary physical body. He appeared suddenly
in their midst, or disappeared. Matthew records that "suddenly"
Jesus met the women. Luke records that at Emmaus, after the two
men recognized him, "he disappeared from their sight."
John says that he twice came through locked doors. And Matthew records
that the angels rolled the stone away from the tomb, which would
indicate that Jesus had come out through the stone.
What the resurrected Jesus said
remarkable feature of these accounts is the extended conversations
they report, sometimes in considerable detail, between Jesus and
his disciples. A number of important sayings and teachings of Jesus
are contained in these resurrection accounts. Jesus, characteristically,
used these resurrection appearances to continue his teaching and
his preparation of the disciples for what they would be called on
to do. They are a continuation and culmination of the ministry which
he had before the crucifixion.
Luke tells us that Jesus had an extended conversation with two men
who were going to Emmaus. Jesus said "Did not Christ have to
suffer all these things and then enter into his glory?" Then
"beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to
them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."
This is a continuation of a theme which Jesus began earlier in his
ministry, that he was the fulfillment of Scripture. Thus, at the
synagogue in Nazareth he read a prophecy of Isaiah and said, "today
this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21; see
also Matthew 11:4). When they came to arrest him he told Peter to
put up his sword, because Jesus arrest and crucifixion were
a fulfillment of Scripture (Matthew 26:54).
When he appeared to the disciples Luke says "then he opened
their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."
Acts reports that over a period of forty days he taught them about
the kingdom of God. This had been the major theme of his teaching
from the beginning of his ministry (Mark 1:15).
Luke says that when the disciples thought he was a ghost he said,
"Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your minds?
Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see.
A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."
The incident is quite similar to the earlier occasion when the disciples,
seeing Jesus walking on the water, were frightened and he reassured
them (Matthew 14:26-27).
Mark reports that Jesus "rebuked [the disciples] for their
lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had
seen him after he had risen." This recalls a number of other
instances in which Jesus had rebuked the disciples for their lack
of faith (see, for example,. Matthew 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20).
Matthew reports Jesus statement that "all authority in
heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Compare this with
John 13:3: "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under
his power"; see also Luke 10:19).
Matthew reports Jesus statement "Surely I am with you
always, to the very end of the age." (Compare this with John
14:18: "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you",
and Matthew 18:28, "Where two or three come together in my
name, there am I with them.")
John tells us that the resurrected Jesus gave the disciples a miraculous
catch of fish, similar to the one Luke reports at the beginning
of his ministry (Luke 5:6-7).
two occasions, both reported by John, the resurrected Jesus Jesus
ministered to one of his disciples. Thomas, who had shown great
boldness at the time of Lazarus death (see John 11:16), doubted
the resurrection. Jesus did not rebuke Thomas. He let him touch
his wounded hands and side, at which Thomas cried out "My Lord
and my God", and Jesus replied, "Because you have seen
me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet
have believed." Jesus gently and lovingly brought Thomas from
a state of doubt to a state of unshakeable belief, and spoke a blessing
over future believers. Then he ministered beautifully to Peter,
who had been devastated by the fact that, after Jesus arrest,
he had denied Jesus three times. Three times Jesus asked him "Do
you love me?", and when Peter said "yes," he commissioned
him to "take care of my sheep" - in other words he gave
him pastoral responsibility. This is the last in a series of actions
in which Jesus ministered personally to Peter, to prepare him for
the responsibilities he would have.
all, Jesus used this time to prepare the disciples and to commission
them for the task they would have after he was taken up to heaven.
He was with them for forty days, teaching about the kingdom of God.
Before his death he had said that he would send the Holy Spirit
to them. John reports that after his resurrection he "breathed
on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit." Then
Acts says that he told them to wait in Jerusalem and "you will
receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." And finally
he gave them what is called the Great Commission, in Matthews
words, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
This commission, in varying forms, is reported in all four gospels
and the Book of Acts. Just as Jesus sent the disciples out by twos
early in his ministry, now he was commissioning them for a much
greater task, on whose success the effectiveness of his entire earthly
ministry would depend. It was for this moment that he had been preparing
his disciples for three years. And the final two steps in this process,
the empowering with the Holy Spirit and the giving of the Great
Commission, occurred after his resurrection. Those who deny the
resurrection must also, presumably, deny that these steps occurred.
The disciples reaction to these appearances
Jesus had told them many times that he would be resurrected, the
disciples were confused and unbelieving when it occurred. Mary thought
Jesus was the gardener. The disciples doubted the womens account.
The men on the road to Emmaus walked with Jesus for a long time
without recognizing him. The disciples feared and thought Jesus
was a ghost - so much so that Jesus rebuked them for their lack
of faith. Thomas refused to believe unless he could see and touch
Jesus wounds. Only then did he make the stunning declaration,
"My Lord and my God."
reaction was quite understandable. Despite the careful way Jesus
had prepared them for it over and over, what occurred was so far
removed from their normal experience that their minds could not
handle it. But, as we shall see, once they became convinced that
it had truly happened they asserted it boldly on every occasion.
fact that the gospel accounts record this confusion and lack of
understanding by the disciples tends to confirm the honesty and
authenticity of these accounts.
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