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The Resurrection of Christ
Fact or Fiction - You Must Determine

February 2018 - Part Two

Let us not only consider the evidence of the empty tomb, but also let us consider the historical record of over 500 men and women who saw Christ alive, along with the evidence that the disciples had actually seen their resurrected Lord on at least ten separate occasions after He left the tomb. These appearances were probably in the following order;

1. To Mary Magdalene (John. 20:11-18; Mark 16:9)

2. To other women (Matthew 28:8-10)

3. To Peter (1st Corinthians 15:15)

4. To the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 2413-35; Mark 16:12)

5. To ten of the disciples (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-29)

6. To all eleven disciples, eight days later (John 20:24-29)

7. To seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-23)

8. To five hundred followers (1st Corinthians 15:6)

9. To James (1st Corinthians 15:7)

10. To the eleven, at the ascension (Acts 1:3-12)

There were probably many other times He appeared to one or more of His dis­ciples. Luke says: “He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days” (Acts 1:3).  He was apparently seen by Stephen (Acts 7:56). Finally, of course, He was seen by Paul (Acts 9:3-8; 1st Corinthians 15:8) and once again by John approximately thirty years after His crucifixion (Revelation 1:12-18).

Of course, skeptics have tried to avoid the testimony of these numerous post-resurrection appearances of Christ by pointing out various contradictions in the six accounts which list them (Matthew 28:8-20; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 24:13-51; John 20:11-21, 14; Acts 1:1-11; 1st Corin­thians 15:5-8), or else by charging the writers with fabricating the stories them­selves.  Of course, the mere fact that there does appear on the surface to be a number of superficial discrepancies and omissions in the accounts is clear proof that the writers were not engaged in some kind of collusion. If they were making up a tale, each one evidently was doing so independently of all the others. This in itself would be quite a remarkable state of af­fairs, especially since these discrepancies all vanish when they are compared under close examination. It is a well-known rule of evidence that the testimonies of several different witnesses, each reporting from his particular vantage point, provide the strongest possible evidence on matters of fact when the testimonies contain superficial contradictions which resolve themselves upon close and careful examination. This is exactly the situation with the various witnesses to the resurrection. 

The only other possible device for ex­plaining away the post-resurrection ap­pearances is to assume that they were all merely hallucinations, or visions, perhaps induced by drugs or hypnosis or hysteria. Such an absurd hypothesis is surely its own refutation.

Such hallucinations, if this is what they were, are quite unique in human history and warrant the most careful psychological scrutiny. They were experienced by a large number of different individuals, all seeing the same vision, but in different groups, at different times, both indoors and outdoors, on a hilltop, along a road­way, by a lakeshore, and other places. Furthermore, they were not looking for Jesus at all. Several times they didn’t recog­nize Him at first, and at least once actually believed it was a ghost until He convinced them otherwise. He invited them to touch Him and they recognized the wounds in His hands (John 20:27; Luke 24:39).

They watched Him eat with them (Luke 24:41-43). On one occasion, over five hundred different people saw Him at one time (1st Corinthians 15:6), most of whom were still living at the time when that evidence was being used. 

The hallucination or vision theory is therefore, quite impos­sible. The numerous appear­ances of Christ must be regarded as abso­lutely historical and genuine. This fact, combined with the evidence of the empty tomb, renders the resurrection as certain as any fact of history could possibly be.

Let me stop for a moment disproving the skeptic’s main arguments used against the possibility of the resurrection of Christ and use as evidence the disciples themselves as proof of their belief in Christ’s resurrection.

  1. There was an unbelievable change, for the better, in all of Jesus’ disciples.  Each disciple of Jesus was changed.   Doubting Thomas became a pillar of faith, taking Christianity to India. James and John, (Sons of Thunder), become the brothers of Love, Unstable Peter, became the Rock, etc All of Jesus followers were positively affected. Now a lie will change people, but seldom will it change them in a positive manner. Lies almost always change people for the worse.
  2. Despite some internal inconsistencies within the disciple’s story there are many consistencies that indicate the author’s truthfulness.  Mark, who was sent to the gentiles, calls Jesus the “Son of Man” more times than in any other gospel. That term is a messianic term known to the Jews, but not known to the gentiles. If they were perpetrating a lie, then why call Jesus a son of man; call him the Son of God. It would be a better lie.
  3. “Why did they wait 7 weeks, before preaching the first message?” Doing this would only hurt their cause. Yet, because Jesus told them to wait, they waited.
  4. The price each disciple paid, each one dying a martyr’s death except John. Here’s a few. Paul– beheaded in Rome. Mark – Dragged to death in the streets of Alexandria. Thomas – Pierced by a Brahman sword in India. Bartholomew – Skinned alive with a whip in Armenia. Andrew – Crucified on what we now call Andrews Cross, a cross in the figure X. Luke – was hanged by idolatrous priests. Peter who watched his wife crucified and then was crucified himself upside down in Rome.
  5. They all died alone, yet no one ever changed their story.  Now it is conceivable, that a group of people, sticking together in a kind of self-preservation mode, could hold out for each other in telling this lie. What is totally impossible is that each disciple, separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, being tortured to death, yet not one of them ever changed his story in order to save him from terrible torture which would have ended is a painful and agonizing death, all anyone of them had to say is, “Ok, I give up, it was only a lie.  Why wouldn’t they if it were only a lie?  

What you see in these disciples, are ordinary men, witnessing an extraordinary event that totally changed them. These men had to tell this story, this “Good News,” of the Gospel. There was no way they couldn’t shout it, no obstacle would prevent them from proclaiming this story from the rooftops.

Now it is completely impossible that the apostles could have preached and written as they did unless they were absolutely sincere and under deep conviction of the truth of what they preached. They had instantaneously changed from craven runaways to bold Spirit-filled proclaimers of Christ and the resurrection.  Such preaching cost them the loss of their pos­sessions, intense persecution, and finally the loss of their lives, but they kept preach­ing as long as strength permitted. Multi­tudes who believed what they were preaching suffered the same persecutions.  If they were faking all this, if somewhere they had the body of Jesus hidden away, or if He were still barely alive in a sickbed somewhere, or if they were involved in some kind of plot, or if they were not really sure whether they had seen Him or some vision, is it conceivable that all of them (as well as their hosts of converts) would have continued this make-believe right up to the point of death itself?  Absolutely Not!  It would seem there must be some things in this world which no one in his right mind could pos­sibly believe, and this should be one of them!

With all this being said let me ask this question; “Is there any historical evidence of the physical resurrection of Christ?  Can History validate the resurrection of Christ?”  Without a doubt; Yes!  Below is a list of historical figures and evidences that do just that.

1st.    The testimony of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50-115 AD) “He was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate. He really, and not merely in appearance, was crucified and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He also rose again in three days.”[i]

2nd. The testimony of St. Clement of Rome (writing in about A.D. 100), speaks of Christ's resurrection to the Corinthians. In his first letter to the Corinthians he says: “Let us understand, dearly beloved, how the Master continually showeth unto us the resurrection that shall be hereafter; whereof He made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruits, when He raised Him from the dead.” (1st Clement 24)[ii]

3rd.  The testimony of Flavius Josephus (born A.D. 37) who was a Jewish historian also known as Joseph ben Mattathias.  He became a Pharisee at age 19.  In A.D. 66 he was the commander of Jewish forces in Galilee against the Roman invaders. After being captured, he was attached to the Roman headquarters.   Flavius Josephus though a Jewish priest was not a Christian and was not hired by the Christians to write about Christ.  Josephus in fact was a first century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the first century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War which resulted in the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  He has been credited by many as recording some of the earliest history of Jesus Christ outside of the gospels, this being an item of contention among historians.[iii]  He was a law-observant Jew who believed in the compatibility of Judaism and Greco-Roman thought, which is commonly referred to as Hellenistic Judaism.  He became a Roman Citizen and at the insistence of Caesar, Titus Flavius Josephus wrote his works.  He never became a Christian, yet he writes the following about Jesus (c. A.D. 100) in the standard text of the Antiquities XVIII, 63, in his work entitled “The Antiquities of the Jews” Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribes of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[iv]

4th.   Paul L. Maier, a well-respected authority on Josephus, calls attention to a recent manuscript discovery in which the original Josephus text appears.[v] 

This text reads: “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.”[vi]

This text, though it does not explicitly affirm the resurrection, is, nevertheless, a strong attestation and witness for it.  How so?  We must remember that Josephus is a hostile witness. He is a Jew writing under the charge of the Romans. He would hardly have included such an account it if it were not true – and generally acknowledged as such. He would hardly have wanted to raise the indignation of either the Jews or the Romans.

5th.   Roman History Scholar - Thomas Arnold - Arnold wrote the three-volume History of Rome and held the chair of modern history and Oxford University. He was well acquainted with the value of evidence in establishing historical facts. This great scholar wrote: “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”[vii]

6th.   Textual Critic - Brook Foss Wescott – “Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.[viii]

7th.   Professor of Ancient History - Paul L. Maier - Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, concluded: “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy or archaeology that would disprove this statement.[ix]

It should be clear by now that Christianity didn’t begin with a lie, but a miracle. The most important event in the history of this world occurred when Jesus came out of that tomb. Death itself was defeated. Now, by simple faith in the completed work of Jesus the Christ, the greatest and eternal fear that besets each person, the fear of death, has been eliminated. We no longer have to fear what lies beyond the curtain that blocks our view of immortality. This mortal beginning we all go through is just a stepping stone, for the road ahead continues for those in Christ. The road ahead continues for those not in Christ also, however its destination is unclear and separation from God is certain which in itself is a Hell regardless of the “Fire and Brimstone” that is promised to those who chose not to follow Jesus.

The final proof offered here is that of transformed lives. Millions upon millions have experienced a supernatural transformation through Christ Jesus since the first century. How could this be possible if our faith is based upon a lie?  You would think that this whole movement which has eventually become known as "Christianity" would have just died out if it was based on myth, legend and fable. But it hasn't. Lives continue to be touched and transformed through the ages by the power of God, my own life included. This is perhaps the greatest single proof of the reality of the resurrection of Christ.

No wonder then, in view of the com­bined evidences presented here regarding the empty tomb, the numerous appearances and more, like the change in the disciples from runaway scared fishermen to power filled, sold out even to death, witnesses for Christ and the authenticity of the rec­ords, not to mention the testimony of two thousand years of Christian history, that such a man as Thomas Arnold, formerly Professor of History at Rugby and Oxford, one of the world’s great historians, could say: “I know of no one fact in the history of man­kind which is proved by better, fuller evi­dence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair enquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died, and rose again from the dead.[x]

In like manner, Simon Greenleaf, one of the most skilled legal minds ever pro­duced in this nation, top authority on the question of what constitutes sound evi­dence, developer of the Harvard Law School, after a thorough evaluation of the four Gospel accounts from the point of view of their validity as objective testi­monial evidence, concluded:  It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.”[xi]

It is therefore maintained that the bodily resurrection of Christ is as certain as any fact of history can ever be. If there is anything at all in which we can believe with absolute confidence, it is the fact that Jesus Christ died, was buried, conquered death and is now alive and as a result of this absolutely miraculous feat “even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1st Corinthians 15:20, 22).

The universal reign of death in the world is explainable only in terms of the Creator’s curse on man and his dominion because of his sin (Genesis 3:17-19). Since God the Creator was the one who im­posed this universal law of death, it is only He who can supersede and change it.

The unique bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is clear proof that He is God, as well as man, because only God could conquer death. The great Creator became the Son of Man that He might die for man’s sin, but He also remained God and death could not hold Him!

God’s first great work that of Creation, was finished from the foundation of the world (Genesis 2:1-3; Hebrews 11:3). Creation was perfect and complete from the beginning; it needed no further assis­tance from an imaginary process of evolu­tion to finish the job.

In the same way, His second work – that of Redemption – was now also perfect and complete. After suffering hell itself – spiritual death – on the cross, dying alone under all the weight of the sins of every man, He shouted in victory “It is finished” (John 19:30)!  He dismissed His spirit from His body, allowing it to be buried in certain testimony that His death was also physical death. When He re­turned to the body three days later, im­parting to it a glorious, eternal, resur­rection life, He demonstrated to all men of all the ages that He indeed was the Crea­tor, the problem of sin had been solved, and that death had forever lost its sting.

The redemption price has been paid, and one day, “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of decay into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  Until that day when He “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5); His promise of forgiveness, salvation, resurrection and eternal life is available on an individual basis to every person who believes Him and accepts His Word. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

In conclusion, if one reviews all the facts with an open mind, they will reach the conclusion that Jesus was, in fact, resurrected from the dead. But it is impossible to prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It requires faith. God planned it this way; we must have faith, for "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

He has been raised from the dead, and we also, because of His resurrection, will be raised from the dead: "For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, and the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory" (1st Corinthians 15:52-54).

This concludes our study on Christology.  It must be stated that this writer could easily continue this for many more months and still the study would be incomplete.  Subjects such as “Biblical prophecies concerning Christ,” “The Humanity of Christ,” His Ascension,” “His Second Coming” and “What it means that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ and the ‘Son of Man’ at the same time;” along with many other important subjects regarding Him that have yet to be explored in these studies.  But this study must go farther and in this writer’s opinion and for salvation’s sake it should never cease, for a true and thorough biblical understanding of Jesus Christ is crucial to salvation.  Many cults and world religions claim to believe in Jesus Christ. The problem is believing in the person of Christ, did he exist, did he die on a cross, did he live in ancient Israel around the time of the first century, etc. does us no good.  One must believe in the Jesus Christ our scarified lamb who took away our sin, that He is God, our Lord, Master and Savior, our life’s example and our only way to heaven That is why Christology is so important.  Understanding the significance of the deity of Christ enforces our understanding of why Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The Bible teaches us that Jesus had to be human being so that He could be tempted in all points as we are in order to sympathize with us (cf. Hebrews 4:15) along with demonstrating to us that sin, through Him, could be conquered. 

Christology perhaps is the most important area of theology. Without a proper understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished, all other areas of theology will be of non-importance and doomed to bring error.

I believe that within this study on Christology there is enough evidence to convince any open minded and open-hearted individual to believe that Jesus is who He said He was and did exactly what He said He would do.  “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. (15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. (16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1st Thessalonians 4:14-18).  For “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (54) So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, and then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (55)  "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (58) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1st Corinthians 15:51-58).

[i] Elgin S. Moyer, ed., Who Was Who in Church History, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 209

[ii] As found in Lightfoot and Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984, reprinted from the 1891 edition published by Macmillan and Company), p. 68.

[iii] Wikipedia Encyclopedia - Josephus

[iv] Flavius Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews – Book 18 – Chapter 3 – Paragraph 3

[v] Paul L. Maier notes: In 1972, however, Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced his discovery of an Arabic manuscript by the tenth-century Melkite historian Agapius, in which this Josephan passage is expressed in a manner appropriate to a Jew, and which corresponds so precisely to previous scholarly projections of what Josephus originally wrote . . . p. 265n.

[vi] Maier, p. 264.

[vii] As cited by Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, comp. by Bill Wilson (San Bernadino: Here's Life Publishers, 1990), p. 216.

[viii] As cited by McDowell, p. 216.

[ix] As cited by McDowell, p. 216.

[x] Thomas Arnold, Sermons on Christian Life, Its Fears and Its Close, (6th ed., London, 1854), p. 24

[xi] Simon Greenleaf, the Testimony of the Evan­gelists, (New York, 1874), p. 28.

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