Statement of Faith Current Teaching Teaching Index
The Resurrection of Christ
Fact or Fiction - You Must Determine

January 2018

Of all the beliefs held by followers of Jesus the Messiah, the doctrine of His Physical Resurrection is by far the most challenged. This is because it is absolutely central to the salvation message; it is the very basis for the truth of our New Covenant faith. The resurrection and the truth of Christianity stand or fall together. Without the historical reality of the resurrection there is no salvation, no redemption from sin, no eternal life. Paul made this crystal clear when he told the Corinth Church: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty… (16) For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  (17) And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1st Corinthians 15:14, 16-17)!

Therefore, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. Everything else that was said or done by Christ and the Apostles is secondary in importance to the resurrection. If the resurrection did not take place then Christianity is a false religion. But, on the other hand, if it did take place, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is without doubt, absolute truth!

Death is our greatest enemy and it has conquered all men but Christ. No man is wise enough to outwit death or wealthy enough to purchase freedom from death or strong enough to defeat death. The grave always wins and every person sooner or later returns to the dust of the earth (Ref. Genesis 3:19).

In fact, the inevitable triumph over death applies not only to people, but to all ­things. Animals die, plants die, and even whole species atrophy and become extinct. Buildings, cities and nations, like people, are born and grow for a season, and then fade away. Homes and automobiles and clothes wear out and must eventually go back to the dust, just as do their owners.  Even the universe itself is running down and heading toward an ultimate “heat death.”[i]

This universal reign of decay and death is called in the Bible “the bondage of corruption” In Romans 8:19-21 we are told that; “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; (21) because the creation itself also will be delivered from the “bondage of corruption” into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

In science this “bondage of corruption” has come to be recognized as the “Second Law of Thermodynamics” which is also known as the “Law of Increasing Entropy.” This Law is now recognized as a universal law of science, with no known exception ever observed.  It says, quite simply that every system tends to become dis­ordered, to run down and eventually die. Its entropy, which is a measure of disorder, always tends to increase.[ii]

The universality of the reign of decay and death is the measure of the absolute uniqueness of the resurrection of Christ. All other men, even the greatest men and the holiest men, have died.  Alexander, David, Solomon, Lincoln, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Caesar – men who made a pro­found impact on the world in one way or another – are all dead!

But Jesus Christ is alive! It is true that He died and was buried, in common with all other men, but unlike other men He returned from Hades, resurrected His own dead body, made it henceforth im­mortal, and emerged from the tomb, alive forevermore!  This was the greatest of all miracles since creation itself, and could have been accomplished only if Jesus indeed is God, as He had claimed to be.

With that said the burden of proof that indeed Christ rose from the dead and that He was indeed dead before He was placed in the tomb falls completely on its proponents. To that end we will examine carefully some of the actual evidence for His resurrection. However, let me point out once again that if all of this is somehow a delusion and if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, then He is no different from any other great man who ever lived.  In fact, I would say that He is worse and should be branded as either a charlatan or a madman, since every claim He made was founded in the declaration that He was God and that He would return from the dead.

Let this writer know ask a question; “is the resurrection a hoax?”  Is the resurrection nothing more than a myth that has been propagated through the last two millennia, an attempt of a few to deceive subsequent generation of sincere seekers of truth?”  The answer is a resounding NO!  The Bible is very emphatic that Jesus did resurrect from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (Ref. 1st Corinthians 15:20).  The fact is; if the resurrection is really a demonstrable fact of history, then not only are His claims vindicated, but so are His promises. Death is not the great victor, but is a de­feated foe.  He has “begotten us again unto a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1st Peter 1:3).

For true believers in Jesus, the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. But how do we know for sure the resurrection is fact and not fiction?  What proof do we have?  There is plenty of proof in fact and when one looks at the facts with an open mind; it is actually easier to believe in the physical resurrection of Christ than not. As these unbelieving scholars have come to believe:

V  Dr. Simon Greenleaf examined the value of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ to ascertain the truth. He applied the principles contained in his three-volume treatise on evidence. His findings were recorded in his book, “An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice.”  Dr. Greenleaf came to the conclusion that, according to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, “there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.” (Dr. Simon Greenleaf, former Professor of Law at Harvard).[iii]

V  Brooke Foss Westcott (12 January 1825 – 27 July 1901) who was a British bishop, Biblical scholar and theologian, serving as Bishop of Durham from 1890 until his death. Of whom it was said that he created a new epoch in the history of modern English theological scholarship. Who, in 1855 published the first edition of his “History of the New Testament Canon.” This profound work has frequently been revised and expanded and ultimately became the Standard English work on the subject.  This man of superior theological intelligence and understanding made this statement; “Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historical incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.[iv]

V  Lord Caldecote, Chief Justice of England said “My faith began with and was grounded on what I thought was revealed in the Bible. When, particularly, I came to the New Testament, the Gospels and other writings of the men who had been friends of Jesus Christ seemed to me to make an overwhelming case, merely as a matter of strict evidence, for the fact therein stated ... The same approach to the cardinal test of the claims of Jesus Christ, namely, His resurrection, has led me, as often as I have tried to examine the evidence, to believe it as fact beyond dispute.”[v]

V  Professor Thomas Arnold, for fourteen years the headmaster of Rugby, author of the three-volume History of Rome, and holder of the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts.  This great scholar said, “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.[vi]

V  Finally, this quote from the literary scholar, C. S. Lewis, former professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University, when writing about his conversion to Christianity, indicated that he had believed Christians "to be wrong."

The last thing Lewis wanted was to embrace Christianity. Here is what he wrote concerning Christ and Christianity; “early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. ‘Rum thing, he went on.’ All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”

“(To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not – as I would still have put it - 'safe,' where could I turn? Was there then no escape?”

After evaluating the basis and evidence for Christianity, Lewis concluded that in other religions there was “no such historical claim as in Christianity (that Christ has resurrected from the dead).”  His knowledge of literature forced him to treat the Gospel record as a trustworthy account. “I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myth.”  Finally, contrary to his strong stand against Christianity, Professor Lewis had to make an intelligent decision:  He then said this; “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdelen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 1 gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”[vii]

The resurrection must be examined by the same criteria as is any other past event in history. The apostles declared that He showed himself alive to them by “many convincing proofs” (Ref. Acts 1:3)! The Greek word used for “convincing” is “tekmerion,” which means “demonstrable” proofs.  Now let us examine some of these “many convincing or demonstrable proofs.

Let us examine carefully a little of the actual evidence for His resurrection. Of all the reasons that people have come up regarding the account of the resurrection, there are only two possibilities.  Either the disciples lied, or they told the truth, when describing events that they actually experienced.  Looking at the examples, it is just a matter of reasoning to determine that either Christianity started out with a lie, or a miracle. If the disciples stole the body, then there was no resurrection or ascension, so they were lying. If the Jewish leaders stole the body, then by the very fact that their livelihood demanded t they present their evidence that Jesus had actually died, but they did not. If the Romans stole the body, then both the Romans, by their own desire to put down this resurrection story and resulting Christian movement, would simply be to produce the body, thereby solving theirs and the Jews desire.  If the women went to the wrong tomb, then the immediate solution for all interested parties would be to show them the correct tomb.  If hallucinations were the problem, then once again all they would have had to do is produce the evidence that Christ was still dead.  If he resuscitated, and by some chance of fate, didn’t die at the Roman crucifixion, then the ascension would be a lie. In that case there would be only two possible scenarios, either these poor disciples, leaderless, and scared of the authorities, invented this amazing tale of a messiah, dying for the world, yet surviving death itself and ascending back unto God. Or, they actually experienced Jesus the Christ, God in flesh, beaten and crucified, dead and buried, yet miraculously cheated death, and in his glorified body, ascended back into the heavens witnessed by some 500 followers.

The fact is either the disciples were lying, or they were telling the truth. How do we determine, with any amount of confidence, the real truth?

There are qualities and comments made, that more than prove that these first followers of Jesus the Christ were honest reporters, delivering their message just as they received it. Let us look at some of them.

V  First of all, the resurrection caught the disciples completely by surprise. There is no indi­cation that they had any hope after Christ’s death. In fact, when they did see Him, they were frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost (cf. Luke 24:37).  And this was in spite of the fact that they should have known that He would die and raise again, both from the Scrip­tures and from His own words. After His resurrection He told them: “These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concern­ing me” (Luke 24:44). 

Although the prophecies of His resur­rection in the Old Testament were not evident to a superficial reader, they should have been correctly understood by those in Israel who diligently studied the Word.  Such prophecies of the messiah’s resurrection can be found in Genesis 3:15, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 16:9-11, Psalm 22.14-25, Psalm 30:2-9, Psalm 40:1-3, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 118:21-24, Isaiah 53:9-12, Hosea 5:15-6:3, Zechariah 12:10.  These and others, if carefully studied, would have indicated that the coming Messiah would be put to death and then rise again. 

Even if they had not been able to an­ticipate the resurrection from the Old Testament they had the clear statements to this effect from the lips of Christ Himself. Note Matthew 12:38-42; 15:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:30-32; John 2:19; 10:17-18; 16:16; and many other passages in the four Gospels and in the Epistles (e.g., Romans 1:3, 4;6:3-9; 1st Corinthians 15:1-58; 2nd Corin­thians 4:10-14; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:19-23; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:12; 1st Thessalonians 1:10; 4:14; 1st Timothy 3:16; 2nd Timothy 2:8-11; Hebrews 13:20; 1st Peter 1:21; and many others found in throughout the Quadriform Gospels).  When the resur­rection is not explicitly emphasized, it is always assumed. The book of Revela­tion opens with Christ’s identification of Himself as “the first begotten of the dead,” and as the one “that liveth and was dead and behold, I am alive forever­more” (Revelation 1:5, 18).

One thing is certain: the disciples could not have fabricated the story of the resurrection from their own imagina­tions. On the contrary, they somehow failed to anticipate it even after such an abundance of prophetic preparation for it, both from the Scriptures and from Christ. It took the strongest of evidences to convince them it had actually taken place.

The first evidence the disciples had for the resurrection was that of the empty tomb, and this evidence is still unanswer­able. As Peter and John entered the tomb, they saw an amazing thing. The heavy wrappings of linen clothes which Joseph and Nicodemus had wound around the body of Jesus (Ref. John 19:39-40) were still there, just as they had been, but the body had vanished out of them and the grave clothes had collapsed inward on themselves.  No wonder the record says that when John entered the tomb, “he saw and believed” (John 20:8).

His doubts and fears immediately gave way to an amazed faith that was strong enough to withstand several attempts to kill him.  One of these attempts was being cast into a boiling tub of oil according to Tertullian's testimony (De praescript., xxxvi),  John’s faith permitted him to withstand this attempt on his life and get out of the burning oil without being harmed in any way; much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did from the burning fiery furnace (cf. Daniel 3).

The collapsed grave clothes yielded no possible interpretation except that the physical body of the cruci­fied Christ had returned to life, in such a remarkable form that it could simply pass through the linen wrappings and enter henceforth into the power of an endless life!  

Peter and John then rushed back to John’s home, probably to tell Mary, the mother of Jesus, the tremendous news (Ref. John 19:27; 20:10) and, shortly after, the women who had first come to the tomb entered it and also saw the tomb empty (Ref. Luke 24:3).

The fact that the tomb was empty shows clearly that the resurrection of Christ was a bodily resurrection, not a spiritual resur­rection. The latter idea is a self-contra­diction, because the spirit does not die and therefore cannot be “resurrec­ted.” Indeed, resurrection takes place when the spirit returns to the body from which it has departed.  So powerful is the testimony of the empty tomb that the enemies of Christ have resorted to many strange and won­derful devices to try to explain it away.

The first such attempt was the lie that the disciples had stolen the body (Ref. Matthew 28:11-15).  Such a thing was utterly out of the question, of course. The disciples were hiding in fear of their lives and nothing could have been further from their thoughts than this.  Furthermore, the tomb had been sealed, a great stone rolled in front of it, and a watch of Roman soldiers set to guard it (Ref. Matthew 27:62-66).  But despite the empty tomb’s stalwart evidence and the crucifixion facts themselves, these opponents desperate for an an­swer, throughout history have suggested many interesting and somewhat ridiculous arguments to refute Christ’ resurrection. 

Let us look at the facts of the crucifixion and Jesus’ burial for a moment.  First of all, there is the evidence of the crucifixion itself. All throughout the age’s people have tried to explain away Jesus’ death. Some would say that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross but that he swooned. He got really close to death but when they took him off the cross and put him in the tomb that helped him to revive.  He then escaped the tomb on His own.  There is so much wrong with that theory, especially when you read the history of crucifixion and understand how violent, agonizing and deadly it was. Not to mention how damaging it was to the human body, not only before but during the actual crucifixion.  This argument is almost too ridiculous to spend time on.  

Now; let us consider one aspect of crucifixion that Jesus did not endure.  That is the breaking of the legs. This was done to speed up death if a crucifixion was taking too long. Breaking the legs eliminated all ability to push oneself up enough to breathe. Jesus’ legs, however, were not broken as was prophesied by King David in Psalms 34:20 “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” (ESV).  Why was this not done?  Simply because they already knew that Jesus was dead!  How? They pierced His side him with a roman spear and blood, and water gushed out. Anatomically, this happens when the sac surrounding the heart is broken. This happens only after (or during) death. After seeing that Jesus was already dead, the Romans had no reason to break Jesus’ legs.  It was then and only then that the Romans took Him down from the cross and handed His dead body over to the disciples who took him to a solid rock tomb.

In those days, before someone was closed in a tomb, he/she was thoroughly washed with warm water. Before the body was bathed, the mouth was covered to prevent water from trickling into the mouth. After the body was cleaned, the body was tightly wrapped in linen, enclosing the spices. This does not mean a little cinnamon and Basel was sprinkled on the linen. Historians estimate that approximately 100 pounds of spices were used in Jesus’ burial.  That sounds like a lot. It was not, however, uncommon. For example, a man named Gamaliel, who was a grandson of Hillel, a Jewish scholar in Jesus’ time, was buried with 86 pounds of spices. It is not documented how many pounds of spices was used when King Herod was buried but it had to be an enormous amount for after all he was the King.  We do know, however, that it took 500 servants to carry the spices to his place of burial.  

V  Second let us consider the stone placed in front of the tomb to seal Jesus inside.  The stone itself weighed over two thousand pounds.  It was placed in a one-foot deep crevasse to hold it in place and was sealed on each side with a nail so that it could not be moved.  Added to these precautions roman guards were placed in front of the tomb to watch for any attempt by the disciples to steal the body (Ref. Matthew 27:62-66). 

Now, let us look at the reality of the preposterous notion that Jesus in His condition could somehow by Himself, escape the tomb.  For this theory that Jesus only swooned or was in a coma state and revived in the tomb to be true, Jesus would have had to survive 39 lashes from a Roman whip called a “Flagrum;”  (Flagellum is the English derivative. Christians refer to this Roman whip as a “Cat of Nine Tails” (Ref. picture)); the weight of carrying His cross up Calvary’s mountain; being nailed and hung on a cross for hours and finally being pierced with a spear for confirmation of death.  This would be harder to believe than he actually died and came back to life!

Beside all this, there is no doubt that He really did die on the cross.  The savage spear thrust into His side by the soldier (cf. John 19:34) made certain of His death, “and forthwith came there out blood and water,” evi­dence of the complete collapse of the heart cavity and sure death.  Also Pilate who when approached by Joseph of Arimathea for the body of Christ marveled that Jesus was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.”  Once “he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph” (cf. Mark 15:43-45).

How deceived must one be to believe that a man in that condition could find the strength to free himself from His grave cloths without disturbing their condition?  Then pick up a stone weighing over a ton which was sitting in a foot-deep channel, held to the cave face by nails and escape.  Remember he was to do all this without alerting the Roman guards who were stationed outside the tomb guarding against anyone trying to steal the body of Christ?  But that is the argument many unbelievers are using to refute the physical resurrection of Christ.

These opponents of the resurrection insist that He was buried in the mis­taken belief that He was dead, and when He came back to consciousness in the tomb, He arose and left it. My question to them is, how?  How do they explain the fact of such a pitiful Jesus, beaten almost beyond recognition and weak past endurance by the loss of blood on the cross, could have accomplished such a complete transformation?  Is that somehow believable?  To believe that, takes more faith than to believe in the actual resurrection!

There is also the evidence of the flogging with the Flagrum.  Third century historian Eusebius described a Roman flogging by saying, “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”[viii]  Let’s face the facts with an open heart and mind, the cross was agonizing.  Jesus died by suffocating to death. Medical doctor after medical doctor who have studied the evidence would tell you that there was no way Jesus, or anyone could have survived.

Another ridiculous theory suggests that Mary Magda­lene, then Peter and John, then the other women, all went to the wrong tomb. Such a stupid mistake was not very likely, especially since there was no other tomb there! This was a garden, owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:60; John 19:41), and no one else had been buried there.  Besides, if the body were still in any tomb, it could easily have been produced by the Roman or Jewish au­thorities. A few weeks later, when multi­tudes were accepting Christ because of the preaching of the resurrection, these same authorities did everything they could to stop the spread of the new Chris­tian faith, and they utterly failed.  If they had simply produced the body of Jesus the entire movement would have collapsed immediately.  But this was the one thing they could not do! For Jesus had risen from the grave and had as­cended up to heaven.

There is no doubt that without the resurrection that there would have been no Chris­tian church. With the ignominious death of their Master, His disciples were utterly confused and afraid for their own lives. There is no possibility that they could have continued as teachers of the Naza­rene’s doctrines, and even less that others could have been persuaded to follow them, under those circumstances.  But with the assurance that Christ was alive, they went forth everywhere proclaiming the resurrection and multitudes became believers in their living Lord. The importance of the resurrection in the preaching of the early church is quickly seen by scanning the book of Acts. (Note: Acts 2:22-36; 3:13-18; 4:10-12, 33; 5:29-32; 10:37-43; 13:27-37; 17:2-3, 30-32; 23:6; 24:14-16; 25:19; 26:6-8, 22-23; etc.) 

We will continue with this study next month by examining the evidence of the empty tomb.


[i] Institute for Creation Research – P.O. Box 2667 – El Cajon, CA.  92021-0667

[ii] Institute for Creation Research – P.O. Box 2667 – El Cajon, CA.  92021-0667

[iii] An Examination of the testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence administered in the Courts of Justice, C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1846

[iv] A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson / 1990, p. 82/4-6

[v]  A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson / 1990

[vi] A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson / 1990, p. 3/324

[vii] A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson / 1990, p.52/211, 215, 223

[viii] The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine, Eusebius Pamphill, April 3rd 1990 by Penguin Books

 

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