Dr Simon Greenleaf, the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University, was one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived. He wrote the famous legal volume entitled, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, considered by many the greatest legal volume ever written. Dr Greenleaf believed the Resurrection of Jesus was a hoax and he determined, once and for all, to expose the “myth” of the Resurrection. However, after thoroughly examining the evidence Dr Greenleaf came to the exact opposite conclusion! He wrote a book entitled, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, and in which he emphatically stated (p.29): “It was impossible that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus Christ actually risen from the dead.”
If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead we probably would never have heard of him.
Nothing is more central to the Bible than Jesus’ death and resurrection. The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.
Tim Keller writes: ‘Jesus has said to his disciples, “I will rise on the third day.” He said it in Mark 8, again in Mark 9, and yet again in Mark 10. Given that repetition, something curious is going on. On the third day after Jesus’s death, there are no male disciples around; these female disciples do appear, but they are bringing along all the expensive spices and perfumes with which a dead body was customarily anointed. Nobody is expecting a resurrection. If you were the Gospel writer Mark, trying to write a credible piece of fiction, and you have had Jesus saying repeatedly to his disciples that he would rise on the third day, wouldn’t you have at least one disciple thinking this through after Jesus’s death and saying to the others, “Hey, it’s the third day. Maybe we ought to go take a look at Jesus’s tomb. What can it hurt?” That would only be reasonable. But nobody said anything like that. In fact, they did not expect a resurrection at all. It didn’t occur to them. The angel in front of the empty tomb had to remind the women: “You will see him, just as he told you.” If Mark had made up this story, he wouldn’t have written it this way. – And here’s the point: The resurrection was as inconceivable for the first disciples, as impossible for them to believe, as it is for many of us today.’
Excerpt from JESUS THE KING by Timothy Keller, from the devotional on YouVersion, day 9 of 9
In Italy for around £3000 you can buy ready-made coffins that have beepers in them, two-way speakers, a torch, a small oxygen tank, and a sensor to detect a person’s heartbeat… just in case! True or false? (True)
In the mid-1700s a Russian peasant named Feodor Vassilyev gave birth to 69 children. True or false? (True) In 27 separate pregnancies she had 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets. Ouch!
In 1664, 1785 and 1860 passenger ferries sank while crossing the Menai Straight in North Wales. Amazingly, each disaster occurred on December 5th. Even more bizarre than this is that on all three occasions the name of the sole survivor was Hugh Williams. True or false? (True)
These bizarre stories are all true. What about Jesus’ resurrection: is the resurrection really true?
Source: John Dickson, Stranger Than Fiction, p.21-22
Jesus is the only man to ever make an appointment beyond the grave and three days later show up for it, rising to new life on that first Easter Sunday! The Church stands and falls on this one truth!
If Jesus’ tomb was empty then his promises to us are not.
That Jesus succeeded in changing a snuffling band of unreliable followers into fearless evangelists, that eleven men who had deserted him at death now went to martyr’s graves avowing their faith in a resurrected Christ, that these few witnesses managed to set loose a force that would overcome violent opposition first in Jerusalem and then in Rome – this remarkable sequence of transformation offers the most convincing evidence of the Resurrection. What else explains the whiplash change in men known for their cowardice and instability? (…) Something had happened, something beyond all precedent. Surely the disciples would not lay down their lives for the sake of a cobbled-together conspiracy theory. Surely it would have been easier, and more natural, to honour a dead Jesus as one of the martyr-prophets whose tombs were so venerated by the Jews. One need only read the Gospel’s descriptions of the disciples huddling behind locked doors and then proceed to the descriptions in Acts of the same men proclaiming Christ openly in the streets and in jail cells to perceive the seismic significance of what took place on Easter Sunday.
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 2000, London: Marshall Pickering, p.214
Those who saw the resurrected Jesus were never the same.
“My Lord and my God,” cried Thomas.
“I have seen the Lord,” exclaimed Mary Magdalene.
“We have seen his glory,” declared John.
“Were not our hearts burning within us while we talked?” rejoiced the two Emmaus-bound disciples.
But Peter said it best, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
Source: Max Lucado, God Came Near, p.xviiil
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is not what makes Jesus’ resurrection unique. There are several other resurrections recorded in the Bible (see list below). What made Jesus’ resurrection unique is that His was prophesied in advance and Jesus is alive for all time; whereas the others went on to die again. The other resurrections in the Bible are:
- Widow of Zarephath’s son, by Elijah (1st Kings 17:22)
- Shunammite woman’s son, by Elisha (2nd Kings 4:34-35)
- Man raised when he came into contact with Elisha’s bones (2nd Kings 13:20-21)
- Widow of Nain’s son, by Jesus (Luke 7:14-15)
- Jairus’ daughter, by Jesus (Luke 8:52-56)
- Lazarus, by Jesus after 3 days (John 11:43-44)
- Many holy people came out of their tombs when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:52)
- Dorcas, by Peter (Acts 9:40)
- Eutychus, by Paul (Acts 20:9-12)
Why is the resurrection so important – what does it mean for us?
- Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrates His power to defeat Satan… death [could not] keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24).
- And Jesus’ resurrection is also God’s affirmation or ‘yes’ to the sacrifice Jesus made being accepted. That’s why Jesus didn’t stay dead? His resurrection is the absolute proof that Jesus’ sacrifice is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of sins. – If we accept Jesus; if we trust Him and follow Him, we are cleansed and forgiven and receive the promise of eternal life.
- The resurrection verifies the truth of Scripture. Both in the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 16v10; 110v1) and in the words of Jesus, His resurrection is clearly taught. (If Jesus did not rise from the dead then the Bible would not be true.)
- The resurrection also proves that there is going to be a Judgment Day. Acts 17:31 says: “[God] has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” This promise of future judgment helps us, as Christians, to live in this fallen world where evil pervades, and it assures us that one day justice will be done. (If there was no Judgment Day some people would literally get away with murder.)
- The resurrection proves that Jesus is who He says He is… I am the gate for the sheep, whoever enters through me will be saved… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:7, 9, 11).
- And Jesus’s resurrection assures us of our own resurrection and future inheritance. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25). He went on to say, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
What will our future inheritance look like? We don’t really know for certain because we are not given detailed information. Instead, we are given picture language, poetry and symbols, to try and describe the indescribable. If fact the Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9), That’s how wonderful it’s going to be; so wonderful it’s indescribable in earthly terms!
Jesus’ life is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Over the years unbelievers and sceptics have come up with several proposed explanations for the empty tomb. For example:
- It is sometimes said, Jesus was only unconscious and he later revived. But a Roman soldier told Pilate that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-45); the reason the soldiers didn’t break Jesus’ legs was because he had already died. You remember one of them pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb. (John 19:32-34, 38-40)
- It has been suggested that the women must have made a mistake and gone to the wrong tomb. But Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw Jesus placed in the tomb (Matthew 27:59-61, Mark 15:47, Luke 23:55). And on Sunday morning Peter and John also went to the same tomb. (John 20:3-9)
- Some say that unknown thieves must have stolen Jesus’ body. But the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers. (Matthew 27:65-66).
- And if for some strange reason the Roman or Jewish authorities had removed the body from the tomb, well then they would have produced it as soon as Jesus’ followers claimed that he was alive again and the Christian church would have collapsed on the spot.
- Some even think what the witnesses saw was a hallucination. But that’s not possible because so many people saw the risen Jesus at different times, including natural sceptics like ‘doubting Thomas.’ In fact there are over 550 eye witness accounts of the resurrection in the New Testament, including once by over 500 people at one time, and when the apostle Paul recorded this well over half of those were still alive and could confirm the fact (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).
- Before Jesus rose from the dead his followers hid behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). Yet a few weeks later they risked persecution, imprisonment, torture and even death because they had seen Jesus alive again. People sometimes die for something they believe to be true but nobody is prepared to die for something they know is false, especially if they concocted the lie.
- As author John Blanchard writes: ‘The Christian church is the largest religious body the world has ever known (over two billion and growing by the thousand every day) and no other group, religious or otherwise, has made a greater contribution to the well-being of humankind. Yet the church is not based on the moral example Jesus set, nor on his death, but on his resurrection. For 2,000 years this has been its driving force and the only explanation for its existence. The first Christian church was known as ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:2), but if Jesus had remained in the grave ‘the Way’ would have become a dead end! As one preacher put it, ‘The Grand Canyon wasn’t caused by an Indian dragging a stick, and the Christian church wasn’t created by a myth.’
We have to understand that death was not part of God’s original creation plan. Death was an effect of sin. So, if death defeated Jesus, then sin has not been dealt with, and we are still lost. [A dead Saviour cannot save anybody!] Here’s the deal: If Jesus died and that was it, well there’s nothing remarkable about that. But if it’s true Jesus rose from the dead, then that changes everything. If Jesus rose from the dead that means he conquered the final enemy: death. That means that everything he claimed about himself is true. He isn’t just human. He is God. He is the answer to mankind’s problems. He is Saviour. Jesus didn’t just die. He rose from the dead. That’s what God would do, because an eternal, infinite God can’t be killed off – at least not permanently, by his creation. The resurrection proves that everything Jesus said was true. The resurrection gives Christians power to live in victory in this life, and it proves that life continues after our time on earth is over. The gospel is good news because of the resurrection.
Judah Smith, 2013, Jesus Is, Nashville Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, p.180-182
What happened to change a handful of frightened men (the disciples), hiding away behind locked doors in fear of their own lives – men who had deserted their leader, who legged it to save their own skin and denied they even knew Jesus; what happened to change a band of unreliable followers into fearless evangelists; what changed a bunch of scaredy-cats into a pride of roaring lions; from cringing cowards to fearless followers, most of whom later went on to die as martyrs? What happened? Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples, that’s what happened! There is no other way to explain the extraordinary change in the disciples.
People might sometimes die for what they mistakenly believe to be true but people will not willingly die for what they know is not true… yet most all of the disciples were martyred; they willing died for their faith in a resurrected Christ.
Just fifty days after the resurrection – in Jerusalem at Pentecost – Peter with the other disciples beside him, stood up and declared boldly to the crowds: “God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32). The resurrection of Jesus is not a conspiracy theory! Why would the disciples make it up? Surely it would have been easier, and made more sense, to honour a dead Jesus as another in the long-line of martyred-prophets so revered by the Jews.
The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming and conclusive: There is no other plausible explanation for the empty tomb; the lack of a body; the transformed lives of the disciples; the fact that church worship shifted from Saturday to resurrection Sunday. There is no other plausible explanation for the existence of the Christian church, or the evidence of millions of Christians living transformed lives after personally encountering Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus is alive. The evidence is overwhelming and conclusive.
Jesus’ resurrection is God’s affirmation or ‘yes’ to the sacrifice that Jesus made being accepted. That’s why Jesus didn’t stay dead? His resurrection is the absolute proof that Jesus’ sacrifice is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, and its proof too, that all believers will inherit eternal life, just as He promised. Think about it: If Jesus had remained dead how would we ever know that we are forgiven? If there was no resurrection then there is no forgiveness. If there’s no resurrection there’s also no judgment, no punishment and no reward – no heaven! If there is no resurrection this life is all there is! BUT there is life after death; the resurrection is true and the evidence is overwhelming.
The resurrection is rooted in history, grounded in Scripture and confirmed by experience.
Christians have a huge interest in the resurrection of Jesus being a historical event: we were staking our eternal future on it. Non-Christians have an equally huge interest vested in it not being historical: they are staking their eternal future on it. Every single person rests their entire eternal destiny on being correct in their understanding of Christ’s resurrection.
Mike McKinley, 2013, Passion, The Good Book Company, p.140
A former Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, said of the resurrection: ‘In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.’
John Blanchard put it like this: “If Jesus never rose from the dead, the New Testament has no more value than a handful of confetti. If Jesus never rose from the dead the disciples were blasphemous deceivers, the early Christian church was a rabble of misguided bigots, all Christian martyrs have spilled their blood defending a non-event and the church’s great reformers of society were motivated by a pack of lies. What’s more, every Christian church building is a monument to a myth, all its ministers are liars, every prayer offered to or in the name of Jesus is pointless prattle, all who claim a living relationship with him are pathetically deceived, every Christian service is a farce, every Easter day commemorates something that never happened and any hope of life after death is deluded daydreaming.”
Source: John Blanchard, Is Anyone Out There? p.32
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate sign of his identity.
His enemies took a risk killing God… but He made a boulder move!
The Lord Jesus Christ… will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. – (Philippians 3:20-21.) “We do not believe that our bodies will be miraculously reconstituted out of the identical material particles of which they are at present composed. Jesus performed three resuscitations during his ministry, restoring to life the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus… But Jesus’ resurrection was not resuscitation. He was raised to an altogether new plane of existence in which he was no longer mortal but “alive for ever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). Our Christian hope of resurrection is not merely survival of the soul. As Jesus himself said, “It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). So the risen Lord was neither a revived corpse nor an immaterial ghost. Instead he was a remarkable combination of continuity and discontinuity. On the one hand, there was a clear link between his two bodies. The scars were still there in his hands, feet and side, and Mary Magdalene recognised his voice. On the other hand, his body passed through the grave clothes, out of the sealed tomb, and through locked doors. So it evidently had new and undreamed-of powers. The apostle Paul illustrated this combination from the relationship between seeds and flowers. The continuity ensures that each seed produces its own flower. But the discontinuity is more striking, since out of a plain and even ugly seed will spring a fragrant, colourful, and elegant flower. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians. 15:42). To sum up, what we are looking forward to is neither a resuscitation (in which we are raised but not changed) nor a survival (in which we are changed into a ghost but not raised bodily) but a resurrection (in which we are both raised and changed, transfigured and glorified simultaneously).
John Stott, Through The Bible Through The Year, p.284
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