50. Resurrection Fact

Focus on Christ Meditations: 50.  Resurrection Fact

Jn 20:11,14   Mary stood outside the tomb crying……At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there.

When it comes to the facts of the resurrection recorded in the Gospels, as I have written in other studies, it is not an easy matter to form a coherent picture and for this I suggest two reasons: first it was a time of great anguish and confusion in the minds of the disciples and, second, some of the things that occurred are in respect of a body that is no longer the same as it was before death, and that is sometimes confusing.

Without doubt the basic facts of the resurrection were clearly understood by the early church for the apostle Paul was able to write so clearly: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he 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, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) The word ‘appeared’ is seen here four times, emphasizing the testimony of witnesses who saw Jesus and were able to show that the appearances were real and not mere fancy.

The Basic Record: Elsewhere we have focused on specific individual verses and considered what they say but here, perhaps it will be easiest if we, first of all at least, simply provide a list of the appearances as they appear in the records:

  • To Mary Magdalene: Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:10-18
  • The other women at the tomb: Mt 28:8-10
  • Peter in Jerusalem: Lk 24:34  (1 Cor 15:5)
  • The two travellers on the road to Emmaus: Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-35
  • Ten disciples behind closed doors: Mk 16:14; Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-25
  • All eleven disciples (including Thomas): Jn 20:26-31 (1 Cor 15:5)
  • Seven disciples (at least) while fishing on the Sea of Galilee: Jn 21:1-14
  • Eleven disciples (at least) on a mountain in Galilee: Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18
  • A crowd of 500: 1 Cor 15:6
  • Jesus’ brother James: 1 Cor 15:7
  • Those who watched Jesus ascend into heaven: Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8
  • To Stephen: Acts 7:55,56
  • To Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus: Acts 9:3-6, 22:1-11
  • To John in a vision: Revelation, numerous times

The Record of Acts & the Epistles: Our temptation, when seeking to itemise the records of the resurrection is to limit ourselves to those above, but the reality is that those above who were involved and saw Jesus, did not keep quiet about it and so when we read through Acts, because there are so many references in the earlier chapters at least, we almost take them for granted, but the following are the times reference was made to Jesus rising from the dead in Acts alone:   2: 24,  2: 32, 3: 15, 4: 10,  5: 30, 10: 40, 13: 30, 13: 34. In the epistles, again we probably take them for granted but to make the point even more clearly, verses referring to Jesus being ‘raised’ are  Rom 4: 24, 25,  6:4,9,  7: 4, 8: 11,34,  10:9,   1Cor  6: 14,  15:4, 12,15,   2Cor 4: 14, 5:15,  Gal 1:1, Eph 1:20,  Col  2:12, 1Thess 1: 10,  2Tim  2:8, 1Pet 1: 21. It is so embedded in the New Testament writings that we probably almost pass them by without noticing this significance: the fact of Jesus’ resurrection gave credibility to the Gospel message and without it, that message would lose its power.

Apologetic Support: The atheistic skeptic comes up with a number of ways of trying to show that it did not happen as the records say, but we cannot just shrug aside the records for they are, in fact, so comprehensive and by so many witnesses. So let’s pick up the two most common of these things.

i) Wishful thinking: The skeptic says, “Well, of course, it was all wishful thinking, it’s what the disciples wanted to happen so they imagined it and made up folk tales to support their wishful thinking.” The only trouble is that that goes totally against the record. It is quite clear that a) the disciples struggled to understand and believe Jesus when he told them beforehand that it was going to happen, b) when his arrest and death did occur the disciples were in complete disarray, were frightened, fearful for their own lives and had hidden away and were in a state of shock and utterly believed he was dead and c) when he did appear to them their initial reaction was not joyful acceptance but disbelief.

ii) Propaganda: The skeptic then says, “Well, it was probably just propaganda to prop up their years of false belief in Jesus. He didn’t really rise, they just said he did, or perhaps they had a look-alike they used for a couple of weeks to con the other believers.” The problem here is twofold. First, is the total change around, and it is total, of the disciples from being a fear-filled bunch of cowards who abandoned their master and fled for cover in abject terror, to outward going, fearless preachers. Only the knowledge that is was true could affect them like that. Following on from that, second, is the fact that of the remaining eleven apostles (Judas having already committed suicide) ten of them died for their faith as martyrs. It was only John who died of old age. Nothing but the resurrection of Jesus could have caused such a transformation and total commitment of these men.

A Final Witness: One of the most telling of unlikely apologetics-witnesses comes in the form of a solicitor, Frank Morison, who wrote a book, “Who Moved the Stone” from the starting point, in his own words, in respect of the life of Christ that, “His history rested upon some very insecure foundations.” When he eventually came to write about the last seven days of Jesus’ life, his testimony was, “Slowly but very definitely the conviction grew that the drama of those unforgettable weeks of human history was stranger and deeper than it seemed. It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story which first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.” He then carried out deep and detailed study and the book closes with the words, “there certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed –‘The third day he rose again from the dead’.”

I have written elsewhere in more detail about this part of the account of the Christ, but in this series of amazing information that challenges both mind and heart, the accounts of the resurrection likewise convicts both mind and heart for the person who is open and willing to investigate. He’s alive, he rose from the dead! Hallelujah!