(The angel said) “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”-Luke 24:5-6
“Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it has a God who knows the way out of the grave.”-G.K. Chesterton (1)
Whether adorning a majestic church spire or dangling from a necklace, the Cross is the universally recognized symbol of the Christian faith, and for good reason. We look back on the cross with awe and reverence, recalling the unmeasurable depths of God’s love paying the ultimate price to reconcile us to Him (2). The great preacher Charles Spurgeon puts it beautifully:
“We will by faith put ourselves at the foot of the little knoll of Calvary. There we see in the center between two thieves the Son of God made flesh, nailed by His hands and feet, and dying in an anguish that words cannot portray. Look steadfastly and devoutly, gazing through your tears…I will ask you first to smite your breasts, as you remember that you see in Him your own sins…Then see the greatness of your sins that required so vast a sacrifice…If Jehovah did not spare His Son, how little would He have spared guilty, worthless men if He had dealt with us after our sins and rewarded us according to our iniquities.”(3)
Although it seems repulsive to our natural minds, it is truly beautiful to consider how such a hideous instrument of torture and death could become a symbol of life and hope to millions . This is because the story doesn’t end at the cross. Rather, it leads up to an event so powerful, so dramatic that it has split our calender in half into “B.C.” and “A.D.”! I am referring, of course, to Jesus’ bodily Resurrection from the dead. Often referred to as “The Capstone in the Arch of Christianity,” Jesus’ Resurrection is the “seal” which authenticates everything He said, did and stood for.
Consider for a moment the common objections skeptics have toward the Christian faith: “Churches are full of hypocrites.” “Religion has caused wars and other atrocities.” “If that’s what Christianity is all about, I want no part of it.” But that is not what Christianity is all about. I certainly do not deny that some heinous things have been done in Christ’s name, but that is totally irrelevant to the ultimate truth of Christianity. Neither the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials nor the more recent televangelist scandals can undo the irrefutable, historical fact of the Resurrection. As Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias observes:
It all seems so simplistic, does it not? A group of gullible, pre-scientific men, succumbing to the illusions and deceptions of their day. Yet, every piece of evidence mustered, including the prophecies that long preceded the event itself and the unexplainable change in the courage and confidence of the early believers, supported by the empirical evidence, argues powerfully for the truth of it all. (4)
In this study, we will look at a few of these evidences. On numerous occasions, prominent scholars have researched this topic, and to the surprise of many, have strongly verified the historicity of the Gospel accounts. One example would be Dr. Simon Greenleaf, the Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University. Dr. Greenleaf is considered one of the world’s top authorities on legal evidences. After applying this expertise to the Resurrection, he concluded that it was, in fact, an historical reality. His research is available in a book called The Testimony of the Evangelists.Another example would be British lawyer Frank Morrison. He set out to write a book repudiating the Resurrection and instead found the evidence so overwhelming he actually became a believer himself! His findings can be read in his book,Who Moved The Stone? Similarly, journalist Lee Strobel began his quest as a skeptic attempting to discredit the Christian faith, but wound up having his own life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus. His story is told in the popular book The Case For Christ. As we shall see, these men came to their conclusions based on verifiable historical and archeological facts which make Jesus’ Resurrection the single most provable event in human history.
Three of the most common arguments used to deny the Resurrection are:
1. Jesus did not really die on the cross. Rather, He simply “swooned” or lost consciousness. Later, He revived and walked out of the tomb Himself.
2. His disciples stole His body.
3. The four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection are worded differently, each including details omitted by the others. Therefore, they are contradictory and cannot be trusted.
Of course, the first two arguments are totally ridiculous in light of the facts. As anyone who has seen the movie The Passion can attest, the horror of crucifixion (which included a whipping so brutal that it alone was often fatal) was not something a person could simply survive and walk away from. Jesus’ death was confirmed when a Roman guard put a spear into His side (John 19:32-34). This resulted in a discharge of blood and water, which indicated that the cause of death was a constriction of the fluid sac surrounding the heart. Later, a Roman soldier reported to Pilate that Jesus was indeed dead (Mark 15:44, 45). Jesus’ body was then wrapped for burial and placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-40). The tomb’s entrance was sealed with a heavy, disc shaped stone weighing between one and a half and two tons. A stone of this size would take approximately 20 strong, healthy men in order to move it. In addition, the tomb was guarded by elite Roman soldiers who would be brutally executed (burned alive) if the tomb was disturbed (5). Obviously, this does away with any possibility that Jesus’ body could have been stolen. Also, as we shall examine shortly, the disciples were willing to suffer and die for their faith in the Resurrection. Why would they do this if they had staged the whole thing by stealing the body?
Moving on to the third argument, it is true that each Gospel narrative puts a unique perspective on the Resurrection account. But is this a contradiction? Not at all. Each Gospel features its own special points of emphasis, and these additional details are complimentary, not contradictory. The notes on Matthew 28 in the Scofield Study Bible combine all four narratives to produce a very helpful time line of the post-resurrection events:
1. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, start for the sepulchre, followed by other women bearing spices. The three find the stone rolled away, and Mary Magdalene goes to tell the disciples (Luke 23:55-24:9; John 20:1-2).
2. Mary, the mother of James, draws nearer to the tomb and sees the angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:2). She goes back to meet the other women following with the spices.
3. Meanwhile, Peter and John, warned by Mary Magdalene, arrive, look in and go away (John 20:3-10).
4. Mary Magdalene returns weeping, sees the two angels, then Jesus (John 20:11-18) and goes as He bade her to tell the disciples.
5. Mary (mother of James and Joses), meanwhile, has met the women with the spices and, returning with them, they see the TWO angels (Luke 24:4-5; Mark 16:5). They also receive the angelic message, and going to seek the disciples, are met by Jesus (Matthew 28:8-10). (6)
One of the most striking evidences for the Resurrection is its immediate impact on the religious world of the day. With the founding of the church in 32 AD, we see a sudden change in the day of worship. This is significant because all of the early Christians were Jews coming from a strict background of observing the seventh day Sabbath. Once they became Christians, however, they made their day of worship Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:6-12; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) (7). This was done in order to commemorate Christ’s Resurrection on that day (Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1-16). In addition, we see new ordinances practiced by Christians from the very beginning of church history. These include Lord’s Supper, i.e. Communion or Eucharist, which represents Jesus’ broken Body and shed Blood, as well as baptism, which represents His death, burial and Resurrection. In addition, the Resurrection is depicted in Christian art found in the catacombs dating back to the time of the persecutions. The First Century Church has also left numerous other monuments to this history altering event, such as hymns and church readings done in honor of the Resurrected Christ (8).
This brings us to the strongest evidence of all: The fact that the risen Jesus was seen alive by over 500 eye witnesses! If these appearances were a delusion, how could this many people testify to the exact same thing?
This is especially significant when we consider that many of them were tortured and killed for bearing witness to it. Would people endure this for something they knew to be false? We also see the dramatic conversions of two previous skeptics: James, brother of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7) and a brilliant scholar named Saul of Tarsus, who we now know as the mighty apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8-9).(9) Again, I quote from Zacharias:
“Paul was too much of a thinker to construct his life on an uncertain foundation of credulity. He shunned all deductions that were based on false premises. Yet, this persecutor of the early church, who had called for the death penalty for those “seduced” by the Christian message, found himself a trailblazer for the cause of Christ. It was the knowledge and conviction that Christ had truly broken the chains of death and conquered the grave that gave Paul his hope.” (10)
It is also noteworthy that, in his own commentary on the Resurrection, Paul states that most of these 500 witnesses were still alive at the time (1 Corinthians 15:6). In other words, the reader could easily ask them about the things they had seen.
The Resurrection narratives strike at the very core of who we are as human beings. To anyone who has ever lost a loved one, whether it be to a long, painful illness or a sudden calamity such as a car accident, the shadow of death is a continual reality in our lives. We gaze into the coffin knowing full well that one day we are destined to be there ourselves. Hebrews 2:15 tells us that the fear of death will hold our entire lives in bondage. In other words, until this fear is dealt with, we will never truly learn to live. Knowing this reality makes Jesus’ promise all the more precious: “..because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).
Friend, it all comes down to this question: Is what Jesus did a reality in your own life? Have you recognize your own sinfulness and need of God’s grace and forgiveness?
Everything Jesus did on that cross was for YOU! He took the punishment we deserved and paid the price so that we could be reconciled to God. Through Jesus, we can have a relationship with Him that will last forever. If you have never received this precious gift, why not open your heart to Jesus today?
© 2006 JHB
1-Quoted i The Real face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias. 2004,
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. p. 146.
2-For a detailed study of Jesus’ crucifixion, see our article The Cross: Violent Grace, http://www.james-dave.com/violentgrace.html
3-From the sermon “Mourning at the Sight of the Crucified” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. From the book The Power of the Cross of Christ. Compiled and edited by Lance Wubbels. 1995, Emerald Books, Lynnwood, WA. pp. 184-185.
4-Zacharias, p. 147
5-McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. 1990, Sixth Printing 1992. Here’s Life Publishers, Inc, San Bernidino, CA. Compiled by Bill Wilson. pp.226-230.
6- Scofield Study Bible. Edited by C.I. Scofield, D.D. New York, Oxford University Press. 1909, 1917; Copyright renewed 1937, 1945. p. 1043.
7-Little, Paul. Know Why You Believe. Third Edition, 1988 by Marie Little. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. pp. 50-51
8-Kennedy, D. James. Why I Believe. 1980. Word Publishing, Inc. Dallas, TX.pp. 107-108.
9-Zacharias, p. 147
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