Believing in the Resurrection
From the May 2002 "Messenger"
There is no question that the resurrection of Jesus is the essential
foundation of the Christian faith. Without it, the edifice of the Churchs
faith would simply collapse. The Apostle Paul made this point in the first
century: If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain, and you are
still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). Thus it is important to
know why we believe in the resurrection, what we believe about it, and
why belief in it is so critical to Christian faith.
Why do we believe in the resurrection? Why should we be convinced that
it is true? After all, as we shall see, if a man was verifiably dead,
and then after a three day period was demonstrably seen alive, this is
the singularly most significant event in history. It is therefore incumbent
upon us to determine, to the best of our ability, whether or not the claim
of the resurrection is in fact true. Let us look to the historical issues
that surround the resurrection.
In seeking to know the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, the first
element to contend with is the fact of the empty tomb. I deliberately
use the word fact, because if the body of the dead Jesus could
have been produced, that would have been the end of any talk of his resurrection.
Certainly his enemies, those who saw to his execution, had the motivation
to find his body and thus refute the claim that he rose from the dead
(see Matthew 27:63-64). But the tomb was empty. No one could produce the
body of Jesus, and thus stop the apostles from boldly proclaiming that
he was risen.
The fact of the empty tomb also refutes the claim that the resurrection
of Jesus was a purely spiritual event that Jesus was
raised spiritually and not bodily, as some sects teach. Such
a resurrection would have made no sense to the Jews of the
first century. Resurrection meant bodily resurrection to them.
The resurrection is a claim that his body came back to life, not that
his spirit lived on. The idea that Jesus rose in spirit does
not answer the question of the empty tomb or satisfy the Jewish understanding
of resurrection. The same is true of other similar versions: that the
resurrection is the disciples experience of the ongoing significance
of Jesus or other such things. The apostles clearly proclaimed his
bodily resurrection, and their opponents could not produce his body to
disprove their claim.
There have been those, from the first century onward, who have argued
that the resurrection was a plot organized by the disciples to keep the
message of Jesus alive. According to the various versions of this story,
after Jesus death, the disciples got together and decided to invent
the story of his resurrection to convince people to accept his teachings,
even though his mission ended in failure. According to this view, the
disciples were all liars and the resurrection the lie of all lies.
There are two fallacies in this misguided notion. First, in this case,
the disciples would have had to violate their own teachings about Jesus
in order to promote his teaching. For the apostles presented Jesus as
the Truth, and called Satan the father of lies
(John 14:6, 8:44). Again and again in the New Testament we find them advocating
truth and attacking all lies. Were these men who gave their lives to proclaim
truth actually liars all along? This makes no sense.
Second, with the exception of the Apostle John, all the apostles were
martyred for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is certainly true
that men will give their lives for all kinds of causes, as long as they
believe in them. They may indeed be mistaken or misguided, but there is
no question that they themselves believe in the cause they choose to die
for. But who is ready and willing to die joyfully, as did the apostles
for what they know to be false? It is not likely that the apostles
would have willingly died to promote a message that they knew to be false
and a contradiction.
Finally, we must consider the appearances of the risen Jesus. The New
Testament includes accounts of his appearances to his women disciples,
the apostles themselves, and many others. Although the accounts differ
somewhat from one another, the Apostle Paul offers this summary: And
that (after his death) he was buried, and that he rose again the third
day according to the scriptures; and that he was seen of Cephas (Peter),
then of the twelve; after that, he was seen at once by more than five
hundred brethren, of whom the greater number are still alive, though some
have fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the
apostles. And last of all, he was seen by me also (1 Corinthians
The Apostle Paul could cite without fear of contradiction that there
were many alive that had seen the resurrected Jesus. Given that they were
not all liars, is it possible that they were all deluded? Were the appearances
of Jesus simply religious visions such as happen to many people?
We are back again to the question of the empty tomb. If the apostles and
the other witnesses were simply spiritual visionaries, then
it would have easily been possible to discount their claims about the
resurrection by producing his body. But such was never done.
We thus have the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. His tomb
was found empty. His followers saw him after he was alive. They willingly
gave up their lives to proclaim the message of his resurrection. Neither
the claim that they were liars or deluded stands up to the evidence. The
honest conclusion is that they indeed were witnesses to his resurrection.
This is the historical side of why we believe in the resurrection. This
is why we are convinced it is true. We trust the witness of the disciples.
We believe they were truthful witnesses of what they saw. Christ
is risen! Indeed he is risen!