By Daniel H. King
No doubt you recognize the title of this article as the beautiful closing line of Robert Lowry’s century-old hymn Christ Arose. It appears in most song books used by brethren because it represents the victorious theme of authentic Christian preaching from the day of the apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon to the present time. Those triumphant words, “This Jesus did God raise up . . .” (Acts 2:32), must have ripped through the hearts of those Jewish leaders and their dupes who had only a month before sent Christ to his death. Imagine their frustration at the thought that they were not rid of him after all!
But imagine the joy in the hearts of the disciples in knowing he was risen to sit at the right hand of the throne of majesty on high, “Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted . . .” (Acts 2:33). How central this theme of the Risen Christ is to the church of the first century and the church today is not well enough recognized by many who claim to put their faith in Jesus. Some who assert that they are Christians do not wish to affirm the resurrection of Christ as a fact of history, or they are not willing to argue the point. “Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t,” they tell us, “who knows for sure?”
I shall not forget a lectureship which I attended years ago, wherein a Roman Catholic biblical scholar addressed the audience on the topic of the resurrection. After he had spoken for some 45 minutes or so, a student (who apparently was not particularly bright), inquired of the professor: “Well, did it really happen or not?” To which the distinguished savant replied, “I’m not sure.” My friends, one thing I can tell you without any hesitation: the early church was sure that Christ rose from the dead on the third day. Early Christians lived and died for this faith. Paul said that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). His Lordship, in their thinking, was attached inextricably to his having triumphed over death and the grave.
Some have striven mightily to explain the disciple’s faith. They cannot accept it at face value, because “people just don’t walk out of tombs,” in their own experience, at least. So, they have invented shallow explanations which, to their minds at least, satisfy some of the criteria surrounding the case and explain a few aspects of the gospel records.
One theory suggests that Jesus did not actually die, but only swooned. According to this view he later succumbed to his wounds, but the disciples were fooled by his temporary “resurrection.” But, how could Jesus have moved the stone from before the tomb and escaped the guards in this weakened condition? And, what about the fact that John says that one of the soldiers on the death squad forced a spear up into his chest cavity to assure himself that Jesus was finished?
Another view says Jesus’ followers had a grandiose hallucination and saw what they hoped for rather than reality. But, if this is true why could not the enemies of Christ produce the body? That would have ended the preaching of the resurrection! And, as F.E. Hamilton wrote: “Now it is perfectly possible for one man to have an hallucination, and two men might have the same hallucination by a singular coincidence, but that eleven men of intelligence, whose characters and writings indicate their sanity in other respects, or that five hundred men in a body should have seen the same hallucination and at the same time, stretches the law of probability to the breaking point!”
A third hypothesis supposes that the Lord’s body was stolen. But this does not explain why the disciples of Jesus would preach what they knew to be a lie at the risk of their lives. Many of them endured horrible persecution and ultimately died as martyrs. Do men suffer or die to perpetuate what they know to be a lie?
None of these views renders a satisfying explanation for the disciples’ preaching of the resurrection. They preached a Risen Lord because they believed with all their hearts that the Lord was risen. It is that simple, and nothing else can ever explain away what they believed and why they believed it.
The evidence found in the four Gospels, and related by all the witnesses in the first century, is characterized by great unanimity and synchrony, while obviously being told from different perspectives and in different words (proving that the witnesses did not conspire among themselves to lie, and were not coached). The summary result of what their corporate testimony announced to the world was that Jesus came forth from the grave on the third day after his crucifixion, and that he is alive forevermore as Savior and Lord, King and High Priest.
Moreover, they were willing to risk it all for their conviction. They realized that everything was on the line, and if they had believed a lie, then all was lost. They did not philosophize as do moderns as to whether it was worth it to follow Jesus anyway, regardless of whether he was only an extraordinary man or not, whether or not he really rose from the grave. The times and circumstances in which they lived did not permit them this modern luxury. Christianity was an illegal religion. And proponents of illegal religions were punished with death. As Paul declared, “. . . if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:16-19).
In that noble declaration Paul spoke for all Christians of every age, not just of his own. Truly, if we have only believed in empty promises, if we have only followed a deceiver and a charlatan, if we have only believed a lie — then we have only trusted in Jesus Christ in this life, and there is nothing for us beyond death and the grave, and we are “of all men most pitiable.” No doubt about it! If the world is right and we are wrong, then we have wasted our lives in the service of Jesus. We have lost everything. But, if we are right and the world is wrong, then the world has lost everything!
Howbeit, the Christian now is as the Christian then, convinced that we have not followed “cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16), but persuasive and authentic testimony from eyewitnesses who were willing to risk life and limb to proclaim to the world that “The Lord is risen indeed . . .” (Luke 24:34). And if the Lord is risen, then our future is wrapped up with him, in glory! As the song-writer so fittingly said it, “Hallelujah, Christ arose!”
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