By Thaxter Dickey
I am a Christian because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Some, even among Christians, might find that statement dogmatic; but I am in good company. It was on this basis that Thomas called Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is to this fact that the early preaching of the apostles pointed (Acts 2:24; 3:14-15; 4:10, 33; 17:18, 32; Rom. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:8). And Paul says that if it is not true then his preaching is in vain and our faith is also vain (I Cor 15:14).
The resurrection is the central fact of Scripture. It is the uniqueness of Christianity. This is illustrated in the oft told, perhaps apocryphal, story of a Moslem and a Christian discussing the relative value of Mohammed and Jesus as prophets. The Moslem said, “We can make a journey to Mecca to view the grave of our prophet. All you Christian’s have is an empty tomb.” The Christian’s reply: “Exactly.” Exactly, this empty tomb has changed the world.
Consequences and Meaning of the Resurrection
The resurrection shows God’s approval of Jesus and his life. God said, “This is my Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” Time and time again God showed his approval of his only begotten Son in words and signs; but the resurrection is the ultimate stamp of approval (Acts 2:22-24).
The resurrection gave meaning to Christ’s death. Lots of men die for what they believe. Many are even good men. But none has had the same power over the lives of others. Auguste Comte, the French philosopher, was discussing the future with Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist. He said that he was going to start a new religion that would sup-plant the religion of Christ. “Very good, Mr. Comte,” Carlyle replied, “very good. All you will need to do will be to speak as never a man spake, and live as never a man lived, and be crucified, and rise again the third day, and get the world to believe that you are still alive. Then your religion will have a chance to get on.” The power of the gospel message of the atonement of the cross is in the resurrection.
The resurrection makes his promises certain and teachings authoritative. How could we believe Jesus’ promises if he had died just as any other man. When Peter says it was impossible for death to hold him (Acts 2:32-36), we say amen and every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that he is Lord. If he had been wrong about this, our confidence in him would be undermined but instead with his resurrection we are brought to believe all that he said.
The resurrection gives meaning to his promise to return. At his ascension the angels said he will return as you’ve seen him leave (Acts 1:6-11). Death was not the end of his life as with other men. Death was but a pause before his victorious resurrection and triumphant return to the Father. And we know that if he ascended, then he comes again.
It was the resurrection that gave the disciples the boldness to preach. They were a dispirited and scattered band after the crucifixion until he came to them and said “peace.” Read again of the disciples who were leaving Jerusalem in discouragement but whose hearts burned within them as they returned to Jerusalem after witnessing the resurrected Lord ( Luke 24:13-53).
The resurrection of Christ testifies of the certainty of our own resurrection. It thus frees us of the power of the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Where else but in the resurrection of Jesus do we learn of the hope of which Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14 with which we are to comfort one another in times of loss?
It gives a reason to live righteously for it gives reality to the concept of a final judgment. One of Plato’s thought puzzles in the Republic was the story of a man who found a ring that made him invisible so that he could do whatever he wanted and avoid punishment. The question he was considering was whether a man will live righteously if he can escape punishment. Many ask that question today, thinking that punishment does not reduce crime; but for many the threat of punishment is the only means of securing right behavior. It is true that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we are holy as he is holy; but ultimately without the certainly of an eternal judgment, which is made possible by the concept of the general resurrection which is made possible by the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no fairness, no justice, no motivation to live righteously.
Thus the enemies of the cross rightly see the resurrection as the crux of the matter. If they can cause men to doubt it, then the life and death of Jesus has no power. In fact Paul says, “If Jesus be not raised then our preaching is in vain.” If he is not raised, then his teachings are not trustworthy; the atoning power of his death is a fiction; we have no more authoritative word about the resurrection than that of charlatans, pseudo-spiritualists, and mediums and there is no reason not to be pragmatic and selfish. But if he was raised, then every knee must bow and every tongue must proclaim him as Lord. And so the Devil has exerted all his wiles to bemuse the minds of men and a number of objections have been raised by the enemies of Christ.
Objections to the Resurrection
Veracity of Scripture. Obviously any challenge to the resurrection is a challenge to Scripture since Scripture so clearly teaches that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. Many will argue that the Scriptures are not historical documents, merely human fabrications, and thus the resurrection of Jesus is also mere fiction. But any discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this article. Instead our attention will be directed to those theories that give some credence to the Bible accounts and still attempt to deny the resurrection.
The Body is Still in the Tomb Theories
Mistaken tomb theory. Some argue that the Bible accounts of the resurrection are based on a simple mistake: the women went to the wrong tomb. After all, the argument goes, it was late in the evening when they saw the tomb and they had only seen it at a distance. I think this poor sense of direction and these poor powers of observation are a modem and a scholarly overlay on the ancient stories. It is we moderns (and scholars especially) who pay little personal attention to the location or appearance of a location important to us and instead depend upon official maps to arrive where we intend. Besides what about the guard? Were they at the wrong tomb too? Why did they report the same thing to the chief priests? And if the women went to the wrong tomb, why did it have the stone rolled away and grave clothes left inside? And how improbable that Mary would meet a gardener at exactly that time who said such ambiguous things as to confuse her into thinking him the resurrected Christ. These improbabilities are preferable to the miracle of the resurrection only to those who refuse to accept miracles as a matter of their materialist assumptions.
Spiritual resurrection theory. Others argue that the tomb wasn’t empty; that what occurred was a spiritual resurrection a resurrected hope in the minds of the disciples. The major problem with this alternative theory is that it is not consistent with the psychology of men. It could only be seriously considered in a time in which we have so lost touch with human nature that we believe bizarre theories of the human mind and have an excessive and misplaced faith in the power of subjective experience over objective facts. It is a theory that could have currency only among people who are factually challenged (to use the phrase that Cal Thomas used in a recent article in reference to politics), who, as many today do, believe their own pet theories so that they will abandon facts. (the very thing that they accuse Christians of). For example, in the area of politics and history some say the holocaust never happened; some say that America was the aggressor in WWII; some say that Egyptians were blacks. Just so in religion some say that the resurrection was a spiritual one. Factually challenged in-deed or living in a virtual reality (to use Thomas Sowell’s expression) where facts are never allowed to interfere with political or social theories.
Empty Tomb Theories
Swoon theory. According to this theory. Jesus was not re-ally dead. He was merely in a swoon and was revived by the coolness of the tomb and made his own way from the grave, later to die a natural death somewhere else. This was a favorite explanation of the rationalists of the 19th century, but it is ludicrous to consider it. It requires more faith to believe this than to believe in the resurrection. It is impossible that a man would survive the cross and the spear in the side, be considered dead by the two men who carried him to a tomb, and then revive and have enough strength to remove his grave clothes and roll back a stone (which five women doubted they could move (Mark 16:3; Luke 24:10) and then either overpower the guards or sneak past them and disappear without another trace. This would be miraculous indeed except that it did not hap-pen. The miracle that did occur was the resurrection as described in the Scriptures.
The body was stolen by enemies. The silence of the Jews is as eloquent as the speech of Peter on the day of Pentecost. If the Jews had stolen Jesus body away, they would have come forward to dispute Peter’s claim of a resurrection which occurred just seven weeks later in the same city. They didn’t come forward because it was a known fact. He had appeared to many on numerous occasions (1 Cor 15:3-8).
The body was stolen by friends. This was the lie told that very day by the Jews because they knew the significance of the resurrection. But look at the foolishness of that idea. What happened to hearten the frighten disciples to make them think they could carry off such a lie? What kind of men were they to do such a thing? Men may die for what they believe to be true even if it is false; however, few will suffer persecution and die for a lie they themselves have conceived. Nor can we imagine how they thought to succeed. How did they even come up with so bold an idea and where did they get the boldness to carry it off? The picture we have of them before the resurrection is that of a frighten scattered band (Matt 26:56; John 20:19). What changed that? A lie? Nonsense! But if Jesus was raised from the dead then it all makes sense.
Christ is risen! His teachings are true. God’s stamp of approval is on him. His death is the atonement for our sins and we too can know the power that seized the apostles and turned the world upside down. He is raised and because he is raised we are faced with the certainty that we will be raised in the last day and face the judgment and so we know that we ought to live soberly and righteously in the present world. We are compelled by the resurrection to accept his claim to authority in all things (Matt. 28:18; Acts 2:24-38).
Guardian of Truth XL: 1 p. 13-14
January 4, 1996