Jesus Christ Truly Rose From The Dead

March 17, 2013

The Historicity of the Resurrection of Christ

By Mark  Musser

The  crucifixion of Jesus Christ (33  A.D.) is the most attested historical fact of the ancient world.  In  addition to the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it is also widely  attested by Greco-Roman and Jewish writers.  Closely related, history also  confirms that the tomb of Jesus Christ on that first Easter morning was indeed  empty.  Every vested party knew where Jesus was buried after he died.   Yet on Easter, the tomb was found empty, and nobody has ever been  recovered.

In  fact, the gospel of Matthew  showcases that there was a still a heated debate going on between certain Jewish  leaders and the Christians in the apostolic church over whether or not the  disciples had stolen the body (Matthew  28:1-15).  As such, both sides knew full well that the tomb was  empty.  More surprising, both sides also knew of the presence of Roman  guards.

With  a plethora of similar historical details connected to the empty tomb,  Greco-Roman historian Michael  Grant concedes,  “The historian cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb … if we apply the same  sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient sources, then the  evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the  tomb was indeed found empty.”

Once  the reality of the empty tomb sinks in, this stubborn fact substantially narrows  down the historical possibilities of what transpired on Easter morning.   Outside the resurrection itself of Jesus Christ, only a handful of other  historical scenarios have been propagated in its place — all of which can be  routinely dismissed through a quick process of  elimination.

One  of the most popular answers to explain the empty tomb over the centuries is that  the disciples stole Jesus’s body during the night.  The biggest problem  with this supposition is it cannot explain the later behavior of the disciples,  who became stalwart apostolic pillars in the church founded upon the preaching  of the resurrection of Christ.  The apostles lived very difficult  lives.  Many of them were martyred.  If they had stolen the body of  Christ, they would have known that Jesus was not raised from the dead.   They thus would not have spent the rest of their lives sacrificing themselves  for a lie.

Others  have tried to implausibly advocate that the women who first visited the tomb  Easter morning went to the wrong one.  The very fact that the gospels admit  that women were the first ones to visit the empty tomb gives historical  authenticity to the entire account.  In such a male-dominated world, no one  in his right mind would ever want to acknowledge that women were the first to  notice the tomb was empty — especially when a new religion was essentially  founded upon such an embarrassing fact.

Some  have tried to suggest that Jesus’s death was staged, or that it was a  hoax.  This is impossible for the simple reason that no one could have  survived the cross.  Jesus was beaten to a pulp and whipped out of his mind  before he was crucified.  Once he was nailed to the cross, his fate was  sealed.

Others  have tried to say that the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples  were hallucinations.  Hallucinations, however, are individual occurrences  by definition.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul wrote that whole groups  of people, along with hundreds of eyewitnesses, saw the resurrected Lord.   In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul tells his  followers in Corinth that more than 500 witnesses saw the resurrected Christ at  one time, most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing (1  Corinthians 15:1-8).

Still  others have tried to venture the idea the resurrection accounts were based on  fictitious folklore.  However, such legends typically require 200-300 years  in order to be established — which is precisely what did happen with all of the  fanciful apocryphal  gospels that have helped spur the modern interest in The  Da Vinci Code.  In great contrast, the apostles were preaching the  resurrection of Christ from the very outset, and even some of the most radical  skeptical scholars of the German Protestant Enlightenment, like Ferdinand  Christian Bauer (1792-1860), admitted that Galatians, Romans, and the  Corinthian epistles were penned by the apostle Paul — who emphasized the  resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Bauer believed that much of the New  Testament was written much later by pseudo-authors.

However,  one of the most eminent ancient church historians of all time, English scholar J.B. Lightfoot (1829-1889), established very early dates for two  important church fathers — Clement  and Ignatius  — both of whom quoted or alluded to most of the New Testament around the turn  of the 1st century.  Sir  William Ramsay (1851-1939) then established  the surprising accuracy of the book of Acts, stating that Luke was one of the  greatest historians of the ancient world.  In 1976, John  A.T. Robinson (1919-1983) demolished the entire edifice of Protestant  Germany’s skepticism by writing a book called Redating  the New Testament.  Robinson placed the entire New Testament back  to the 1st century because it everywhere presumes that the Jerusalem  Temple was still standing.  Since the Romans destroyed  the temple in 70 A.D., the New Testament must have been written before that  time.

This  leaves modern man faced with the startling conclusion that Jesus Christ may have  indeed been raised from the dead.  A little more than a century ago, Dr. W.H.  Griffith Thomas wrote an outstanding book entitled Christianity  is Christ, where he strongly concluded that the resurrection of Jesus  was one of the best-attested facts of the ancient world.  Much later in the  20th century, Josh McDowell compiled a  vast array of Christian evidences  that demand a verdict, and Lee  Strobel has an excellent Case  for Christ.  In fact, Strobel persuasively contends that the very  historical existence of Christianity cannot be explained apart from the  historicity of the resurrection of Christ. 

Just  because the resurrection of Christ cannot be placed in an experimental  scientific test tube does not mean that it is an irrational fairy tale.  In 1  Corinthians 15, one of the longest chapters in the New  Testament, the apostle Paul strings together a series of arguments for the  resurrection of the dead — everything from the authority of the Old  Testament to historical eyewitness accounts to his own apostolic authority  and personal life — and even for the sake of morality itself.  Paul even  points out that nature itself teaches the resurrection of the dead every year a  farmer plants his garden anew (1  Corinthians 15:36).

It  was Jewish German scholar Karl  Lowith (1897-1973) who acutely observed,  “The Christian hope is almost rational, for it rests on faith in an accomplished  fact.”  However, because the apostolic writers depicted the historical  events of the gospels as a decisive once-for-all cosmic salvation event, the  life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ invariably offends, contradicts,  and upsets “the normal historical consciousness of both ancient and modern  times.”  The Christian faith offended the classical mind because it  rendered a onetime historical event with ultimate significance.  The  Christian faith offends the modern mind because it exempts its own specific  history of salvation from the generalized history of multicultural  godlessness.  Such unforgiveable offences are why the resurrection of  Christ will often continue to be ignored and attacked in spite of its  historicity.

Mark Musser is  a missionary/pastor and a contributing writer for the Cornwall  Alliance, a coalition of clergy, theologians,  religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to  bringing a balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of  environment and development.  Mark is also the  author of two books, Nazi  Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the  Holocaust, which has been recently expanded, updated,  and republished, and Wrath  or Rest: Saints in the Hands of an Angry God, a  commentary focusing on the warning passages in the book of  Hebrews.

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