View from Hotel Ohla, Barcelona, Spain. Photographer: Gary Ullah. https://www.flickr.com/people/96391186@N06
“I believe witnesses that have their throats cut.” Blaise Pascal
“To accept Jesus demands a leap of faith-but so does the decision to reject him.” Dr. Alistair Mcgrath
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-19
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the center piece of all Christian faith. The Christian faith hinges on the veracity of this fact. The Apostle Paul who wrote two thirds of the New Testament says it this way to the Corinthian Church “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.”
In the next few pages I hope to briefly go over three main points that will help build your faith in Christ. I want to look at the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the reliability of Scriptures, and some of the evidence for Christ’s bodily resurrection. I hope you keep in mind it will be impossible to take a full apologetic stance on these issues in a few pages. In 2003, the Theologian N.T. wright wrote a 740 page tome on the subject of the resurrection issue alone. There are many other good resources on this subject as well. It is important to keep in mind we don’t all have to be New Testament Scholars, nor do we all to be fluent in the Koine Greek and Hebrew, but we all are called to be on a learning journey in our faith. In Peter’s first letter to the people of God he tells them to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
The first thing I would like to examine is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. There is no one like Jesus in all of history. Jesus stands unique for a lot of reasons. So who exactly is Jesus and what makes him unique? Was Jesus a political or religious revolutionary? Was Jesus just a nice guy who cared for the down and out? Was Jesus a miracle worker? Was Jesus just a prophet? Was Jesus the messiah the Jews were looking for or just a reformer of the law? People have been asking questions about who Jesus is for centuries. In fact in the gospel of Mathew we see Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying He is. The gospel records “And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
The gospels record many things about Jesus life, words, and deeds. The gospels make many things very clear about his life and teachings, like his authority, his role in redemption, and his divinity. Yet if you read the scriptures, Jesus in some ways remains an enigma. There is no one like Him. James Stewart, a Scottish theologian, paints a great picture of the Jesus we see in the gospels:
“Jesus was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him, and the little ones nestled in his arms. His presence at the innocent gaiety of a village wedding was like the presence of sunshine. No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red hot scorching words about sin. A bruised reed he would not break, his whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell. He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism He has all of our stark realists soundly beaten. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in His eyes. He saved others, yet at the last Himself He did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.”
No one in history is like Jesus. On top of Jesus working miracles in different cities, confounding the teachers of his day with authority and wisdom, and prophesying about his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus tells his listeners He is the fulfillment of the law and the fulfillment of scriptures. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John we see Jesus say “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:39, 46) Jesus, after rising from the dead approaches his disciples and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
So, what were the prophecies of Jesus? There are a lot, in some estimates there are over three hundred. So, there is no way to go over all of them here. Some of the major ones about Jesus were that he was prophesied about by Moses as a coming prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), he was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), of the lineage of King David (Mathew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38) he was preceded by a type of Elijah (fulfilled in John the Baptist) (Malachi 3:1, Malachi 4:5,6), is the Son of God (Isaiah 9:5-7, Jeremiah 23:5,6), he healed the blind, deaf, and lame (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:5,6), he offered forgiveness of sins through His sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5), and establishes a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). Jesus also referred to himself as the Son of Man 81 times in the gospels. What was Jesus saying here? By Jesus referring to himself as the Son of man He is referring to Himself as the Messiah and almighty God himself. This is because Jesus is referring to Himself as the Son of man spoken about in Daniel chapter seven. It is in the book of Daniel, written hundreds of years before that prophesies about the Son of Man who is to receive dominion, glory, and worship, something reserved for God alone. Jesus adds to this divine description in the gospel of Luke: “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Not only does Jesus fulfill a lot of prophecy in scripture, there are also lot of major themes that point to the work of Jesus in scripture. Abraham on the way up to sacrifice His only Son, keeps saying the Lord will provide, and we see Jesus ultimately provides His own son in Jesus. In the book of Exodus we see the story of the Passover Lamb, where blood is painted over each household to spare their children, we see in Jesus, his blood spares us from judgment. We see in scriptures where the high priests had to make animal sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people, and the book of Hebrews tells us Jesus became our sacrifice once and for all.
So, the next thing I would like to go over is the reliability and historicity of the Scriptures. We know the Scriptures tell the story faithfully of Jesus not only because they are not far removed from the actual events compared to other ancient writings, but also because they were written by either actual witnesses of the events or those who knew them. They are also very well attested for with manuscript evidence.
The Gospels tell the story of Christ faithfully. The gospels did not cover up any embarrassing or counterproductive details in their accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. In these accounts we see counterproductive details such as women being the first people to find the empty tomb. This is a key detail because women weren’t considered witnesses in court during this time. Jewish men used to pray “thank you God for not making me a woman.” We also see that the gospels did not cover up any dullness or cowardice in the disciples. We often see that Jesus disciples just don’t get what Jesus is telling them. The gospels also show us the prideful and selfish ambition of James and John getting their mom to ask Jesus if they could sit on his right and left side in His future glorious kingdom. We see Peter denying Jesus three times in critical moments. If the writers of the Gospels were looking to exaggerate their accounts they would have probably left out these details.
The Gospels, (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) also provide for us great cross examination evidence for the life, teachings, and resurrection of Christ. It is put this way by Dr. William Paley: “There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred.”
Another point when considering the veracity and historicity of the Gospels are their specificity. When writings or claims are exaggerated we usually see vague accounts of what happened. But the Christian scriptures are very accurate in their details in the gospels. We see that Jesus sweated blood the night before his crucifixion. (An actual unusual and not well known medical condition related to stress.) We know the areas Jesus mostly ministered in. We even see some of Jesus last words on the cross going from Greek back into the original Aramaic. This kind of detail is not in line with other writings that are exaggerated. The Gospels serve as a historical narrative that includes real people, with real names, and with real timelines. They mention secular political officials such as Pontius Pilate and King Herod, and also point to the Jewish rulers who put Jesus to death. All of these details plus many more add veracity to the accounts of the Gospels. Exaggerations in history are rarely detailed, and are rarely written as a historical narrative with real public verifiable individuals. Famous former atheist turned Christian, C.S. Lewis, who was Professor of Medieval of Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University says this about the gospels: “Now as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend (myth) and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing.”
Professor Thomas Arnold, who for fourteen years served as the headmaster of Rugby School, author of the three-volume History of Rome, as well as previous holder of the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar said, “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
Dr. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853), the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University, was one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived. He wrote the famous legal volume entitled, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, considered by many the greatest legal volume ever written. He originally set out to disprove the Christian religion as false, but then he was convinced otherwise. He says this: “The religion of Jesus Christ… not only solicits the grave attention of all, to whom its doctrines are presented, but it demands their cordial belief as a matter of vital concernment. These are no ordinary claims; and it seems hardly possible for a rational being to regard them with even a subdued interest; much less to treat them with mere indifference and contempt.”
Lastly, I would like to go over six reasons why I believe we should view the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as a fact.
1. As mentioned above women were the first to find the empty tomb and see the risen Christ. This is an counterproductive fact to the story. This is actually good, for reliability sake, because if the Gospels were going to be embellished they would have left this fact out. Women weren’t considered to be witnesses during this day. “The Talmud, in the third chapter of Sanhedrin, delineates the rules governing who may provide written or oral testimony. A valid witness in a Jewish Beit Din must be an adult (see Bar Mitzvah) free man, not a woman or a slave, and not be related to any of the other witnesses or judges. The witness must be an honest person who can be trusted not to lie.” This gives added credence to the reliability of the gospels.
2. Not only was the empty tomb verified by the women, but Jesus appeared to over 500 witnesses after his resurrection. Some of these whom would have definitely been interviewed by Dr. Luke while he was gathering information to write about Jesus and the early church. In fact Jesus own brother James was not convinced of Jesus teachings and claims while on earth, and only later became convinced after seeing the resurrected Jesus. History records James as being one of the pillars of the New Testament church, a man who was still zealous for the law. James would never have abandoned his former religion for something he wasn’t convinced thoroughly of. Who would abandon their faith only to believe and worship their own brother as savior without some good proof?
3. The Apostle Thomas who was not there the first time Jesus revealed Himself in His resurrected body to some of the apostles doubted the Apostles claims initially. Here is the conversation in John 20:24-29: “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.“ It is later believed the Apostle Thomas went on to be a influential missionary in India, where He was later martyred by a spear.
4. The Pharisees and other Jews at this time zealously wanted to squelch Christianity. They considered it a heresy and a threat to people’s faith in God. They convinced Pontius Pilate to put to death Jesus on blasphemy charges, since they did not have authority to put to death people under Roman rule (As we see in the Scriptures, Jesus foretold his death, and willingly accepted the penalty). The book of Acts records the Christian church growing to 3,000 in one day shortly after the resurrected Christ ascended. This would have proved annoying and troublesome for the ruling Jews. It would have been so easy for the Jews or the Romans to put to death this movement if they just pointed out the tomb or body of Jesus. They could not and did not. The tomb also belonged to a well known Jew on the Jewish council, Joseph of Arimethea, further it making it easy to point it out.
5. The Apostle Paul, who was a zealous Pharisee and persecutor of Christianity, became a Christian after encountering the risen Christ. This wasn’t just because of some guilt trip dream he had at night either. This was an encounter that happened during the middle of the day with others around Him present who saw it too. He was temporarily blinded by the risen Christ’s appearance. Paul was later escorted by those with Him to a devout Christian man who healed His eyes, and told Him more about the teachings of Christ. Paul completely reversed course after encountering the risen Christ. He was no longer a persecutor of the church but now a missionary for it. He went on to write close to two thirds of the New Testament, and became a global missionary with more zeal and influence than the world has ever seen. John Chrysostom a fourth century church father is quoted as saying “”Put the whole world on one side of the scale and you will see that the soul of Paul outweighs it.”
The faith of Paul is significant as it adds extra credibility to the Christian faith. Paul was an influential Jew, studying under Gamaliel a leading authority of the Sanhedrin. Paul was very zealous in his Jewish faith, and he would have had to be incredibly bright and zealous to study under Gamaliel. There were three levels of Jewish education in Jesus day. The first level was from age six to twelve where students learned how to read and write using the Torah as their guide. The goal at the end of this process would be for the students to have the whole Torah memorized (the first five books of the Bible). A second higher level of education was only for the best of the best. This This was from age thirteen to fifteen. At this stage the students continued learning and memorizing the scriptures. The goal was to memorize all of the Tanach (All of the Old Testament). A third level was only for a very select few. This education went from age to 15 to 30. This would be a mentorship grooming process to make the student a Rabbi by age 30. The students would mimic everything their rabbis would do, eat the same food, in the same way, and sleep and awake the same times, and learn and think the way their Rabbi did.
Does this seem like someone who was willing to throw their faith, and life’s work away for some false messiah? Paul had everything to lose by following Jesus if He was not raised. Paul tells the Corinthian church “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.”
6. The apostles died for what they saw. Yes, many other people of different religious and even political affiliations have died for what they believed in. The disciples however died for what they saw and not just for what they believed in. They saw the risen Christ and labeled themselves “witnesses”. The book of Acts attest to this while the Apostles led by Peter, were speaking to high priest and the Jewish council in the temple “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name (Jesus), yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:27-32
The Apostles continued to preach this fact of the resurrection openly. There was nothing in it for the Apostles to continue following Christ and His teachings if Jesus did not rise. In fact they had everything to lose. If a man was to be put to death on a cross He was considered to be cursed of God according to the Old Testament law. (Deuteronomy 21:23). There would be nothing glorious about a bunch of Jews following a cursed dead man according to their own law. But Jesus rose from the dead and eleven out of the twelve apostles died for their faith because of what they saw and encountered various times over a span of 40 days after the resurrection. All of the Apostles (except for John) died brutal deaths according to history. Their only motivation was to follow the risen Jesus, whose teachings were about the future kingdom of God, redemption through the cross, and not about any political agendas. They followed Jesus to death because they knew what they saw and were willing to pay the ultimate price.