Resurrection Of Christ
Resurrection of Christ - Establishing the Importance
The resurrection of Christ is the linchpin of the Christian faith -- the historical event upon which Christian doctrine stands or falls. The apostle Paul makes this clear in his first letter to the Corinthians: But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. … For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19).
In fact, the New Testament insists that belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is a necessary condition of the Christian faith -- no one can be saved apart from it. This insistence is found in verses such as Romans 10:9: Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The importance of the resurrection of Christ is further demonstrated in the frequency and enthusiasm with which it is preached as the early church grows (e.g., Acts 2:31; 4:33; 17:18; 26:23). Nearly every public witness to the Gospel points to the resurrection of Christ as the hope for all who desire salvation.
Resurrection of Christ - Simplifying the Issue
An individual's belief in the resurrection of Christ (or lack thereof) can generally be summarized in the answers to three questions:
- Did Christ actually die on the Cross? The resurrection of Christ is clearly impossible if he didn't die in the first place.
- If Christ did die on the Cross, did the tomb actually turn up empty? Again, the point here is obvious --without an empty tomb, the concept of the resurrection is a non-starter.
- If the tomb was empty, how do we know that the resurrection of Christ was the reason? Were there any post-resurrection appearances? If it can be shown that Christ died and was placed in a tomb that turned out to be empty, it's reasonable to expect foul play of some sort -- unless, of course, Jesus appeared to individuals or groups of individuals after the empty tomb was discovered.
Resurrection of Christ - Making the Case
Did Christ actually die on the Cross?
While the "swoon theory" (that Christ did not die on the Cross, but instead passed out and was revived later in the tomb) has been given various degrees of scholarly credibility at different times in modern history, a careful scrutiny of the theory reveals its flaws. First, the nature of the beating Jesus received before being nailed to the cross would have been enough by itself to send him into shock. The whip --- braided leather thongs interwoven with metal balls and laced with sharp pieces of bone -- wielded by the Roman soldiers would have most likely broken and cut the skin, penetrating to the bone. Jesus was in such critical condition, it appears likely that he collapsed while carrying his crossbar to Calvary -- forcing the governor's soldiers to recruit Simon to carry it for him (Matthew 27:32; cf. Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Roman soldiers were quite good at what they did, and failure to properly prosecute a crucifixion rendered their own lives forfeit. We can therefore be fairly certain that they were correct in their assessment of Jesus' death (John 19:33). In fact, one of the soldiers "pierced his side with a spear" (v34) in order to ensure the accuracy of this judgment.
The final argument against the swoon theory relies on the response of the apostles to the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. Had he only swooned, and somehow revived in the cool air of the tomb, he would have been in terrible shape. Given the severity of the beating as noted above, he would have needed weeks, perhaps even months, to recover. Surely a man in this state would not have inspired the disciples, frightened and scattered after Jesus' capture, to preach his resurrection with a boldness and courage that often endangered their own lives!
Was Christ's tomb really empty?
One of the undisputed details of the resurrection is that the tomb was indeed empty. The first indicator is the reaction of the Jewish authorities when faced with the disciples' claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Instead of producing the body, or perhaps organizing a search, they bribed the soldiers who had guarded the tomb (Matt. 28:11-15). In other words, instead of refuting the disciples' claims, they merely rejected them. Paul also banks on the empty tomb in 1 Corinthians 15:6, when he mentions Jesus' appearance to the 500, "most of whom are still living." Since the eyewitnesses were still alive, it would have been foolish for him to make such a bold and easily disproved claim without confidence in its accuracy.
Did Christ appear to anyone after his death?
There is much biblical testimony of Christ's independent appearances to over 500 different individuals after his resurrection. In fact, the resurrection accounts list as many as 12 different appearances of Christ, starting with Mary Magdalene and ending with the apostle Paul. These appearances could not have been hallucinations, due to the variety of situations and the number of individuals involved --there is no such thing as a "group hallucination." Further, these appearances were physical and tangible in nature, as evidenced by Christ's actions (e.g., eating with the disciples and suggesting that they touch his side and his hands). His resurrected body, though immortal, was undoubtedly a physical body.
The answers to the above questions endeavor to provide direct evidence for the historical veracity of the resurrection of Christ. At this point it might be useful to ask if there is any additional, indirect evidence for his resurrection.
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