Defending the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
By Pastor Ron Jones, D.D. © The Titus Institute, 2002
In Sept. 1977, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Did Jesus Rise Bodily? Most Scholars Say No." The article is best described by the statement by Edward Hobbs New Testament professor at the nine school Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, which had the largest theological faculty in the world.
He said that he didn't know of one school there in which a significant part of the faculty would accept statements that Jesus rose physically from the dead or that Jesus was a divine being. The writer of the LA Times article stated, "As for the Bible stories of a resurrected Jesus appearing to His disciples, some scholars refer to them as "Easter visions" or "dramatic imagery seen through the eyes of faith."
These men made those statements 25 years ago and in those 25 years much hasn't changed. There are still many who deny that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead. A group of so-called "Biblical scholars" known as the Jesus Seminar have made it their mission to spread the denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The problem with anyone who denies the bodily resurrection is simply this. They weren't there. They weren't there when Jesus claimed that He would rise from the dead. They weren't there when Jesus hung on the cross and died. They weren't there when the disciples, whose hopes and dreams had been shattered at Christ's death, cowered in an upper room with fear.
And they weren't there when Jesus stood suddenly in that room with them - alive from the dead - in a resurrected body. And they weren't there when Jesus appeared again and again to his disciples and many others over a period of 40 days. No, they weren't there for any of those events 1900 years ago and yet they feel confident denying the very statements of those who were there and recorded their testimony of the Risen Jesus.
As Christians "How do we know Jesus rose from the dead?"
The answer is "we have eyewitness accounts of the risen Christ." You see, eyewitnesses are crucial in establishing what happened. And they are especially important to a historical event. You cannot prove a historical event occurred in the same way you can prove that water will vaporize if you heat it up. Historical events cannot be put in a laboratory and tested.
How do we know that George Washington crossed the Delaware? How do we know that Brutus and Cassius stabbed Julius Caesar to death? People saw it and either wrote it down themselves or told it to others who wrote it down.
It is the same with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. How do we know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? Because we have the testimony of eyewitnesses and we trust that testimony.
This is how the apostles themselves proved the resurrection to others to whom they preached the gospel. In Acts 2:32, Peter says, "This Jesus God has raised up, to which we are all witnesses."
There is always the element of faith. But our faith as believers is not just in a statement that Jesus made that He rose from the dead and we need to believe it. Christ wanted our faith to be based on the eyewitness testimony of those who saw Him. That is a major reason why he appeared over a period of 40 days so there would be no question that He was resurrected.
Luke records in Acts 1:3, "To whom also he [Jesus] showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen by them [the disciples] for forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."
Who are these eyewitnesses that all claim that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and that they saw Him? In 1 Cor. 15:5-8 Paul lists some of these eyewitnesses. These witnesses all said the same thing that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead.
This shows that the eyewitness testimony is God's apologetic for the resurrection. Paul brings in six groups of witnesses. These were not all the witnesses. Each witness or group of witnesses had a unique testimony because of who he or they were. The eyewitnesses mentioned by Paul are the following:
1) Peter v.5 "And that He appeared to Peter..."
Peter was the apostle who cowered in fear at the trial of Christ, and later boldly proclaimed him. Peter was the first one of the eleven disciples to see Jesus after Mary Magdalene had seen him (Lu.24:33-34). Jesus' appearance to Peter took place some time on that Sunday. This was a private appearance to Peter himself by His lord (Lu.24:9-11, 34).
Peter had a powerful testimony. He had been so afraid for his life that he denied knowing Christ. Yet, after the resurrection, it was Peter that stood up in the midst of the 3000 in Acts 2 and proclaimed Christ.
2) The twelve disciples v.5 "And then to the twelve."
These were the closest associates of Jesus who changed from fearful doubters to courageous proclaimers. This is a term used to describe the twelve disciples minus Judas. This probably refers to Christ's appearance in Luke 24:36-49.
Many people say that the disciples got together and made up the story of Jesus rising from the dead and then worked together on the four gospels. The problem with that is they were not expecting Christ to rise from the dead. They weren't in the upper room waiting for Christ to rise; they were hiding, trying to figure out what to do now. When he does appear, they don't believe it at first.
Does that look like a group of men destined to pull off the greatest hoax in history? These were fearful men, doubters. Yet later we see these very men proclaiming the resurrection everywhere they went. What could have changed these men?
3) More than 500 disciples at one time
V.6 "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."
Jesus chose a place and time where He would appear to hundreds of disciples at one time. Many commentators believe that this occurred at the site of the Great Commission in Mat.28: 18.
V. 6 And Paul says, "most of them are still alive." How do we know that what the apostles wrote was true? A powerful testimony is the myriad of others who also witnessed the life of Christ and in this case the resurrected Christ. The churches in Jerusalem and Judea and the Mediterranean world had people in them who could verify many of the events that the apostles wrote about.
The testimony of so many people at the same time destroys the theory that the disciples made up the doctrine of the resurrection or that they hallucinated or were in some way self-deceived.
4) James, a former skeptic relative of Jesus V.7 "Then he appeared to James"
James was the half-brother of Jesus. He is named along with his brothers in Mat.13:53-56. Before Christ's death, he and his other brothers were skeptical of the true identity of Jesus (Jn.7:2-5). They were mocking Jesus in unbelief. Yet later we find James and his brothers assembled together with other believers (Acts 1:12-14). James later became the head of the Jerusalem church, wrote the epistle of James, and was considered along with Peter and John a pillar of the church.
What could have changed a man who mocked his own half-brother for claiming to be the messiah? The resurrection. Seeing Jesus raised from the dead. That's what changed James.
5) The apostles appointed by Christ V.7 "then to all the apostles"
I think that Paul brings them up again and uses their title "apostles" to show that these were no ordinary disciples who loved Jesus Christ. These were men selected by Jesus Christ Himself to take the message of His death for sin and resurrection to the world.
The testimony of the apostles is the testimony of the highest credibility
because they were the ones who were officially appointed by Him to speak of His resurrection and take that testimony to the world (Acts 1:21-22). They should know. They were appointed by Christ to be his representatives and eyewitnesses and take his message to the world.
6) Paul himself, a former persecutor of the disciples of Christ.
V.8 "and last of all He appeared to me also…"
Paul knew Christ had resurrected because Paul saw Him risen from the dead. The changed life of Paul is one of the greatest testimonies of the risen Christ. Paul was a persecutor of the church. He hated Christ and His people. Yet, he changed radically. Why? Paul tells us that he saw the resurrected Christ. Acts 26: 13-16
Well, these are eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. Men who saw Jesus bodily resurrected from the dead.
So what does all this mean?
It means that we have the strongest possible historical evidence from ancient times we can have, eyewitnesses of the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! It means that those who were there said that Jesus rose. It means that if anyone today denies the resurrection of Christ, we can gently remind him or her, "but you weren’t there!"
Note: This outline originally appeared in the Titus Institute Email Newsletter Vol.2.3