HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
What do you think was the most significant event in human history? Without question, the greatest event was the faint sound of a heartbeat in a cold lifeless body in a tomb two thousand years ago. The sound of blood rushing through the heart of a prophet from Galilee is a sound that will undoubtedly thunder throughout eternity owing to its profound implications. Its significance lies in the fact that it constituted God’s vindication that the payment for man’s sin had been accepted.
The spin-off is stupendous. If Jesus is now no more than a handful of dust and bones slowly crumbling away somewhere on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the entire Christian faith lies buried with Him; all its martyrs were mistaken; all its reformers deluded; all its church buildings are monuments to a myth; all its services are senseless and Easter Day is wishful thinking.
The credibility of Christianity thus hangs on this one straightforward question: Did Jesus Christ come back to life a few days after He died and was buried? His character, His claims and His relevance for today all hinge on this crucial issue.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – Was the tomb really empty?
The Jerusalem Factor
- Jesus was publicly executed and buried in Jerusalem and then His resurrection was proclaimed in the very same city.
- In fact, several weeks after the crucifixion, Peter declares to a crowd right there in Jerusalem, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
- Would we really be talking about the significance of this event today had Jesus’ body still been in the tomb after that first Easter morning? Moreover, would it have been possible for Christianity to get off the ground? The Roman and Jewish authorities could have simply gone to His tomb, viewed His corpse, and the misunderstanding would have been over. However, there is no indication that this occurred.
- The earliest Jewish allegation was that Jesus’ disciples had come during the night and stolen the body.
- This is independently attested in Matthew’s account in addition to the Toledoth Yeshu (a compilation of early Jewish writings), and also in Justin Martyr’s dialogue with Trypho the Jew:“…you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but His disciples stole Him by night from the tomb, where He was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that He has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”
- The allegation that someone had stolen the body is an implicit admission that the tomb was empty.
- The fact that Jesus’ opponents conceded the vacancy of His tomb is strong evidence in the eyes of historians.
The testimony of women
- Not only were women the first to discover the empty tomb but they are mentioned in all four Gospels, whereas male witnesses only appear later and in two of them.
- This is significant because in both first-century Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was considered questionable.
- Moreover, according to the Jewish Talmud, and the writings of Josephus, women were forbidden from appearing as witnesses in a court of law.
- If the early disciples had felt at liberty to alter the facts, they would have assuredly included male witnesses as the first to discover the empty tomb.
- The best explanation for why the Gospel writers would have included such an embarrassing detail is that it is actually what happened and they were committed to recording it honestly and with integrity, regardless of its blow to their perceived credibility.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – Was Jesus seen alive after His death?
The list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection appearances
- The list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection appearances quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 guarantees that such appearances did indeed occur.“…he appeared to Peter, 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…”
- Paul has effectively offered an invitation. At the time of his writing, there are still literally hundreds of eyewitnesses to these post-resurrection occurrences alive, who could easily serve to corroborate or dispute Paul’s assertion if someone desired to investigate.
The testimony of martyrs
- The persecution and martyrdom suffered by the early disciples serve to confirm the sincerity of the belief that they had met and interacted with the resurrected Christ.
- Of particular significance is the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter. Scholars can determine from the writings of Tertullian, Jerome, and Origen that Peter is crucified upside down at his own request because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.
- Such a transformation from the man who — in the name of self-preservation — renounced his Lord three times to the fearless apostle who held fast to his commitment to his Lord and Saviour in the face of death begs explanation.
- The appearance of traditions in the Gospels provides multiple independent attestations as to the historicity of the post-resurrection appearances.
- For instance, the appearance of Peter is independently confirmed in Luke’s account, and the appearance of the Twelve is independently affirmed by both Luke and John.
- Moreover, we have independent witnesses to the Galilean appearances in Matthew, Mark, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – The Conclusion
To conclude, two fundamental lines of evidence have been offered in support of the resurrection, namely:
(1) the empty tomb,
(2) the post-resurrection appearances.
Any alternative hypothesis must, therefore, account for those two bedrock facts. What is the best explanation of those facts? Consider the evidence and decide for yourself!