The rapid spread of this new religious system amongst the Jew, as the church grew at the very spot where Christ ministry took place, where He was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead leaving an empty tomb that all could check for themselves, is perhaps one of the strongest historical factors proving the validity of the resurrection. Paul testified before King Agrippa indicating that this event was not unknown or hidden, but rather out in the open and all knew about it (Acts 26:26). William Paley reckoned, “In reality, we have no difficulty in accounting for the rejection of Christianity by the majority of the Jews. It is he who should account for its reception by so many of them…. Reception of Christianity by them supposes prejudice overcome by something; and the question is, by what?… Secondly, it is also highly probable, from the nature of the case, that the propagation of the new religion was attended with difficulty and danger. As addressed to the Jews, it was a system adverse not only to their habitual opinions, but to those opinions upon which their hopes, their partialities, their pride, their consolation was founded.”1)William Paley, M.A., Evidence of Christianity: with Annotations by Richard Whately, D.D., James Miller 1860, originally published 1794, p. 32
Considering the Israelites national pride of fervently keeping their traditions to separate them from surrounding nations and their zeal for their religion was all forsaken by those who turned to receive Christ and become a Christian. Dave Hunt mentioned, “Today, only the Jews, and no other people on earth, can legitimately trace their ancestry back to slavery in Egypt, their miraculous deliverance therefrom, their entrance as a unique people group in to the Promise Land, and their existence there for centuries as a nation. As proof that they are the ex-slaves and chosen people, they alone keep the feast of the Passover as a memorial of this event, as God commanded (Exodus 12:14-28) – and have done so each year ever since.”2)Dave Hunt, Seeking and Finding God, The Berean Call, 2005, p. 90-91 For thousands of years the Jews remains distinct from all other people groups because of their traditions so diligently guarded. These Jewish Christians traded the Passover for a remembrance of the Resurrection day (Acts 12:3-4). This fact bares the mark as evidence of a historical event important enough to begin a memorial celebration – such a custom could not be based on myths since it was kept by contemporaneous locals as eye-witnesses of Jesus, His ministry, and His empty tomb.
This celebration of the resurrection was also a weekly remembrance celebrated by the Jewish Christians who no longer considered the Sabbath as important to their religious life and devotion to God “They were Jews, and Jews have a tenacity in clinging to their religious customs. Yet these men observed the Lord’s day, a weekly memorial of the resurrection, instead of the Sabbath.”3)L. L. Morris, as cited by Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999, p. 256 This is an amazing thing when it is realized how strict the Sabbath keeping was to the Jewish mind. Many times the Jew sought to kill the Lord for performing healings on the Sabbath (John 5:18). The Jews were willing to be killed before they would break the Sabbath. 1 Maccabees records: “At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there, they, their sons, their wives, and their livestock, because troubles pressed heavily upon them. And it was reported to the king’s officers, and to the troops in Jerusalem the city of David, that those who had rejected the king’s command had gone down to the hiding-places in the wilderness. Many pursued them, and overtook them; they encamped opposite them and prepared for battle against them on the sabbath day. They said to them, ‘Enough of this! Come out and do what the king commands, and you will live.’ But they said, ‘We will not come out, nor will we do what the king commands and so profane the sabbath day.’ Then the enemy quickly attacked them. But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding-places, for they said, ‘Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.’ So they attacked them on the sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and livestock, to the number of a thousand people” (1 Maccabees 2:29-37).4)The Apocrypha Or Non-Canonical Books of the Bible: The King James Version, Edited by Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books, (New York, 1992), p. 260 Men, women and children willingly laid down their lives before they broke the Sabbath, but when Christ arose from the grave, the generation of Jews had no doubt He was their Messiah and God. Their worship on the Sabbath was immediately turned to worshipping Christ on the day of resurrection which came to be known as “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). In the beginning of the second century of the Christian era, Ignatius wrote, “For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace…. If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death…”5)The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 62
Other Christian ordnances can only be explained by understanding the origins are based on the reality of resurrection. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, explained the reason of the Lord Supper as an act to do in remembrance of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Josh McDowell commenting on this passage, said, “The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of His death, but we read in Acts 2:46 that it was a time of joy. Now, if there was not a resurrection, how could there be joy? The memory of the meal that led directly to the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus, their Lord, would have been an unbearable pain. What changed the anguish of the Last Supper into a communion of joy the world over?”6)Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999, p. 256 He further remarks on baptism, “There is nothing in Christianity older than the sacraments, and yet they are directly linked to the death and resurrection of Christ. How is one to account for the meaning of Christian baptism if the resurrection never took place?”7)Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999, p. 257 The Bible tells us many times over that baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 cf. Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). This is only identifiable when baptism is administered in the biblical fashion of full emersion after the person professes their faith in Christ’s death burial and resurrection (Acts 2:41; 8:35-38). Christ was not an infant when He died for our sins, nor was He buried by having a few specs of dust sprinkled on His head. The early Church Fathers never question if baptism was by emersion or sprinkling. The author of The Epistle of Barnabas clearly referred to going down and descending into water: “Mark how he described at once both the water and the cross. For these words imply, Blessed are they, who placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water… This meaneth, that we indeed descend into the water…”8)The Epistle of Barnabas, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publisher, 12012, Vol. 1, p. 144
Yet the resurrection of Christ is absolutely unique and could not have been invented by man when understanding the religious thoughts and ideas of the first century. The common expression of the pagan thought of the Greco-Roman culture in the first century viewed a bodily resurrection as impossible. The physical world was decaying, corrupting, and perishing, thus it was inconceivable to even entertain the thought of anything physical being eternal. Moreover, the Greco-Roman mind viewed a resurrection as undesirable. Salvation was considered as liberation from the body, the immortality of the soul was their hope. Even in expressions of soul transmigration or reincarnation was understood as a curse to be continuously trapped in different bodies seeking a final liberation from the curse of this cycle of deaths and rebirths. What could have been so important of an event to drastically change the gentile mind about the body? They first viewed it as a wretched and despised thing, and for that cause they defiled it through fornication, cutting, violence, cremation, and many other things which was transformed to holding a great respect for the physical body as they understood Christ’s resurrection as evidence for their own. Phillip Schaff recorded:
Christianity intensified this regard for the departed, and gave it a solid foundation by the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. Julian the Apostate traced the rapid spread and power of that religion to three causes: benevolence, care of the dead, and honesty. After the persecution under Marcus Aurelius, the Christians in Southern Gaul were much distressed because the enraged heathens would not deliver them the corpses of their brethren for burial. Sometimes the vessels of the church were sold for the purpose. During the ravages of war, famine, and pestilence, they considered it their duty to bury the heathen as well as their fellow Christians. When a pestilence depopulated the cities in the reign of the tyrannical persecutor Maximinus, ‘the Christians were the only ones in the midst of such distressing circumstances that exhibited sympathy and humanity in their conduct. They continued the whole day, some in the care and burial of the dead, for numberless were they for whom there was none to care; others collected the multitude of those wasting by the famine throughout the city abroad, and men glorified the God of the Christians, constrained, as they were by the facts, to acknowledge that these were the only really pious and the only real worshipers of God.’ Lactantius says: ‘The last and greatest office of piety is the burying of strangers and the poor; which subject these teachers of virtue and justice have not touched upon at all, as they measure all their duties by utility. We will not suffer the image and workmanship of God to lie exposed as a prey to beasts and birds; but we will restore it to the earth, from which it had its origin; and although it be in the case of an unknown man, we will fulfill the office of relatives, into whose place, since they are wanting, let kindness succeed; and wherever there shall be need of man, there will think that our duty is required.’
The early church differed from the pagan and even from the Jewish notions by a cheerful and hopeful view of death, and by discarding lamentations, rending of clothes, and all signs of extravagant grief. The terrors of the grave were dispelled by the light of the resurrection, and the idea of death was transformed into the idea of a peaceful slumber…. The primitive Christians always showed a tender care for the dead; under a vivid impression of the unbroken communion of saints and the future resurrection of the body in glory. For Christianity redeems the body as well as the soul, and consecrates it a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence the Greek and Roman custom of burning the corpse (crematio) was repugnant to Christian feeling and the sacredness of the body. Tertullian even declared it a symbol of the fire of hell, and Cyprian regarded it as equivalent to apostasy.”9)Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, Vol 2, p. 381-383
To the Jewish culture resurrection was the ultimate hope, but only in the end of time, that is the eschaton as is seen in Martha’s comment to Christ about her brother Lazarus “shall rise again in the resurrection at the last days (John 11:24). Job also acknowledged the resurrection in the end times (Job 19:25-26). This was identified as “the restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21; Matthew 17:11). For a resurrection to have occurred in the middle of history was unthinkable to the Jew. Simply put, no one would have, or even could have made up the story of the resurrection of Christ because it was the farthest thing from everybody’s mind in the first century.
There have been objections presented against the resurrection which have not stood against scrutiny. The earliest was the lie spread by the Jewish leaders that the Disciples of Christ had stolen the body from the tomb (Matthew 28:11-15). The apostles could not have stolen the body for a number of reasons. First of all, they were hiding in fear of the Jews who had just crucified their leader (John 20:19). Of course, the tomb was sealed and guarded by soldiers (Matthew 27:62-66), and since the disciples were fearful of the Jews, how much more would they fear professional soldiers. Furthermore, who would have led such a daring escapade? Peter, the most brave and rashest of the group (Luke 22:49-50 cf. John 18:26) wanted to return to fishing (John 21:2-3) and all were ready to join him. These men would not be the type that would suffer and die for a lie (Acts 4:18-20; 5:40-42; 7:59-60). If history has taught us anything, it is that it is impossible to keep secrets—the bigger the secret and the more people involved the more improbable it is to keep it silent. Lastly, why would a bunch of liars teach a system of morality that strongly condemns lying (John 8:44; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; 1 John 2:21; Revelation 21:8). Not one person in the first century sincerely believed the story of the disciples stealing the body of Christ. The large number of local Jews converted on Pentecost shows they did not believe the story of the body being stolen (Acts 2:41). If the body was stolen, why was the napkin that was wrapped around Christ’s head folded nicely (John 20:7)? Why was there was no punishment for the guards for failing their mission which proves they were “secured” from authorities (Matthew 28:11-15).
One other objection that is worth refuting is what has been called the swooning theory. Mark Eastman explains what this ridiculous theory refers to: “In the nineteenth century a German rationalist named Venturini developed the idea that Jesus did not die on the cross. Venturini proposed that Jesus simply fainted, or swooned, and was taken down from the cross alive, only to revive in the cold dark tomb. After awakening he unwrapped himself, moved a one or two ton stone, slipped by the Roman soldiers, returned to his disciples and convinced them that he had been resurrected.”10)Mark Eastman, M.D., The Search For Messiah, The Word for Today, Joy Publishing, 1996, p. 190 Oddly, no one question whether Christ truly died until the nineteenth century. Jesus definitely did die on the cross. The soldiers, as trained killers, testified to His death (Mark 15:44). Joseph of Arimathea handled His dead body to wrap it in linen for the burial reckoned He was truly dead (Matthew 27:59). The Jewish leaders were convinced He was dead (Matthew 27:62-63). Many medical professionals have assessed the record of the crucifixion and confirmed that He truly did die on the cross. Dr. Alexander Metherell stated, “Once a person is hanging in the vertical position… Crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stress on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones. After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he’d have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloody back against the coarse wood of the cross. …until complete exhaustion… the person slows down his breathing, he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis—the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbon acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to an irregular heart beat.”11)Dr. Alexander Metherell interviewed by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 265-246 Mark Eastman M.D. elaborated on the heart condition and why the Bible says blood and water came out when He was pierced with the spear (John 19:34): “a Roman soldier thrust a spear into the side of Jesus, resulting in the drainage of blood and water. This is an indicator that Jesus had probably developed a pericardial effusion, a condition in which the pericardial sac around the heart fills with water, leading to heart failure and death.”12)Mark Eastman, M.D., The Search For Messiah, The Word for Today, Joy Publishing, 1996, p. 192
Surely Jesus Christ did die on the cross and in so doing, He took the punishment which we deserved for our sins, to reconcile us to God (Colossians 1:20). Yet death could not keep Him for He did indeed rise from the grave and conquered death (1 Corinthians 15:54). By paying for the penalty of sin He has purchased for us the free gift of salvation (Romans 6:23), and offers the gift to whoever will receive it (John 1:12) by placing their faith in the person of Christ—the incarnate Son of God—and completed works of dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the grave (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is the gospel whereby we are saved if we truly believe it (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is the gospel that to deny it would not only be intellectual suicide, but also eternal damnation (2 Peter 2:1). God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), so call upon Him today for the forgiveness of your sin and the eternal salvation (Romans 10:13; 1John 5:11-13).
|↑1||William Paley, M.A., Evidence of Christianity: with Annotations by Richard Whately, D.D., James Miller 1860, originally published 1794, p. 32|
|↑2||Dave Hunt, Seeking and Finding God, The Berean Call, 2005, p. 90-91|
|↑3||L. L. Morris, as cited by Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999, p. 256|
|↑4||The Apocrypha Or Non-Canonical Books of the Bible: The King James Version, Edited by Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books, (New York, 1992), p. 260|
|↑5||The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 62|
|↑6||Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999, p. 256|
|↑7||Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999, p. 257|
|↑8||The Epistle of Barnabas, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publisher, 12012, Vol. 1, p. 144|
|↑9||Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, Vol 2, p. 381-383|
|↑10||Mark Eastman, M.D., The Search For Messiah, The Word for Today, Joy Publishing, 1996, p. 190|
|↑11||Dr. Alexander Metherell interviewed by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 265-246|
|↑12||Mark Eastman, M.D., The Search For Messiah, The Word for Today, Joy Publishing, 1996, p. 192|