[Column] Evidence and Meaning for the Resurrection of Jesus

Evidence and Meaning for the Resurrection of Jesus

Written By Rev.Dr. Joshua Hong

Senior Pastor of Full Gospel Church of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.

 

An old couple visited Israel on a Holy Land tour. The wife suddenly died of heart attack. The husband consulted a mortician to discuss burial procedures. The mortician offered two options. The first option was burial in the land of God’s promise which guarantees God’s blessing and low cost of $150. The second option was to have the body preserved and transferred to the U.S., which is a hassle and costly with the fee of $5000. After hesitation, the husband decided to have body transferred to the U.S. in spite of the high cost. He said, “If she’s buried here, she might come back alive like that man in the olden days.”

Three friends who died in a car accident were asked the same question at the entrance of Heaven. “What would you like to hear at your funeral from your mourning family and friends?” The first friend said, “I’d like to hear that I was a competent physician and an excellent head of the household.” The second friend said, “I’d like to hear that I was a good husband and a dedicated teacher who changed children’s life.” The third friend suddenly interrupted the second friend and said, “I want to hear “that guy’s moving”.” That’s right. Everyone fears death. People desire resurrection and life without fear of death. For Christians, however, there is no reason to fear death because there is hope in Christ who trampled down death.

If Christ had not been risen, Christians would’ve been helpless people. Had Christ been a mere prophet, His death would’ve been the end of everything regardless of His sanctity and influence. The suffering and death under Pontius Pilate would’ve been the final chapter of His life. However, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There are numerous fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity but the most essential of all is the resurrection of Christ. Islam believes in the divine revelation through creation, the Bible and Quran, and prophet Mohammed. It affirms the martyrdom of the prophet Mohammed but it knows nothing of his state after his death. Christians believe that Christ resurrected. Paul writes in Rome 1:4, “established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most critical theme appearing in the New Testament. It is also the most substantial proof of Christ’s divinity.

 

Argument against Contention that Christ’s Resurrection was a Hoax

There is a claim that the resurrection was an illusion. Some say that the body of Christ was stolen. They say His body was stolen to provide the perfect alibi for the scenario of resurrection. Even upon a cursory look at the Gospels, we can see that such contention is groundless. The Gospel of Matthew records that even back then there was a rumor of the stolen corpse (Matthew 28:13-15).

If indeed His body were stolen by His disciples or enemies, why would there be a shroud left in His tomb? The disciples must have been too despondent to do anything like that. Also, Jewish religious leaders requested to Pontius Pilate to set a guard at the site of Jesus’ burial after hearing about the prophesy of His third day resurrection. Back then the punishment befell a guard who falls asleep was death penalty. Who would have been able to bypass such tight security and steal a body? If the disciples stole the body, would they not have been torn to death at a Roman coliseum and confessed to their theft?

Some claim that Jesus did not die but merely was in an unconscious state. They argue that Jesus appeared to His disciples after regaining His consciousness. As interesting as it may be, no scientist would be able to support this view. Crucifixion was an excruciatingly painful punishment that completely shatters joints and rearranges and fails internal organs. It is impossible for a man who was on the cross for an hour to walk. The Bible tells us that Christ’s death was witnessed by Centurion, Pilate, and Joseph (Mark 15:42-45). Moreover, when a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a lance to affirm His death, blood and water came out. From the medical stand point, He died.

Some insist that the disciples visited the wrong tomb. If so, why did their enemies not expose the real tomb of Christ and resist the advancement of Christianity? Another theory is that resurrection was not a physical manifestation but a spiritual manifestation. However the Gospels disprove a mere spiritual manifestation and affirm physical resurrection. Because Jesus had a physical body, He had meal with His disciples (Luke 24:37). The empty tomb of Christ is a proof of His bodily resurrection.

Some assert that the disciples saw hallucination. According to the scientific explanation of hallucination, it is frequently experienced by emotionally sensitive and daydreaming individuals and is highly subjective. Oddly enough, the same occurrence of the resurrection of Christ was seen by people with different personalities. As many as 500 people saw the same risen Christ. While hallucination generally occurs at a given time and place, the resurrection of Christ was witnessed at various places and time from the tomb in the early morning to the upper room in the evening to the country road in the afternoon. Hallucination repeats itself periodically whereas the resurrection of Christ was seen only for 40 days and completely ceased to be seen after His Ascension.

Many attempted to repudiate the dogma of Christ’s resurrection but none have provided evidence against it.

 

Evidence for Christ’s Resurrection

Evidence for Christ’s resurrection is clear. A famous historian once said of resurrection, “The best substantiated fact in the ancient history.”  Even in the Old Testament was the resurrection mentioned (Isaiah 53:10), and Christ Himself prophesied it during His earthly ministry. The evidence for the resurrection of Christ can be presented as follows:

First, it is the experience of His resurrection by His disciples. We have to examine very carefully the revolutionary change of the Christians in the early church. When Jesus was arrested and crucified, the disciples were scattered and mired in desolation. Even the chief disciple Peter denied Jesus three times lest he comes in harm’s way. No disciples are mentioned at Jesus’ burial. Later, however, all these things change. The timorous and despondent disciples transform into the formidable witness who proclaim resurrection and lordship of Christ even unto death. That’s because they have encountered living Christ. So unwavering and serious is the faith of the disciples that historians or bible scholars can challenge it. “We have seen Christ,” was unanimous testimony. Even in the midst of persecution, torture, and martyrdom, they did not recant their testimony. This is crucial evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

Second, there are many witnesses of resurrection. Even in the early church where the tradition was transmitted mainly verbally, there was the record as seen in First Corinthians 15:5-8 of who met the risen Christ. It records that Christ first appeared to Peter, twelve disciples, brethren of 500 or so, then James, all the disciples, and finally to St. Paul who laid the foundation for gentile mission. When we look at all the other records, it is evident resurrection was not an isolated event that was witnessed by a small number of people but by countless people.

Third, the evidence for resurrection has not yet been shattered. In the early church, there was not a single person who claimed, “Jesus never rose from the dead. I saw His tomb.” When the Watergate incident erupted, Nixon’s advisors gathered to cover it up. They were elites and experts of law.  They figured they could outsmart any interrogator. Towards the end of the interrogation, their “testimonies” conflicted with one another and their attempt to cover up completely failed. Why? Because it was a lie. The resurrection of Christ was not a “patchwork” story, composed from many different pieces. The followers of Christ have again and again maintained that they have witnessed the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ. No one could provide evidence against Christ’s resurrection.

Fourth, it is the historical fact that proves Christ’s resurrection. If the tomb were not empty and Jesus were inside the tomb, it would have been impossible for the disciples to proclaim the risen Christ. It is unlikely that so many would convert after hearing false stories of resurrection. His tomb was empty. Where was His body? The enemies of Christ set a guard at His tomb and even sealed it with a huge stone (Matthew 27:62-66), yet His body was nowhere to be found.

Lastly, it is the present and continual experience by Christians. The author of Benhur initially attempted to collect evidence against Christ’s resurrection. After a year of such process, he confessed, “Jesus. You are God” and finally finished the great work Benhur. Those who encounter Christ in the present life are experiencing the risen Lord regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, and professions. If we take interest and think rationally about the resurrection, we’ll be surprised to see an incredible body of evidence for resurrection.

 

The Significance of Christ’s Resurrection

The resurrection of Christ is extremely significant for us. First, it is the foundation of Christian faith and the proof of His divinity. If resurrection is not true, Christians are in no better situation than non-believers who speak of “divine” truth, yet cannot prove it. From the faith in resurrection, the Church arose and the Gospel spread. If Christ had not risen, His death on the Cross would have been worthless. That is why St Paul preaches, “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”( 1 Corinthians 5:17-18) Jesus Christ acknowledged Himself as God. If He blasphemed God, He would not have been risen. Resurrection denotes the divinity of Christ.

Second, the resurrection is the salvation of man from sin and death. Man was previously the slave of sin but later freed from sin and death through Christ’s incarnation, passion, and resurrection. Only Christ who conquered death can save man from the power of death and sin. By His resurrection, Jesus delivered “them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:15) Jesus said, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

Third, Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of the faithful. The Bible teaches that the reason for Christ’s rising again was to be offered was the first fruit. (1 Corinthians 15:20) This demonstrates that He was the first to be resurrected among man and that through His resurrection many will obtain a new life in resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is an indication of the bodily resurrection of the faithful. Ancient Platonism taught that upon death a soul is liberated from and escapes the body. But the Bible teaches that a human body is transformed into a resurrected body through Christ’s resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15).

Fourth, His resurrection demonstrates that we must rise again in the true faith. Because He lived again, He put an end to historical and cultural limitations and boundaries and won the ultimate victory by annihilating death. He lives to this day and governs the entire universe. Those who encountered the risen Lord were transformed. They opened their eyes to the new life. Those who met the risen Lord die to sin and live to righteousness. There are those who claim that the resurrection was a fantasy tail. They must be honest. The weight of sin and death in life is constantly pressing upon us. Only when we believe and accept the risen Christ, we experience the joy of freedom and salvation. Bonhoeffer said, “He who knows resurrection cannot be hopeless.” Kurt Rommel said, “Christ’s resurrection points out that God says yes to our death, yet he says no to our eternal death. Therefore, Easter is a day of rejoicing for me.”

Every Christian observes Sunday as the Lord’s Day. They gather together on this day to offer worship to the Lord. Where did the notion of the Lord’s Day come from? How did traditional Jewish believers who had observed Sabbath all their lives come to abandon Sabbath and celebrate the Lord’s Day? How did they unanimously agree to observe Sunday as Lord’s Day without legal implementation? What was behind such revolutionary change was resurrection of Christ. Around 70 A.D., one of the early church fathers Barnabas wrote the following, “We observes the Lord’s Day, the day when Our Lord rose again among the dead, with exceeding joy.”  Jesus Christ lives within us. He is our eternal savior and king. Let us give praise to the risen Lord! 

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