In Sydney, Australia, a few years ago, an evangelist told his audience about a conversation he had with a male high school student.  The student said, “I’d believe in God if I could see him”.  The evangelist replied “You’re too late.  You’ve missed him.  He was here 2000 years ago and he lived for 33 years as a Jew in Palestine”. 

It always amazes me when people say they’d believe in God if they could see him.  Ask them if they believe that Julius Caesar existed, or Alexander the Great, or Hannibal, or any other historical figure, and they’d look at you as if you were an idiot.  “Of course I believe in them; I learned about them at school; I’ve read their books or the books about them; of course I believe they existed and were real people, just as the literature says about them”.  But then they say that the Bible is a “religious text”, therefore it’s not true objectively or historically; it was written so that people would have a god to worship.  Religion is for fools and we don’t believe all that stuff anymore.  The bible has been disproved and we believe in science now, they say.  I won’t believe in a god I can’t see.

Who were the witnesses of the Resurrection?

The apostles and their companions

The witnesses who testified to and recorded the resurrection of Christ from death were “the apostles whom he had chosen.  To them presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:2-3).  These apostles were chosen by Christ at the beginning of his ministry; and in Luke 6:12-16 they are named.  

The apostle Paul writes “he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15:3-8).  Paul here includes the unnamed apostles i.e. Matthew, John, and Jude, as well as Peter and James, and himself.  All these wrote the New Testament gospels and epistles between them.  There was also a large number of other people who saw the resurrected Jesus, but none of them wrote any scripture.

The apostle John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father, and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1-4).  He wrote this towards the end of the first century and therefore after the ascension of Jesus to heaven, so he wasn’t just writing about the incarnation of Jesus but his death, resurrection and ascension.  He is also very specific and detailed in this testimony because by this time the heretical group known as the Docetists were around, and they claimed that Jesus was not a real body, merely a phantom in human form.  There was also another heretical group called Ebionites, one of several Adoptionist groups, who believed that Jesus was just a man and that at his baptism the Christ came on him.  And because God cannot die, when Jesus was being crucified, the Christ ascended and left him to die.  John thus says that he and others had heard him speak and touched him with their hands.  And he warns, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.  This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already” (1 Jn 4:2-3).

The women

All four gospels tell us that certain of the women of his circle of family, friends, and followers were the first to see the resurrected Jesus.  For example the first gospel says “Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it…..the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead’….And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Hail’.  And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matt 28:1-2, 5-9).

Ramifications of Jesus’ Resurrection

Proves deity of Jesus Christ

The New Testament is the written testimonies of those who saw the risen Jesus Christ.  They had been with Jesus every day for three years.  They had witnessed his miracles, heard his teaching, heard his astonishing claims of deity by calling himself the Son of Man and the Son of God; and they had watched him die a brutal death, seen his burial, and for forty days had seen and spoken and eaten with him after he rose from death.  And then they saw him miraculously ascend into heaven, followed by the statement of two angels that he would be returning to earth at a future date.  If this is not worthy of being recorded, what is?  If ever anything written needed to be taken seriously and investigated, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that thing.

So Paul tells us that Christ, by his resurrection, has proved his claim to be God; and consequently he, Paul, was sent by God to bring all people to faith and obedience to God.  Jesus didn’t just die and rise from death to show us the biggest party trick of all time; he came to bring us to right and loving relationship with God from whom we are all estranged and with whom we are all at enmity.  Jesus’ death was for us, and in our place. 

In his letter to the Roman church, he wrote “…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3-5 NRSV).

Heralds the coming Judgment

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Fulfils prophecy

The prophet Isaiah foretold the death, burial and resurrection of Christ in his great prophecy of the coming of Jesus to fulfil the Father’s plan to save his people.  Part of the prophecy says “…by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53:11-12).

So Jesus’ dying and rising from death demonstrates that he is who he claimed to be; therefore he has both power and authority as God to forgive us our sins against him, and to make the way clear to God by taking away the sin that separates us from him and prevents us from approaching him.  In this sense therefore is the bible a religious text; it makes a stupendous claim, gives overwhelming evidence for it, and as a result, makes a demand on us to serve God from whom we have been separated.

A Religious Text

Reconciles sinners to God

However, when atheists and sceptics call the bible a religious text, in their minds that reduces it to nothing more than a sentimental book for weak-minded people.  Sometimes they condescendingly say it does have some wonderful principles, and the world does need more love and happiness, and that Jesus was a good man, but really, you can’t take it seriously; that would be intellectual suicide.

But in a proper sense, the bible is a religious text in that it tells us about God and how we are to relate to him; it consists of two sections, neither of which are mythological; the Old Testament, or Old Covenant, which is largely historical narrative, with events and places that can be proved by archaeology and records from the contemporary nations; and largely prophecy concerning the nations around Israel and about the coming of God’s Messiah to save his people.  And the New Testament was written to show how Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of the Old Testament law, sacrifices, and prophecies.  The New Testament is an historical document i.e. it describes real events, people, and places in history, and gives evidence for its claims about Jesus.  It does not ask us to have blind faith; it isn’t a crutch to support weak character; rather, it gives us evidence which in turn gives us confidence to believe its claims.

In the bible, God makes demands of every person who has ever lived or who will ever live.  Having provided witnesses to the stupendous events surrounding Jesus Christ, God expects a response from us.  Paul tells us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!…. in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…. he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might be become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:17-21).

And the apostle John urges, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31).

Matthew the apostle, writing of Jesus’ birth, tells us of the angel who told Mary, “…you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

And Jesus’ final instruction to his Church just before he ascended was: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16); and “…I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20).

The statements in the New Testament by witnesses who knew Jesus Christ for the three years leading up to his death, burial, resurrection and ascension, were telling the truth: that Jesus did rise from the grave and, after forty days with them, ascended to heaven.  They saw him after he rose, they talked with him, ate with him.  They knew he had been killed and that he had been buried; and they wrote down what they saw.  These written accounts form the foundation of the New Testament. 

“Revised Standard Version Bible, Ignatius Edition, Copyright 2006, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  New Testament, Copyright 1946; Old Testament, Copyright 1952; The Apocrypha, Copyright 1957.  The Catholic Edition of the complete Bible incorporating Old Testament, New testament and Apocrypha copyright 1966 by Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America”.