“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5 RSV-CE)
My Faith Crisis
In 1996, after twenty three years, my time spent in bondage to an abusive church was over; I had finally seen through it all and broken free. Subsequently I began to question one of the things I had believed while being part of this church. Then it was another; and another; and before I knew it, I felt as if my whole faith was unravelling, rather like when you take a thread of a woollen pullover and pull it and it just keeps going until there’s nothing left. As everything I believed as a Christian seemed to be vaporising, I started to get anxious, and I wondered if I would end up denying the Faith and abandoning the Lord. The unravelling stopped when I considered the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I knew that this was an historical event and that there was evidence to support it. Now I knew I was on safe ground and my faith was secure.
Seeing is Believing?
In Sydney, Australia, a few years ago, a conversation was held between a male high school student and an evangelist. 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 of the people we learn about in history, 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.
Who were the Witnesses of the Resurrection?
The witnesses who testified to and recorded the resurrection of Christ from death were “the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he 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 “For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that 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 are fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 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” (1 John 1:1-2). 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, 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 Jesus 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).
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, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Behold, I have told you’. So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Hail!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go tell my brethren go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:1-2, 5-9).
Implications 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 “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:1-5).
Heralds the coming Judgment
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he 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).
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 I will 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 Jesus 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 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, “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:17-21).
And the apostle John urges, “Now 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 will 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 not will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16); “and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20).
“They Came to Understand….”
Clarrie Briese is a distinguished Australian citizen. He has multiple degrees and qualifications in the practice of law. From 1979 to 1990 he was the Chief Magistrate of NSW, and also served as Commissioner on the NSW Crime Commission. In a tract, he wrote on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I here quote a section of it which I have taken from a book written by another Australian lawyer and Christian, Ross Clifford: “Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection” p. 132-135, by Ross Clifford (Albatross Books 1991).
“Now we would all agree that to claim to be God is a pretty staggering claim for a human being to make. People who make such claims like that today are dismissed by us as mad or eccentric. We in the courts put many of them in mental institutions, diagnosing them to be suffering from schizophrenia or paranoia.
But this man Jesus cannot be so easily dismissed in that way. In a relatively short period of time after his death, his followers changed the world. And today they are still influencing and changing it……
……Now the reason that Jesus’ immediate followers were finally convinced that Jesus was what he claimed to be, namely God, was, as they tell us, that they were eyewitnesses to the monumentally staggering fact that Jesus, whom they saw to have been dead and buried, had risen from the dead. They saw and experienced this. It was for them a mind-shattering event. And no wonder. It clearly and finally demonstrated to them that his claim to have been not just a mere man but God in human flesh was in fact the truth. At least that is their evidence.
Now if this evidence of these witnesses is true, not only must it be the fact that there is a God of this world, but he must be found and can only be found in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. It further follows that you and I are not accidents in the world, arriving here by chance. We are the creation of an Almighty God and therefore accountable to that God.
Well now, all of what I have just said depends on the reliability of the witnesses to Jesus and his resurrection……At the end of our examination, putting our witnesses through Judge Chandler’s five tests, one is left to say that the only rational conclusion is that the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ are witnesses of the highest credibility. If we are unable to accept their histories, why would we accept the histories of any other incident of the human race?……
…….When first confronted with this fact (the Resurrection), they were initially staggered, dumbfounded. Some of them couldn’t believe it to be true – for example, Thomas. But when the truth did finally bear in on them and they knew it to be a fact through their own senses, their reaction was one of enormous joy. And no wonder! They now recognised fully who he was, the scales fell from their eyes and they understood what the prophecies of the Old Testament scriptures had been saying.
And mind-boggling as it was, they knew that these prophecies had been fulfilled before their very eyes. Jesus was that Messiah whom God through the centuries of history of the Old Testament period had promised to send to his people in the fullness of time. They came to understand that Jesus had come to redeem not only the Jewish people, but the Gentiles as well – that is, the whole of humankind. And they had actually seen it happen; they were witnesses – eyewitnesses”.
What’s the Difference?
So why is it that people accept the written accounts of secular historians such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Pliny the Younger, Livy, Julius Caesar etc.; but when it comes to the writers of the Christian gospels, they dismiss them and call them “religious texts”, as if that means they’re inferior and not to be trusted as reliable witnesses?; as if, being Christian, they are dishonest, incapable, or simple. As I’ve shown above, the gospel writers wrote what they saw; they gathered eye-witness accounts of others who had seen; they directed attention to hundreds of other witnesses still living who had seen the resurrected Jesus and who could therefore be questioned. The number of copies, portions, and fragments of the New Testament run into many thousands, and the earliest of them are hundreds of years closer to the originals than any secular history in existence.
Papyrus 75 is one of the Bodmer Papyri (c200 C.E.). It contains most of the gospels of Luke and John, and is the earliest surviving manuscript of these gospels. Academic consensus is that Luke wrote his gospel in the second half of the first century C.E. Therefore Papyrus 75 is within 140 years of the original gospel. There is no secular history which has a witness anywhere near as close to the original as this. And Luke tells us how he came to write his gospel. In his dedication of it he writes: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:1-4). So Luke tells Theophilus, to whom he dedicated his gospel, and we, the readers, how he got his information and what his purpose was in writing. His use of previously written accounts, interviewing of eye-witnesses, and his own careful research, have given posterity a trustworthy and carefully researched account of the resurrection of Jesus. But modern man, in his wisdom has decided that the gospels are religious, and are therefore not to be taken seriously.
Compare this with the secular Roman historian Livy. His stated purpose for writing his multi-volume history of Rome was to restore Roman citizens to their original moral values and religion. This was because the eastern religions which were gaining huge popularity in Rome were corrupting its citizens, as were the enormous wealth and power of the State, thereby weakening Rome and the empire. He saw that a return to the original values of Rome was the only way to restore Roman strength. He also tells us that he made use of the written histories at his disposal for the writing of his own. Thus his purpose was also religious; yet today his history is regarded as trustworthy and accurate – as it should be.
So why is Livy acceptable, and Luke and the other gospel writers unacceptable? Why are Livy’s books regarded as history while the New Testament documents are regarded as religious texts and therefore lack credibility? What is the difference? It is one of bigotry – people don’t want the New Testament to be true because, first of all, they have already made up their minds that it isn’t; they have already decided that Jesus isn’t who he claimed to be. And secondly, if Jesus is true, if he is who he claimed to be, i.e. God, then they are obligated to bow down and worship and obey him – and that would never do.
The Testimony for the Resurrection Would be Admissible in a Court of Law
The following is a selection of lawyers’ statements which state that the testimony of the New Testament writers would be admissible in a court of law. They are taken from a wider selection which can be found in “Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection” by Ross Clifford (Albatross Books 1991, p 125-131).
“(c) Sir Edward Clarke, a former King’s Counsel, wrote the following:
As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter Day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect. The Gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class and, as a lawyer, I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.
(d) Charles Colson is a lawyer and was Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon. He became involved in the political scandal, Watergate, gave his life to Christ and is the founder of Prison Fellowship. He wrote:
Take it from one who was inside the Watergate web looking out, who saw firsthand how vulnerable a cover-up is. Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused these men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and Lord.
(e) Dale Foreman, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a lawyer in Washington State, is author of Crucify Him: A Lawyer Looks at the Trial of Jesus:
These facts [the trial, crucifixion and death of Christ], I believe, are clear and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether you can take one step further and believe the miracle of his resurrection is something only you can decide. Still, the reliability of the rest of the Gospel is so plain that it is but a small step to believe in the resurrected Christ. And what’s more, it would be hard to believe that a man could have such an influence on the world if he had not overcome the ultimate enemy – death.
The teachings of Jesus have changed the world. In 2000 years not a day has gone by when the influence of this itinerant teacher from Nazareth has not been felt. As a trial lawyer, trained to be rational, sceptical and critical, I believe it improbable that any fraud or false Messiah could have made such a profound impression for good. The most reasonable conclusion, and the most satisfying, is that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, that he was who he claimed to be and that he did come back to life.
(i) Sir Leslie Herron was Chief Justice of NSW, Australia. In an address given on Palm Sunday, 1970, he stated:
Let any objective reader put side by side the four Gospels and add them to the account in Acts of the Apostles and he will be struck , as any judge accustomed to evaluate evidence is always struck, with one outstanding fact. It is this: that while there may be a great variety of detail or form of expression or narration of or emphasis put on occurrences, underneath it all, the substance and weight of the narration are true.
(j) Francis Lamb was a lawyer from Wisconsin, USA, who wrote the work, Miracle and Science, which examines Bible miracles by legal tests:
Tested by the standards and ordeals of jural science by which questions of fact are ascertained and demonstrated in contested questions of right between man and man in courts of justice, the resurrection of Jesus stands a demonstrated fact.
(n) Stephen D. Williams was a Detroit, USA lawyer and author of the popular book, The Bible in Court or Truth vs Error, in which he wrote:
We have been asked many times if the proof of the resurrection of Jesus was as complete and convincing from a legal standpoint, as that afforded by the record of the other events in his life narrated in the Gospel. To this question we must answer: Yes. The proof is to be found in the same record, supplied by the same witnesses”
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 are the Four Gospels and are all within the pages of the New Testament. The Bible is its own proof.
On the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the historian Luke tells us, “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see’. And he said to them, ‘O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent’. So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and found the Eleven gathered together and those who were with them, and said, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known of them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:13-35).
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