A Reflection on the Resurrection of Jesus
At Easter (and every other time of the year!) the church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus as a matter of ‘first importance’ for the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear in 1 Corinthians 15.3-6.
“I delivered to you as 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 Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”
However, later on in the same chapter Paul will up the stakes even further! He writes: ‘If Christ has not been raised, then your faith if futile and you are still in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15.17). Do you catch the significance of that? Paul states very clearly, if Jesus is not raised from the dead then Christianity is absolutely worthless and we would be better finding something else to do with our time!
So, the Christian faith stands or falls on the physical resurrection of Jesus. If it happened, then Christianity is true; if it didn’t, then we need not give the message of Jesus another thought. That being the case, this short blog aims to explore the claim and significance of Jesus rising from the dead. We will proceed in two main sections. Firstly, we will consider ‘A Resurrection Shaped Hole in History’ and the evidence surrounding the first Easter. Then, secondly, we will reflect on what the resurrection of Jesus actually means for us today.
- ‘A Resurrection Shaped Hole in History’
Firstly then, it was the historian C.F.D. Moule who wrote that ‘there is a hole the shape and size of the resurrection in history’. In doing so, he is highlighting that there are facts surrounding the resurrection narrative that require an explanation. It might be fairly obvious to point out, but the six points below require a collective explanation. We cannot attempt to explain individual elements in isolation from the others. We need a solution that makes sense of all the facts together.
- Jesus Died
First point, we are dealing with a corpse. It is beyond dispute that Jesus died. He was executed by professional soldiers under the supervision of a Roman Centurion (Mark 15.39). The Romans knew how to put someone to death and they knew when someone had died. That is further demonstrated by the reaction of those who took Jesus down from the cross. They were utterly convinced that Jesus was dead and as a result they made arrangements to bury the body (Luke 23.53).
- Jesus was buried
Secondly, the fact that Jesus was buried is of great significance. The bodies of those who had been crucified would not regularly be given an honourable burial. But the gospels record that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15.46). This means that the body was placed in a known location. Indeed, there was a guard placed to watch the tomb to make sure that no sensational claims could be made after the death of Jesus (Matthew 27.66).
- The Tomb Was Found Empty
Third, the tomb was found to be empty. It needs to be acknowledged that the opponents of Jesus agreed that the tomb was empty. They tell the guard to spread the word that the disciples came and stole the body (Matthew 28.13). This demonstrates that they could not produce the body of Jesus. If they were able to then the message of the resurrection would soon come undone. Moreover, it is not very credible to suggest that the disciples overpowered a professional guard and stole the body. The disciples were still hiding behind locked doors in Jerusalem and when they heard about the report of the empty tomb they thought it to be an ‘idle tale’ (Luke 24.11). But Peter and John go to the tomb and find the tomb not only empty but the grave clothes still in place where the body has lain. The fact of the empty tomb is attested to both by the disciples and the opponents of Jesus.
- Jesus Appeared to the Disciples
Fourth, it is then recorded that Jesus appeared to the disciples. Now, it is not reasonable to attribute this to a hallucination. That is because of the multiple, varied and plural appearances that Jesus made (John 20. 19-29). He appeared to individuals, at different times of day and night. He appeared to all the disciples and he even ate in their presence. According to Paul, he appeared to five hundred people at one time, and it is recorded that ‘most of whom are still alive’ at the time of writing (1 Corinthians 15.6). In other words, their testimony was still available to be investigated; people could go and check it out for themselves. The evidence leads us to conclude that people had experiences of the risen Jesus.
- The Transformation of the Disciples
Fifth, what we must also observe is the transformation that takes place within the disciples as a result of these appearances. It is this point that convinced Chuck Colson about the truth of the resurrection. He was a political advisor to President Richard Nixon and he was entangled in the Watergate scandal. He writes:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years?”
What Colson writes requires careful thought. What caused the disciples to believe in the resurrection of Jesus? They don’t have anything to gain from making it up. Nor did they seem inclined to do so. They were previously hiding in fear of the authorities and they were sceptical at the news that Jesus had risen. And yet, they were transformed and went on to boldly proclaim this news in the face of suffering and death without any recanting or changing their story. The transformation of the disciples is one of the most compelling points that support the resurrection of Jesus.
- The Persistent Growth of the Church
Finally, the persistent growth and spread of the church attests to the risen Jesus. Wherever the news of Jesus has gone it has been opposed and persecuted. And yet, it still flourishes and countless millions of people across the world and down through the centuries have met the risen Jesus and can testify to his power in their lives. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is not only a historical fact, but it is a present reality. It is wonderfully true that people still meet the risen Jesus today. And this can be true of you as well!
So, there are six facts that require an explanation! For the reasons above, the historian Moule believes there to be a ‘resurrection shaped hole in history’. If you think that Jesus has not been raised, then what are you going to block up the hole with?
2. What does the Resurrection Mean?
This section will move from the evidence for the resurrection to consider why it matters. As simply and as briefly as possible, here are four things that the resurrection means:
- Christianity is True!
Firstly, the resurrection vindicates Jesus. It demonstrates that everything that he said and did was absolutely true – and that the Christian faith is also true. It proves that he is God’s chosen King, and that he has been granted all authority and everything has been put under his feet! We therefore need to repent and bow the knee to him! Paul writes in Romans 1.4: that Jesus ‘was declared to be the Son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead’.
- We Can Be Friends With God!
Secondly, the resurrection proves that we can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, Paul writes that Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ Romans 4.25. The resurrection shows that the payment for our sin was completed at the cross and that we can have new life in Jesus.
- Jesus will Judge the World!
Thirdly, the resurrection is the guarantee that justice will be done. There is going to be a last day for this world. And on that climactic day Jesus is going to be the judge and He will judge the world in righteousness. This is what is recorded in Acts 17.31 ‘God 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 by raising him from the dead’.
- A New World is Coming!
Fourthly, the resurrection is the promise that a new world is coming. Jesus is described as the ‘firstfruits’ of the new creation (1 Corinthians 15.23). That means that the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of what God will one day complete. He will raise all who belong to Christ and give them a resurrection body like his. More than that, God has promised to make a new heavens and a new earth where the curse of sin and death is no more. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that one day that world will come to pass and that God will dwell with his people.
Let me wish you a truly Happy Easter!
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!