Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If you are in doubt there are a few questions you may want to consider.
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Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
We’ve been picking up God Clues and investigating where they led. We started collecting clues with the teaching 3 weeks ago Does God Exist? We simply asked questions: What caused creation? Why do all humans have a moral code? How do you explain the event when the inexplicable happens? Not one answer is conclusive proof of the existence of God, but the preponderance of Clues builds a strong case. Today we are looking for another God clue, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
The cornerstone of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from death.
1 Corinthians 15:12-15 (MSG)
Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there's no resurrection, there's no living Christ. And face it—if there's no resurrection for Christ, everything we've told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you've staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications if there's no resurrection.
Remove the resurrection event from history and Karl Marx was right to accuse Christianity of ignoring the problems in the material world. Sigmund Freud was right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Friedrich Nietzche was right to say Christianity is for wimps. If the resurrection did not happen then Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, Steven Hawking, and Christopher Hitchens disdain for Christianity is totally acceptable.
This being the case, it’s no wonder Christians believe in the resurrection.
An actual corpse, we are talking stone cold dead, rigor mortis has come and gone, three days dead, restoring back into life, and we are not talking horror movies seems impossible to have actually happened. When I hear of such things happening I side with the Apostle Thomas who needed a lot more than the testimony of his close friends to believe it. Today we are going to discover another God Clue. This clue will answer our primary question: Did Jesus actually rise bodily from the Grave? But to find an answer to this question we must first ask another. “If Jesus did not rise from the grave how do you explain the explosive growth of the Christian movement?
There are three books that do a great job in presenting evidence supporting the resurrection event. The Case for Easter by Lee Strobel; Evidence For the Resurrection by Josh and Sean McDowell; and written by a trained theologian NT Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God which offers the latest historical scholarship on the resurrection event. I am not going to replicate there works. “In those pages, you will discover that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact much more fully attested to than most other events of ancient history we take for granted” (Keller 202)
If you’re on the fence concerning the resurrection, skeptical, or all out just don’t believe it, you can’t simply dismiss this Christian belief without first devising a historically feasible alternate explanation for Christianity explosively spreading throughout the Roman world and beyond. I challenge you to provide some other plausible account for how the Church began if the resurrection event never actually occurred. (Keller p. 197)
I want to help you out in your search for an explanation. First, people then were as resistant to the idea of a resurrection as many are today. If you had time to conduct an extensive survey of non-Jewish thought during the first-century you would discover that people would have considered a bodily resurrection an impossibility and if it was possible, totally undesirable. I know it’s easy to imagine that people centuries ago were a superstitious lot fully embracing the supernatural, but if you did you would be committing “chronological snobbery.” Recall even the Apostle Thomas when told about his buddies see a risen Jesus said, nope, can’t happen (John 20:25). Now you might point out that their religious beliefs all over the ancient near east that has theologies based on “dying and rising gods.” This is true of course, but dig a little deeper and you would discover that gods may die and rise but humans do not. In Roman thinking, humans are a composite of a good soul or spirit and a weak, corrupt and defiling physical body. Salvation was understood as liberation from the body (Keller 201), the soul is set free from the physical. One’s soul being re-embodied was a horrible thought. But that is exactly what the Message claimed. How do you explain people rejecting their cultural worldview and suddenly believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
The Jew’s have certain expectations about resurrection. In Jewish thought, the resurrection was part of the great work of God renewal of the entire world. The idea of an individual being resurrected didn’t fit. When the Jew’s of the first century heard the message that Jesus was raised from the dead they would have responded with a bunch of questions of their own—“Has disease and death ended? Has true justice established in the world? Has the wolf lain down with the lamb? Do the nations bring tribute to Israel? Are death and suffering removed from this life? In Jewish teaching, the resurrection is part of the great renewal, the Day of the Lord. They would have found the idea of a person being resurrected impossible. How do you explain some Jews revamping their religious understanding to include the resurrection of Jesus?
If you continue to explore first century culture you are going to discover the general disregard patriarchal societies had for women. In general, women had such a low social status that their testimony in a court of law was considered inadmissible. Consider centuries later, in more enlightened times women in these United States were not granted the right to vote until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. That’s less than 100 years ago. How much more so was this contempt for women in the time of Christ? Yet the writers of the gospels all report that it was women who first meet the resurrected Jesus. There is no possible public relations advantage in reporting that women experienced this encounter. The tweets of fake news would have been flying. How do you explain the male authors of the gospels having women being the first heralds of the resurrection especially when it would be a deterrent to their Message?
During the first century, there were a number of Jewish revolutionaries executed by the authorities. None of the followers of these self-proclaimed Messiahs ever said that their hero had risen from the grave. It was too easy to prove it just wasn’t so. If I was running the show back then, recall the religious leaders are the ones who set the execution of Jesus up. They pulled the political strings and manipulated the mob to support their agenda. If I was leading that pack of cutthroats I would have stopped this notion of a resurrected Messiah by producing the body. It would not have rotted beyond recognition in a week’s time. But no corpse is produced. One of the more common explanations for this is that the disciples stole the body and buried it then when on to say “resurrection.” That makes sense, that’s plausible. But then how do you explain people actually believing the Message of the resurrection when it could be so easily explained away? (Keller p. 201)
“After the death of Jesus, the entire Christian community suddenly adopted a set of beliefs that were brand-new and until that point had been unthinkable. (Keller 202) This was not a well-received belief. The establishment considered it blasphemy back when blasphemy could get you killed. Those who adopted this belief were thrown out of the faith communities, their properties confiscated, some thrown into jail. How do you explain people willing to be so ostracized yet continue to hold to the belief of a resurrection?
Usually, it takes time for an idea to gain support, a belief to be adopted; but not so with Christianity proclaiming an executed and resurrected Messiah. Remember the thought of a solitary human being resurrected was so preposterous it wasn’t even imagined. There were no words for it. Linguists, those specializing in the study of languages suggest that if there are no words for it, it is difficult to conceive (Nathaniel Scharping | April 4, 2017, Discover) “The Christian view of the resurrection, absolutely unprecedented in history, sprang up full-blown immediately after the death of Jesus. There was no process or development” of the teaching. (Keller 203) How do you explain the rapid growth of the movement when it concepts would have been inconceivable?
We have this phenomenon in the first century. A new religious group suddenly appears, extremely counter-culture and in a historically short amount of time infiltrates the entire Roman world and beyond with its Message. How is this to be rationally and logically explained?
The rapid and sustained growth of the Christian movement is a God Clue. How do you explain what occurred in history concerning Christianity?
The Bible offers an explanation. Written in AD 54, about 20 years after the execution of Jesus, the Apostle Paul wrote the following to the faith community in the city of Corinth
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (MSG)
Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time—this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I'm assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you're in this for good and holding fast.)
3 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.
Paul challenges this congregation that if they don’t believe him, to check with the eyewitnesses, check this message of a resurrected Jesus out with the people who saw Him after His execution.
I suggest that the reason the Christian movement grew so rapidly was because credible witness saw Jesus alive.
For God Clues, clues that suggest the Message of Christianity is in reality Truth.
What or who is the first cause of creation?
Why do humans have an innate sense of right and wrong and impose their moral code on others?
Why when people pray do coincidences, sometimes boarding on the miraculous occur?
How do you explain the rapid growth and sustainability of the Christian movement in hostile cultures?
Four God Clues, where will your investigation lead you?