No Fairy Tale: The Reality of Jesus’ Resurrection
I once heard the story of a Seminary professor who had bought into higher critical approaches to the Bible. Because of this, he doubted most of the Bible’s miraculous claims. His wife heard his theories for years and found herself in a difficult position when she grew ill and faced death. On her deathbed, she asked her husband if Jesus rose from the dead. He started talking about several of the different theories about Jesus’ resurrection and she interrupted him. She did not want to know about theories. She wanted to know if the same body that they placed in the tomb rose again three days later. This man charged with teaching the Bible looked into the face of his dying wife and said, “I don’t know.”
This story has always stuck with me for two reasons. This lady, lying on her death bed, instinctively knew that she had hope if Jesus had been raised from the dead. Unfortunately, her husband snatched hope from her withering hands as he uttered the words, “I don’t know.” When he had to abandon alternative theories about the resurrection and answer whether it actually happened or not, he had no hope to offer.
Whether Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact or a made-up story is of enormous importance. Every person walking this planet will die. If Jesus rose from the dead, we can look forward to the future with hope because there is life beyond the grave. However, if Jesus’ resurrection is just a myth, then this life is all that there is and the cruel reality of death will be the end of the story.
Thankfully, we have assurance from the Bible regarding the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In the Scriptures, we see evidence that the same body that Jesus' friends buried in the tomb after the crucifixion was raised from the dead by God on the third day.
Two particular emphases in Scripture show the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Old Testament Prophecy
Two of Jesus disciples walked along the road to Emmaus and discussed their bewilderment that some of the other disciples claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead. Luke reported that a fellow traveler joined them and asked them about their conversation. They expressed their astonishment at his ignorance of the previous days’ events and told them about Jesus’ death and rumored resurrection.
They did not know that the man who joined them was Jesus. He told them they should not be surprised because the Old Testament Scriptures show that the Messiah must suffer and rise again from the dead. Then he opened up the Old Testament scriptures and showed them all of the truths concerning himself.
While Luke does not record the content of this conversation, we can read the New Testament and see how the apostles read the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ resurrection. One example comes from the words of David in Psalm 16. In verses 9 and 10 he said, “Therefore, my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption.”
The Apostles looked at this text and saw that this and said that David could not have been speaking about himself. As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, he reminded the crowd in Jerusalem that King David died and they know where his body had been buried. Therefore, he had to be looking past himself to someone else. Peter said that David looked forward, 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, and spoke of the Messiah would be raised from the dead.
Jesus’ fulfillment of this Old Testament passage and others like it are no coincidence. There is no conceivable way that someone could time the circumstances of their birth and death to align with everything the Old Testament said about the Messiah who was to come. That Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecy shows us that it really did take place.
The Testimony of Eyewitnesses
The Gospel writers and New Testament letters show that Jesus’ resurrection was not a myth that circulated, but an established fact that was verified by the testimony of eyewitnesses. The first of these witnesses were the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body. Then he appeared to the apostles and finally to a large crowd of believers.
Mary Magdelene stood weeping outside of Jesus’ tomb after Peter and John went in and found the tomb empty. Jesus appeared to and told her what to go tell the disciples. That Jesus appeared to her first is significant. Anyone writing a story in the first century would not have included a woman as his first eyewitness if he wanted to be taken seriously. Instead, showing the great grace to be brought about by his death and resurrection, Jesus first appears to this most unlikely eyewitness.
Later Jesus appeared to the disciples. Many of them were astonished at what they saw but were also overwhelmed with joy. Thomas did not join the other disciples when this took place and missed seeing the risen Jesus. When they told him what took place, he said he would need to touch risen Jesus to believe this took place. Later, Jesus appeared to the disciples when Thomas was present. Thomas touched the scars on Jesus’ hand and side, then he fell before him and cried, “My Lord and my God!”
Many think that people in the first century believed in many myths and were gullible enough to believe in things like a bodily resurrection without evidence. Those who make these assertions have not wrestled with what the Bible actually says about the resurrection.
At the end of Matthew 28, Jesus appeared to the disciples before his ascension. Matthew said that they came to the mountain and they worshiped him. Then, he remarked, “but some doubted.” Here, with the risen Jesus standing right in front of them, some of the disciples had still not come to grips with what had happened. They weren’t gullible bumpkins, but thoughtful men who had to wrestle with the reality of what they saw right in front of them.
We Have Real Hope
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul responded to people who denied the possibility of a resurrection from the dead. First, he showed that the resurrection took place “according to the Scriptures” and is integral to the Gospel message. Then he spoke of the many who saw Jesus after he had been raised from the dead before getting to a point we all must hear. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In these verses from 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 Paul showed that we do not have hope beyond the grave if Jesus did not rise from the dead.
The Bible’s testimony is too overwhelming for us. Jesus did rise from the dead. The Old Testament spoke of it and many eyewitnesses saw him after it took place. Since Jesus did rise from the dead, we get to hear the greatest news we could ever hear. Jesus died for us and he rose from the dead. Whoever believes in him and calls on him for salvation will be rescued from the penalty due for their sins and receives an eternal hope. Because of this, we can live life as God really intended for it to be lived- with faith, hope, and love.
Scott Slayton serves as Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, AL and writes at his personal blog One Degree to Another: scottslayton.net. He and Beth have been married since 2003 and have four children. You can follow him on Twitter:@scottslayton.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock.com
Publication date: February 21, 2017