The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Fact or Fiction? Part 2
The New Testament presents the resurrection of Christ as historical fact. In the previous post, we examined two lines of evidence to support its historicity, and we sought to rebut common objections to Christ’s resurrection. Even so there are so-called Christian theologians who tell us that the literal, historical raising of Christ’s body from the dead is not essential to Christianity. According to these men, we can still have the Christian faith without the historical phenomenon of the resurrection! Listen to one of their prophets:
A Resurrection of Faith, Not Jesus
The resurrection itself is not an event of past history…. But the historical problem is scarcely relevant to Christian belief in the resurrection…. The real Easter faith is faith in the word of preaching. If the event of Easter day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord.1.
In other words, what really happened that Easter morning following Jesus death, literally and historically, was not God raising Jesus from the dead. What really happened was that the disciples began to believe that God raised Him from the dead. Do you see the difference? Jesus really didn’t rise from the dead! If anything rose, it was the disciples’ faith. They believed in something.
That’s what you and I need to do today, according to these modern theologians. We don’t need a resurrection of Christ’s body. We just need a resurrection of our faith! It’s like the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland. The body of the cat disappeared, but the cat’s smile remained. You had the smile of the cat without the body of the cat. In the same way, these people allege that we can have the Easter faith without the Easter resurrection.
Does It Really Matter?
How should we respond to those who tell us Jesus’s resurrection is irrelevant to our faith? That may be Alice and Wonderland; that’s not Christianity. Besides, if you remember the story, it wasn’t long before even the cat’s smile disappeared. In the same way, those who attempt to have Christian faith without Christ’s resurrection, soon find that the faith disappears as well. So argues the apostle Paul.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 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 (1 Cor 15:14-19, ESV).
There’s a sense in which we don’t need Paul to tell us this. We know in our heart of hearts that if the resurrection of Christ is not fact—if Easter is not based on an empty tomb—then it’s all a charade and a sham. Our Christian religion rises or falls with the resurrection of Christ. It is a sine quo non of our faith.
That brings us to application. What does this historical event that happened 2000 years ago have to do with us today? Christ rose from the dead. . . . so what? Having affirmed the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, let me highlight some of the practical applications.
The Resurrection of Jesus Applied
1. It Confirms the Gospel
If Jesus rose from the grave, then that means He is who He claimed to be and He did what He said He would do. The gospel is true! Listen to how Paul summarizes the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:
For 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 (emphasis added; 1 Cor 15:3 ESV)
The resurrection of Christ is the very heart of the gospel. This central truth of the gospel was no fable—it was not fiction—it was a real, historical event! It’s not too good to be true. It’s both too good and it’s true! So says Paul and so says the apostle Peter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (emphasis added; 2 Pet 1:16, ESV).
We can be sure that the NT gospel, which is about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, was for real! Consider the following implications
- The reality of Christ’s resurrection backs up His claims to be the Messiah and the Son of God (Rom 1:4).
- The reality of Christ’s resurrection assures us that God was satisfied with His sacrifice (Rom 4:25).
- The reality of Christ’s resurrection assures us of victory over death (1 Cor 15:20, 55).
- The reality of Christ’s resurrection reminds us that He will be coming again in bodily presence to judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:30)
What will you do with the resurrected Christ? Christ’s resurrection is not only a historical fact, it is a relevant fact! It’s not merely a relevant fact for the past; it’s a relevant fact for the present! It is a fact with which you must come to terms! The resurrection proves that Jesus is alive and well, and we all have to reckon with that fact.
One of the main objectives of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afganistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq was to remove Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Why is so important to remove those men from the picture? Because when the leader of a movement is removed from the picture, he’s no longer relevant and the movement tends to lose its morale and effectiveness. The fact of the resurrection assures us that Jesus has not been removed from the picture. On the contrary, the resurrection proves, as Peter argues, that “God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah”!
That’s good news for believers!
We serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today
We know that He is with us, whatever men may say
Christ is still WITH US. Who can be against us!
But for the unbelieving, the reality of Christ’s resurrection is a discomforting truth. It convicts them of sin. It lays claims upon their life. It demands a response from all who are confronted with its reality!
What will you do with the resurrected Christ? Will you have this man to be you Lord and Savior from sin?
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9, ESV)
2. It highlights human unbelief
The historical reality of Christ’s resurrection highlights the great lengths to which men will go in order to reject God and the gospel.
An article in the modern Jewish Encyclopedia suggested that Jesus’ great personality combined with the other-worldliness of the people provided an atmosphere of naïveté and gullibility. In other words, the pre-scientific, superstitious age of the first century was ripe for a widespread belief in bodily resurrection.
But this characterization of the first century cannot be sustained. To begin with, there was plenty of skepticism about resurrections even in the days of the Apostles:
- Most Romans and Greeks were dualists and would have rejected any idea of a bodily resurrection (Acts 17).
- The liberal Jewish sect of the Sadducees, who were in the political majority, rejected a bodily resurrection.
- Even those more conservative Jews that still retained believe in a bodily resurrection (i.e., Pharisees and Christ’s disciples) did not believe that such a resurrection would take place until the end of the age.
- The thought of Jesus of Nazareth being resurrected was especially offensive to the Jews since he had been crucified as a blasphemer on a Roman cross, which meant that He had died under the curse of God.
Second, there is plenty of superstition and gullibility in our supposedly scientific age. Recently, I was reading a magazine article that discussed the incredible ‘miracle’ of nature and the universe:
- A mathematician and scientist by the name of Roger Penrose estimated that the odds of a “Big Bang” producing by accident an orderly universe as opposed to chaos are “one hundred billion to the 123rd power.” And to give you an idea of what that would be like, the articles suggests that you imagine that a pole vaulter’s pole remain poised on its tip for centuries following his vault.
- Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, calculated the possibility of a simple protein sequence of 200 amino-acids (much simpler than DNA) originating spontaneously to be 10 with 260 zeros after it.
- The British Scientist, Fred Hoyle, described the odds against spontaneously evolved life this way: “Imagine 10 to the 50 power of blind men standing shoulder to shoulder each with a scrambled Rubik cube in his hand. Then imagine that all of those blind men solve their Rubik cube simultaneously.”
Those are the incredible odds for a God-less and Christ-less world. In my opinion, it requires much more faith to believe today’s theories of science than it does to believe the apostolic preaching of the resurrection. Yet, thousands today are willing to reject “the convincing proofs” of the resurrection, and they are gullible enough to embrace the spectacular theories of modern day science.
What’s the explanation? Why will people reject clear evidence? Answer: They simply refuse to believe. Even the unbelieving philosopher Aldous Huxley was willing to admit this when he said, “We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” And this is the explanation given by Scripture:
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so (Rom 8:7, NIV)
The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14, NET)
Those Senators and Congressmen who acquitted former President Clinton of perjury did not do so because there wasn’t enough evidence. They did it because they did not want to receive the evidence. When the Los Angeles jury acquitted O. J. Simpson of murder, it was not because of insufficient evidence. It was because they did not want to hear the evidence. They already had their minds made up.
In the same way, people reject the resurrection not because the evidence is insufficient, but because they will not come to the knowledge of the truth—AT LEAST UNTIL GOD OPENS THEIR EYES. Jesus himself said it this way, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44, ESV)
Men will not believe truly believe and embrace the facts of the resurrection until God subdues their heart—until He removes the enmity against God! And we need to remember this when we encounter Bible skeptics. Ultimately, it’s not a matter of supplying them with more facts. Ultimately, it’s a matter of calling them to repentance.
The Bible already assures us that they know the true God in their heart of hearts. The Bible assures us—and we know this from experience—that God’s word is self-authenticating. So when men hear the gospel—the truth about God and the truth about their sin, they intuitively recognize the voice of their Maker. Daddy’s calling them home for dinner, and if they don’t come it’s because they refuse!
Christian, aren’t you glad that God opened your eyes to see the historical fact of the resurrection? That leads us to the next line of application.
3. It furnishes the basis for our hope and joy.
In light of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection, we ought to be the happiest and most joyful people alive!
As the time for Jesus’s death approached, he prepared his disciples with these words, which allude to his resurrection:
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy (John 16:20 ESV)
The thought of Jesus Christ—who alone has the words of eternal life—rotting in a Palestinian grave is a very depressing thought. It’s not just the thought of losing a close friend, but it’s the thought of losing all hope and meaning to life. Have you ever passed a cemetery and wondered, “What if that’s the end?”
- Forever cut off from the beauties of creation
- Forever cut off from the joyful experiences of life
- Forever cut off from the fellowship of close friends
- Forever cut off from the love of wife and children
- Forever cut off from the spiritual joys of communion with God
How disappointing! How discouraging! How depressing! That’s precisely how the disciples felt. Their heart was filled with sorrow.
But when Sunday morning came, everything changed! Not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but so did their hopes and joys.
That’s exactly what the resurrection ought to do for us! When we’re discouraged—when were down and depressed—the reality of Christ’s resurrection enables us to say with the Psalmist:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psa 42:5, ESV)
4. It motivates us to live and labor for the world to come.
The historical reality of Christ’s resurrection ought to move us to seek first God’s kingdom (Matt 6:23).
There are not many things in this world that last. Think of the things that are most ancient. Go to Egypt. Go to Palestine. Go to Syria. Go to Iraq. Go to Greece. Go to Rome. See what remains of the great empires of the world. Ruins, ruins, and ruins!
You’ve probably read the poem of Ozymandias (Ramses II). Shelley describes the ruins of an ancient city in the midst of a desert wasteland. And on a shattered statue read the words:
My name is Ozymandias, King of kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Not only do men perish, but the work of their hands is forgotten. No one seems to care much any more. The wise man in Ecclesiastes alluded to this grim reality.
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity (Eccl 2:18, ESV).
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever wondered …
- Will my children remember all that I taught them?
- What will happen to all the knowledge I’ve gained?
- What about all the work I’ve done for the kingdom?
- Will my local church be here in 50 years?
These can be depressing thoughts—unless Jesus rose from the dead. Because if Christ rose from the dead, then we’re going to rise from the dead!
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58, ESV)
Christian, because of the historical fact of the resurrection, your labors IN THE LORD are not fruitless.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14:13, ESV)
What are you laboring for? Where are you focusing your time and energy? Are you investing your life in that which will never perish?
- Rudolph Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth, quoted in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 455 [↩]