Defending the Ressurection (via) Justin Holcomb, the Resurgence

by Justin Holcomb at the Resurgence

Of all the teachings of Christianity, no doctrine is more central than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to deity, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his statements about the afterlife are vindicated.

No future without the resurrection

Without the resurrection, Christians have no savior and are left without hope of a future resurrection, since Christ himself did not rise. Paul writes in 1 Cointhians 15:14 and 17, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” On this basis alone, it is fair to say that Paul saw the resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

Throughout the history of the church, the truth of the resurrection has been attacked from every angle. New books and television media appear questioning the truth of the resurrection, by re-hashing old theories about what happened to Jesus’ body. Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be concerned with giving an apologetic defense of it.

Historically credible accounts

The first step is defending the resurrection from the detractors is to establish the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels.  As William Lane Craig notes in his book Reasonable Faith, “The issue is whether the gospel narratives are historically credible accounts or unhistorical legends.”

The resurrection can be defended by showing that the Gospel accounts were:

  1. authentic—that they were written by the authors who claimed them
  2. pure—that they were not changed from their original form
  3. reliable—that the apostles were neither deceived nor deceivers

Even Bart Ehrman, the notorious New Testament critic, says that “we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive.”

Not only an empty tomb

In his impressive book The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright establishes the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels. He sketches a map of ancient beliefs about life after death in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds. He then highlights the fact that the early Christians’ belief about the afterlife belonged firmly on the Jewish spectrum, while introducing several new mutations and sharper definitions. This, together with other features of early Christianity, forces the historian to read the Easter narratives in the Gospels, not simply as late rationalizations of early Christian spirituality, but as accounts of two actual events: the empty tomb of Jesus and his appearances.

Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be concerned with giving an apologetic defense of it.

The Gospel accounts are historically credible, not merely mythological legends embellished over time.

In the next two posts, we will see that the resurrection is the best explanation of the historical events, over and against rival hypotheses.

A defense of the resurrection must give evidence for the historical validity of the events described in the New Testament, and it must show how the resurrection of Jesus provides the best explanation for this historical data. In this post we will focus on the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

The empty tomb

One of the easiest parts of the resurrection data to establish is the fact that the tomb is empty. Because the location of Jesus’ burial was known to those living in Jerusalem, it would have been unlikely that they would have believed the Apostolic preaching of the resurrection of Christ if there was not an empty tomb. Jesus’ burial is widely attested in early, independent testimonies, both biblical and extra-biblical.

Furthermore, as is often noted, women were not considered reliable witnesses in first century Jewish culture, so it would have been foolish for the authors to have fictionally constructed an account involving women in order to gain credibility.

The person who wishes to deny the resurrection of Christ is left with the unexplained mystery of the empty tomb that existed three days after his death.

Matthew 28:11–15 speaks of a myth that was spread among the Jews concerning the body of Christ. Apparently the Jews were saying the disciples stole the body of Christ. This is significant because the Jews did not deny the tomb was empty, but instead sought an alternative explanation to the resurrection. The emptiness of the tomb is a widely attested historical fact.

Just because the tomb of Christ was empty does not necessarily mean the resurrection happened. Indeed, there have been four alternative hypotheses to resurrection that have been advanced over the years.

Conspiracy theory

First, some offer the conspiracy hypothesis, which says the disciples stole the body of Christ and continued to lie about his appearances to them. On this account, the resurrection was a hoax.

This hypothesis is not commonly held in modern scholarship for several reasons:

  1. This hypothesis does not take into account that the disciples believed in the resurrection. It is highly unlikely that numerous disciples would have been willing to give their lives defending a fabrication.
  2. It is unlikely that the idea of resurrection would have entered the minds of the disciples, as such an event was not connected to the Jewish idea of a Messiah. The scholar William Lane Craig writes, “If your favorite Messiah got himself crucified, then you either went home or else you got yourself a new Messiah. But the idea of stealing Jesus’ corpse and saying that God has raised him from the dead is hardly one that would have entered the minds of the disciples.”
  3. This hypothesis cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

Apparent death

The second hypothesis attempting to explain away the resurrection is the apparent death hypothesis. This view says Jesus was not completely dead when he was removed from the cross. Once in the tomb, Jesus was revived and escaped, thus convincing the disciples of his resurrection.

This view is difficult to hold for a few reasons:

  1. It is unlikely that a half-dead man would have been capable of even getting up to walk, much less moving the stone that sealed the tomb, over-powering Roman guards, and fleeing from sight.
  2. This theory cannot account for the disciples’ attribution of resurrection to Christ, for if they had seen him after he was revived, they would have merely thought he had never died.
  3. It is also foolish to think the Romans, who had perfected the art of killing people, would have let one slip by without ensuring he was dead.
  4. Finally, given the physical torture described in the Gospel accounts, it is highly unlikely that Jesus could have survived.

Wrong tomb

Third, the wrong tomb hypothesis suggests the women had gotten lost on their way to the empty tomb and accidentally stumbled upon the caretaker of an empty tomb. When the caretaker said, “Jesus is not here,” the women were so disoriented they fled, their story later being developed into a resurrection myth.

Like the other theories, virtually no one holds to this view. There are at least three reasons:

  1. First, this theory does not explain the post-resurrection appearances, and it is spurious to think that such a simple mistake would have led a first-century Jew to think a resurrection had happened.
  2. In light of the early evidence that is available concerning the location of Jesus’ tomb, it is almost impossible that the women would have confused its location.
  3. This hypothesis emphasizes that the caretaker of the tomb said that Christ was not there, but it passes over the next phrase: “He is risen!”

Displaced body

Fourth, some propose the displaced body hypothesis to explain Jesus’ resurrection. This theory says Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in his own tomb but later moved it to the criminal’s graveyard. The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ body had been moved and therefore wrongly inferred that he had risen from the dead.

Because of the spurious nature of this theory, virtually no modern scholars hold to it:

  1. This theory cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ or the origin of the Christian faith.
  2. It is uncertain why Joseph would not have corrected the error of the disciples by simply showing them where he had moved the body of Jesus.
  3. The criminal graveyard, most likely, was quite close to the crucifixion site, so it would have made little sense why Joseph would not have simply buried Jesus there in the first place. In fact, it was against Jewish law to allow a body to be moved after it had already been buried.

The resurrection really happened

In light of these failed hypotheses that attempt to disprove the resurrection, the person who wishes to deny the resurrection of Christ is left with the unexplained mystery of the empty tomb that existed three days after his death.

A defense of the resurrection must give evidence for the historical validity of the events described in the New Testament, and it must show how the resurrection of Jesus provides the best explanation for this historical data.

The Post-Resurrection Appearances

In 1 Cor. 15:3-8, Paul says that Jesus appeared to Cephas, the Twelve, more than five hundred people at once, James, all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself. 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter composed by a man acquainted with the first disciples, actually claims that people saw Jesus after his death.

Because of the specificity of the list that Paul puts forth, it is fairly indisputable that Jesus actually appeared to the people that Paul mentions. The gospels all speak of post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would be quite ridiculous to suggest that each of these events was a hallucination. Few scholars argue, therefore, that on different occasions different groups of people had experiences of seeing Jesus. They therefore question whether the experiences were actual physical, bodily appearances of Christ. However, Paul leaves no room for a merely psychological experience. His theology of the resurrected body ensures that he meant that Christ actually, physically appeared. This is confirmed by the gospel accounts. In light of this evidence, one can be certain of the fact that Jesus appeared to the people mentioned in 1 Cor. 15 after his bodily resurrection.

A Plausible Explanation

The resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the postmortem appearances of Christ. The alternative—the hallucination hypothesis—says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Nor does it explain the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. In typical psychological postmortem experiences, the person having the experience rarely would think that a dead person actually returned physically to life. As N.T. Wright argues, postmortem appearances in the ancient world would be more evidence that the person was dead than that he was alive.

Because of the diversity of appearances catalogued, it is highly unlikely that the hallucination theory can be held. Therefore, the physical resurrection of Jesus proves to be the best explanation for the postmortem appearances described in 1 Cor. 15.

The Origin of the Christian Faith

The fact that Christianity started and grew is evidence for the resurrection. William Lane Craig writes: “Even skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.” For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.

The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion. The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity. The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity. 

To deny that the resurrection was the cause of the Christian faith, an alternative explanation must be given.  But there is no plausible alternative. Therefore, “Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the tomb was somehow emptied and the disciples saw hallucinations—suppositions which we have seen to be false anyway—the origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection still cannot be plausibly explained” (Craig).

Come Let Us Reason…

It stands to reason that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead victoriously on the third day after his death. No alternative hypothesis can adequately explain the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith. For this reason, one has no good reasons why not to accept this most central element of Christianity.

How Easter killed my faith in atheism – Wall Street Journal-Lee Strobel (Case for Faith audio – documentary)

Lee Strobel’s apologetics books are the most helpful books available for college students or serious Bible study. I highly recommend them for kids at 8th grade level and up. Below is the short version of his story as posted on the Wall Street Journal website. Lee Strobel was one of the most respected journalists of Chicago, and co editor of Chicago’s major newspaper. He is now one of the most respected Christian leaders of the United States, presenting and defending the Gospel.

Below is a video of Lee Strobel lecturing – The Case for Faith (title of just one of his apologetics investigation books). He starts with the story of Charles Templeton, Evangelist and best friend of Billy Graham who lost his faith in God, stopped Evangelizing and became an atheist. Lee Strobel examines his own coming to faith through the investigation of hte historicity of the resurrection in light of seeing this once great Evangelist who preached on stadiums (Templeton) leaving his faith in God.

from the Wall Street Journal

It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. Two words shot through my mind. The first was an expletive; the second was “divorce.”

I thought she was going to turn into a self-righteous holy roller. But over the following months, I was intrigued by the positive changes in her character and values. Finally, I decided to take my journalism and legal training (I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune) and systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity.

Maybe, I figured, I could extricate her from this cult.

I quickly determined that the alleged resurrection of Jesus was the key. Anyone can claim to be divine, but if Jesus backed up his claim by returning from the dead, then that was awfully good evidence he was telling the truth.

For nearly two years, I explored the minutia of the historical data on whether Easter was myth or reality. I didn’t merely accept the New Testament at face value; I was determined only to consider facts that were well-supported historically. As my investigation unfolded, my atheism began to buckle.

Was Jesus really executed? In my opinion, the evidence is so strong that even atheist historian Gerd Lüdemann said his death by crucifixion was “indisputable.”

Was Jesus’ tomb empty? Scholar William Lane Craig points out that its location was known to Christians and non-Christians alike. So if it hadn’t been empty, it would have been impossible for a movement founded on the resurrection to have exploded into existence in the same city where Jesus had been publicly executed just a few weeks before.

Besides, even Jesus’ opponents implicitly admitted the tomb was vacant by saying that his body had been stolen. But nobody had a motive for taking the body, especially the disciples. They wouldn’t have been willing to die brutal martyrs’ deaths if they knew this was all a lie.

Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them.

Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!

Was this some other sort of vision, perhaps prompted by the apostles’ grief over their leader’s execution? This wouldn’t explain the dramatic conversion of Saul, an opponent of Christians, or James, the once-skeptical half-brother of Jesus.

Neither was primed for a vision, yet each saw the risen Jesus and later died proclaiming he had appeared to him. Besides, if these were visions, the body would still have been in the tomb.

Was the resurrection simply the recasting of ancient mythology, akin to the fanciful tales of Osiris or Mithras? If you want to see a historian laugh out loud, bring up that kind of pop-culture nonsense.

One by one, my objections evaporated. I read books by skeptics, but their counter-arguments crumbled under the weight of the historical data. No wonder atheists so often come up short in scholarly debates over the resurrection.

In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.

And that’s why I’m now celebrating my 30th Easter as a Christian. Not because of wishful thinking, the fear of death, or the need for a psychological crutch, but because of the facts.

Lee Strobel wrote “The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection“; his first novel, “The Ambition,” releases May 17.

Six Gifts of the Resurrection on Desiring God

Six Gifts of the Resurrection on Desiring God.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 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 of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in yoru sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

I received a phone call this past week from a magazine asking me to write a short article about how we should love God for who he is and not for what he gives us. And I said, „I think I know what you mean. It’s like marriage: you shouldn’t marry a woman for her money. You should marry her for who she is, not for what she has. So it is with God. We should love him for who he is, not for the material benefits he may give.”

„But I need to make clear,” I said, „that you realize I don’t play down God’s effort to satisfy my longings. I don’t see a conflict between a God who lives to glorify his worth and a God who lives to satisfy my heart’s desire. In fact the essence of my theology,” I said, „and the heartbeat of my ministry is this sentence: God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. Therefore, whenever I see him at work in the Bible to satisfy my soul, I see him at work to glorify his name. To me the greatest news in all the world is that God has designed a universe in which God’s God-centeredness is the foundation of my infinite joy.”

Our Longings and the Centrality of Jesus

So they said I should go ahead and write the article. But the reason I start with this is because it is so important for what I see happening in this passage of Scripture, especially verses 12–20. I see Paul proclaiming the good news that the resurrection of Jesus satisfies six of our deepest needs and longings. But in doing this he is not putting us at the center. He is putting Jesus as the center, and God who raised him from the dead.

My prayer for us this morning is that we would all feel these six longings that I believe are rooted in every human heart, and that you would see the risen and living Jesus as the answer to those longings, and that in doing so you would be satisfied in him and he would be glorified in you.

Now I didn’t make up these longings or get them from any book. They come straight out of this text. Let me try to show you how they came clear to me.

„If Christ Has Not Been Raised . . . ” 

Paul says there are six things that would be in shambles if Christ did not rise from the dead. Then verse 20 reverses the whole paragraph: „But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” So let’s look at those six things.

  1. Verse 14: „If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our preaching is not in vain.
  2. Verse 14: ” . . . and your faith is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our faith is not in vain.
  3. Verse 15: If Christ has not been raised, „we are found to be misrepresenting God [literally: we are false witnesses], because we testified of God that he raised Christ.” But since Christ has been raised, the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God.
  4. Verse 17: „If Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not still in our sins.
  5. Verse 18: If Christ has not been raised, then „those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” But since Christ has been raised, the dead in Christ have not perished.
  6. Verse 19: If Christ has not been raised, then „we are of all men most to be pitied.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not to be pitied.

Stating the Negatives in Positive Terms

But what really made the lights go on for me, and what showed me the good news that six of my deepest longings were being met here by the resurrection of Jesus was when I tried to go back and restate each of these six reversals in positive terms. So far we have used negatives: „preaching not in vain . . . faith not in vain . . . etc.” Now we need to see what God has really done for us in raising Jesus from the dead. We see this when we put all these negatives into positives.

I’m going to switch the order around this time because when the resurrection starts meeting our needs, there is a kind of pattern that fits our experience. I want to follow that pattern as we look at each of our longings being satisfied.

1. We Are Forgiven for Our Sins

First, from verse 17, instead of saying negatively that we are not still in our sins, we can say positively that because of the resurrection we are forgiven for our sins.

I put this first as the basic need and longing of our hearts because if God holds our sins against us—and we all have sinned!—then there is no hope of anything else from God. The foundation for every other blessing from God is that God won’t hold our sins against us. Everything hangs on forgiveness.

How is the resurrection connected to our forgiveness? Isn’t it the death of Jesus that takes away our sin, because he bore our sins and took our judgment (1 Corinthians 15:3)? Yes. But the connection with the resurrection is very important. Romans 4:25 puts it like this. „He was handed over [to death] on account of our transgressions, and he was raised on account of our justification.”

This means that by his death he paid the penalty for our sins and purchased our acquittal, our justification, our forgiveness. And since the achievement of the cross was so complete and the work of our justification so decisive, God raised Jesus from the dead to validate our forgiveness and to vindicate his Son’s righteousness and to celebrate the work of justification.

Everybody in this room this morning needs forgiveness, and deep inside, even when we don’t think about it, we long for it. We long to be accepted by God. We fear the alienation of our guilt. But Paul says, because Christ rose from the dead, we are no longer in our sins. This is the first and most basic longing of our hearts.

2. Our Faith Is Well-Founded

Second, from verse 14, instead of saying negatively that our faith is not in vain, we can say positively that because of the resurrection our faith is well-founded. Or, to put it more personally, because of the resurrection of Jesus there is someone we can trust absolutely.

I believe that deep in the heart of every person is a longing for someone that you can count on through thick and thin. Someone who is absolutely trustworthy. Someone who, if you put your faith in him, it won’t be in vain. He won’t let you down. He will always be there. We want it because we were made for it. God put man and woman in the garden of Eden to glorify God by trusting him for everything they needed.

That need has never changed, in spite of sin. And now that we are no longer in our sins, this longing too is satisfied by the resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus proves his love for us, and the resurrection proves his power over every enemy of life. And so there is someone you can count on. Someone absolutely trustworthy. Someone who will never let you down. Jesus is alive to be trusted. „The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

3. The Apostles Preach What Is True

Third, from verse 15, instead of saying negatively that the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God, we can say positively that because of the resurrection the apostles preach what is true. They are not false witnesses about God. They are true.

Our young people are being taught (and many of us were taught) that there is no absolute truth—something that is true all the time and everywhere whether people know it or like it. It is a rare teenager today who has the guts and independence to say, for example, in a high school health class that premarital sex is wrong—wrong for everybody, not just those who think it’s wrong. Homosexual activity is wrong—wrong for everybody and not just those who think it’s wrong.

Without the conviction that there are absolutes that can be shared and made the basis for society, the only end will be anarchy where everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Therefore the need for truth is a deep need of the human soul and human society. And Jesus came into the world to say, „I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And then he rose from the dead to vindicate his claim. Jesus has a right to tell us what is absolutely true because in the resurrection God proved him to be absolutely true.

4/5. We Are to Be Envied

Fourth and fifth, from verse 19, instead of saying negatively that we are not to be pitied, we can say positively that because of the resurrection we are to be envied. Our preaching is not in vain—it is full, meaningful, valid, valuable, significant.

If Christ is not raised, then living for him, doing what he says, following his will is a great delusion. We should be pitied like insane people who live by hallucinations. But since he has been raised and is alive and reigns as king forever, all our obedience, all our love, all our self-denial is not just not-to-be-pitied, but is positively enviable. „This slight momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:17).

And there is in every one of us the longing that our lives be well spent—that our lives count for something, that they have significance and usefulness, that we don’t come to the end of our days and say, it was all in vain, empty, pointless, useless, insignificant—pitiable.

Paul knows this. That’s why he ends this whole chapter on the resurrection (v. 58) with the words: „Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Not in vain! That’s the longing of our lives. O Lord let it not be misspent. Let me not come to my grave and say, „I’ve wasted it!” It does not have to be. Christ is risen and everything done in his name—by his strength and for his glory—is not in vain. It is enviable. Significant. Valuable. Eternal.

6. Those Who Have Fallen Asleep Are Alive

Finally, there is the longing that we shall live forever in joy. That we not come to an empty end after a full and valuable life. That we not become a zero, or worse, damned. And so Paul says in verse 18 that because Christ is raised those who have fallen asleep in him—those who have died in faith—have not perished. Or positively, they are alive. They will live forever. They live the way Christ lives. They will enter into the joy of their Master.

The Greatest News in All the World

The greatest news in all the world is that God and his Son are most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in them. And to make that true God raised his Son Jesus from the dead to reign forevermore.

In raising him from the dead

  • he gave us forgiveness and glorified Jesus as the all-sufficient forgiver;
  • he gave us a friend to count on and glorified Jesus as utterly reliable;
  • he gave us guidance and unchanging truth and glorified Jesus as the absolute foundation for truth and righteousness;
  • he gave us a life that is not pitiable but enviable, a ministry that is not in vain but fruitful, and glorified Jesus as the source and goal of all life and all ministry;
  • and he gave us everlasting joy that will not be ended by death, and glorified Jesus as the author of life, the victor over death, and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Therefore I urge you with all my heart this morning to lift up your heart and say with the choirs on earth and in heaven:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by his blood to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Amen.

© Desiring God

Petrica Huțuțui / Valoarea în Dumnezeu, in Chisinau,Moldova

06 dec. 09 / Predica Pastorului Petrică Huțuțui. Biserica Penticostală Filadelfia, Chișinău, Republica Moldova.

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