The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the undeniable centering point of Christianity, the defining doctrine of our faith, and the most audacious claim in the history of the world: a God-Man, sent from heaven, crucified in the most public way, dead and buried in a rich man’s tomb, which sepulcher was sealed with inscrutable security by the mighty military powers of the Roman Empire, and then—a dead man who called Himself Almighty God—lives. The corporal person of Jesus of Nazareth exists today. He is not buried. He lives in a resurrected physique. And even more astounding: because He lives, all who die with faith in Him will also rise body joined to soul.
Was Jesus’ Resurrection Real or Just a Story to Push Forward an Agenda?
There is no question about whether this resurrection of the Nazarene is metaphorical or physical. Over five hundred people saw Him, many of whom would live to the twilight of the first century. These witnesses could have unmasked Paul, Peter, James, and the others as mad-men had they another story to tell. There would have been profit in doing so, for the message of the resurrected and living Jesus was wrecking entire economies built on archaic, sensual religions of mythology and mirth.
Instead, “the Way” grew by leaps and bounds. Imprison the Apostles and their cells became chapels. Bind them with chains and shackles and their prisons became parishes. Dispatch the most highly-trained and loyal palace guards, and the captors became Christians. To the utter dismay of violent antagonists, lengthy imprisonments following kangaroo court trials were but leisurely catechetical periods resulting in faith in Jesus by the highest officials in the realm. The resurrection changed everything. Nothing would be the same again.
Religion was supposed to be a cultus of rituals based upon folktales, mythological heroes and heroines, representations of the metaphysical and untamed powers, local and national deities designed to explain the mysteries of life and death with sticks and stones. But Jesus was history. You could speak of time, place, his birth, his life, miracles, death, changed lives and new life. In Jesus Christ and his resurrection God entered time. Mankind was no longer alone to create stories to make sense of the inexplicable, but God’s story had intersected with their stories—our stories, to bring Grace and Truth. Everything had changed nothing could ever be the same. You want to know the Gospel in its simplest affirmation? “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”
Jesus’ Resurrection Was and Is a Cause to Die For
All of the Apostles would die for the message of the resurrection except for John, who would suffer for it, and die as an old man in the parish of Ephesus. Thomas would go to India and be martyred at modern-day Chennai. Mark went to Egypt and died while preaching eternal life in Christ. Other extra biblical literature of the day would say that Joseph of Arimathea went to Britain. Celtic traditions tell of a Welsh king who was captured by Román soldiers and brought to Rome. While under house arrest, he heard the gospel and brought the Christian faith and its beautiful message of the resurrection back to the British Isles. The Roman empire had built its fortunes on the cult of the Roman emperor, but within years, despite unprecedented persecution, the amphitheaters constructed to kill Christians for bloodthirsty sport became magnificent stadiums—veritable giant pulpits and sanctuaries— to proclaim the risen Christ. I know. I have stood in the underground stone cages built for ferocious bears and seen how the cages were transformed to chapels, with Bible stories embedded into the walls with still-luminous mosaics, and baptismal fonts and Communion Tables of stone.
The Resurrection of Jesus Overtook Death. The Message Is Unstoppable.
Just years after the resurrected Christ ascended into heaven—again, with witnesses observing—the light of God’s truth that Isaiah had prophesied was going to the ends of the earth. The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection, not only illuminated the plight of human beings but magnified the power of God. Hope replaced resignation. Life could be lived with the assurance of sins forgiven and a new way of living established: with the certainty that “whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live. And whoever believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
The entire known world was turned upside down with the message of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. And every time I have entered a sanctuary where a casket housed a dead body and mourners, I have entered with a loud voice, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE . . .” For the resurrection, like a dazzling diamond, never shines so brilliantly as when it is placed in front of the dark pall of death. The resurrection ushers in hope and assures us that what is hoped for is true and lasting.
But there are some who say that the Bible never really taught the doctrine of the resurrection. That whole matter of resurrection was something that was invented by Paul or by Peter or by one of the others. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider three— only three of so many—biblical categorical affirmations of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let’s begin with the old testament.
The Resurrection of Jesus was Prophesied in the Old Testament (Job, the Psalms and Daniel)
Misguided students and unscrupulous scholars of Scripture have sometimes erroneously claimed that the concept of the resurrection is absent in Judaism; and, therefore, an unknown idea in the Old Testament. Such false teaching (or to be more charitable: “ignorance”) not only denies the very words of the Old Testament but also defies the very teaching of Jesus. For our resurrected Redeemer revealed to the disciples on the road to Emmaus the truth of the Old Testament and His resurrection:
“Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” He asked them. Then, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:13-27).
If that theory is true then somebody should have told King David that “resurrection of the deceased human body by God was alien to the ancient Hebrew Faith.” For David in the Psalms speaks with spectacular specificity about the resurrection of the One to come:
“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay” (Psalm 16:9-10).
The Resurrection in the Book of Job
One of my favorite places about resurrection of the old testament is actually in the oldest book in the Bible: Job. When Job was at the very end of himself, having lost everything and having been ridiculed and question by his closest friends, he turned to God and the hope of the resurrection as he declares:
“Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:24-27 ESV)!
The teaching of the resurrection begins in the Old Testament. It is not a novel conspiratorial concept concocted in the minds of desperate disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus. Resurrection has been prophesied, taught, and anticipated, just as Jesus said.