As Christians, we really do make a claim that seems to be outstanding. The claim is that our Savior not only died on our behalf, but was also raised from the dead. In all reality, I have to wonder if anyone really has a reason to believe that we are making the correct claim. As far as we understand death, there is no coming back from it. We do not make this claim, though, on our own. It was Jesus who predicted that He would conquer death throughout His ministry. His claim was outstanding to those in the First Century just as it is outstanding to so many today. The truth is, the entirety of the Christian faith hinges on whether or not Jesus was actually raised from the dead. If He was not, then there is no power in His promise to give life. If He was not, then we worship and serve a dead man. If He did, however, then eternal life really is available for all people who would genuinely trust in Him.
We see one of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the work of a Greek and a historian who lived during Jesus’ time:
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground.
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered His words.
Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened (Luke 24:1-12 HCSB).
As we read this first part of the resurrection account, we might notice a couple of things about those who actually followed Jesus. First, the women who discovered the tomb empty were prepared to finalize Jesus’ burial. Even though Jesus taught that He would rise from the dead, they were ready to bury Him forever. There was a lack of faith in the teachings of Jesus throughout the duration of His public ministry. Second, when the women reported what they had seen, the apostles did not believe them. It was nonsense that someone could actually raise Himself from the dead. Peter ran to the tomb to see for Himself. Instead of celebrating the empty tomb in belief that Jesus’ body had returned to life, he went home to marvel at what had happened.
Those who knew Jesus were so slow to believe that He had actually been raised from the dead. Those who find it difficult to believe are in good company.
After this, Jesus began to show Himself by making public and private appearances. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul writes about many eye-witnesses (more than 500) to the resurrected Christ. As we discussed in session 2, Scripture is both authentic and reliable. This is especially the case since Paul was acquainted with the eye-witnesses that he mentioned. Added to this, seperate Gospel accounts record Jesus appearing to the disciples. Gerd Ludemann, a German scholar and critic of the Christian faith, even writes that it is historically certain that people truly had experiences in which they saw Jesus after Jesus was crucified.1
Raised from the dead?
Is it possible, though? Is it possible that someone would actually be raised from the dead. Surprising as it is, Jesus is not the only one that has been raised. There are other accounts in Scripture of others being raised to life. There are also a multitude of stories outside of the Scriptural text of people being raised to life after experiencing death. For instance, and just to give one example, Craig Keener wrote a two-volume work in which he compiled well documented miraculous healings. In his work, there are more than a few documented cases of resurrection from the dead:
Noel Fernando was an Assemblies of God pastor also working at a Bible school, with a wife and two children. After he was taken to the hospital seriously ill, the Bible school sent out word to pray, but Noel died of a heart attack in the hospital. Because there was little privacy in the hospital, not only doctors and nurses but also many patients were aware of his death. Because he was still faily young for a heart attack, they used a procedure to try to restart his heart; the procedure managed only to break a number of his ribs, but since he was dead it did not seem to make much difference anyway. The doctors finally gave up and pronounced him dead; because the doctor who needed to sign the release for the body to be taken to the morgue had left the facilities, however, the hospital had to hold his body. Meanwhile, believers elsewhere in Sri Lanka were still praying for Noel, unaware that he had died.
Some twenty-four hours after being pronounced dead, Noel returned to life, with all his systems functional except, ironically, the broken ribs. Other workers and patients in the hospital, who belonged to various religions, all recognized this as a miracle; some even laid food at the foot of his bed as offerings, in accordance with their traditional customs.2 In this case, there was both medical documentation and multiple eye-witnesses. Keener lists other and I would encourage anyone interested in an academic consideration of miracles to read both volumes of his work.
Resurrection is beyond the means of modern day medicine and something that the scientific method is unable to reproduce because the means do not seem to be material. People have been and are brought back to life by something other than a doctor and science is incapable of explaining it. If Scripture describes the supernatural rising of Jesus, if Scripture lists eyewitness accounts, and if raisings are witnessed in the world today; then we are certainly justified in believing that Christ was, indeed, raised from the dead.
As we look at the text of Scripture, we notice that the apostles knew that Jesus taught He would be raised, but they did not believe when it actually happened. Christ-followers today claim that Jesus has been raised, but do not many times celebrate what He has actually accomplished. We tend to, for instance, celebrate our own accomplishments. When many people who claim to follow Christ share their testimonies, it is all about them (not about what Christ has actually done).
If Jesus is alive (and He is!), there is even power over death in His hands! If Jesus is alive, then we do not have to fear anything (other than Him that is). If Jesus is alive, then we truly can trust in Him for eternal life.
If Jesus is alive, then, it would make sense to say that people who follow Christ ought to live like He is actually alive. We have more reason to celebrate than to discriminate. We have more reason to rejoice than to criticize. We have more reason to praise than to complain. If Jesus is alive, we can come to Him for peace when this world is so cruel. This means that time in prayer and time in Scripture is even more important for us than we might have otherwise thought. If Christ is alive, He actually speaks both through His word and as we bow our heads in prayer.
1Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.
2Keener, Craig S. Miracles: the credibility of the New Testament accounts. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. 568.