(April 01, 2021) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian writes…
Some years later at a meeting of ministers, a retired minister posed the question, ‘Does it really matter whether or not the body of Jesus physically came alive again? Perhaps his physical body did not rise from the tomb, but he rose as a spirit being and that is what the idea of the resurrection is really about.’
Throughout history people have responded in different ways to that amazing historical event of Christ’s resurrection that occurred 2000 years ago.
1. It has been challenged
From the first Easter day the fact of Jesus’ resurrection has been challenged! Even his disciples didn’t accept it when they were first told about it… and Thomas categorically stated, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ (John 20:25).
And just over 20 years after the resurrection Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘… some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?’ (1 Corinthians 15:12).
Clearly there were some people in that church who did not accept the fact that Jesus rose from the tomb. And there continues to be those who identify with the church but challenge the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
It has been considered as:
Some argue that the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are based on ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek myths all of which had stories of dying and rising gods. They oppose the Christian message of the bodily resurrection and attempt to argue that the story of Jesus is based on mythology and not on historical reality. And claim that the New Testament records of the resurrection of Jesus are only a variation of those ancient myths that the early Christians modified and then put it out again as a factual event.
Shouldn’t we just accept the account of Jesus’ resurrection as a mystery that lies beyond our understanding? Shouldn’t we just receive the idea of the resurrection as a profound concept that really doesn’t require us to explain it or to draw conclusions about it? Would it really make any significant difference to our living as Christians and to our Christian values or worship if the body of Jesus had remained in the tomb?
That seems to be the attitude of many concerning the Christian faith, maintaining that whether one believes in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus is quite irrelevant. To them what is relevant is the ‘spiritual significance’ of the story of Jesus’ victory over death. And that ‘spirituality’ is something we have in common with other spiritual people of other religions who emphasise spiritual insight rather than physical or historical reality.
However the New Testament emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus was of the authentic reality that the man who had been executed and died on a cross rose again as a historical event. There is no mystery here – it really happened!
It has also been argued that the first followers of Jesus were so overwhelmed by grief that they mistakenly imagined that he had come alive again. Or the tomb was empty because the authorities had transferred his body to another location to prevent his followers from making the tomb into a shrine.
But, when Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus’ tomb on the Sunday morning to anoint the dead body of their friend and saw that it was empty, she and the other women were shocked and dismayed! The first word that did not spring into their minds was ‘resurrection’!
They did not consider the idea that their beloved friend had overcome death and had risen from the dead. In their grief they had come to the most logical conclusion… the dead body of Jesus had been taken to some other place – as made clear in John 20:2.
Despite what Jesus had previously told his disciples, they had no real expectation that they would ever see their friend alive again. But when they did see him later, they were wholly convinced that he had triumphed over death. Their declaration that he was alive was (and still is today)…
You can understand why the fact of the resurrection of Jesus is difficult to accept. Principally because it had never happened before, and never since! Consequently many people find that the Christian assertion of the rising of Jesus Christ on the third day is confronting.
As the disciples, who had come into the assured knowledge that Jesus was truly alive – that death had not triumphed over him and that the tomb could not contain him – went out declaring with strong affirmation this good news of a living and victorious Saviour, the authorities found their message very confronting.
In Acts 4:2-3 we read, ‘They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.’
The Greek word translated here as ‘greatly disturbed’ means that the authorities were deeply annoyed and offended by the message the disciples proclaimed – ‘Jesus is alive!’ How dare they make that declaration! The authorities clearly thought that the disciples were deluded or lying and their bold and adamant assertion that Jesus was alive angered them.
The uncompromising Easter declaration of the resurrection brought the disciples into conflict with the religious and civil leaders. The wealthy upper class and their religious and political allies were concerned that their status and rewarding relationship with their Roman rulers was at risk if those Christians were not silenced.
Regardless of the consequences, regardless of whether some people were offended by their declaration, regardless of the fact that some found that what they were saying very confronting, they were not going to be silenced. They refused to allow their message to be sealed in a tomb!
That Jesus Christ is alive is a central truth over which there can be no compromise. The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith that sets it apart from any other religion. And much as we are indebted to the Jewish religion, Judaism does not accept that Jesus rose from the tomb. And on this central fact authentic Christianity solidly stands.
If Christ has not been raised, Christianity is a sham, if Christ has not been raised, there is no forgiveness of sin and if Christ has not been raised, only a hopeless death awaits us all. This, in fact, was a point on which Paul was determined to be inflexible. He put it very bluntly in 1 Corinthians 15:14, ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’
But then in 1 Corinthians 15:20 in great jubilation he declared, ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.’ This central truth is a life-changing truth for all who encounter the risen Christ even today. We don’t worship a dead preacher but a resurrected and eternally living Lord Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate miracle. It was the miracle that crowned Jesus’ earthly ministry and put the stamp of successful completion on what he came to do. And it really happened! To an elderly minister who many decades ago asked me, ‘Does it really matter whether the body of Jesus physically came alive again?’ my emphatic reply continues to be, ‘Yes. It matters to me, to the Christian faith and to the world.’
Christ’s resurrection is not a hypothetical subject. It is a confirmed historical actuality! It was not only recorded by all four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but they all emphasised the reality and wonder and life-changing significance of the event.
The same disciples who forsook Jesus when he was crucified, enthusiastically, strongly and joyfully embraced him when he was resurrected and most of them were eventually martyred for their faith. It was the evidence of the resurrection in the appearance and presence of the living Jesus what made a difference to them – not some philosophical idea that Jesus’ ministry and teaching lived on after his death. They knew by personal encounter that Jesus was truly alive again, raised from the dead by the awesome power of Almighty God!
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11, ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.’
Paul was emphasising that the resurrection is not just religious dogma – it is a historical fact. And it is a fact with amazing consequences. Human beings killed and buried Jesus thinking that that was the end of him but in truth it was only the beginning of his glorious ministry of human redemption, reconciliation with God and hope for the world.
The resurrection gave meaning to Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching. It confirmed that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Apart from that glorious event his whole ministry and message was meaningless.
By ‘contemporary’ I mean that the challenge faced by men and women in Paul’s day still confronts men and women today.
Can you really believe that a man, who had died after having been viciously beaten and brutally executed on a cross and had a spear thrust into his side and then had been placed in a tomb for three days, would be seen alive and healthy, walking and talking with his friends?
Thomas found it challenging to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples who told him that they had seen and spoken with Jesus. And so it is not surprising that many people today still deny the fact of Christ’s resurrection because it seems absurd to them. Thomas, of course, knelt before Jesus in humble surrender when Jesus appeared to him and confessed, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28).
That same personal surrender to the risen Christ still stands before us today as the living Lord meets us where we are and speaks to our hearts and invites us to trust him.
Jesus’ resurrection is unmatched, it was a wholly unique event, because he not only rose from the dead but is also alive for evermore. He died and he rose again for you and me because he loves us so much!
Have you personally, deliberately responded to his invitation to discover complete forgiveness and eternal life in him? When Jesus rose from the tomb on the first Easter Sunday, everything that he suffered on the cross became ours for the asking!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books such as the enlightening Grace Revisited andBible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Offered free, all of Dr Jim’s writings are highly recommended – such as Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments,Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage,The Masonic Deception,Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James, and Faith Works – A Commentary on the Letter of James. All areavailable in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com