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THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS:
Fact or Fiction?
Victor M. Eskew
The resurrection of Christ is the most essential component of our faith. If Jesus did not come forth from the tomb of Joseph on the third day, everything we hold dear crumbles to the ground. It is the resurrection that proves that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). It is the resurrection that forms the very core of our faith (Rom. 10:9). The resurrection provides us with the blessings of salvation in the blood of Christ (I Cor. 15:17). The resurrection of Jesus confirms our own personal resurrection (I Cor. 15:20-23). The resurrection of Jesus assures us of the day when judgment will be meted out on all of humanity (Acts 17:31).
It is one thing to say that Jesus was resurrected. It is another thing to prove such a contention. Dear Christian, if you were required to “prove” that Jesus rose from the dead, could you do it? Peter tells us we must be able to do this in I Peter 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” It is with this thought in mind that we write this article. We want to establish the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
The first evidence that one should always bring forth is eyewitness testimony. In every court of law this evidence is not only accepted, but is very powerful. The only time it is rejected is when the eyewitnesses give contradictory accounts. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the eyewitness accounts are overwhelming. “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James, then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (I Cor. 15:5-8). The apostle tells of over 500 witnesses of the resurrection. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, many of the witnesses were still alive. This evidence was powerful to those living in the first century. The law of Moses put it thusly: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established” (Duet. 19:15). No court in Judaism would have dismissed Paul’s evidence. It should not be dismissed today either.
The only way these witnesses could have been wrong would be for one to say that Jesus never really died. This, however, is an impossibility. The day of the crucifixion was the day before the Sabbath. The Romans did not allow the bodies of those crucified to remain on the crosses on the Sabbath day. To hasten death, they would break the legs of the offenders. “But when they were come to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs” (John 19:32). The Roman soldiers knew that Jesus was dead. Pilate also confirmed His death. When Joseph of Arimathea craved Jesus’ body, Pilate marveled that he was dead so soon. Therefore, he sent a centurion to officially report on His death. “And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph” (Mar, 15:44-45). Even the Jews knew Jesus had died. Their story was that the disciples had stolen the body from the tomb (Matt. 28:13). They did not try to convince everyone that Jesus never died. If they could have used that line successfully, they would have. With all of the verifications of Jesus’ death, one cannot convincingly argue that Jesus never died.
Another proof of Jesus’ resurrection involved the behavior of the twelve disciples of Jesus. When Jesus was arrested in the garden, the text states: “…Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matt. 26:56). Peter tarried near enough to hear the sentence of death pronounced on his Master. John stood at the foot of the cross and received Jesus’ instructions to care for His mother. Once he was placed in the tomb, these men began to return to their normal occupations (John 21:2-3). These men acted defeated. The One in whom they had placed their trust as the Messiah was gone. Their only option was to return to their trades and begin life anew.
Yet, these men did not resume their trades very long. Soon every one of them gathered in the city of Jerusalem. Fifty-one days after the crucifixion, these men began to turn the city of Jerusalem on its heels. Their message was “The Resurrected Christ.” “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 32, 36). These men were no longer afraid; they were bold. They no longer sought cover for their lives, but were willing to lose their lives for Christ. They were no longer silent as a tomb, but filled Jerusalem with the message of the resurrected Christ. The only explanation for such a drastic change is the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection filled these men with a living hope (I Pet. 1:3). They could no longer contain themselves. They now had to speak and fulfill the commission the Lord placed on them.
The final evidence that we will put forth involves Saul of Tarsus, “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6). Here was a man who was convinced that he was right about Judaism. He was committed to the belief that Christians were heretics. He was dedicated to the task of destroying them (Acts 9:1-2). But in Philippians 3:7-8, he writes: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ.” Paul radically changed his course. He went from tormentor to teacher. He moved from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. What caused such a change? There is only one explanation. Paul was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead. He saw Him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6). That knowledge caused him to lay down his weapons of destruction and pick up the sword of the Spirit, whereby he could fight the good fight of faith until offered upon the altar of sacrifice (II Tim. 4:6-8).
Yes, dear reader, there is no doubt; Jesus is risen from the dead! The angel’s words to the women say it well: “He is not here: for he is risen” (Matt. 28:6).