"To whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days."
If Jesus Christ rose from the dead in time, space, and history, that would settle the question about His divinity once and for all. That is to say, the evidence is overwhelming—unless you reject the miraculous a priori, before you study the facts, but that is not a very objective way to approach anything.
Christianity is based on a deep foundation—a foundation which cannot be shaken, despite all the attacks against it. The single most important event in Christianity is the Resurrection. Dan Brown doesn't argue against it per se. He simply ignores it. In this chapter we want to cover similar ground, treating the Resurrection in more depth.
The evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is compelling. Some historians have called it the best attested event in antiquity. It is an indisputable fact that the disciples of Jesus were emboldened and transformed from scared rabbits into courageous and bold witnesses who could not be hushed up. The Resurrection is so critically important because it is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Take away the Resurrection and Christianity crumbles like a house of cards. Some of the liberal denominations have taken it away from their statements of faith (if they have one), and their churches are withering away—for their congregations instinctively know that there is nothing there but froth, and they will not tolerate being deceived. If Christ was not bodily raised from the dead in human history, Christianity would cease to exist.
The historical bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead is unique among world religions. Confucius died and was buried. Lao-tse wandered off and died with his water buffalo. Buddha rotted with food poisoning. Mohammed died in 632, and his body was cut up and spread all over the near East. But Jesus rose from the dead. By that resurrection from the dead, He demonstrated that He was, indeed, the Son of God, with power. By His life, by His death, by His resurrection, He declares that He is God. Let's examine now the case for the resurrection of Christ.
THE RELEVANT EVIDENCE
Any case must deal with all of the relevant evidence. So, when you are dealing with the resurrection of Christ, we need to look at all the evidence.
It says in Acts that Christ "presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs," (Acts 1:3). I want to examine seven pieces of evidence and seven theories that attempt to explain them away.
First, there is the Christian Church, which is the largest institution or organization that has ever existed on the face of the earth, with membership easily passing two billion people by the end of this decade. Nothing comparable to her, or even close, has ever existed before. The Grand Canyon wasn't caused by an Indian dragging a stick, and the Christian Church wasn't created by a myth.
Historians—secular, unbelieving historians—tell us that the Christian Church began in Jerusalem in 30 a.d., the year Christ was killed, and that she began because the apostles started preaching that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. You strip everything else away from their preaching, and their main message was that Christ rose from the dead (eg., Acts 2:23, 24).
Second, there is the empty tomb. Again, many adherents to many religions can travel to the place where the founder of their religion is currently entombed and say, "Here lies the dust of our estimable founder." You cannot say that about Christ. He is not in the grave. He is risen.
Paul Maier, professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, points out a significant fact about the empty tomb: "We often overlook the empty tomb. But I think the empty tomb is very important, because that is something an ancient historian can get at." In his book, In The Fullness of Time, Dr. Maier sites Jewish sources dating back to the first century confirming that the tomb was empty.118 "The evidence is overpowering that the tomb was empty."
For 1,700 years there was virtually no controversy that the tomb was empty. The Jews didn't deny it. The Romans didn't deny it. Nobody denied it . . . until just recently. With our vast "rear view mirror" wisdom, we look back through more than 1,900 years and we decide, "Oh, the tomb wasn't empty." Too bad those who were there couldn't have been so smart.
Third, there is the Roman Seal. The huge rock had a rope stretched across it; the clay was fastened to the rope and to the wall of the tomb, and the Roman seal was impressed upon it. If you broke that, you broke the seal. If you broke the seal, you "incurred the wrath of Roman law."119 The penalty was death.
Fourth, there was the Roman guard. According to
Professor Harold Smith, "A Watch usually consisted of four men, each of whom watched in turn, while the others rested beside him so as to be roused by the least alarm; but in this case the guard may have been more numerous."120 These Roman soldiers were well-trained. They were experts in what they did. The penalty for leaving their post or for falling asleep at the job was death121—death that was "always rigorously enforced."122
Fifth, there was the stone—at least two tons, probably more. The opening would indicate that the stone would have to be at least about seven or eight feet high. It took more than one person to move it.
Sixth, there were the appearances. These are crucial. Over a period of about six weeks He appeared to one, then to another, then to two, then to three and then to eight and ten and eleven and 500 people at a time (1 Corinthians 15:4-9). They saw Him, they heard Him, they handled Him. He fixed breakfast for them. He ate fish with them (John 21:7-15; Luke 24:42-43).
The transformation of the apostles was connected to the appearances. One day they were cringing in an upper room for fear of the Jews, and soon after, they were boldly upbraiding the Sanhedrin and proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. Consider also their martyrdom. They were crucified, crucified upside down, sawed in half, stoned to death, and killed in many other ways, except for John, who was exiled to the island of Patmos by Nero. Why would they give their lives for what they knew to be false?
Seven, there is the character of Christ Himself. Christ is universally acknowledged, even often enough by skeptics, to be a paragon of virtue, and the most noble, moral, truthful, and ethical man the world has ever seen. Even Dan Brown admits that Jesus was an "historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen."123 The last thing Jesus would promote would be deception, including the deception that He rose from the dead—if, in fact, He didn't.
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