The first gospel sermon preached by Peter on Pentecost contains the following facts: Jesus Christ died, was buried, was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven after His resurrection and was exalted at the right hand of God (Acts 2:14-36). In spite of these facts, throughout the centuries many have claimed that Jesus did not actually die and certainly was not raised from the dead. For instance, Basilides, an Egyptian Gnostic of the 2nd century A.D., was a philosopher that taught Jesus never actually died. Another Gnostic movement, known as the Docetists, denied that Jesus ever actually existed in human form and did not die as a man. But the denial that is, perhaps, most pertinent today is Islam s Qur an which declares that Jesus was raised up unto God, that He was not crucified and He did not die on the cross, but His death was only made to appear as such (Sura IV. 157-158). Why does Islam repudiate the death of Christ? It comes from an aversion of the biblical doctrine that Jesus died to atone for our sins (Ali, p.230). The atonement of the blood of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world is at the very heart of the gospel, and any religious system that denies this fact is hostile to the Christian s faith. In the next few weeks we will explore evidence of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The very basis for the truth of Christianity is dependent upon the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Simply put, Christianity and the resurrection of Christ from the dead stand or fall together, for one cannot be true without the other. Paul recognized this fact when he wrote, If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (1 Cor. 15:13-17). Paul goes one step further stating that Jesus Christ is declared to be the Son of God with power ... by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Furthermore, Peter states God has begotten us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Everything Jesus taught, lived and died for depended upon His resurrection from the dead. Our salvation is dependent upon our belief and trust in His death and resurrection. But this saving faith is not a leap in the dark, but a conviction based upon historical facts consistent with evidence presented.
In considering evidence for the death and resurrection of Christ, let us first look at what the Bible affirms. The Old Testament prophets foretold the death of Christ in a most detailed fashion. For instance, the psalmist says of Christ s death, They pierced my hands and feet (Psa. 22:16). And Isaiah prophesies, He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth (Isa. 53:7). Both of these passages are highly and specifically descriptive of Christ s death, even as Paul describes Christ as the Passover victim (1 Cor. 5:7). The psalmist also predicts, For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption (Psa. 15:10). Sheol is the Hebrew word used for the realm of the dead - Hades. The apostle Peter uses this passage on the Day of Pentecost to prove the resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 2:27). His argument is that while David wrote Psalm 16 in the first person, he is not referring to himself because David is dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day (Acts 2:29). David spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption (v. 31).
As pointed out last week, several prophets of the Old Testament foretold of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More than once, Jesus Himself foretold of these events. Towards the beginning of His great mountain sermon Jesus said, Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill (Matt. 5:17). The very purpose for His coming to this earth was to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10), a mission only accomplished through His death, burial and resurrection. After Peter confessed the deity of Christ, Matthew records, From that time on Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day (Matt. 16:21). Notice the word must. If man was to be saved from his sin, Christ must die, be buried and raised from the dead. This word is used time and time again in reference to Christ s death and resurrection (see Mark 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 24:7). After His resurrection, Jesus said to His apostles, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me (Luke 24:44).
The New Testament spokesmen uniformly affirmed that Jesus died, was buried and was raised from the dead. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed this message stating, Him being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; whom God raised up (Acts 2:23, 24). Steven confirms Peter s declaration just before his own death (Acts 7:52), as does the apostle Paul on multiple occasions (see Acts 13:28; 1 Cor. 15:1ff; etc.). When Paul made his defense before King Agrippa he spoke of the resurrection of Christ from the dead and asked the question, Why should it be thought incredible by you that God should raise the dead? (Act 26:8). As he continued his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad! (Acts 26:24). Paul then says that Agrippa knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner (v. 26). The evidence presented by Paul was credible for, Then Agrippa said to Paul, You almost persuade me to become a Christian (v. 28). How will you react to the evidence of Christ s death, burial and resurrection? Will you believe it and become a Christian?
Having considered both Old and New Testament internal evidence of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, let s now turn our attention to some external evidence. To begin with, in an attempt to explain away the resurrection of Jesus, some have tried to say that Jesus never really died. But secular history confirms that Christ died. The Jewish historian Josephus refers to the death of Jesus (Antiquities 18.3.3). The Roman writer, Tacitus, clearly states that Jesus was executed by Pilate (Annuls 15.44). Even early enemies of Christianity such as Celsus and Lucian conceded that Jesus was put to death. We must remember that the Romans were experts in administering death by crucifixion. While they knew how to prolong the agony of the victim to incredible heights and lengths, death was certain. On some occasions death would be hastened by breaking the legs of the victim so that he could not push upward in order to breathe and avoid final suffocation. Evidence of this procedure is seen in the archaeological discovery of V. Tzaferis in 1968 who found the bones of a first century crucified man who had both shins intentionally fractured. This was done to the two men crucified with Jesus, but was not done to Christ, for they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead (John 19:33).
Matthew records that after the death of Christ on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea claimed the body from Pilate. After he had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock, and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb and departed (Matt. 27:57-60). It is estimated that a stone large enough to cover a 5 foot door way would weigh approximately 2 tons. However, this enormous rock would not be enough to satisfy the chief priests and Pharisees who reminded Pilate that Jesus said, After three days I will rise. They asked Pilate to command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night, steal Him away, and say to the people, He has risen from the dead (Matt. 27:62-64). Pilate said to them, You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how. So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone, and setting the guard (v. 65, 66). The seal involved stretching a cord across the rock fastened at either end with sealing clay, the clay being stamped with the official signet of the Roman governor. The placing of a seal served not only as a security precaution, but also was considered a mode of authentication. In other words, the seal on Jesus tomb was a public testimony that Jesus body was actually there.
Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus. Seeing that the stone had been rolled away she ran and told Peter and John. They then ran to the tomb only to find the burial clothes there but the body gone. What had occurred was exactly what Jesus said would happen: He had risen from the dead! (see John 20) Many theories have been advanced attempting to show the resurrection of Christ as a fraud. But the direct evidence is far to strong and clearly refutes all of these theories. Consider for instance, the eyewitness testimony of those who saw the risen Christ. Paul refers to this eyewitness testimony pointing out that Peter and the apostles had seen Him. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present (1 Cor. 15:5-6). By reminding the Corinthians that most of these 500 people were still alive, Paul invites a cross examination of their testimony. The fact is, if these 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial were placed in a courtroom and given only six minutes to testify concerning what they saw, including cross examination, you would have an amazing 50 hours of eyewitness testimony. Add to this the testimony of many other eyewitnesses and you have overwhelming direct evidence of Christ s resurrection.
In considering the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the testimony of several hundred people is indeed strong and conclusive. But consider further, if you will, the change in those who did not believe Jesus to be the Christ before His resurrection. For instance, there was the skeptical family of Jesus. Jesus had several brothers and sisters, other children of His mother Mary, among them, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55, 56). John records the obvious embarrassment of Christ s siblings as they tried to convince Him to leave Galilee, For not even His brothers believed on Him (John 7:1-5). In fact, they were offended at Him (Mark 6:3). However, after Christ went to that degrading death on Calvary s cross that would have so disgraced the family, and after He was buried, where do we find the family of Jesus including His brothers? We find them in the upper room with the apostles in prayer and supplication (Acts 1:14). Since His brothers had mocked Him while alive, what happened in a matter of a few days to turn their lives upside down? Paul records that the resurrected Christ was seen by over five hundred brethren at once ... After that He was seen by James (1 Cor.15:6, 7). This James was clearly, James, the Lord s brother (Gal. 1:19), a skeptic who now believes!
When Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the gospel of Christ, the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man whose name was Saul (Acts 7:58). And Saul was consenting to his death and he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison (Acts 8:1, 3). And Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord when he got special permission to go to other cities and incarcerate Christ s disciples (9:1, 2). But something happened, for this persecutor turned from an antagonist to a protagonist of Jesus; from being an interrogator of Christians to one of the greatest propagators of the gospel of Christ that every lived. What happened to cause this turnaround? Paul tells us: He was seen by me also (1 Cor. 15:8). What Paul thought to be lies about Jesus turned out to be fact. Jesus had risen from the dead! He was the Son of God! As a result, when Ananias asked, And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16), Saul obeyed. He was baptized into Christ. His sins were wash away. And from that time on he preached the gospel of Christ, and confounded the Jews ... proving that this is indeed the Christ (Acts 9:22).