Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who is Jesus? – From the Facts presented in the Gospels, Part 3

Resurrection of Christ, by Matthais GrunewaldFor the duration of Holy Week, we thought it best to focus on themes centering on Jesus Christ and His Gospel message. This post is the final of three scheduled over Holy Week concerning Jesus and the events of His life as we know of them from the facts presented to us in the Gospels. In Part One of this brief series, we focused on facts regarding the person of Christ – beginning with man's need for a Saviour, God's promise that He would send a Saviour, the prophecies concerning His coming, and the facts of His life demonstrating that Jesus is this promised Messiah, both God and man. In Part Two, we focused on the facts of the crucifixion of Jesus – His arrest, trial, torture and death. In this final post, we take a look at the facts reported in the Gospels regarding Jesus bodily resurrection. Such facts are as important to us as they were to the disciples who witnessed His Resurrection firsthand, who on the basis of what they had seen and heard "could not help but speak of it" (Ac. 4:12-21), even in the face of persecution by the Jewish, and later, Roman authorities. Already before the close of the Apostolic Age, on the basis of their witness to these events and the Message of Jesus Christ which attended them, the Good News had become known as that which was "turning the world upside down" (Ac. 17:1-7). The Message of Good News cannot be divorced from the historical events of Jesus' life as Scripture records them, from His birth to His death by crucifixion, and especially His bodily Resurrection. For "if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ... If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Co. 15:11-23). The facts of history concerning Jesus, as they are recorded in the Scriptures, establish the Christian religion; and this is why, as facts, they are important: for if the Messiah had not actually come as God in the Flesh, if He had not died on the Tree as propitiation for the sins of the world, if He had not risen bodily from the grave, all in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, then the Christian religion is a myth – the same as every other religion on the planet which rests on false or unverifiable historical claims, or on no claims whatsoever.

This post is taken from a series of posts on Law & Gospel, begun in October 2010 (a series which is awaiting the completion of two more essays, before finally being finished), from the post entitled Law and Gospel: What do they teach? – Part 3.1, The Events of the Gospel Accounts (The Resurrection of Jesus).

The Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and its consequences

The Empty TombOn the third day following His public execution, life was returned to Jesus, and for a period of forty days following He appeared before His disciples and others who knew and recognized Him, confirming His Resurrection (Ac. 1:3; 2:32), His power over life and death (2 Ti. 1:10; 1 Co. 15:26), and His authority as God (1 Co. 15:1-24). Knowing that Jesus claimed to be God and knowing that He foretold His own resurrection on the third day following His death as unequivocal proof of His public claims, the Jewish council requested that Pilot place a guard at the tomb in which Jesus was lain, to prevent anyone from stealing His body to make it appear that He had arisen (Mt. 27:62-66). On the morning of the third day following His death by crucifixion, however, the Roman guards were shaken by an earthquake as an angel rolled back the stone which closed the tomb of Christ, and sat upon it (Mt. 28:2-4). Panic-stricken, the guards fled, reporting to the Sanhedrin what they had seen (Mt. 28:4,11). The Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was no ordinary man; yet, when news of His Resurrection reached them, they sought instead to cover it up by paying the guards and circulating a lie – that the Roman guards had fallen asleep and that Jesus' body was stolen (Mt. 28:11-15).

That this was a lie is manifest from the many appearances of Jesus following His death. In the morning of His Resurrection, a group of women set out with prepared spices and perfumes to properly embalm the body of Jesus (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1-2; Lk. 24:1). Along the way, they wondered how they would remove the stone that sealed the tomb (Mk. 16:3). Upon reaching the tomb, the women saw that the stone had already been rolled away, and that it was open before them (Mk. 16:4; Lk. 24:2). When they entered, it did not smell of decaying flesh, nor was the body of Jesus even there (Lk. 24:3). Just then, two young men, whose appearance was as lightning, appeared before the women. One of them said
    Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen. Remember what He told you, "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again?" Go, tell His disciples. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you. (Lk. 24:4-8; Mk. 16:6-7; Mt. 28:5-7).
Jesus walks with His disciples on the Road to Emmaus, as they return from JerusalemThey left to go tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and what the angels had said. On their way, Jesus met them, confirming what the angels had said, and encouraging them as He sent them on their way to report to the disciples (Mt. 28:8-10)6. Peter and John investigated, and also found the tomb empty (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-10), after which Jesus appeared personally to Peter and also to two disciples as they walked back from Jerusalem to Emmaus, with whom He appeared, ate food, and engaged in extended conversation (Lk. 24:13-35)7. While the disciples were gathered, excitedly reporting to each other that they had seen Jesus alive, He appeared to them together, showed to them that he was human by allowing them to touch Him and by asking them for food that He might eat with them, showed to them the marks in His body to confirm for them that He was the man who suffered torture and died by crucifixion just a few days prior, and reminded them of the words He had spoken to them regarding His life, suffering, death and Resurrection (Lk. 24:36-48; Jn. 20:19-23). Thomas, being absent, later doubted the testimony of those who had witnessed this extended appearance of Jesus', and required that he place his fingers in the wounded hands and feet of Jesus, and place his hand in His side where the spear had pierced Him. Eight days following, Jesus appeared to them all together again, and with Thomas in attendance, beckoned him to examine His wounds and confirm that it was He and that He had arisen. Thomas responded with the words defining the significance of Christ's Resurrection for those who would hear His message: My Lord, and my God (Jn. 20:28).

Following this, Jesus appeared to seven of the disciples as they fished unsuccessfully in the Sea of Galilee, and recommended that they cast their nets on the opposite side of their boat, resulting in a great draught of fish. By the time they landed ashore He had prepared a fire and food. They ate together and conversed at length (Jn. 21:1-24). Afterwards, while the disciples were still in Galilee, Jesus appeared before them, and five hundred others at once – a report which is significantly recorded by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians as he extolled the significance of the Resurrection (1 Co. 15:3-8). By including these facts, Paul indicates that most of those five hundred were still alive – he wasn’t making up stories, as these five hundred could still be asked about what they saw and confirm his report.

The Ascension of Christ into HeavenAt the end of the forty days following His Resurrection, Jesus appeared a final time, conversed with the disciples and others with them, and led them to a mountain top in Bethany where He commissioned them as witnesses of what they had seen and heard; commanded them to go into all the world, baptizing and preaching the gospel in His name; promised to send them the Holy Spirit; and was then taken, bodily, up through the clouds into heaven (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15-20; Lk. 24:46-53; Ac. 1:1-11).

It was the events and the words of Jesus to which the disciples were commissioned as witnesses, it was these of which the disciples could not help but speak (Ac. 2:22-41;4:1-22), and it was on the basis of the events of Christ's life – the fulfillment of prophesy and the miracles – that the message of Christ was heard and received by those the apostles and others spoke to8,9, through which the Holy Spirit worked faithfully to produce and strengthen faith as the New Testament Church grew and spread.


  1. It is important to note in the Resurrection accounts that the angels who met the women in Jesus' empty tomb encouraged them to report to the disciples that Christ had arisen, and that the first appearance of Jesus after His Resurrection was before women. Many who doubt the Resurrection accounts, claiming that they were made up, fail to realize the significance of the women and the task assigned to them. Anyone making up these accounts would not have written it this way. They couldn't have written it this way. Culturally, women were of very little value, and their word on matters was disregarded. This is why the women were afraid to speak to any men about what had happened (Mk. 16:8), and certainly why the disciples, at first report from the women, refused to believe them (Mk. 16:10-11; Lk. 24:10-11). An author inventing such a story could not have conceived the notion that (a) an event of this magnitude would have been revealed, first, to women, and (b) that the women would have been given the responsibility to carry the report to men. The only way these accounts could have been recorded the way they were is if they actually happened the way they were written.
  2. It is important to note the physical condition of Jesus in these appearances. Those who reject the deity of Christ, but are nevertheless constrained to admit the Gospel accounts – including the appearances of Jesus just after His crucifixion – given the measurable veracity of these historical accounts themselves, not to mention their astounding consequences in the centuries immediately following them, can only do so by denying that Christ actually died. Instead, they claim, He only appeared to be dead when He was brought down from the cross, revived while in His tomb, and thus revived, appeared to His disciples and others in the days following. Yes, in less than 48 hours time, they claim, Jesus recovered sufficiently from His ordeal at Calvary, to not only convincingly appear before His disciples and others (who were reluctant to believe He had risen from the dead in the first place), but to walk with them, eat with them, and hold extended conversations with them. This position strains to the point of breaking all rational notions of plausibility.

    Beginning with His prayers in Gesthemene, the physical depletion of Christ was evident. Strange prayers, different from any other He had uttered, He cried in anguish, Abba, Father! All things are possible for Thee, remove this cup from me... (Mk. 14:34-36). He knew what He was about to face. The psychological trauma is evident in His words, and its impact on His physical condition is reported in Scripture: And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became as drops of blood, falling down upon the ground (Lk. 22:44). Page 1456 of the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” from the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 255, No. 11) referenced above in the body of this essay, refers to this physical condition of “sweating blood” by it’s medical name: hematidrosis. This condition renders the skin of a human exceedingly sensitive, making even the slightest touch painful. In this condition, Christ endured the remainder of His torture and death by crucifixion. The following pages of that paper describe more fully the medical aspects of the suffering of Jesus. Deprived of sleep and sustenance, He was dragged from place to place, beaten with fists and sticks multiple times. The skin on His back was literally flayed to the bone from whipping, very likely causing the onset of circulatory shock. Weakened in this way, Jesus was physically unable to do what was expected of Him, therefore Simone of Cyrene was conscripted to carry His wooden cross after He failed to progress under its burden. At Calvary, large spikes were driven into His wrists, crushing or severing the median nerve along with many ligaments. Large spikes were also driven into His feet, severing or at least damaging paroneal and plantar nerves. The wounds to His hands and feet were calculated to induce searing pain. Though loss of blood resulting from the wounds on His back would have been significant, given that each breath required Him to lift his body so that He could expand His lungs, causing Him to scrape His lacerated back along the stipes of the cross, the wounds caused by the nails would not have resulted in significant blood loss. On the contrary, this procedure is known to have produced in the victims of crucifixion hypovolemic shock or asphyxiation, which were their most common causes of death. But if all of this didn’t kill Jesus, then certainly, having had a spear thrust through His side, which pierced His heart and left a gaping hole, would have.

    The fact is, if Jesus were not God, and if He were only “mostly dead” when He was taken from the cross, and if He then revived later, His hands and feet would have been paralyzed. He would have suffered the extended effects of blood loss and exhaustion, not to mention the continuing physical agony of the contusions which covered His body. Not in forty days, much less three, would He have been presenting Himself to those He knew, who also witnessed His crucifixion, as a deity who had defeated death and miraculously returned from the grave. Rather, He could only have presented Himself as a severely wounded and beaten man who somehow cheated death. In three days, He would not have stood before them, He would not have walked with them, He would very likely not have eaten solid food with them, He certainly would not have held extended conversations with them. If He were merely a man, and somehow survived His torture and crucifixion, chances are He would not even have been conscious after only 48 hours.

    But this is not the reality of the Resurrected Christ presented to us in the Gospel accounts. Rather, on the third day, He rose again, and He presented Himself to those who knew Him, and to others, as a fully vibrant and healthy human – gesturing, walking, eating and conversing intelligently over extended periods of time. Though He bore in His body the marks of His ordeal, establishing that it was He who was crucified, His physical health and vitality offered a fully convincing contrast to the death they had witnessed Him suffer, establishing that He is Who He said He was: God in the flesh.
  3. Ireneaus. (1999). Against Heresies: Book II, Ch. XXXII, §4 and Book III, Ch. XXXIV. In P. Schaff (Ed.) The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325: Ante-Nicene Fathers (Vol. 1: “The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus”). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. (Original English translation published 1885, original work published in Greek, 2nd Century, A.D.). pp. 409, 511-513.
  4. Eusebius of Cæsarea. Demonstratio Evangelica Book 3, Ch. 4. (English translation published in 1920 by F.W. Ferrar, original work published in Greek, 4th Century, A.D.)

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