Matthew 28:6 "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”
Note to reader: I have included links to videos in this post which readers can click on and view to visualize what I have written in the post below.
As we are a little more than one week away from celebrating Easter weekend, I felt it necessary to compose some posts which express the significance of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. No other event or Christian doctrine is more proclaimed, more attacked and more crucial than Christ's resurrection. We will first note four key areas of consideration when talking about the event of the empty tomb. Afterwards, we will then consider how three top "Christian apologists" or "defenders of the faith" handle the resurrection of Jesus in their communication of the Christian faith. Then lastly, we will consider why the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are crucial to connecting the Christian faith today to what followed from the empty tomb during that first Easter morning.
Four key areas involved in discussing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead
1. Jesus' burial
2. The empty tomb
3. Jesus' post resurrection appearances to His
4. Changed lives of Jesus' followers
Now why are the four above categories important? Whether one is a committed Christian or a skeptic, the four above areas are those which the majority New Testament scholars (whether conservative, non-conservative or skeptical alike) agree as those events which require explanation. It is one thing to find a majority consensus on "what happened". Yet, it is quite another matter when exploring the explanations for what happened. Readers may check out two videos which lay out the events associated with the empty tomb here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qhQRMhUK1o&t=26s and the explanations given for the empty tomb here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SbJ4p6WiZE Both videos together provide a compelling example of how one could present the historical argument for Jesus' resurrection.
Explanations of what brought about the empty tomb, and the only one which show itself superior to all the others.
There are only two sorts of explanations for the empty tomb on that first Easter. First, there are naturalistic explanations (examples being: Jesus fainted and was revived in the tomb; Jesus' body was stolen; a look-alike was placed on the cross; the disciples hallucinated; the location of the tomb was mis-identified). Then the second sort of explanations is the supernatural explanation (God raised Jesus from the dead). When anyone puts forth an explanation, the way to test each of these is to see which one explains the four facts above and which one outperforms the rival explanations. I won't go any further but to say the above summary is typical of how the event of Jesus' resurrection is approached as a historical event.
What top Christian apologists or defenders of the Christian faith say about Jesus' resurrection from the dead
Apologetics is that branch of Christian doctrine which expresses why a Christian believes what they believe and defends the Christian faith against common objections. Three top Christian Apologists today list the above four areas in their short list of what lies at the core of the Biblical narrative of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. I want the reader to note the last element in each of their listings, since the importance of Jesus' post-resurrected appearances will be discussed toward the end of this post.
First, Josh McDowell in his book: "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" lists the following elements of what he calls "the resurrection scene":1
1. Jesus was dead
2. The tomb
3. The burial
4. The stone
5. The seal
6. The guard
7. The disciples
8. The post-resurrection appearances
The second Christian apologist, Liberty University Professor Gary Habermas, lists out a very similar short list in the argument he gives for the resurrection that he calls the "minimal facts argument":2
1. The burial
2. The empty tomb
3. Post resurrection appearances
4. Changed lives (especially of the Apostle Paul).
Dr. Habermas' argument leans heavily on Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, noting that the material represents early information that takes the reader back to within a year after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
The third Christian Apologist who argues for the historicity and reliability of the resurrection accounts of Jesus Christ is Dr. William Lane Craig, a world renowned expert and debater who frequently engages with formidable opponents of the Christian faith. In his presentations, I have heard Dr. Craig list in a similar fashion the following essential elements to the account of Jesus' resurrection from the dead:
1. The burial
2. The empty tomb
3. The post resurrection appearances
4. The changed lives of the disciples
5. The conversion of the Apostle Paul
The reader can check out Dr. Craig's material at www.reasonablefaith.com.
The one area among these elements that merits further focus and explanation: Jesus' post-resurrection appearances to various people.
The particular matter of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, and how to explain the dramatic change in the disciples' lives will be reserved for the end of this post. For now, the reader should know that, in the last 30 years, academic scholarship has shown increasing interest in testing explanations for what took place on that first Easter morning.
For any Christian, the explanation or hypothesis: "God raised Jesus from the dead", not only represents the Biblical position but also has shown itself the most able to explain the four areas above and to consistently outperform its naturalistic rivals. Exploring how the post resurrected Jesus radically changed the lives of his disciples in the wake of His resurrection, as well as how He is still changing lives today lends immense credibility to the truth of the resurrection narratives.
What we observe in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus
Whenever we consider the four Gospel records, the Book of Acts and 1 Corinthians 15, we find a dozen episodes featuring Christ's post- resurrection appearances. Furthermore, we find three common themes among them all:
1. Desperate condition of the people before
2. Direct encounter with the Risen Christ
during the appearances.
3. Dramatic change that resulted from the
Eight individuals or groups stand out in these post-resurrection appearance narratives, what we could call "post-resurrection profiles".
1. Mary Magdalene
3. Emmaus Road Disciples
5. The Disciples in general
6. Group of 500 people
7. James, the half brother of Jesus
In scanning over these eight people or groups, we discover that in each case, their lives before, during and after each post-resurrection appearance leads to the conclusion that Christ indeed not only raised from the dead, but is alive and operating among His people. Such post-resurrection power is the basis for the salvation and Christian growth of every Christian living today.
The importance of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances cannot be over-estimated. Not only is such a truth a vital component in communicating and defending the truth of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, but also is vital in explaining how Jesus is able to change lives today. In closing, this is why we come across such statements as 1 Peter 1:3.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
May we think on such truths and live our lives for the living, risen and exalted Jesus Christ!
1. Josh McDowell. Evidence that Demands a Verdict - Volume 1. Here's Life Publishers. Page 189.
2. Dr. Habermas' minimal facts presentation can be found at the following link at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay_Db4RwZ_M
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