Table of Contents
Part VIII: The Resurrection of Jesus
The Historical Aspect of the Resurrection
of the Resurrection as found in the Gospels are presented in
such a way that throughout the centuries believers and unbelievers
alike have recognized their cogency; and skeptics have generally
found that the only way to undermine this testimony to His bodily
resurrection is not to deny that Jesus was seen alive after the
Crucifixion, but that He never actually died on the cross in
the first place. This ancient argument has been so often discredited
by critical analysis of the resurrection scenes presented in
the Gospels that one might suppose no one would think of reviving
the argument any more. Nevertheless, it was reported by Associated
Press in 1970 that a German scholar, Kurt Berna, (2) after careful re-examination
of the famous shroud which is believed to have been wrapped about
the Lord's body in the grave, satisfied himself that blood stains
on it prove that Christ was still alive when He was taken down
from the cross. He apparently presented his evidence to certain
Vatican authorities who are persuaded that the shroud is a genuine
"relic" of the occasion, but Vatican authorities have
rejected Berna's arguments.
The incident suggests that tremendous
importance is still attached to the Resurrection. And for those
who may not be aware of the background of this particular aspect
of the controversy, it may be said very briefly that the theory
is that Jesus passed into a deep coma on the Cross and that the
authorities were deceived into believing He
2. Shroud: A useful summary of the circumstances
surrounding this shroud has been published by Vera Barclay in
England and may be obtained from Mrs. P. Inglis, 2 Palmerston
Park, Dublin, Ireland. A book entitled Se/f Portrait of Christ
was written by Fr. E. Wuenschel, CSSR, published in 1954
(New York), which is a useful study of the evidence, with a 28-page
1 of 10
was actually dead. The
spear wound is treated as superficial. It is then argued that
in the coolness of the tomb Jesus recovered consciousness and
that the disciples subsequently nursed Him back to a measure
of health so that He survived the ordeal for some 40 days or
so. Presumably at the end of this time He really did die and
the whole episode was reconstituted into a victorious resurrection
and a glorious ascension at the end, the body being disposed
of secretly to prevent any discovery of the fraud.
The difficulties which face anyone
who seriously holds such a view are overwhelming, and the more
so as they are the more carefully examined. It is difficult indeed
to suppose, for example, that One who had suffered the appalling
strains and stresses of the previous hours, both physical and
emotional, could be nailed to the Cross, receive a severe wound
in the chest, be laid in a cold tomb; and there revive and find
energy enough with such wounds in hands, feet, and chest to brace
Himself from inside the tomb against a stone which almost certainly
could only be rolled back from the outside and which was far
too heavy for the women themselves to move -- and roll it right
back out of the way so far clear of the opening that later on,
while John stood looking in, Peter could run right on past into
the tomb (John 20:4-6); and could do this, apparently, without
the soldiers on guard being awakened. Moreover, Pilate had given
explicit instructions that the tomb was to be sealed against
being broken open (Matt. 27:62-66), a measure which would almost
certainly make it impossible to open it from the inside no matter
how much strength the supposed dead man might have.
Only a few hours later this figure,
so mutilated according to Scripture as to be scarcely recognizable
as human (Isaiah 52:14), presented Himself before Mary, who was
overwhelmed with the joy of recognition when He made Himself
known to her. Shortly afterward He walked for miles without manifest
tiredness or evidence of mental anguish with two disciples whose
attention would surely at least have been attracted to Him by
the marks of utter exhaustion and physical hurt but who apparently
treated Him as simply a fellow traveller, inviting Him in at
the end of the journey and only recognizing Him when He performed
a simple familiar act, the breaking of bread (Luke 24:30f). There
is no evidence of any desperate need for rest, food, or drink.
There is every evidence that when their clouded vision suddenly
cleared they recognized Him because He had reappeared to them
in the same vital form they had known of Him before the events
of those last terrible days.
There is nothing in the resurrection
scenes to give the slightest
hint that He was the
one who needed ministering to, which must certainly have been
the case were He a mutilated invalid verging on the border of
total collapse. As a matter of fact, one has precisely the opposite
impression. He was ministering rather to them, assuring them
of His well-being and encouraging them in every way in the belief
that what He had just passed through was not a near disaster,
but a mighty triumph. That they were convinced of this is the
only way of explaining how a loosely knit group of men with little
or no courage and at the moment of crisis with even less cohesion
as a group were suddenly turned into a band of courageous men,
who were fearless of death, imprisonment, ridicule, or the threatenings
of the authorities, and ended by turning the Roman world upside
down. Such a transformation requires a sufficient cause and,
historically, those who, like Sir Robert Anderson, have set themselves
with an open mind to examine the evidence thoroughly,
have either been as thoroughly convinced of the truth of the
bodily resurrection of the Lord or, like Renan, have confessed
that the invention of such a story would be a greater miracle
than the mere recording of it, if it were sober fact, even though
personally unable to believe it.
Years ago, C. A. Row wrote this:
Now it is evident that His public
execution must have utterly extinguished the disciples' hopes
that He could ever fulfil the expectations which they had formed
of Him. Such being the case, the community which He attempted
to found must have gone to pieces, unless a new leader could
be discovered who was capable of occupying His place. But as
its continued existence proves that it did not perish, it is
certain that it must have made a fresh start of some kind --
something must have happened which was not only capable of holding
it together but which imparted to it a new vitality. . . .
Whether this belief was founded
on fact, or was the result of a delusion, it is evident that
it could not have occupied many years in growing, for while this
[sorting out] was taking place, the original community founded
by Jesus would have perished from want of a bond of cohesion
adequate to maintain it in existence.
in his paper Row concluded: (4)
A Messiah who crept out of His
grave, took refuge in retirement, and afterwards died from exhaustion,
was not One who could satisfy the requirements of a community
which had been crushed by His crucifixion. His followers had
fully expected that He was going speedily to reign.. . . .
Yet it is the
most certain of historical facts that the Christian community
commenced a new life immediately after its basic conviction that
3. Row, C. A., The Historical Evidence
of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Dead, Present
Day Tracts, Religious Tract Society, London, 1883, vol.1, Tract
4. Ibid., p. 31.
the Messiah of popular Jewish expectation
had been totally destroyed by His crucifixion. Nothing but a
resurrection could have served the purpose.
Some years ago,
A. T. Schofield (5)
in England pointed out how, as far as we can learn from early
Christian history, the resurrection of the Lord was not only
established against the initial skepticism of the disciples themselves,
but in the teeth of the most determined opposition on the part
of the Jewish authorities. He points out, in fact, that so far
as it is recorded it was never publicly denied by these Jewish
authorities. The very worst they could do was to explain it away
by saying that the body of Jesus had been stolen by the disciples.
The truth had to be concealed by every possible means.
The picture which one has in Acts
of the effects of the Resurrection upon the disciples themselves
leaves no doubt as to the transformation which had taken place
in their own attitude toward the Jewish authorities. For example,
in Acts 4, Peter's preaching before the Sanhedrin was so utterly
different from his trembling denial of any knowledge of the Lord
before a young girl, who may very well have been only a curious
bystander and not actually accusing him of anything (Luke 22:56,57).
It is necessary to seek an adequate cause for such a transformation,
and it will not be found in any panic inspired or despairing
deception regarding the reality of the Lord's resurrection. In
Acts 4:13 we are told, "Now when they saw the boldness of
Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant
men, they marveled. . . . " Later on, the same religious
authorities, exasperated by what must have seemed to other people
as reckless folly in the behaviour of the disciples, rebuked
them saying (Acts 5:28), "Did not we straitly command you
that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled
Jerusalem with your doctrine."
What we read in the Gospel accounts
of the Resurrection is so simple, so artless, and so unlikely,
as to be impossible of invention. Consider just a few of the
scenes which Luke portrays, for example. In Luke 24 we have that
wonderful story of the two, perhaps Cleopas and his wife Mary
(not the sister of Jesus' mother, John 19:25), who made a memorable
journey to Emmaus. As they walked on their way and talked in
a subdued voice of all their shattered hopes because of the Crucifixion,
Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But they didn't recognize
Him; He somehow clouded their vision; He asked them why they
were so sad and why they were talking so earnestly with one another.
Cleopas asked the Lord if He was a
5. Schofield, Alfred T., "Religion and
Science," Transactions of the Victorian Institute, vol.58,
stranger in Jerusalem
that He should be so unaware of what everyone was talking about,
and he recounted to Jesus the events of the past few days. Then
he explained the most surprising element of all, namely, that
certain women of their company had visited the tomb and there
been told by angels that Jesus was still alive.
The Lord proceeded to explain to
them that nothing had happened which was not implied by all that
the prophets had said: that the great problem which the Jews
had had in the past in reconciling the fact that the Messiah
was to be both King and Suffering Servant found its resolution
in the fact that the Suffering Servant was to be raised again
from the dead in order to assume His position as anointed King.
We are not told in any great detail
what He said to them as they walked along, only that beginning
at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the
Scriptures the things concerning Himself. What extraordinary
restraint there is on the part of the disciples that they did
not leave a record of what He said! As Wright put it: (6)
With what singular indifference
to apparent effect did these men throw away the brush the moment
His form was sufficiently outlined for those in distant ages
to see! The utmost effect seems to have been produced with the
smallest amount of material.
is the effect achieved. In the passage we are reading in Luke,
we are told that by the time He had finished His expounding,
they were nearing home. And the text continues:
He made as though he would have
gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us:
for it is towards evening and the day is far spent.
And he went in to tarry with them.
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread
and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were
opened, and they recognized him!
And he vanished out of their sight.
even though it must have been dark by now, they went back to
Jerusalem where they found the eleven disciples and others who
were with them, and they told them of their wonderful experience
and how He had revealed Himself to them in the breaking of bread.
In spite of the fact that their
testimony fully corroborated what others had been telling the
disciples (verse 34), and the fact that the Lord had appeared
to Simon, they were all very frightened indeed (verse 7) when,
after Cleopas and his wife had just told of their experience,
6. Wright, G. Frederick, The Logic of Christian
Evidences, Draper, Andover, Massachusetts, 1890, p.281.
the Lord Himself suddenly
stood in their midst. Knowing that many of them would suppose
He had not really risen from the dead, but was only a ghost of
His former self, He quietly invited them to examine Him, to see
the wounds in His hands and feet, to handle Him and discover
for themselves that He had a real corporeal existence (verse
39). Apparently they were so amazed and overcome half with joy,
yet mingled with doubt, that He sought to give to them the final
proof of the reality of His presence by eating food. He said,
"Have ye here any meat?" And when they gave Him a piece
of broiled fish and a honeycomb, He took it and ate it then and
there before their very eyes.
Thus in this one chapter, in some
30 short verses, we are given a series of kaleidoscopic cameos
of the drama of those hours which surely could not be improved
upon. And together these provide absolute proof that it was the
Lord Himself, identified by the wounds on His body, by His overall
presence, by His voice when calling Mary Magdalene by name, and
by His behaviour at the table. What possible additional means
would contribute to such a demonstration? And at the same time,
unequivocal evidence is provided that He possessed a real body
and yet a new kind of body, a body perfectly capable of transcending
time, space, and matter. These accounts have none of the qualities
of visions or hallucinations, as Rendle Short pointed out: (7)
Even such intangible phenomena
as visions have laws well known to students of modern psychological
medicine, and unless the appearances after the resurrection correspond
to these laws, the "explanation" of them (as visionary)
is a meaningless term.
Visions are intensely individualistic;
they are only seen at all by a special minority of mankind with
a special nervous temperament. . . . Every person's visions
are peculiar to himself or herself alone, being evolved out of
the conceptions of their self-conscious minds.
A vision may be thought to speak,
but rarely if ever is a conversation carried on. It is intangible
and does not alter material things. They are likely to recur
at very irregular intervals, for years, in a susceptible individual.
are well taken, for the resurrection appearances do indeed break
every known law of visions. Even in this one chapter of Luke
alone, did we not have the testimony of the other Gospels, we
have the following: long conversations, protracted appearances
over what must have been a considerable period of time, appearing
to two people on the journey to Emmaus, then unexpectedly to
7. Short, Rendle, The Bible and Modern
Research, 2nd edition, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Edinburgh,
no date, p.138.
people (the disciples
and others), along with a clear demonstration of materialization
in a familiar form which invited not only handling, but also
the eating of real food before them all. 1 Corinthians 15.6 records
that the Lord even appeared before over 500 people at one time,
and it should constantly be borne in mind that these people were
for the most part unprepared and still unconvinced at the time.
Even "Doubting" Thomas was only completely convinced
when he was invited (John 20:27,28) to examine the proofs of
the reality of the Lord's body for himself. Matthew 28:9 tells
us that they actually held Him by the feet.
There is another kind of realism,
or perhaps one ought to say veracity, in these records. J. O.
F. Murray pointed out: (8)
There is a delicate accuracy
in their psychology. Read, for instance, St. John's account of
the appearance to Mary Magdalene. . . . Let a scholar like Westcott,
in his Revelation of the Risen Lord, make the narratives
live before you not by reading anything into them, but simply
by helping you to realize what a scholarly grasp of language
shows to be already there. Then, again, mark the conflict of
emotion in the hearts of one group of disciples after another
as they find themselves in the presence of One who has come back
to them from the dead. Is this subtle interplay of doubt and
joy and awe-ful reverence consummate art, or is it a simple transcript
of actual experience?
The fact is
that we do not have the slightest change in the personal identity
of this same Lord who has already walked through the Gospels
during His earthly ministry. What changes there are in His power
to materialize at will do not in any way mask His identity as
the same real living Person that we have known before. The identity
is total, resurrection has only increased His potential in certain
directions. As we have noted in another Doorway Paper, (9) the ghosts created by literary
artists of later generations were very insubstantial and unimpressive
creatures. They are failures, really -- ghosts of ghosts only,
as William Alexander put it. Equally amazing in these accounts
is the restraint of these writers, as Alexander himself pointed
If the story had been of human
invention, all we know of literature tells us how it would have
been. At the time of His birth there would have been silence,
and a sky as hushed as a frozen sea. At the Ascension the air
would have quivered with the melody, and the mountain have been
shaken by the storm, the triumph.
But because the narrative is true,
the liturgical instincts of the evangelists
8. Murray, J. O. F., "The Resurrection
of our Lord Jesus Christ," Transactions of the Victoria
Institute, vol.54, 1922, p.152.
9. "How Did Jesus Die?" Part VIII in The Virgin
Birh and The Incarnation, vol.5 of The Doorway Papers
10. Alexander, William, Primary Convictions, Harper, New
York, 1893, p.96.
are kept in check. The Church is supplied
with no song for the Ascension-tide to form a counterpart to
the Gloria in Excelsis of His birth.
such was the effect of those 40 days upon the disciples that
when the time came to "say good-bye" in terms of visual
contact, there were no tears, no expressions of disappointment,
no lingering at the point of departure, but rather an immediate
return to Jerusalem "with great joy" (Luke 24:52).
What an extraordinary thing this is. Only once in the long history
of separations -- which are expected to be, visually at least,
permanent -- has there resulted such an effect as Luke describes
here. Something very wonderful and very unusual had been transpiring
during those 40 days of constantly recurring yet quite unpredictable
personal appearances in their company. At the time of the Ascension
they seemed to have realized that those days were over, that
the Lord's presence would continue to be with them, but not visually
as before. Yet, this knowledge brought no sadness with it! Was
there ever such a parting?
We have already drawn attention
to the artlessness of these accounts. In spite of all the opposition,
there is no evidence that any of the writers were attempting
consciously to counteract the arguments of those who refused
to believe them. They did acknowledge that the Jews tried to
circulate a story to the effect that the Lord's body had been
stolen. But in any of the narratives of events there is no "Therefore,"
followed by a summary of the argument. Yet if we were to ask,
What would be the best way of refuting the accusation of forgery
or fraud? we might set forth such requirements as follows:
1. The Lord's death must be public.
2. It must be witnessed by people who were used to seeing that
kind of death.
3. It must be certified by experts that death had really occurred.
4. Some specific steps must be taken by someone in authority
to make death doubly sure.
5. The responsibility for securing the body must be left, ultimately,
with enemies, not with friends.
6. The tomb should be sealed after burial and guards placed near
it who were in no way involved.
7. If resurrection has occurred in spite of all these precautions,
it must be testified by many witnesses,
and they must be witnesses who honestly did not believe such
a thing would occur.
8. These witnesses must
give clear evidence by their actions that they had no
9. Some of the witnesses to His resurrection must be intimate
friends who could neither have mistaken
somebody else for Him and would only have been convinced of His
subtle and characteristic personal forms of behaviour.
10. The proofs which He Himself would supply must be such as
to completely convince the most skeptical
amongst His followers.
All these requirements
were met by what appear to be almost incidental observations
made by the writers. There is nowhere the slightest indication
that they had formulated such a list of requirements and were
deliberately setting out to satisfy them.
In considering these requirements
briefly, nothing need be said of (1), except that even Roman
records support the reality of the event. (11) In connection with (2), it need only be said that
crucifixion was well known to the Romans; and even Pilate was
quite familiar with the fact that it was a slow death, hence
his surprise that Jesus was so soon dead (Mark 15:44). The fulfillment
of (3) and (4) is certified by the action of the centurion (John
19:34) and the eyewitness account of what happened (John 19:35).
In connection with (5) and (6), we note only that the Jewish
people themselves received permission to have the grave secured
and guards placed nearby. In regard to (7) we are told there
were many witnesses to His resurrection and the great majority
of them were surprised. It seems that not a single soul among
the disciples really anticipated it; not even Mary Magdalene,
who thought somebody had taken the Lord away (John 20:2), nor
Cleopas and his wife who "had hoped . . .but . . ."
(Luke 24:21). With respect to (8), we note that the leader of
the small band of disciples said, "I'm going fishing,"
clearly declaring his intention to try to forget all his disappointments.
And his decision was shared by those who said, "We go, too"
(John 21: 3). In connection with (9), we find that Mary Magdalene
was the first to be absolutely persuaded, and she of all those
who were not actually relatives was perhaps the one who was most
completely devoted in her own soul to the Lord's Person as witnessed
by her willingness to anoint His feet with oil at such a cost
to herself (Luke 7:37). She undoubtedly
11. Tacitus said of the Christians, whom Nero
blamed for the burning of Rome, that their "originator,"
Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor
of Judea, Pontius Pilate (Annals of Imperial Rome, 15.43,
Penguin edition, translated by Michael Grant, 1961, p.354).
recognized Him first
by the way in which he pronounced her name.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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How subtle this is, but how completely
convincing. Cleopas and his wife had their eyes opened by His
simple act of breaking bread. So run all the accounts -- without
artifice. Here, then, is no studied attempt to win by force of
argument. And finally, as though in the providence of God, the
intimate circle of disciples included among its number one who
was inherently skeptical about anything of which he did not have
adequate firsthand experience. And so the Lord was provided with
an occasion for satisfying this requirement also, that a man
virtually unconvinced should be converted to an unhesitating
faith, not only in the identity of the resurrected One as the
same Lord whom he had known before, but as to the claims that
the Lord had made for Himself as God (John 20:27).What more could
be asked of a written record? By what other standard could one
assess whether these events are romance or history?