Historical Jesus - Lesson 9

Jesus Resurrected from the Dead

This final lesson centers on Jesus' resurrection and its importance. Seen as affirming Jesus' mission, its validity is vital to Christianity. Apostle Paul cites many who saw Jesus post-crucifixion. Various theories, like the Swoon and Theft theories, attempt to negate the resurrection but fall short. Some modern skeptics lean towards the Visionary and Legendary Development Theory, suggesting gospel legends arise from early visions. Yet, five facts support the resurrection: Jesus' crucifixion, specific burial, the empty tomb discovery, post-resurrection sightings, and the disciples' transformation. The lesson ties the resurrection to first-century Jewish beliefs, framing it as pivotal in Jesus' narrative and signifying the dawn of the Kingdom of God.

Mark Strauss
Historical Jesus
Lesson 9
Watching Now
Jesus Resurrected from the Dead

I. The Resurrection of the Messiah

A. Significance of the Resurrection in the New Testament

B. Apostle Paul's Perspective on the Resurrection

II. Rationalistic Explanations for the Resurrection

A. The Swoon Theory

B. The Wrong Tomb Theory

C. The Theft Theory

D. Visionary Experience and Legendary Development Theory

III. Practically Irrefutable Facts About the Resurrection

A. Jesus' Crucifixion

B. Burial in Joseph of Arimathea's Tomb

C. Discovery of the Empty Tomb

D. Multiple Witnesses of Jesus Alive

E. Transformed Lives of the Disciples

IV. Theological Context of the Resurrection

A. Jewish Beliefs About Resurrection

B. Resurrection and the Kingdom of God

C. Jesus' Atoning Sacrifice

D. Restoration Theology of Isaiah and Prophets

V. Conclusion and Response

A. Jesus' Question to His Disciples

B. The Ultimate Question: Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

  • This lesson delves into perspectives and controversies about the historical Jesus. It examines challenges in studying his identity, showcasing diverse viewpoints. Some vouch for Gospel authenticity, while others see them as human-made legends. These varied interpretations complicate understanding Jesus, to be explored in upcoming sessions through worldviews and authenticity criteria.
  • Gain insights into the Enlightenment's historical context of studying Jesus. An era of naturalism, rationalism, and skepticism towards supernatural Bible elements. Scholars like Reimarus challenged traditional views, leading to a quest for the historical Jesus. Hume's arguments against miracles are discussed, but the text emphasizes the presence of miracle stories in gospel and Jewish sources, showing Jesus as a recognized miracle worker. Encouraging skeptics and believers to scrutinize evidence and ponder miracles in history.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the complexities of conducting objective historical research. The lesson highlights the influence of differing worldviews on the evaluation of Jesus's miracles and introduces Martin Kähler's. Kähler's distinction between the "history" of Jesus and "theological impact" of Jesus is discussed, emphasizing that for believers, the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history are one. The lesson also touches on scholars like Rudolph Bultmann, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Dale Allison, who adopted a pessimistic view regarding the possibility of discovering the real Jesus through historical inquiry. Conversely, it introduces scholars who believe in investigating the historical Jesus using rigorous methods. The text presents various criteria used by scholars to assess the authenticity of Jesus's sayings and deeds, including dissimilarity, multiple attestation, embarrassment, semitic flavor, divergent traditions, and coherence, along with their limitations and potential biases. Furthermore, it mentions newer criteria proposed by contemporary scholars to address the challenges posed by the traditional criteria.

  • In this lesson, we explore bias in the gospel writers' portrayal of Jesus. Critics like Strauss and Wrede doubted their historical accuracy, but the lesson argues that their beliefs don't negate their reliability. It highlights Luke's meticulous approach, supporting the gospel tradition's credibility.
  • Gain insight into resolving gospel contradictions and historical accuracy concerns. Learn how summarization, paraphrasing, and interpretation shape history writing. Understand that gospel differences arise from translation and authorial choices, not altering Jesus' authentic voice. Recognize the complementarity of John's gospel with the synoptics, revealing common themes and attributes of deity.
  • In this lesson, you will delve into the intricate examination of whether Jesus saw Himself as the Messiah and Savior. Through the scrutiny of titles such as Messiah, Son of Man, and Son of God, alongside a review of key events like His entry into Jerusalem and the clearing of the temple, you'll gain an understanding of Jesus's self-perception and the ways in which He implicitly and explicitly signaled His messianic identity.
  • You're diving deep into Jesus' multifaceted claims to Messiahship and divine authority, highlighting his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, his symbolic appointment of 12 disciples, his transformative teachings, and his significant miracles. Through the lesson, you recognize Jesus' unparalleled authority to forgive sins and his role as the ultimate judge, emphasizing his unique position in the narrative of faith.
  • In this lesson, you'll delve into the intricate circumstances leading to Jesus' death, scrutinizing the roles of both Roman and Jewish authorities. You'll explore Jesus' own perception of his death, linking it to Old Testament prophecies and understanding its theological significance.
  • Through this lesson, you'll grasp the foundational importance of Jesus' resurrection within Christianity, learn about various theories proposed by skeptics, and understand the evidence affirming its historical validity. Positioned within the broader Jewish beliefs of the first century, the resurrection not only affirms Jesus' claims but also indicates the beginning of a new era, the Kingdom of God, and the defeat of humanity's greatest adversaries.

This course focuses on looking at the claims of Jesus as to his identity and at the historicity of the gospel evidence for who Jesus was and what he came to accomplish.

Dr. Mark Strauss
Historical Jesus
Jesus Resurrected from the Dead
Lesson Transcript


In this final session, we turn to the resurrection of the "mashiach". Throughout the New Testament, the resurrection is viewed as the vindication of the message and mission of Jesus. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then Jesus claims are true, and salvation has been achieved. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, the Apostle Paul admits that if the resurrection did not take place, Christianity is a false religion. He writes, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God." But Paul knows the overwhelming evidence for the resurrection and lists the many reliable witnesses who saw Jesus alive. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, he writes, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." By first fruits, Paul means that Jesus is the beginning and confirmation that the final resurrection has begun, so we can be certain that we too will be raised.

No event in human history has more writing on it than the resurrection, so it's appropriate to conclude our sessions on the historical Jesus with the discussion of its historicity and significance. As with the other gospel miracles, critics have sought to discount the resurrection with rationalistic arguments. Four main explanations for the resurrection of Jesus have been proposed from a rationalistic perspective. The first is called the Swoon Theory. This is the view that Jesus never really died on the cross. He simply swooned or fainted, and the soldiers assumed he was dead. He was placed in the tomb alive, perhaps in a comatose state where the cool air revived him. He escaped from the tomb and appeared to his disciples alive. What happened next is debated. Some say he subsequently died of his injuries, or perhaps he went into hiding.

Now, this explanation stretches the limits of the imagination and has been rightly rejected by virtually all modern scholars. The Romans were experts at crucifixion, and it is inconceivable that they would've botched the job. The incidental references in John's gospel of the soldiers leaving Jesus' legs unbroken because he was already dead and blood and water coming from the spear wound in his side provide indirect evidence for Jesus's death. But even if Jesus was somehow still alive when placed in the tomb, the chances that he could recover from such a severe trauma are practically nil. Most significantly, it's inconceivable that a barely alive Jesus staggering into Jerusalem could have convinced his disciples that he had risen victorious from the grave. His decrepit state might have prompted relief and pity, but certainly not joy and worship for the resurrected and glorified Lord.

A second rationalistic explanation. The Wrong Tomb Theory is the claim that on Easter morning the women got confused and went to the wrong tomb, arriving at one that was empty, excited by their discovery, they began proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. This explanation is also incredulous. According to John 19:41 the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was a private one in a garden, not one of many identical tombs in the cemetery. Also, the synoptic gospels report that the woman carefully noted the location of the tomb in order to return later to anoint the body. Would they all have forgotten so quickly where their beloved savior was buried? We then have to suppose that everyone else also went to the wrong tomb.

According to John, Peter and the beloved disciple ran directly to the tomb after hearing the report of the empty tomb from Mary Magdalene in John 20:2-10. Could they have independently made the same mistake? Why didn't Jesus' opponents go to the right tomb and said everyone straight? Even if the women, the disciples, and the religious leaders all went to the wrong tomb, surely Joseph of Arimathea would've been able to find his own tomb.

A third view The Theft Theory is the oldest rationalistic explanation for the resurrection. Matthew reports that in his day, some were claiming that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, Matthew 28:11-15. This theory, however, has enormous problems both historically and ethically. Historically, all the evidence indicates that the disciples were emotionally devastated following the crucifixion. There's nothing to indicate they expected a resurrection, much less that they plotted to fake one. Ethically, are we to believe that the same disciples who developed the greatest ethical system in the world in fact propagated a great hoax and the lie.

In reality, few modern critical scholars hold to any of these first three views. Almost all who deny the resurrection today hold to some form of what we could call a visionary experience and legendary development theory. These few claims that the gospel narratives arose as legends based on early visionary experiences. After the death of Jesus, Peter and other disciples probably began to have visions or dreams in which they saw Jesus alive. These were probably first understood spiritually as the church came to believe that Jesus had been vindicated and exalted by God in the heavenly realm.

In time, however, as the church preached that Jesus was alive, legends of resurrection appearances began to develop in the church. This view is unique in that it doesn't try to explain the survival of Jesus or the empty tomb or what happened to the soldiers guarding it or how many angels announced the resurrection. All these stories are considered to be myths and legends. We know nothing historically about Jesus' death or the days afterwards. One scholar, John Dominic Crossan even suggests Jesus was not buried at all. His body was likely eaten by dogs or thrown in a common grave. Since that is what normally happened to victims of crucifixion. To respond to this view therefore, we have to step back and ask the most fundamental questions. What core elements of the resurrection narratives can be shown to be true beyond reasonable doubt even when placed under rigorous historical scrutiny? Let me suggest what I would call the five practically irrefutable facts about the resurrection narratives. I say practically because nothing can be proven with 100% certainty, but what facts would rise to the level of what in court would be called true beyond reasonable doubt.

So, here they are, fact one, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans around 8030 or so. No credible scholar today denies that Jesus existed or that he was crucified in Jerusalem under orders from Pontius Pilate around 8030. It's inconceivable, moreover, that Jesus did not die on the cross. The Romans were very good at what they did. Everyone agrees Jesus died by crucifixion. Virtually everyone agrees Jesus died by crucifixion. Fact number two, Jesus was buried in the tomb of a man named Joseph of Arimathea. All four gospels affirm that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, took the body of Jesus and buried it in his own tomb. Seems inconceivable that the church would've created a story with such a specific name attached to it, in which a member of the Sanhedrin, the same body that condemned Jesus acted on Jesus' behalf.

The burial itself is confirmed by the criterion of multiple attestation. It appears in independent traditions, in Mark, in John, in the Book of Acts, and most importantly, in a very early statement cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, where he says, "For what I received, I passed on to you as the first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures that he was buried and that he raised on the third day." According to the scriptures. As with the tradition of the Lord's Supper, Paul claims he received this from believers before him as a first-generation Christian who personally knew Peter, who personally knew James, the half-brother of Jesus and other believers in Jerusalem. Paul's statement that Jesus was buried is confirmed beyond reasonable doubt.

The third fact that can be true seen as true beyond reasonable doubt is that the tomb was discovered empty on the third day just as the evidence is overwhelming that Jesus was buried after his death, so also is the evidence that the tomb was discovered empty shortly afterwards. First of all, all the gospels testify that women discovered the empty tomb. This is shocking since in first century Palestinian culture, women were not viewed as reliable witnesses. If the early church created stories about the empty tomb, they would surely not have introduced women as the primary witnesses.

Second, if the tomb had not been empty, the disciples could not have preached about the resurrection in Jerusalem. There is no doubt historically that the church began in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus's death and that the resurrection was central to the church's preaching their proclamation. If the body of Jesus was still in the grave, anyone hostile to the church could have gone and presented the decaying body of Jesus. This was never done. Indeed, as far as we can tell no objection was ever raised to Christianity that the tomb was not empty. In fact, the claim that Jesus' body was stolen presupposes both a burial and an empty tomb. That stories in Matthew 28:11-15.

Finally, the very early testimony that Jesus rose on the first day of the week in Mark 16:2 indicates that a specific historical event prompted belief in the resurrection. Very early on, Christians began worshiping on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day. What could account for this change from the Sabbath Saturday, the seventh day to Sunday, the first day of the week? Except the belief that Jesus arose on the that Sunday after his crucifixion. Facts four, many credible witnesses saw Jesus alive. Not only was the tomb empty, but many people claim to have seen Jesus alive. Two key confirmations here. First, the resurrection appearances to women in the gospels would not have been invented again for the reasons we've just stated. Second is the very early primary source account of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, where he lists a number of resurrection appearances.

Paul claims that Jesus appeared to Peter to the other disciples, to James, the brother of Jesus and to more than 500 people. He also cites that many of these were still alive, essentially challenging his opponents to check out the reports for themselves. But what of the claim that these appearances were in fact hopeful visions that were later transformed into physical encounters. Wasn't Paul's own resurrection appearance on the road to Damascus a visionary one? First, in response to this last point, Paul clearly distinguishes his vision from these other resurrection appearances. His is a unique event, see 1 Corinthians 15:8. Second, there is no evidence of the disciples first had visions or hallucinations that later developed into resurrection accounts. A vision of Christ in heaven such as that, that Stephen sees at his martyrdom or that of John in the Book of Revelation is qualitatively different from an earthly encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

Furthermore, legendary stories generally take some time to develop. If the church was proclaiming Jesus' bodily resurrection almost immediately after Jesus's death. We must also ask what could have sparked such visions? By all accounts, the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. It's also noteworthy that Jesus' brother James did not believe in him until after the resurrection. He did not have messianic expectations in other words, that might have sparked a vision of the resurrected Jesus. A merely spiritual or visionary resurrection is also contrary to Jewish belief of Jesus' day. The resurrection was expected at the end of time when the bodies of the righteous and the wicked would be raised. It is inconceivable that Paul, a Jew with a Pharasaic backgound would speak of the resurrection and mean anything other than a bodily resurrection is the primary point of his argument and discussion in 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection is physical and bodily into a new glorified body.

Fact five. Finally, a fifth practically irrefutable fact of the resurrection is the transformed lives of the disciples. What else could account for the transformation of a small band of defeated and devastated followers into a community of the faithful who would not be silenced by persecution or threat of death? Something happened on that Sunday morning that changed their lives, convincing them that Jesus was the risen and glorified Lord. If these points related to the resurrection have a high degree of probability, what was the significance of the resurrection in the context of Jesus's life and ministry? To understand this, we must mention the first century Jewish context. A theology of the resurrection is not well-developed in the Old Testament. While a number of statements indicate resurrection life or continuing existence after death in God's presence, only in the Book of Daniel is the resurrection explicitly described. Daniel 12:2-3 read, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever."

Second temple Jewish literature reveals an expanding theology of the resurrection, but also exhibits a variety of perspectives. The apocalyptic literature with its emphasis on God's final intervention, the vindication of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked expands on Daniel's resurrection theology. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some groups like the Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife at all. Others, under Greek philosophical influence spoke of the immortality of the soul without a clear connection to the resurrection of the body. The Pharisees believed in the final resurrection when God would raise the dead, reward the righteous, and judge the wicked. Both Jesus and Paul shared this perspective. For Jesus, see the question of the Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27, where he affirms the resurrection of the dead. For Paul, see his full discussion in 1 Corinthians 15.

What then would the resurrection have meant for Jesus and his followers? Placing Jesus in his first century Jewish context suggests two key answers. For Jesus' belief in the resurrection went hand in hand with his preaching of the kingdom of God. The arrival of God's kingdom meant that the last days had begun, and that God was about to intervene in human history to judge the wicked and restore his sovereign reign. If as we have argued, Jesus viewed his death as inaugurating the new covenant in the age of salvation, he must have viewed his own resurrection as the beginning of the end time resurrection of the people of God. This was not just the restoration of physical life, but a glorification to a new mode of existence, the beginning of immortal, imperishable, resurrection life. See one Corinthians 15:50-56.

As Paul puts it, Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection and the firstborn from among the dead, Colossians 1:18. His resurrection assures believers that they too will be raised in glorified bodies. See Daniel 12:3. If the resurrection indicates the inauguration of the kingdom, it also means the defeat of humanity's greatest enemies, Satan, sin, and death. We suggested earlier that Jesus interpreted his healings as announcing the restoration of creation and viewed his exorcisms as the defeat of Satan and his demonic minions. Jesus also interpreted his death as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people, see Mark 10:45. Reversing the effects of the fall and restoring creation to its rightful relationship with God. To arrive at this remarkable conclusion, we need not look centuries forward to the developed Christology of a later church age. We need only look straight into the worldview of the Galilean preacher shaped by the restoration theology of Isaiah and the prophets. Jeremiah predicted that God would establish a new covenant with his people, which would bring the law written on their hearts, complete forgiveness of sins and personal knowledge of God, See Jeremiah 31.

Ezekiel promised God's people a new heart and God's own spirit to dwell in them, see Ezekiel 36. Isaiah predicted a new exodus accomplished through the Davidic Messiah and the ministry of the servant of the Lord endowed with the spirit of God. The servant "mashiach" would make atonement for the sins of his people ushering in the eschatological year of the Lord's favor. When the lame would walk, the blind would see, the dead would rise. Death would be swallowed up in victory, and God would create a new heaven and a new earth. See Isaiah 2, Isaiah 11, and just keep reading all through Isaiah. That's the hope of the resurrection.

In our study of the historical Jesus, we started with Jesus' question to his disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi. "Who do people say that I am?" We've seen there are many answers that have been given throughout history. Apocalyptic preacher, wisdom teacher, end times prophet, Messianic king. But then Jesus asked the second question, who do you say that I am? That is the question that everyone in this world ultimately has to answer. If Jesus was who he claimed to be, then the stakes are very high. How will you respond to his call to come and follow me?