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Resurrection of Jesus Christ

RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST (Gr. anastasis, egeirō, anistēmi). There were no witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. What the disciples witnessed was the appearance of the resurrected Jesus. They saw also the empty tomb. In fact, only disciples were witnesses of the appearances of Jesus; but both disciples and others saw the empty sepulcher.

In the NT there are six accounts of what followed the resurrection of Jesus. Each of the four Gospels contains an account (Matt.28.1-Matt.28.20; Mark.16.1-Mark.16.20; Luke.24.1-Luke.24.53; John.20.1-John.20.31-John.21.1-John.21.25), and there are two others (Acts.1.1-Acts.1.11; 1Cor.15.1-1Cor.15.11). It is not easy to provide a systematic and chronological account of the appearances of Jesus to his apostles and disciples in the forty days before his final departure, but a creditable effort has been made by John Wenham, The Easter Enigma, 1984.

I. The Narratives. The brief accounts of the Resurrection appearances contrast with the lengthy narratives of the passion and death of Jesus. The reason for this is as follows. Concerning the death of Jesus, Jews asked, “How could Jesus be the true Messiah and die on a cross when the Law of Moses teaches that to die such a death is to be under God’s curse?” And Gentiles asked, “If Jesus was the true King of the Jews, why was he rejected by his own people?” Thus long accounts were necessary to provide answers. But the questions concerning the Resurrection were basically concerning proof. So the six accounts provide the testimony of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen not only the empty tomb but also the resurrected Jesus. There was no need for lengthy descriptions.

II. Within and Beyond History. On the basis of the NT, Christians usually make two parallel claims concerning the resurrection of Jesus. First, it was a definite historical event and as such is open to historical investigation. Second, it was more than a historical event, for it involved a major dimension that is not open to historical investigation.

The evidence for the Resurrection as an event within history may be listed as follows:

1. The tomb of Jesus was found empty some thirty-six hours after his burial. Despite efforts by Jews to prove that the body was stolen and buried elsewhere, the body was never located or produced by those who allegedly stole it or by anyone else. Further, the suggestion that Jesus only swooned on the cross and then revived in the cool tomb is impossible to substantiate.

2. The disciples claimed that Jesus actually appeared. They saw Jesus when they were fully awake and when they doubted that he was alive. What they saw was neither a subjective vision (in their imagination, a kind of hallucination) nor an objective vision (provided by God to show that the true and essential spirit of Jesus was alive). They actually saw Jesus on earth; they were witnesses of resurrection.

3. The sober nature of the narratives describing the Resurrection appearances. There is no attempt to describe the Resurrection itself, and there is no obvious collusion between the various writers to doctor or adorn their material. The most amazing event in human history is described with reverential reserve.

4. The transformation of the disciples and the existence of the church. Men who were cowards became fearless preachers and founded the church for one reason and one alone—they believed with all their hearts that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive forevermore. And when they preached the gospel that Jesus who was crucified now lives as Lord and Savior, they saw lives changed by that living Lord.

This century there has been a readiness within the church to discount or hold loosely to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus as an event within history. This tendency must be resisted, for if his resurrection is not an event within history (within the same physical universe and space and time in which we live), then what the NT claims that God accomplished in Jesus Christ on the cross for salvation is not applicable to us in history. The bodily resurrection of Jesus (as Paul insists in 1Cor.15.1-1Cor.15.58) is of fundamental importance and cannot be ignored or set aside.

As a real event in history, the Resurrection cannot, however, be wholly explained in terms of historical causation. There is both continuity and discontinuity with history. The continuity is seen in the kind of information listed above as evidence. The discontinuity is in terms of what the believing church receives and accepts concerning that Resurrection—e.g., that it is the disclosure of the kingdom of God; that it is the incursion of the new creation into the old creation; and that it is the foundation of a new humanity in Jesus, the second and last Adam. These “theological truths” are beyond historical investigation, for they are claims that can be verified only at the end of the age.

III. What Kind of Body? There were both differences and similarities in the pre- and postresurrection body of Jesus. Yet there was a basic identity so that one may speak of “identity-in-transformation.” For Jesus, bodily resurrection meant resuscitation with transformation—that is, not only resuscitation (as with Lazarus in John.11.1-John.11.57), but also the metamorphosis of the body so that what was a physical and mortal body became a spiritual and immortal body, transformed by the power of God, Creator of life and bodies. Apart from isolated incidents (e.g., walking on the water), the pre-Easter Jesus was subject to material, physical, and spatial limitations. He walked from one place to another, passed through doors to enter rooms, and climbed steps to get onto the roofs of houses. Yet after his resurrection he was no longer bound by these limitations. He passed through a sealed tomb, through locked doors, and appeared and disappeared without notice. He became visible here and there and from time to time. This suggests that his true or essential state as a transformed person was that of invisibility and immateriality, with the ability to be localized at will.

IV. A Theology of Resurrection. There are various ways of stating a theology of resurrection, but perhaps that which best reflects the NT evidence is the theme of vindication.

1. God raised Jesus from the dead and thereby vindicated him as the true Messiah. The manner of Jesus’ death gave the impression that God had rejected him, for to hang on a tree was to be under the divine curse (Deut.21.23; Gal.3.13). In resurrection, Jesus was vindicated. He was no longer implicitly claiming to be the Messiah by his teaching and deeds: he was now demonstrated to be Messiah in fact and in truth. Peter, over a year before the crucifixion, had asserted, “You are the Christ” (Matt.16.16), and fifty days after the Resurrection he told the crowd in Jerusalem: “Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts.2.36). Later, by means of a quotation from Ps.118.1-Ps.118.29, Peter explained to the Jewish leaders the vindication of Jesus; he claimed that Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone” (Acts.4.11). Then Paul wrote that Jesus “as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom.1.3-Rom.1.4). Jesus was always Son of God, but the Resurrection was the actual vindication of this Sonship.

2. God raised Jesus from the dead and thereby vindicated his teaching and work of atonement. The Resurrection is God’s “Amen” to the cry of Jesus, “It is finished.” The Resurrection is God’s “Yes” to the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Jesus was “delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom.4.25). In the light of the Resurrection Paul could “boast...in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.6.14) because it revealed the eternal love of God for human sinners.

3. God caused the new age to dawn in the Resurrection. With the raising of Jesus from death and the transformation of his body, there began a new order of existence. What belongs to the future kingdom of God, the glorious age to come, has made its appearance in this present evil age. Paul deliberately spoke of the resurrected Jesus as the “firstfruits” of the harvest of the age to come (1Cor.15.20, 1Cor.15.23).

In the NT the theology of the Resurrection cannot be separated from the theology of the Ascension or the theology of exaltation. Often in the NT the word “resurrection” includes the idea of ascension, while the word “exaltation” takes in both resurrection and ascension.

Bibliography: Walter Kunneth, The Theology of Resurrection, 1965; G. E. Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, 1975; J. M. Harris, Raised Immortal, 1984; John Wenham, The Easter Enigma, 1984.——PT

Place of the resurrection in the NT kerygma.

The resurrection a historical fact to be accepted by faith.

The sources for the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection are the Scriptures, esp. the revelation given to Paul (Acts 9:1-6; 1 Cor 15:3-8), and the gospels which contain the records of the experiences of eyewitnesses to whom the Lord “presented himself alive after his passion with many proofs, appearing to them during forty days....” (Acts 1:3). These sources proclaim the resurrection as a historical fact of supernatural character. Since the Scriptures are given by inspiration and therefore can be trusted as the infallible revelation of God (see HOLY SCRIPTURE), the resurrection is an object of faith and of faith alone. Liberal theologians of older and recent schools, rejecting the infallibility of the Bible, have been trying to find out precisely what happened in connection with Jesus’ resurrection by applying the historical method of higher criticism as a tool of human research and reasoning in the field of revelation. The result invariably was—and is—a denial of the resurrection as Scripture speaks of it, i.e. Jesus Christ’s real and literal rising from the tomb in His own body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39, 40; John 20:27). According to the critics, many statements in the gospels and the rest of the NT are without proof and must be rejected as “later embellishment of the primitive tradition” (R. Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth, ed. H. W. Bartsch, I, 38). A physical resurrection is also considered inconsistent in the 20th cent. with the findings of “the natural sciences, especially biology” (Paul van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, p. 17). These sciences are declared to leave no place for anything supernatural. Liberal theology cannot deny, of course, that the faith in a bodily resurrection as recorded in the gospels must be explained. According to some, it originated from the loving esteem of the early believers for their dead Master and their longing for His return from death, which led them to believe that they had seen Him. Others presume that after His death Jesus actually “appeared” to His disciples, but only in a “spiritual” way. In a later paragraph these and other theories will be discussed.

At this stage it may suffice to emphasize that the resurrection of Jesus Christ, though a historical fact, cannot possibly be established by historical verification if “historical” means according to modern methods of historical research to the exclusion of faith in the trustworthiness of Scripture. Even if modern historians could prove that a certain man, Jesus of Nazareth, after His death became alive again, it would not mean a historical verification of Christ’s resurrection. As has been stated, this was not merely the resuscitation of some dead person called Jesus of Nazareth, but the resurrection to eternal life and glory of God’s Son in the flesh, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of a lost world, by whose resurrection the reconciliation, which He brought about by His cross, was made effective unto eternal life for all who believe in Him as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

Where this faith controls the investigations into “what happened,” the gospels provide ample “proof” that Jesus really and literally arose from the tomb in His own physical, though glorified, body. Where such faith in the Scriptures is lacking, any attempt to “historically verify” Jesus’ resurrection must of necessity fail. God does not permit man to find out His secrets by way of human research and reasoning, but only by faith in Him as the Revealer of truth through His word and Spirit (Matt 11:25; 16:17; 1 Cor 1:20-25).

Christ’s resurrection and history.

Claiming that the resurrection is a historical fact does not exclude the fact that it also transcends history and may be rightly called “the beginning of a new history, which is no longer part of this our history” (K. Runia, The Resurrection and History, in The Reformed Theological Review, May/August [1966]). By this new history is to be understood the history of human life in its immortal, glorified condition regarding body and soul. That new history is the end of God’s ways for the believers. For them it will begin when Jesus returns from heaven, creating a new heaven and a new earth, which will be the suitable dwelling place for God’s children in their glorified condition (Rev 21:1-4). Then the river of present history, full of sin, misery, and death, will flow into the ocean of the never-ending new history of human existence in immortal glory, a history without sin, misery, or death. It was upon that new history that Jesus entered as the “forerunner” of all believers, when He rose from the dead. From that moment on, history was affected, guided, and fully controlled by Him (Matt 28:18), but He has transcended it. That is why during the forty days Jesus, though several times appearing to His disciples, did not live with them in constant physical fellowship as before. The only reason why He stayed on earth these forty days was to give convincing proof of the reality of His resurrection to the disciples, and through them to all believers (Acts 1:3). Except for that reason, He could have ascended into heaven immediately after His resurrection, as One who no longer belonged to current history but who had reached the goal of the new, eternal history of the End. This Mary had to learn when she laid hold on Jesus in a way that meant, “Master, now we shall never let You go again.” Jesus’ reply that she should not hold Him fast because He was in the process of ascending to the Father (John 20:17) makes it clear that in the resurrection He had crossed the dividing line between mankind’s history and the new eternal history in immortality and glory. This is also the reason why He did not appear to the unbelieving Jews but only to His followers, through whose witness the unbelievers of that day and those of all ages had to be brought to faith (John 20:17).

Raised and risen.

The empty tomb as evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.

The fact that on Sunday morning the sepulcher was found empty is recorded in all the gospels. According to the synoptics there were heavenly messengers in the tomb, who adduced as convincing proof of Jesus’ resurrection the fact that His body was not there (Matt 28:6; Mark 16:5, 6; Luke 24:1-5, 23). John 20:1-8 describes how “the other disciple,” obviously John himself, believed that Jesus was risen, for upon entering the sepulcher he not only found it empty, but noticed how carefully Jesus’ grave clothes had been folded and laid aside. This to him excluded Mary’s theory that Jesus’ body had been taken away and buried somewhere else. John must have realized that if this had been the case, those who removed the body would certainly not have undressed it first and left the clothes lying in such an orderly condition. In the light of this the empty tomb must certainly be reckoned among the convincing evidences of Jesus’ resurrection. Ancient and modern unbelief has tried to explain away the evidence of the empty tomb. This process began immediately after the resurrection. When the guard had informed the Jewish leaders of what had happened, the latter bribed the soldiers to spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body while they were asleep (Matt 28:11-15). That this was an obvious lie is clear for the following reasons: (1) While the soldiers were asleep they could not possibly have seen the disciples doing their work! (2) It is unthinkable that a number of disciples could have approached the tomb through the midst of the sleeping soldiers, removed the heavy sealed stone, carried away the corpse, etc., all without even one of the soldiers waking.

The post-resurrection appearances.

The record.

The appearance narratives under attack

The reliability of the appearance narratives has been denied mainly on the following grounds: (1) In the earliest record (1 Cor 15:5-8), Paul mentions only five appearances. One of these is not even found in the gospels. The critics conclude that at a later stage the Church must have “created” some extra “stories” for apologetic purposes. This suggestion is unacceptable for two reasons: (a) Without any ground, it accuses the Early Church of committing “pious fraud”; (b) the alleged incongruity between the two records can easily be explained. Paul apparently related only “those incidents that were of special force, appearances to leaders of the community or to a number of witnesses” (E. L. Allen, NTS. July, 1957, p. 351). The evangelists strengthened this early evidence by adding other material gathered from eyewitnesses and therefore equally true.

(2) The critics assume an irreconcilable conflict between Matthew’s record of a Galilean appearance and Luke’s tradition of Jerusalem appearances. Here, however, there is no conflict but only a difference which can easily be explained. A comparative study of the gospels shows clearly that each evangelist made his own selection from the material he collected from his sources, in accordance with the special aim he had in view. Luke restricted himself to the appearances in Jerusalem because it was the main center (Luke 24:47), without thereby denying that Jesus also appeared elsewhere, as Matthew and John record.

(3) The narratives allegedly contradict each other. Mary, for instance, is not permitted to touch Jesus (John 20:17), whereas Thomas is invited to do so (20:27). Here again there is no conflict. The situations were different. Mary, as has been discussed already, wanted to keep Jesus on earth, in continuous physical fellowship with the disciples as before. She was not forbidden to touch but only to hold Him. Doubting Thomas, however, was a future apostle on whose witness depended so much for the spread of the Gospel. He had to be able to convince himself fully of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

Various theories.

Most theologians who reject a physical resurrection admit that “something happened” which created the Easter faith of the Church. Regarding the question, “What happened?” they suggest various theories. The most important are the following:

The truth.

There can be no doubt then that the appearances were real and that Jesus showed Himself to the disciples in a risen, physical body of “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), the same body in which He had died, with even the scars of the wounds still visible (John 20:25ff.). On the ground of these appearances the Church may have absolute certainty that her Saviour really conquered death in all its horrible aspects, including its disastrous effect on our physical body.

Jesus’ resurrection body.

Spiritualizing views.

All through history there have been opponents of the idea of a real physical resurrection, either of Christ or of the dead in general. Many of them were, and are guided by the ancient Gr. conception of the body as intrinsically evil, the soul being by nature divine and therefore immortal. Recent liberal theologians reject the Gr. concept as far as the terms are concerned. They speak of the resurrection of the body. However, to them the latter is not the physical body, for which they say there can be no hope in the light of our modern world view: “A resurrection which consists of a dead man being raised to physical life is crudely mythical” (E. Brunner, Das Ewige als Zukunft und Gegenwart, pp. 26, 122). To them “body” denotes “the person,” “I,” or “Self” (e.g., J. A. T. Robinson, The Body, passim). This “body” exists after death in an immaterial state and its continued existence is called its “resurrection.” It is obvious that there is hardly any essential difference between this widespread theory and the Gr. concept. “While its advocates speak of Jerusalem, one suspects that the accent is Athenian” (E. E. Ellis, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, p. 48). Little wonder that some of them declare that the only physical resurrection body of Christ is the Church (e.g., O. Cullmann, Proleptic Deliverance of the Body, pp. 168, 172). Jesus’ personal resurrection body is considered completely non-material or consisting of some ghost-like “spirit-matter.”

A real body of flesh.

The same body, but in a Glorified Condition.

That Jesus’ resurrection body was the same in which He had been buried is proved by the fact that He showed His disciples His hands, feet, and side, in which the scars of the cross were still visible (Luke 24:39; John 20:20). Thomas was even summoned to touch these very scars for the purpose of identification. It is obvious that “those marks were the infallible proof that His body risen was identical with His body buried” (Marcus L. Loane, It is the Lord, p. 17). All this does not exclude the tremendous change brought about in the condition of Jesus’ body at the moment He was raised from the dead. There are mysterious elements in the appearance narratives as, for instance, that the risen Lord could appear and disappear at will in a surprising way. He “vanished” out of the sight of the men at Emmaus (Luke 24:31), which in view of the word aphantos, used in this connection, means “a supernatural disappearance” (J. M. Creed, Comm.). Luke 24:36, stating that Jesus Himself “stood among them,” also suggests a sudden and miraculous appearance, which perhaps was also the reason why the disciples supposed they saw a spirit (v. 37). Recording the same event, John states that Jesus came and stood among them “the doors being shut” (20:19). Since Scripture does not tell how Jesus overcame the obstacle of the closed doors, one cannot be dogmatic about it. To conclude from the mysterious and miraculous features that since the resurrection the Lord’s human nature partakes of the divine omnipresence (R. C. H. Lenski, Comm.) seems unwarranted. This interpretation contradicts the continuous teaching of Scripture that Christ, though true God, was also true man, and that He still is man (1 Tim 2:5). In His human body as man, Jesus was not divinely omnipresent, nor could He ever become that. It would mean the annihilation of His true humanity and deprive the Ascension of any reality.

Another mysterious element is the fact that Jesus was often not recognized at first sight. “Some doubted,” which is best understood to mean that they doubted Jesus’ identity (Matt 28:17). Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for the gardener, and did not even recognize His voice (John 20:14f.). While this may have been caused by Jesus Himself, as was the case with the disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:16), it is equally possible that the change which the resurrection had brought about in Jesus’ body also played a role. “Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (John 21:12). They knew it was the Lord. One may conclude that Jesus’ appearance was more or less unusual and made some disciples uncertain as to His identity. But for the miraculous catch of fish which had convinced them, His appearance would have led them to ask, “Who are you?”—All these mysterious and miraculous elements, together with the miraculous ascension, show that Jesus’ body, though consisting of flesh and bones, was now in a glorified condition and capable of acting independently of the laws of time and space. This does not imply that He Himself was beyond time and space, for this again would mean the annihilation of His true humanity. His body was what Paul called a “spiritual body,” the pattern for the believers’ resurrection body (1 Cor 15:44; Phil 3:20). The word “spiritual” in this connection does not mean “immaterial,” as those who adhere to spiritualizing views understand it. In Paul’s vocabulary the word “spiritual” invariably means Spirit controlled, i.e. controlled by the Holy Spirit. A spiritual body is a body that is able to do all that the Spirit of God wants it to do, with unlimited possibilities. Such was and is the resurrection body of the Lord, imperishable, glorious, powerful, incorrupti ble, immortal and victorious as Paul describes the spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-50). It is impossible to explain such a glorified, mysterious body of flesh and bones in scientific terms. One must believe the Word and leave to God the things he cannot understand. (See also Spiritual Body.)

The significance of Jesus’ resurrection.

Because Jesus’ person and work are quite unique, His resurrection is therefore of unique and paramount significance.

In Jesus’ resurrection, the believer has the divine guarantee of his justification and reconciliation. The ground for these fundamental blessings is to be found in Christ’s atoning death (Rom 5:10, 17-19), but without the resurrection that death would have had no atoning power. The cross without the resurrection would mean that God had not been satisfied by Jesus’ death. The resurrection is God’s “Amen” to Jesus’ loud cry: “It is finished,” and therefore the guarantee that by Jesus’ death the believer has indeed been reconciled to God and made righteous. For this reason Paul can say that the fact that Christ has been raised is of greater importance than His death (Rom 8:32, 33).

When Christ was raised, the believers whom He represented in His death and resurrection, were raised with Him (Col 3:1). His death meant the end of the burden of sin that was upon Him, and when He arose He entered upon a life without that burden. From now on He lives to God in freedom and glory (Rom 6:9-11). Because of his union with Christ the believer must reckon himself dead to sin, and putting to death all sin, he must live the new resurrection life in fellowship with his risen Lord (Rom 6:5, 6, 12-14; Col 3:5).

Jesus’ resurrection in a glorious, immortal, powerful, spiritual body of flesh guarantees the believer his future resurrection in a similar body (Rom 6:5; 1 Cor 15:47f.; Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2). (See Resurrection.)


In addition to the works already referred to in this article, excluding commentaries and general works on Dogmatics, the following selection from the numerous books dealing with Christ’s resurrection is presented:

R. S. Candlish, Life in a Risen Saviour (1858); W. Milligan, The Resurrection of our Lord (1890); E. McCheyne, The Gospel of a Risen Saviour (1892); H. Latham, The Risen Master (1901); B. F. Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection (1906); K. Lake, The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1907); J. Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus (1909); C. H. Robinson, Studies in the Resurrection of Christ (1911); F. Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? (1930); K. Barth, Die Auferstehung der Toten (1935); P. Althaus, Die Wahrheit des kirchlichen Osterglauben (1940); J. Knox, Christ the Lord (1941); A. T. Olmstead, Jesus in the Light of History (1942); S. Zwemer, The Glory of the Empty Tomb (1947); C. H. Dodd, “The Appearances of the Risen Lord” (in: Studies in the Gospels, ed. D. E. Nineham) (1955); V. Taylor, The Life and Ministry of Jesus (1955); F. V. Filson, Jesus Christ, The Risen Lord (1956); C. F. D. Moule, “Jerusalem and Galilee Appearances” (Art. in N.T.S. October 1957); R. R. Niebuhr, Resurrection and Historical Reason (1957); E. Sauer, The Triumph of the Crucified (1957); B. Kenrick, The New Humanity (1958), 54-71; F. X. Durwell, The Resurrection (1960); E. Stauffer, Jesus and His Story (1960); G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (1961); A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ (1961); M. C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection (1963); D. P. Fuller, Easter Faith and History (1964); J. A. Schep, The Nature of the Resurrection Body (1965), 107-181; W. Künneth, The Theology of the Resurrection (E.T.) (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

|| 1. First Proof: The Life of Jesus

2. Second Proof: The Empty Grave

3. Third Proof: Transformation of the Disciples

4. Fourth Proof: Existence of the Primitive Church

5. Fifth Proof: The Witness of Paul

6. Sixth Proof: The Gospel Record

7. Summary and ConClusion

8. Theology of the Resurrection


The Resurrection has always been felt to be vital in connection with Christianity. As a consequence, opponents have almost always concentrated their attacks, and Christians have centered their defense, upon it. It is therefore of the utmost importance to give attention to the subject, as it appears in the New Testament. There are several converging lines of evidence, and none can be overlooked. Each must have its place and weight. The issues at stake are so serious that nothing must be omitted.

1. First Proof: The Life of Jesus:

2. Second Proof: The Empty Grave:

Another line of proof is the fact of the empty grave and the disappearance of the body. That Jesus died and was buried, and that on the third morning the tomb was empty, is not now seriously challenged. The theory of a swoon and a recovery in the tomb is impossible, and to it Strauss "practically gives its deathblow" (Orr, op. cit., 43). At Christ’s burial a stone was rolled before the tomb, the tomb was sealed, and a guard was placed before it. Yet on the third morning the body had disappeared, and the tomb was empty. There are only two alternatives. His body must have been taken out of the grave by human hands or else by superhuman power. If the hands were human, they must have been those of His friends or of His foes. If His friends had wished to take out His body, the question at once arises whether they could have done so in the face of the stone, the seal and the guard. If His foes had contemplated this action, the question arises whether they would seriously have considered it. It is extremely improbable that any effort should have been made to remove the body out of the reach of the disciples. Why should His enemies do the very thing that would be most likely to spread the report of His resurrection? As Chrysostom said, "If the body had been stolen, they could not have stolen it naked, because of the delay in stripping it of the burial clothes and the trouble caused by the drugs adhering to it" (quoted in Day, Evidence for the Resurrection, 35). Besides, the position of the grave-clothes proves the impossibility of the theft of the body (see Greek of Joh 20:6,7; 11:44; Grimley, Temple of Humanity, 69, 70; Latham, The Risen Master; The Expository Times, XIII, 293 f; XIV, 510). How, too, is it possible to account for the failure of the Jews to disprove the resurrection? Not more than seven weeks afterward Peter preached in that city the fact that Jesus had been raised. What would have been easier or more conclusive than for the Jews to have produced the dead body and silenced Peter forever? "The silence of the Jews is as significant as the speech of the Christians" (Fairbairn, Studies in the Life of Christ, 357).

The fact of the empty tomb with the disappearance of the body remains a problem to be faced. It is now admitted that the evidence for the empty tomb is adequate, and that it was part of the primitive belief (Foundations, 134, 154). It is important to realize the force of this admission, because it is a testimony to Paul’s use of the term "third day" (see below) and to the Christian observance of the first day of the week. And yet in spite of this we are told that a belief in the empty tomb is impossible. By some writers the idea of resurrection is interpreted to mean the revival of Christ’s spiritual influence on the disciples, which had been brought to a close by His death. It is thought that the essential idea and value of Christ’s resurrection can be conserved, even while the belief in His bodily rising from the grave is surrendered (Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 23). But how can we believe in the resurrection while we regard the basis of the primitive belief in it as a mistake, not to say a fraud? The disciples found the tomb empty, and on the strength of this they believed He had risen. How can the belief be true if the foundation be false? Besides, the various forms of the vision-theory are now gradually but surely being regarded as inadequate and impossible. They involve the change of almost every fact in the Gospel history, and the invention of new scenes and conditions of which the Gospels know nothing (Orr, op. cit., 222). It has never been satisfactorily shown why the disciples should have had this abundant experience of visions; nor why they should have had it so soon after the death of Christ and within a strictly limited period; nor why it suddenly ceased. The disciples were familiar with the apparition of a spirit, like Samuel’s, and with the resuscitation of a body, like Lazarus’, but what they had not experienced or imagined was the fact of a spiritual body, the combination of body and spirit in an entirely novel way. So the old theory of a vision is now virtually set aside, and for it is substituted theory of a real spiritual manifestation of the risen Christ. The question at once arises whether this is not prompted by an unconscious but real desire to get rid of anything like a physical resurrection. Whatever may be true of unbelievers, this is an impossible position for those who believe Christ is alive.

Even though we may be ready to admit the reality of telepathic communication, it is impossible to argue that this is equivalent to the idea of resurrection. Psychical research has not proceeded far enough as yet to warrant arguments being built on it, though in any case it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain material from this quarter which will answer to the conditions of the physical resurrection recorded in the New Testament. "The survival of the soul is not resurrection." "Whoever heard of a spirit being buried?" (Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 229).

In view of the records of the Gospels and the general testimony of the New Testament, it is impossible to be "agnostic" as to what happened at the grave of Jesus, even though we are quite sure that He who died now lives and reigns. It is sometimes said that faith is not bound up with, holding a particular view of the relations of Christ’s present glory with the body that was once in Joseph’s tomb, that faithis to be exercised in the exalted Lord, and that belief in a resuscitation of the human body is no vital part of it. It is no doubt true that faith today is to be exercised solely in the exalted and glorified Lord, but faith must ultimately rest on fact, and it is difficult to understand how Christian faith can really be "agnostic" with regard to the facts about the empty tomb and the risen body, which are so prominent in the New Testament, and which form an essential part of the apostolic witness. The attempt to set faith and historical evidence in opposition to each other, which is so marked a characteristic of much modern thought will never satisfy general Christian intelligence, and if there is to be any real belief in the historical character of the New Testament, it is impossible to be "agnostic" about facts that are writ so large on the face of the records. When once the evidence for the empty tomb is allowed to be adequate, the impossibility of any other explanation than that indicated in the New Testament is at once seen. The evidence must be accounted for and adequately explained. And so we come again to the insuperable barrier of the empty tomb, which, together with the apostolic witness, stands impregnable against all the attacks of visional and apparitional theories. It is becoming more evident that these theories are entirely inadequate to account for the records in the Gospels, as well as for the place and power of those Gospels in the early church and in all subsequent ages. The force of the evidence for the empty grave and the disappearance of the body is clearly seen by the explanations suggested by various modern writers (those of Oscar Holtzmann, K. Lake, and A. Meyer can be seen in Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, chapter viii, and that of Reville in C. H. Robinson, Studies in the Resurrection of Christ, 69; see also the article by Streeter in Foundations). Not one of them is tenable without doing violence to the Gospel story, and also without putting forth new theories which are not only improbable in themselves, but are without a shred of real historical or literary evidence. The one outstanding fact which baffles all these writers is the empty grave.

Others suggest that resurrection means a real objective appearance of the risen Christ without implying any physical reanimation, that the "resurrection of Christ was an objective reality, but was not a physical resuscitation" (C. H. Robinson, Studies in the Resurrection of Christ, 12). But the difficulty here is as to the meaning of the term "resurrection." If it means a return from the dead, a rising again (re-), must there not have been some identity between that which was put in the tomb and the "objective reality" which appeared to the disciples? Wherein lies the essential difference between an objective vision and an objective appearance? If we believe the apostolic testimony to the empty tomb, why may we not accept their evidence to the actual resurrection? They evidently recognized their Master, and this recognition must have been due to some familiarity with His bodily appearance. No difficulty of conceiving of the resurrection of mankind hereafter must be allowed to set aside the plain facts of the record about Christ. It is, of course, quite clear that the resurrection body of Jesus was not exactly the same as when it was put in the tomb, but it is equally clear that there was definite identity as well as definite dissimilarity, and both elements must be faced and accounted for. There need be no insuperable difficulty if we believe that in the very nature of things Christ’s resurrection must be unique, and, since the life and work of Jesus Christ transcend our experience (as they certainly should do), we must not expect to bring them within the limitations of natural law and human history. How the resurrection body was sustained is a problem quite outside our ken, though the reference to "flesh and bones," compared with Paul’s words about "flesh and blood" not being able to enter the kingdom of God, may suggest that while the resurrection body was not constituted upon a natural basis through blood, yet that it possessed "all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature" (Church of England Article IV). We may not be able to solve the problem, but we must hold fast to all the facts, and these may be summed up by saying that the body was the same though different, different though the same. The true description of the resurrection seems to be that "it was an objective reality, but, that it was not merely a physical resuscitation." We are therefore brought back to a consideration of the facts recorded in the Gospels as to the empty tomb and the disappearance of the body, and we only ask for an explanation which will take into consideration all the facts recorded, and will do no violence to any part of the evidence. To predicate a new resurrection body in which Christ appeared to His disciples does not explain how in three days’ time the body which had been placed in the tomb was disposed of. Does not this theory demand a new miracle of its own (Kennett, Interpreter, V, 271)?

3. Third Proof: Transformation of the Disciples:

The next line of proof to be considered is the transformation of the disciples caused by the resurrection. They had seen their Master die, and through that death they lost all hope. Yet hope returned three days after. On the day of the crucifixion they were filled with sadness; on the first day of the week with gladness. At the crucifixion they were hopeless; on the first day of the week their hearts glowed with certainty. When the message of the resurrection first came they were incredulous and hard to be convinced, but when once they became assured they never doubted again. What could account for the astonishing change in these men in so short a time? The mere removal of the body from the grave could never have transformed their spirits and characters. Three days are not enough for a legend to spring up which should so affect them. Time is needed for a process of legendary growth. There is nothing more striking in the history of primitive Christianity than this marvelous change wrought in the disciples by a belief in the resurrection of their Master. It is a psychological fact that demands a full explanation. The disciples were prepared to believe in the appearance of a spirit, but they never contemplated the possibility of a resurrection (see Mr 16:11). Men do not imagine what they do not believe, and the women’s intention to embalm a corpse shows they did not expect His resurrection. Besides, a hallucination involving five hundred people at once, and repeated several times during forty days, is unthinkable. 4. Fourth Proof: Existence of the Primitive Church:

From this fact of the transformation of personal life in so incredibly short a space of time, we proceed to the next line of proof, the existence of the primitive church. "There is no doubt that the church of the apostles believed in the resurrection of their Lord" (Burkitt, The Gospel History and Its Transmission, 74).

It is now admitted on all hands that the church of Christ came into existence as the result of a belief in the resurrection of Christ. When we consider its commencement, as recorded in the Book of the Ac of the Apostles, we see two simple and incontrovertible facts:

(1) the Christian society was gathered together by preaching;

(2) the substance of the preaching was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was put to death on a cross, and would therefore be rejected by Jews as accursed of God (De 21:23).

Yet multitudes of Jews were led to worship Him (Ac 2:41), and a great company of priests to obey Him (Ac 6:7). The only explanation of these facts is God’s act of resurrection (Ac 2:36), for nothing short of it could have led to the Jewish acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Messiah. The apostolic church is thus a result of a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The early chapters of Ac bear the marks of primitive documents, and their evidence is unmistakable. It is impossible to allege that the early church did not know its own history, that myths and legends quickly grew up and were eagerly received, and that the writers of the Gospels had no conscience for principle, but manipulated their material at will, for any modern church could easily give an account of its history for the past fifty years or more (Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 144). And it is simply absurd to think that the earliest church had no such capability. In reality there was nothing vague or intangible about the testimony borne by the apostles and other members of the church. "As the church is too holy for a foundation of rottenness, so she is too real for a foundation of mist" (Archbishop Alexander, The Great Question, 10).

5. Fifth Proof: The Witness of Paul:

One man in the apostolic church must, however, be singled out as a special witness to the resurrection. The conversion and work of Saul of Tarsus is our next line of proof. Attention is first called to the evidence of his life and writings to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some years ago an article appeared (E. Medley, The Expositor, V, iv, 359). inquiring as to the conception of Christ which would be suggested to a heathen inquirer by a perusal of Paul’s earliest extant writing, 1 Thessalonians. One point at least would stand out clearly--that Jesus Christ was killed (2:15; 4:14) and was raised from the dead (4:14). As this Epistle is usually dated about 51 AD--that is, only about 22 years after the resurrection--and as the same Epistle plainly attributes to Jesus Christ the functions of God in relation to men (1:1,6; 2:14; 3:11), we can readily see the force of this testimony to the resurrection. Then a few years later, in an epistle which is universally accepted as one of Paul’s, we have a much fuller reference to the event. In the well-known chapter (1Co 15) where he is concerned to prove (not Christ’s resurrection, but) the resurrection of Christians, he naturally adduces Christ’s resurrection as his greatest evidence, and so gives a list of the various appearances of Christ, ending with one to himself, which he puts on an exact level with the others: "Last of all he was seen of me also." Now it is essential to give special attention to the nature and particularity of this testimony. "I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures" (1Co 15:3 f). This, as it has often been pointed out, is our earliest authority for the appearances of Christ after the resurrection, and dates from within 30 years of the event itself. But there is much more than this: "He affirms that within 5 years of the crucifixion of Jesus he was taught that `Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ " (Kennett, Interpreter, V, 267). And if we seek to appreciate the full bearing of this act and testimony we have a right to draw the same conclusion: "That within a very few years of the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus was, in the mind of at least one man of education, absolutely irrefutable" (Kennett, op. cit., V, 267).

Besides, we find this narrative includes one small but significant statement which at once recalls a very definite feature of the Gospel tradition--the mention of "the third day." A reference to the passage in the Gospels where Jesus Christ spoke of His resurrection will show how prominent and persistent was this note of time. Why, then, should Paul have introduced it in his statement? Was it part of the teaching which he had "received"? What is the significance of this plain emphasis on the date of the resurrection? Is it not that it bears absolute testimony to the empty tomb? From all this it may be argued that Paul believed the story of the empty tomb at a date when the recollection was fresh, when he could examine it for himself, when he could make the fullest possible inquiry of others, and when the fears and opposition of enemies would have made it impossible for the adherents of Jesus Christ to make any statement that was not absolutely true. "Surely common sense requires us to believe that that for which he so suffered was in his eyes established beyond the possibility of doubt" (Kennett, op. cit., V, 271).

In view, therefore, of Paul’s personal testimony to his own conversion, his interviews with those who had seen Jesus Christ on earth before and after His resurrection, and the prominence given to the resurrection in the apostle’s own teaching, we may challenge attention afresh to this evidence for the resurrection. It is well known that Lord Lyttelton and his friend Gilbert West left Oxford University at the close of one academic year, each determining to give attention respectively during the long vacation to the conversion of Paul and the resurrection of Christ, in order to prove the baselessness of both. They met again in the autumn and compared experiences. Lord Lyttelton had become convinced of the truth of Paul’s conversion, and Gilbert West was convinced of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If, therefore, Paul’s 25 years of suffering and service for Christ were a reality, his conversion was true, for everything he did began with that sudden change. And if his conversion was true, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for everything Paul was and did he attributed to the sight of the risen Christ.

6. Sixth Proof: The Gospel Record:

The next line of proof of the resurrection is the record in the Gospels of the appearances of the risen Christ, and it is the last in order to be considered. By some writers it is put first, but this is in forgetfulness of the dates when the Gospels were written. The resurrection was believed in by the Christian church for a number of years before our Gospels were written, and it is therefore impossible for these records to be our primary and most important evidence. We must get behind them if we are to appreciate fully the force and variety of the evidence. It is for this reason that, following the proper logical order, we have reserved to the last our consideration of the appearances of the risen Christ as given in the Gospels. The point is one of great importance (Denney, Jesus and the Gospel, 111).

Now, with this made clear, we proceed to consider the evidence afforded by the records of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. Modern criticism of the Gospels during recent years has tended to adopt the view that Mark is the earliest, and that Matthew and Luke are dependent on it. This is said to be "the one solid result" (W. C. Allen, "St. Matthew," International Critical Commentary, Preface, vii; Burkitt, The Gospel History, 37) of the literary criticism of the Gospels. If this is so, the question of the records of the resurrection becomes involved in the difficult problem about the supposed lost ending of Mark, which, according to modern criticism, would thus close without any record of an appearance of the risen Christ. On this point, however, two things may be said at the present juncture: (1) There are some indications that the entire question of the criticism of the Gospels is to be reopened (Ramsay, Luke the Physician, chapter ii; see also Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 63 ff). (2) Even if the current theory be accepted, it would not seriously weaken the intrinsic force of the evidence for the resurrection, because, after all, Mark does not invent or "doctor" his material, but embodies the common apostolic tradition of his time (Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 62).

We may, therefore, meanwhile examine the record of the appearances without finding them essentially affected by any particular theory of the origin and relations of the Gospels. There are two sets of appearances, one in Jerusalem and the other in Galilee, and their number, and the amplitude and weight of their testimony should be carefully estimated. While we are precluded by our space from examining each appearance minutely, and indeed it is unnecessary for our purpose to do so, it is impossible to avoid calling attention to two of them. No one can read the story of the walk to Emmaus (Lu 24), or of the visit of Peter and John to the tomb (Joh 20), without observing the striking marks of reality and personal testimony in the accounts. As to the former incident: "It carries with it, as great literary critics have pointed out, the deepest inward evidences of its own literal truthfulness. For it so narrates the intercourse of `a risen God’ with commonplace men as to set natural and supernatural side by side in perfect harmony. And to do this has always been the difficulty, the despair of imagination. The alternative has been put reasonably thus: Luke was either a greater poet, a more creative genius, than Shakespeare, or--he did not create the record. He had an advantage over Shakespeare. The ghost in Hamlet was an effort of laborious imagination. The risen Christ on the road was a fact supreme, and the Evangelist did but tell it as it was" (Bishop Moule, Meditations for the Church’s Year, 108). Other writers whose attitude to the Gospel records is very different bear the same testimony to the impression of truth and reality made upon them by the Emmaus narrative (A. Meyer and K. Lake, quoted in Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 176 f).

It is well known that there are difficulties connected with the number and order of these appearances, but they are probably due largely to the summary character of the story, and certainly are not sufficient to invalidate the uniform testimony to the two facts: (1) the empty grave, (2) the appearances of Christ on the third day. These are the main facts of the combined witness (Orr, op. cit., 212).

The very difficulties which have been observed in the Gospels for nearly nineteen centuries are a testimony to a conviction of the truth of the narratives on the part of the whole Christian church. The church has not been afraid to leave these records as they are because of the facts that they embody and express. If there had been no difficulties men might have said that everything had been artificially arranged, whereas the differences bear testimony to the reality of the event recorded. The fact that we possess these two sets of appearances--one in Jerusalem and one in Galilee--is really an argument in favor of their credibility, for if it had been recorded that Christ appeared in Galilee only, or Jerusalem only, it is not unlikely that the account might have been rejected for lack of support. It is well known that records of eyewitnesses often vary in details, while there is no question as to the events themselves. The various books recording the story of the Indian mutiny, or the surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan are cases in point, and Sir William Ramsay has shown the entire compatibility of certainty as to the main fact with great uncertainty as to precise details (Ramsay, Paul the Traveler, 29). We believe, therefore, that a careful examination of these appearances will afford evidence of a chain of circumstances extending from the empty grave to the day of the ascension.

7. Summary and Conclusion:

When we examine carefully all these converging lines of evidence and endeavor to give weight to all the facts of the case, it seems impossible to escape from the problem of a physical miracle. That the prima facie view of the evidence afforded by the New Testament suggests a miracle and that the apostles really believed in a true physical resurrection are surely beyond all question. And yet very much of present-day thought refuses to accept the miraculous. The scientific doctrine of the uniformity and continuity of Nature bars the way, so that from the outset it is concluded that miracles are impossible. We are either not allowed to believe (see Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 44), or else we are told that we are not required to believe (C. H. Robinson, Studies in the Resurrection of Christ, chapter ii), margin, the reanimation of a dead body. If we take this view, "there is no need, really, for investigation of evidence: the question is decided before the evidence is looked at" (Orr, op. cit., 46).

We challenge the tenableness of this position. It proves too much. We are not at all concerned by the charge of believing in the abnormal or unusual. New things have happened from the beginning of the present natural order, and the Christian faith teaches that Christ Himself was a "new thing," and that His coming as "God manifest in the flesh" was something absolutely unique. If we are not allowed to believe in any divine intervention which we may call supernatural or miraculous, it is impossible to account for the Person of Christ at all. "A Sinless Personality would be a miracle in time." Arising out of this, Christianity itself was unique, inaugurating a new era in human affairs. No Christian, therefore, can have any difficulty in accepting the abnormal, the unusual, the miraculous. If it be said that no amount of evidence can establish a fact which is miraculous, we have still to account for the moral miracles which are really involved and associated with the resurrection, especially the deception of the disciples, who could have found out the truth of the case; a deception, too, that has proved so great a blessing to the world. Surely to those who hold a true theistic view of the world this a priori view is impossible. Are we to refuse to allow to God at least as much liberty as we possess ourselves? Is it really thinkable that God has less spontaneity of action than we have? We may like or dislike, give or withhold, will or not will, but the course of Nature must flow on unbrokenly. Surely God cannot be conceived of as having given such a constitution to the universe as limits His power to intervene if necessary and for sufficient purpose with the work of His own hands. Not only are all things of Him, but all things are through Him, and to Him. The resurrection means the presence of miracle, and "there is no evading the issue with which this confronts us" (Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 53). Unless, therefore, we are prepared to accept the possibility of the miraculous, all explanation of the New Testament evidence is a pure waste of time.

Of recent years attempts have been made to account for the resurrection by means of ideas derived from Babylonian and other Eastern sources. It is argued that mythology provides the key to the problem, that not only analogy but derivation is to be found. But apart from the remarkable variety of conclusions of Babylonian archaeologists there is nothing in the way of historical proof worthy of the name. The whole idea is arbitrary and baseless, and prejudiced by the attitude to the supernatural. There is literally no link of connection between these oriental cults and the Jewish and Christian beliefs in the resurrection.

And so we return to a consideration of the various lines of proof. Taking them singly, they must be admitted to be strong, but taking them altogether, the argument is cumulative and sufficient. Every effect must have its adequate cause, and the only proper explanation of Christianity today is the resurrection of Christ. Thomas Arnold of Rugby, no ordinary judge of historical evidence, said that the resurrection was the "best-attested fact in human history." Christianity welcomes all possible sifting, testing, and use by those who honestly desire to arrive at the truth, and if they will give proper attention to all the facts and factors involved, we believe they will come to the conclusion expressed years ago by the Archbishop of Armagh, that the resurrection is the rock from which all the hammers of criticism have never chipped a single fragment (The Great Question, 24).

8. Theology of the Resurrection:


Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus, 1908; W. J. Sparrow Simpson, The Resurrection and Modern Thought; Westcott, The Historic Faith and The Gospel of the Resurrection. Very full literary references in Bowen, The Resurrection in the New Testament, 1911, which, although negative in its own conclusions, contains a valuable refutation of many negative arguments.

W. H. Griffith Thomas