Lecture 32: Resurrection
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The historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is compelling.
The Life of Jesus
XV. The Resurrection of Jesus
A. The Meaning of the Term "Resurrection"
1. The Rise of Faith in the Disciples?
2. The Empty Tomb?
3. Jesus coming back to life again?
4. Eschatological Form of Life?
5. Rising in mastery over death
B. Differences in the Accounts
C. Witnesses to the Resurrection
1. The Empty Tomb
a. The women went to the wrong tomb?
b. Joseph of Arimathea stole the body?
c. The Swoon Theory?
d. The disciples stole the body?
e. The body disintegrated?
2. The Appearances of Christ
3. The Church
D. Attempts to Bypass the Empty Tomb
1. Multiple attestations
2. Historical likelihood
3. Specific tomb mentioned
4. Change in worship
5. 1 Corinthians 15:3
Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels
Lecture: Life of Jesus: Resurrection
We want to talk today about the resurrection of Jesus for the Christian faith is not a society who of people remember a dead hero. We're not a Bach memorial society who come to celebrate his great music, or a Jesus society in the sense of celebrating a great man who died, unfortunately, a terrible death. Without the resurrection, we would not be here. There is no Christianity without a resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the sine qua non, that without which there would be no Christian faith. And yet when we talk about the word "resurrection," the term resurrection is far from a self-evident word.
For instance, Rudolf Bultmann talks about the resurrection, and what he means by that is the rise in faith in the disciples. Well, there was a rise in faith in the disciples, but to interpret that as the resurrection is to confuse the effect and the cause. The rise of faith is the effect of the resurrection. It is not the resurrection itself. Of course, if you have a bias against the supernatural then the last piece of historical evidence you can get to is the rise in faith of the disciples.
We don't want to confuse then the resurrection with the rise of faith in the disciples. We also don't want to confuse the resurrection with the empty tomb. The empty tomb is, once again, a result of the resurrection, but it isn't the resurrection. And, huh, when we think about how the first reaction to the empty tomb, huh, was we realize, that, huh, they just thought there could be another reason for — for the tomb being empty, other than the resurrection. In fact, they inclined towards another view: Someone stole the body.
Now, we don't want to, thirdly, define the resurrection as Jesus coming back to life again. He's — he's not resuscitated. There are in the gospels three other people who are resuscitated from death: Lazarus, who else?
Jairus' daughter and the son of the widow of Nain. But they all died again. The resurrection is not resuscitation to life. It is, rather, a resurrection to a new form of life. And, huh, I don't know a better word to use than the word "eschatological." It is the rising to a eschatological form of life. A form of life in which death, disease, sorrow, pain, no longer is part of the experience. It is a whole new quality of life. It breaks the bounds of this life. It is the moving over, a transfer, into eternity.
And there is a sense in which the new testament talks about the end of the ages having come through the resurrection of Jesus Chris because that marks the change to the new age. But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead into a eschatological form of life is also not what the new testament means by the resurrection. Because if it did take place, how would you ever know? So for the new testament the resurrection of Jesus is his rising and mastery over death moving into an eschatological form of life and is appearing then to the disciples.
Now there are some differences in the — for accounts of the resurrection. And there is a sense in which we, as evangelical Christians, are somewhat embarrassed by that. We don't know how to reconcile all the details. C.H. Dodd, years ago, made a very interesting comment about that which took the difficulty of reconciling these details and made it a strength. He said, "The fact that the accounts don't agree easily together indicates that we're dealing with different witnesses to the resurrection. And, therefore, we have a multiplicity of witnesses to the resurrection which would be far more powerful and convincing in some ways than if you had all four accounts exactly the same, word-for-word. If you had four resurrections accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John identical in word-for-word for some people that might make them happy. No details to worry about.
On the other hand, that would indicate that you only have one witness talking about that that's being repeated threefold. This way we have a multiplicity of different witnesses giving different viewpoints. It's like having four different people who were in Dallas on the day that President Kennedy was shot. And if you asked them what happened, there would be some differences in the details. But in some way, you would weigh those four witnesses far more seriously than if you have four people who say exactly everything the same way. Right away you would say, "Well, they rehearsed this. They read — they read some sort of a — a report on it, and they all memorized it." Here we have the four different witnesses, and I think there's some strength in that.
Now, one cannot prove the resurrection. There's not a lot of things in life that you can prove absolutely. I mean, if you have a philosopher who says you can't prove your own existence, it's kind of hard [06:20] to prove anything else. I mean, if you — if you — I'm not sure your own existence, then you just say, by definition, I'm not going to be able to prove anything. And yet I've never yet gone to bed at night wondering seriously if I existed. I do not have sleepless nights that way. There are some things that I know for sure. Uh, there are some things that I know through faith is a surety. But I can't prove it scientifically.
Now, there a number of evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I want to talk a little bit about them this morning. One of the witnesses that there's testimony to the resurrection of Jesus is the fact of an empty tomb that Easter Sunday. There's simply is no good explanation for the fact of an empty tomb on Easter other than Jesus Christ having risen from the dead. The various kinds of explanations are as follows: One, is that the women went to the wrong tomb — the early part of the, oh, the [inaudible] 1st — 20th — the 2nd or 3rd decade of the 20th century, a man by the name of Carson Blake and P. Gardner-Smith came up with this theory, that the reason the tomb was empty that day was that when Mary and Martha went that Easter Sunday, they became confused and they mistook a tomb what was empty for the actual tomb of Jesus which was still full.
And so the whole resurrection story originates and the empty tomb is due to the fact that when they went down the road they took the fork to the left they took it at Broadway instead of taking it left at lake street and the result was therefore came to a tomb mistook it as the tomb of Jesus and they came to say, "Well, he must have risen."
But let me ask you: Do you think you would forget within 36 hours the grave site of the person you loved more than anyone else in the world?
Not likely. Not likely. Furthermore, this is not a — a public burial place. This is not a place where there are just rows and rows of empty tombs and the like. This is not, like, Forrest Homes out in California where there's just tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands people buried. They don't even know if there's another tomb anywhere around here. It is is cemetery of Joseph of Arimathea.
The other thing you have to realize is that supposing you were the Jewish and Roman officials and this rumor is being spread about that Jesus has risen from the dead. Don't you think you would have gone and checked out the tomb itself. You would have done away with this myth once and for all quote, unquote — "myth," by just finding the tomb and have a public showing of it. But according to New Testament, there are even guards placed at the tomb to prevent this. So that it's not surprising that one of them, I don't know if it was Lake or Gardner-Smith gave up on the theory and later says, No. That's — that's really not possible.
Another attempted theory is to say that Joseph of Arimathea stole the body. Joseph Klausner, a Jewish scholar in the 20th — a 1st half of the 20th century, argued this point. Now there's absolutely no evidence in the world anywhere in biblical literature, in Jewish literature, for anything like this. It is simply something that was created out of the mind of Joseph Klausner in the 20th century. There is no evidence for it in the past. And the question is why: Would Joseph disciple actually steal the body of Jesus he did receive the noble burial why now change it and this show disrespect for the body of Jesus in this way?
The strongest objection, however, to this is the fact that why if you were a soldier make up a story saying you were asleep on guard duty when you could simply say well the owner Joseph of Arimathea came and it was his tomb, so we just assumed he could do whatever with the body, so he took it. So Joseph took it. Nothing like this ever comes up. I have my own theory about that, that a much more likely theory is that Pontius Pilate stole the body simply because he wanted to drive the Jews out of their minds.
Uh, they gave him a hard time. They forced him to crucify Jesus, and not this was his attempt to get back. He said, "Well, that's crazy. There's no evidence for that." Well, that's just the point. There's no evidence for Joseph of Arimathea having done the same either. There's simply no evidence in the world for this kind of a — a — a — a theory and for support for it.
A third theory, called the Swoon theory, which used that Jesus really did not die. That he, in fact, what happened was that he fainted, he collapsed, on the cross the result was that he was taken down prematurely and later entombed in a burial vault. He regains his strength. He then rolls away the stone, and appears to the disciples. Again, we're not — if you were to ask me to pass judgment if someone were dead or not, I could make a mistake. I'm not acquainted with death. Soldiers are. They know if a person's near death, and they were so sure of the death of Jesus, they didn't even bother breaking his legs as they do with the others.
The explanation is really asking us to believe a kind of miraculous resuscitation. Regardless of how you look at it, Jesus was not in the best of health when he was placed in the tomb. Now what we have to do is to envision in some way his rolling away the stone which would take some doing. For instance, a stone probably would be a circular --- like a wheel. It's not just a round boulder. It's like a wheel. So if you have this opening there would be — a — a kind of trough here, and a round stone would be placed — which would be in the trough and rolled down and it would cover and lean against a wall here, this way.
So what you now have to envision is to remove the stone you would have to have someone inside rolling the stone up the hill, not downhill. And, furthermore, have you ever tried to push a car by putting your hands on the side doors to push it?
You don't have any strength this way. You don't to get behind it. You don't have any leverage, so to speak, so it's really rather difficult to imagine some sort of a supernatural strength coming to Jesus at this time. What's — I — what I think is the most serious argument against this is by David Strauss. David Strauss the mythical interpretation of miracles. We'll talk tomorrow a little bit about the life of Jesus that he wrote.
But not believing at all in miracles. When he would — commented about this kind of a Swoon theory, he said this: It is impossible that one who would have just come forth from the grave half dead, who kept about week in ill, who stood in the need of medical treatment of bandaging, strengthening, intend to care and who would last succumb to suffering, could ever have given to the disciples that impression that he was the conqueror of — of death in the grave. That he was the prince of life which lay at the bottom of his — their future ministry. Such resuscitation could only have weakened the impression in which he had made upon them in life and in death. Or at most, could have given it an angelic voice.
But by could no — but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm or elevated their reverence into worship. For instance, imagine Jesus coming into your room with the — where you're with the disciples crawling, staggering in, half dead. What is your reaction? Is it, "Let's sing the hallelujah chorus. He's conquered death." Or is it pity? If anything you feel sorry for him and you, therefore, will be protective of him. The disciples didn't have the view that Jesus by the skin of his teeth managed to escape death. But that he had conquered death. That he was a glorious lord of life and death. Assume Jesus — and I can't bring that about and Strauss's comments are very much right to the point.
A fourth theory — is one that we actually find in the bible — and that is that the disciples stole the body; found in Matthew 28:11. Guards were supposedly asleep when the disciples stole the body. Well, if you are asleep, how do you know what's going on? Uh, I know when my wife sleeps the house could burn down and she wouldn't know. But how would you — how would you know something was going on? And, furthermore, how in the world would guards at night asleep through a process of rolling a stone away from the tomb? It looks like one of these one of these Mission Impossible schemes where they had a remarkable lubricated bearings that they could put in a track and slide it up so they could — it's just — it's just nonsense and so forth.
As to the disciples wanting to steal the body? Why would they want to do so. They were — they were cowardly before; why now all this bravery? What I think is convincing against this argument is — is that the mass of scholars who are — who don't believe in the resurrection. Unless they're really way out and just not even not in contact of what is going on in New Testament studies, the one they all agree is the rise of faith in the disciples. I mean, Rudolf Bultmann doesn't believe in miracles. But the one thing he knows is that when you get down to it, the disciples believed in the risen Christ. And how do you do that if you stole the body?
So the rise of faith in the disciples must be explained as something outside of — it's interesting to — to note, Hugh Schonfield wrote a work years ago called the Passover Plot. And in this Passover plot, Jesus plots with certain disciples — not the 12, but certain followers — to plan his resurrection. He's going to stage this. And Luke happens to be around — and he's a doctor — and he has just the right drug materials that to cause him to look like he has died, and then revive him again. Unfortunately, even though he has made an arrangement with the gardener to bring this about, the soldiers having pierced the side of Jesus do him in and Jesus ultimately succumbs to this after a short time.
What's fascinating about the theory is not that it has any merit, but that here is this Jewish scholar whose simply cannot have the disciples involved in the plot. They're not in the plot. Somehow Luke comes along — uh, and [inaudible] is not around for a decade or so and the gardener is in the plot and special drugs are used, but Matthew, Mark, Luke — you know — all those — the disciples associated — I don't mean Mark and Luke, Matthew, John and the other disciples — they are not involved in the plot at all.
And then a few decades ago another theory arose to explain this by a man named Leslie Weatherhead and he said that the molecular energy of the body of Jesus was increased and complete evaporation or effervescence or whatever the word might be — took place through the speeding up of the molecular movement it became — it — the body became gaseous and escaped through the chinks in the cave and that, of course, made airtight by the rough, circular stone. In 36 hours, the body of Jesus completed disintegrated into gaseous form; bones and all; teeth and all; skull and all. Now, you know — if you could believe this, why in the world have any trouble believing in the resurrection?
I mean, to pause a miracle — to solve a miracle doesn't make any sense. So one of the problems that critics have is that there is not a good explanation of why the tomb was empty. Well, all sorts of human explanations seem to — uh, rational explanations seemed to be flawed in that way.
Now, another witness to the resurrection besides the empty tomb of the most important in the New Testament is the appearances of the risen Christ to the disciples. And I have listed here some of them whether the 11th one, Paul, should be listed here as a — or be understood stood separately could be debated — but if you look at them, there are numerous witnesses — the women, Mary Magdalene, Peter, disciples on the road to Emmaus, the ten disciples with [inaudible] and absinthe, the 11 disciples, the second meeting with the 11 disciples, a Paul refers to there being 500 who were present, and he tells the Galatians that some of them are still alive. You can check this out for yourself. The — the separate with meeting with James, and then at the ascension of the 12 as well.
So you have multiple appearances in different places at different times and in different circumstances. These are the strongest witness as far as I think as historical evidence is concerned about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his appearances to the disciples. He rose and then he appeared.
Now there have been attempts to explain away these resurrections appear. Uh, again, Joseph Klaussner in the early part of the 20th century tried to explain them as visionary. That the women were highly anticipatory and the emotional state of high expectation and that led them to have subjective visions. Uh, there was a Roman Catholic scholar, Ernest Renan, who wrote a very romantic life of Jesus that was very, very popular. And he writes about the rise in the faith of the disciples this way: We must follow the women step-by-step for during one hour of that day she carried with her all the workings of the Christian consciousness. Her testimony decided the faith of the future. At such decisive hours a breath of air, a rattling window, a chance murmur, may decide the belief of nations for centuries.
Years ago when we were — when my children were real small, one January we were looking out the window in our house and the backyard was all covered with snow and there was a robin out there. I don't know. What's a crazy robin doing in Minnesota in January, but there's a robin out there. And I called Joan, and I called Julie, and Keith to come over and look. And, yeah, yeah, what's a crazy robin doing out there? And then Steven, who was about four at the time, "Steven come out here. Look at the robin." So we brought him up to the window and the robin — we're all looking at that way and he's looking out this way and says, "I see it, too. I see it, too." He was not going to miss out. So we kind of turned his head and aimed it, uh. Maybe something like that should take place here? They're so anticipatory they see things that really are not there.
But if you're anticipatory you have to have the circumstances that make you anticipatory. Why were the women going to the tomb that day? Did Mary Magdalene say to the other Mary an say, "It's just about time. We have — we have to go. I want to be there so that when the sun just breaks over the Mount of Olives and shines on the tomb and the stone rolls away when Jesus steps forth we could sing the hallelujah chorus." I don't get the impression from the biblical story that that's where they're going. They're going there not very anticipatory because they're going to try to anoint a dead body. They're bringing herbs and spices to anoint a dead Jesus. And when they come and they find the tomb empty, they don't say hallelujah he's risen.
But who stole the body? Where have they taken him? And what we have then is anything but a psychological predisposition to faith or to visions of one sort. They are predisposed not to believe in the resurrection and their whole attitude is radically changed this way. And we always talk somewhat demeaning of Thomas — the doubting Thomas. But I was glad he was doubting if it helps other people who doubt. And the fact that this man wasn't going to believe unless the evidence is absolutely overwhelming. They've been brutally hurt by the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Their not going to jump the faith if only to be hurt once again. And so for someone like Thomas, he will not believe until he sees for himself and touches Jesus to be sure. And so the appearances are not visionary in any sense. They're described as Jesus eating food with them. And Thomas touching and being present, and showing his hands and feet, and so forth and so on.
So the vision hypothesis is the inadequate because people are not anticipatory. It's not like somebody all of a sudden sees or hears Houdini, who said he was going to come back to life or something like that and disciples are not at all expecting it.
Now the telegraph hypothesis is the one that was suggested by B.H. Streeter and that is that when Jesus was in heaven he telegraphed back into the minds of his followers the idea of a resurrected Christ; that he had risen from the dead to show that he was alive again. Well I know there's a lot of people who are interested in such telepathic communication, and so on and so forth, but again remember the disciples touch Jesus. And, furthermore, its somehow you get involved in a immoral kind of deception in which Jesus in heaven sends back from heaven that he's risen from the dead, but he's not risen from the dead. It really doesn't solve the situation at all.
And let me just make one brief comment about the word "resurrection." Uh, when people talk about a spiritual resurrection, in the world of Jesus' day, that's like talking about square circles. Resurrection is always resurrection of the body. It is not immortally. It's very, very different. That becomes very, very clear. You could talk about a person's immortal soul living on, but when — at [inaudible] held Paul tells a Christian message that Jesus has risen from the dead, they laugh at that. That's nonsense. So resurrection should never be confused with immortally. It's the resurrection of the body, and this is evident that the early church had a very different message from that of the Greek philosophers.
Now, there has been an attempt in some ways to bypass one of these witnesses, and that is the witness of the empty tomb. So scholars have said that the tomb really wasn't empty. It was just mistaken. And that is a later story that was created decades after the faith in the resurrection of Jesus grew. When people began to believe in the resurrection they said — they began to do, if he rose from the dead, then the tomb must have been empty. And they made up a story of an empty tomb.
Rudolf Bultmann says the story of the empty tomb is completely secondary. The story is an apologetic legend. Paul doesn't know anything about the empty tomb. Well, one of the things about the empty tomb, it has multiple attestation. It is found in three strata, at least Matthew, the M strata, Mark, and in John. It is a story that is early. It has some — some meta-systems about it. Also it is something that has to be understood as being part of the resurrection. When you preach about the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, not in Athens, but in Jerusalem, you talking to a people who know that resurrection involves a body. And, therefore, when you say Jesus has risen from the dead, that meant to people in Jerusalem that the tomb was empty, but you didn't even have to state.
Another thing that's interesting about the story is that if you created the story from scratch, there's one thing you would have never done in the 1st century — now women, please, excuse me — but in the 1st century, women were not reliable — were not accepted as historical witnesses. So if you're going to make up a story and you're going to make witnesses to it, you make men witnesses; not women. Why is it that the women are witnesses? Well, that's because they were the first ones there. That's the way history had it. And so this [29:46] is not a story made up for apologetic. It's a story that comes out of history itself. The women were the chief witnesses, because that's what happened.
Never in any of the discussions in the early church between Christian and Jews was there ever a denial of the empty tomb. That's something that came up many, many, many centuries later. In that year, no one ever doubted in the Jewish debates in the early centuries that the tomb was empty. Another thing to remember that it is just not any tomb. It was a specific tomb. This is the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a well-known tomb.
There's something else that's rather interesting that supports the empty tomb, and that is the change of worship for the early church from the Sabbath to the first day of the week. Now, you say "Well, Jesus rose on the first day of the week." Not in the tra- — the traditions don't word it that way. Traditions talk about Jesus rising from the dead, he rises on the third day. Now, I could figure out chronologically how Sunday could be the fir- — third day; however, I could also — to — preside — something controlling the first day of the week, Sunday being the day of the empty tomb, I could think of it as Monday, quite easily. And the fact is that the only thing that's associated with the first day, with regard to Jesus, is the empty tomb.
So the whole celebration of the church moving from Sabbath gradually to the first day of the week, probably they're being both simultaneously held by Jewish Christians. And eventually gentile Christians not keeping the Sabbath any longer, but the first day of the week. That whole emphasis is based on one thing: The tomb was empty. So the first day of the week and the — and it's locked in our calendar is due to the reserv — the empty tomb story, not the resurrection story.
And, finally, we have in 1 Corinthians 3 when Paul says "I delivered to you what I also received." A very early tradition going back probably to the late 30s that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures. That he was buried. That he rose according to the scriptures. So you have a very, very early reference to the resurrection involving an empty tomb in 1 Corinthians 15:3.
All right. Now, that sort of takes care of the main two witnesses that we talked about. The — the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. But there's a third witness, and one that for many years I thought was not very scholarly, and that's the witness of the church. It's very subjective, but it's not a — it's not a subjective story by a handful of people or a hundred people. And not just from one tribal group, but in every continent, from all sorts of tribes, from all language groups, for two thousand years, millions upon millions of people have believed in the resurrection.
And if I were to ask my mother if she were alive, “Mom, do you believe in the resurrection?" She said, "Of course, I do." I said, "Well, why?" She said, "Well, The bible says so." And the other reason that my mother said "because the Swoon theory doesn't seem convincing." I would assume right then and there uh, that she would have said, "You asked me how I know he lives. He lives within my heart."
And that testimony of multitudes of millions of people over 2,000 years in all parts of the world makes the objective evidence which can only deal with probabilities into certainties. So that for the Christian it is not kind of hope in the resurrection. We kind of think he rose from the dead. We know he's risen, because what we have here is not just not historical evidence, such as the resurrection appearances and the empty tomb, but that we have personal testimony and witness in our own lives. We know Jesus has risen. He lives in us.
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