Jesus, the Son of God - Jesus’ Resurrection
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:21-22).
Through Jesus of Nazareth, God became one of us. God the Son took on human nature. The virgin birth, Jesus’ signs and wonders, and His teachings are all dramatic evidences of this fact. Can you imagine a more inconceivable divine intervention? God comes to us in a form that we can literally touch and handle. He speaks to us in terms that we can understand. He entered our world with all its attendant deprivations, sufferings, and temptations and embraced human limitations and frailties. The incarnation is a radical and yet clear revelation of God. Now we know what God is truly like and exactly what He desires. If we were merely ignorant and uninformed about God, the incarnation would have provided the answers we need. It turns out the problem with the human condition is more profound than ignorance. When God becomes one of us we kill Him. Jesus’ cross reveals the intensity of human sin and rebellion. Of course, God the Father could not allow our verdict against His Son to stand; He reversed our verdict by raising Jesus from the dead!
Can we believe that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead? What is the evidence that this occurred? If it happened, what is its significance?
Our experience with death is that it is a terminal condition. Those who die stay dead. So, we understand that we are asking people to believe something about Jesus that is absolutely incredible. As we shall see, the ancients were no more inclined to believe this than we are. Both Jesus’ disciples and His enemies believed that Jesus’ very public death on the cross was end of Jesus. Universal human experience with death governed their assumption. Jesus was dead and buried. However, Jesus’ disciples should have known better. On more than one occasion Jesus promised He would rise from the dead (Luke 9:21-22; 18:31-34). Jesus’ straightforward statements simply did not register with them because they were so contrary to experience. For Jesus to foresee the circumstances that would lead to His death is conceivable. For Jesus to predict that He would not stay dead is to promise the greatest miracle of all.
What is the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? The first proof that Luke offers is Jesus’ empty tomb. The fact of Jesus’ death is established by Pilate’s release of Jesus’ body for burial (Luke 23:50-56). The Romans did not botch executions. Due to the approaching Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea hurriedly buried Jesus’ body in a new tomb. Luke reports that after the Sabbath a group of women went to the tomb to more properly wash and embalm Jesus’ body. Obviously, they were expecting to find a corpse and are shocked to find an open and empty tomb. Two angels appear to explain this stunning turn of events: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:1-8). The Apostles could not believe what Mary Magdalene and her companions reported. Peter and John go to the tomb to verify what they had told “the eleven and all the rest” (Luke 24:9-12; John 20:1-10). The empty tomb is compelling evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. According to William Lane Craig, “When therefore the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem, and people responded, and the religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty.” (The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus).
Jesus’ empty tomb is a compelling witness of His resurrection, but is not quite conclusive evidence. Those who reported seeing Jesus alive after His death and burial provide the conclusive testimony. Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples has all one would expect of eye-witness testimony (Luke 24:36-42). When Jesus appears “among them… they were startled and frightened and thought they had seen a spirit.” Jesus reassures them by showing them the wounds in His hands and feet and by inviting them to touch Him. Jesus also asks for and consumes food to prove He is “flesh and bones”. In some ways Jesus is different in that He could appear suddenly amid His disciples. In other ways Jesus is the same as He was before— a living, breathing, functional human being. Collectively, the Gospels report Jesus “sightings” by Mary Magdalene and her companions, two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the disciples twice, to seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberius (Galilee), and to numerous believers at His ascension. Paul catalogues Jesus’ appearances to Peter (mentioned in Luke), to James, to Paul himself, and mentions an appearance, probably at Christ’s ascension, to “five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (as of the date of Paul’s letter cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-9). By naming these witnesses, Paul implicitly invites first century deniers of Jesus’ resurrection to investigate and verify the facts of the matter. Jesus’ empty tomb and His resurrection appearances are identifiable and verifiable historic events that serve as the basis for the Christian faith.
What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? Luke’s Gospel ends with an account of the theological paradigm shift that occurred among Jesus’ disciples (Luke 24:50-53). After Jesus blessed His disciples and “was carried up to heaven” Luke tells us, “And they worshipped Him” (Luke 24:52). These first century Jews worshiped this man, Jesus, as God! Jesus’ resurrection removed all doubt as to His identity. Later in Acts, you can see Peter is still gripped by his encounters with the risen Jesus: “but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:40-41). Jesus’ resurrection from the dead declares who He is, vindicates His ministry, and proves the sufficiency of His sacrifice for our sins (Acts 4:12).