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| The Reason for God|
Chapter 13: The Reality of the Resurrection
November 27, 2016
Hello to another beautiful day that has been given to us by God! Today, we look at the book, The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by the author Timothy Keller. And we look at chapter 13, The Reality of the Resurrection.
Aside from what we looked at from last chapter, The (True) Story of the Cross, the next controversial and probably one of the most difficult doctrines for many Christians to fully believe in is the resurrection of Christ. Many modern historians and philosophers have assumed that such miracles simply cannot occur. However, as we will see, if we don’t believe in the resurrection then it makes it very difficult to explain how the Christian church got started.
The author tells us that many people approach him and say, “I struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.” In which the author responds to those people by stating that “if Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs on is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” And as the author puts it, if the resurrection is real it means we cannot live our lives any way we want. If Jesus really rose up from the dead, then it changes everything.
Usually, as with any claims made, if you make a claim then it needs to be backed up with some sort of evidence. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the very birth of the church.
When people claim that Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected, this is the type of argument that they put forth. They state that the people of that time weren’t knowledgeable scientifically, and so they believed things like magic and supernatural happenings. They state that the people could easily have fallen prey to reports of a risen Jesus because they believed that a resurrection would be possible.
However, when we look historically, it sings a totally different song. While we do not know how intelligent these people may have been in the scientific realm, they had much greater proof for the event than what unbelievers of the resurrection give them credit for. In the letters of Paul, sent to the church of Corinth, Paul gives the first accounts of the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses that saw it themselves. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, it reads:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have died.
From the verses, we see Paul not only speaks of the empty tomb and resurrection on the “third day” but he also lists the eyewitnesses. Paul indicates that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups, but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could be consulted if there were any unbelievers. And Paul’s letter was written to the church as a public document, written to be read aloud. Simply put, what Paul was saying is, “if any of you doubt the resurrection of Christ, then you can, not only go to Peter or the Twelve, but you can also go to these five hundred other people.” And obviously apostle Paul was no bluffer. If there were no eyewitnesses, then he could not have made such a challenge.
Now a question to further prove the occurrence of Jesus’ resurrection. When we read the Scriptures, who were the very first people who were the eyewitnesses to the resurrection? They were women. All gospels reiterate the fact that it was women who were the very first eyewitnesses to the resurrection. At the time, women’s low social status meant that their testimony was not acceptable evidence in court. There was no possible advantage to the church to recount that all the first witnesses were women. It could only have made the situation more improbable. The only possible explanation for why women were depicted as meeting Jesus first is if they really had.
“But surely that doesn’t prove Jesus was really resurrected. Surely the followers desperately wanted to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. If anyone had stolen the body in order to make it looked like he had been raised, many sincere people could have thought they’d seen him, and maybe a few others went along with saying so for a good cause.” Is what skeptics would say after telling them these historical evidences.
This assumption behind this very common hypothesis is what we would call “chronological snobbery.” We imagine that we modern people take claims of a bodily resurrection with skepticism, while the ancients are scientifically unintelligent and don’t know a thing about the world. Let it then be a surprise to you then that, at the time, all dominant worldviews didn’t believe in anything like the bodily resurrection. They may have believed in spiritual resurrection, like after death, but not the physical body.
When we look to the Greeks, they also did not believe in the bodily resurrection. To the Greek, the physical was always falling apart and therefore salvation was conceived as liberation from the body. In this worldview, resurrection was not only impossible but totally undesirable. No soul, having gotten free from its body, would ever want it back.
The report of Jesus’ resurrection would have also been unthinkable to the Jews. Unlike the Greeks, the Jews saw the material and physical world as good. Death was not seen as liberation from the material world but as a tragedy. By Jesus’ day many Jews had come to hope that someday in the future there would be a bodily resurrection of all the righteous, when God renewed the entire world and removed all suffering and death. However, the resurrection was one part of the complete renewal, so it would be inconceivable to the Jews that a single man would be resurrected while others continued to be sick, decay, and dead. And so, when they heard the news of Jesus’ resurrection would be more questions on whether the world has really been completely renewed.
And when we look at history, after the death of Jesus the entire Christian community, suddenly, adopted a set of beliefs that were brand-new and until that point had been unthinkable. The first Christians had a resurrection-centered view of reality. They believed that the future resurrection had already begun in Jesus. They believed that Jesus had a transformed body that could walk through walls yet eat food.
N.T. Wright tells us that, every one of these beliefs was unique in the world up to that time, but in every other instance that we know of, such a massive shift in thinking at the worldview level only happens to a group of people over a period of time. It ordinarily takes years of discussion and argument in which various thinkers and writers debate the nature of the resurrection until one side wins. However, the Christian view of resurrection was something totally unprecedented in history, and sprang up full-blown immediately after the death of Jesus. There was no process, development, or debates. His followers said that their beliefs did not come from such debating and discussing. Rather, they were just telling others what they had seen or what others have seen.
And as Pascal puts it, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. It is not enough for skeptics to simply dismiss the Christian teaching about the resurrection of Jesus by saying “it just couldn’t have happened!” Rather, as we have shown through history the proofs of the resurrection of Christ, it is their turn to show proof that it didn’t happen.
This concludes chapter 13, The Reality of the Resurrection, in which I hope it was all understandable and persuasive enough of many evidences that proves to us, from history, that the resurrection had to occur. There was a great change occurring in the minds and spirits of all people around the world. And in their belief, as it should be ours, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had conquered death and has risen to sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty!