The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Facts about Jesus
More evidence exists for Jesus’ life and execution than for Alexander the Great. For instance, non-Christian historians such as Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny all provide records of the man. The Jewish Talmud describes Jesus as a false prophet who was executed for blasphemy, and Thallus in AD52 recorded the events that occurred at Jesus’ death. But did Jesus subsequently rise from the dead?
Circumstantial evidence for his resurrection seems overwhelming. Everyone knew where he was buried, and the Jews had arranged for the tomb to be sealed shut to prevent the body being taken, so the religious leaders could easily have exhumed the corpse and paraded it through Jerusalem to quash the Christian’s assertion that he had risen from the dead; yet they didn’t. Roman officers in charge of the crucifixion were experts at their work, and it’s extremely unlikely they would make an error when they declared Jesus to be dead and removed his body from the cross. So why was the tomb empty?
Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
To fully understand this topic, we must first understand the nature of man from God’s perspective. The Bible makes it very clear that human nature provokes everyone to do things that displease God and such behaviour estranges us from Him. For instance, Paul states in his letter to the church in Rome, “There is none who does good; no not one,” and later adds, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:12, 23).
It’s a problem that goes right back to the beginning in the Garden of Eden, where Adam was given responsibility to look after God’s creation. God gave him instructions for what he was allowed to do and what he wasn’t. Unfortunately Adam chose to disobey, and did the one thing that was prohibited. As a consequence of his action, he paid the ultimate penalty and received the death sentence (Genesis 3). Chapters 5 and 6 of the letter to Rome further explain that because all of Adam’s descendents also do things that are wrong, they are also all under the same sentence of death. Paul put it this way: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12). He summed it up later with the phrase, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In other words, death is the direct result of everyone doing wrong in God’s eyes.
Humans resent death and believe God was wrong and unfair to punish us in this way. Therefore, they die and return to the dust just like their forefather Adam. Jesus was the exception to this because he was the one person who never succumbed to temptation, even though he had a nature just like everyone else’s. The letter to the Hebrews states that Jesus “was in all points tempted like we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), and when he died, God therefore honoured him by raising him from the tomb, never to die again.
Jesus’ death is God’s way of redeeming mankind from the consequence of their sins. Farther on in the same letter it says that Jesus “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” and “was offered once to bear the sins of many.” (Hebrews 9:26-28). Just as all mankind dies because we have inherited the traits of Adam, so because of Jesus, we can all be raised from our graves in the future if we can be classed as Jesus’ descendants instead of Adam’s. Paul explains this in his letter to the church in Corinth, where he wrote, “For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1Corinthians 15:21-22).
An important point to note here is the timing that Paul describes because he continues (verse 23), “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterwards those that are Christ’s at his coming.” So we note that the resurrection of those who have decided to follow Jesus will occur at his second coming.
So we have a choice—we can continue to follow Adam (and say that Adam was right and that he should not have died) or we can follow God (and say that God is right and that we deserve death).
This topic is important because it holds out a great hope to all; but what do we need to do in order to shun our lineage from Adam? The apostle Paul explained it in terms of us needing to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), by which he meant being determined to overcome the temptations that arise from our human nature. Of-course, Christians don’t get it right all the time—far from it—but they do try.
Importantly, Christians need to demonstrate to God that they want to make that transition in behaviour, and this is done by being baptised. By undergoing the simple act of baptism, an understanding adult shows their desire to “change sides” and to follow Jesus rather than Adam. In figurative language, that person is then said to have died and to have been raised again during their baptism (which involves going under the water’s surface and coming up again). It’s by taking that action that we become associated with Jesus instead of Adam, and God promises we will then literally be raised from the dead in the future as was Jesus—when Paul wrote to Timothy about this he assured him, “This is a faithful saying: for if we have died with him, we shall also live with him.” (2Timothy 2:11).
Resurrection is core to the Christian faith, and no-one can be a Christian if they deny that Jesus died and rose again. Paul was adamant about this when he wrote to the Corinthian church: “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” (1Corinthians 15:4). Later, he added “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile.” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
People often seem reluctant to dedicate their lives to God, but do we really dare to reject the gracious offer of a future resurrection that He holds out for us?