American Journal of Biblical Theology
April 15, 2007
Copyright © 2007, J.W. Carter Scripture quotes from KJV
The hope of Christian faith is founded on one historical fact: the resurrection of Jesus. There is much that unbelievers simply do not understand about the character and person of Jesus, Christ. As Jesus, He was fully human, born of the virgin Mary on a winter night in Bethlehem. As the Christ, He is the Messiah, the person of God through all of creation was made and by whom all of creation is judged (John 1:1-16). As Jesus, He had the physical attributes to communicate to use the clear message of the gospel. As the Christ, He has the spiritual authority and creative power to fulfill the message of the gospel. That message is simple: God loves those whom He created so much that He came to earth Himself to provide a means for the redemption of all mankind from the consequence of their sin as He humbled Himself to the cross of Calvary, paying the cost of the forgiveness of that sin for all who place their faith and trust in Him. As Jesus, He died on that cross, paying that price for sin. As Messiah, He was resurrected from the dead, restored to His person as both Jesus and Messiah, fully human, and fully God.
The resurrection is necessary for God's plan to be completed, yet many reject the fact of the resurrection, denying God's plan and His power to save people from their sins. Instead of trusting in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, people fall back to the hopeless effort of obtaining righteousness by their own actions, actions that are never completely free from the sinful attitudes and actions that expose their ungodliness and their inadequacy to enter God's presence.
However, when we embrace the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find the only source of true hope in the knowledge that Jesus does have the power to forgive sins, that Jesus does have power over physical death, and that His promise of eternal life to those who place their faith and trust in Him is sure.
Why would people trade the hope that is found in the resurrection for the hopelessness that is found in its rejection? They would argue that the resurrection is a myth with no real historical evidence. However, the truth is that there is no event in ancient times that has as much evidence as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. History is formed from records that are created by first-person witnesses, and there is no event in ancient history that holds so many reliable and consistent records, both within the biblical text and within many first- and second-century writings. The following is a list of some of the biblical historical texts that describe encounters with the risen Christ.
RESURRECTION APPEARANCES OF JESUS
- To the women at the tomb on Easter morning (Luke 24:1-12)
- To Peter, the same day (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5 )
- To two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-31 )
- To the apostles, Thomas is absent (Luke 24:36-45; John 20:19-24 )
- To the apostles, Thomas is present (John 20:24-29 )
- To seven by the Lake of Tiberius (John 21:1-23 )
- To about 500, in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:6; Matt. 28:16-20 )
- To James in Jerusalem and Bethany (1 Cor. 15:7 )
- To many at the Ascension (Acts 1:3-9 )
- To Stephen when he is stoned (Acts 7:55 )
- To Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor. 15:8 )
- To Paul in the temple (Acts 22:17-19; 23:11 )
- To John on Patmos (Rev. 1:10-18 )
One of the most compelling arguments for the resurrection is found simply in the tremendous impact that the event had on the lives of those who knew Jesus at his death. Immediately following Jesus' death we find the apostles and disciples in shock, grief and despair. They had put all of their hope and trust in Jesus, and now he was dead. How do you think they felt? What ideas, do you suppose, were going through their mind? Why did they not know that Jesus would rise in three days? It appears from their response to Golgotha that the concept of the resurrection never entered their minds. It is ironic and sad that the predicted resurrection of Christ was remembered only by his enemies, the Pharisees, and not by his friends.
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. 65Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. (Matt. 27:62-65)
So much for his enemies. But what about his friends?
1. The women did not remember.
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? (Mark 16:1-3)
2. Mary Magdalene did not remember.
And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. (John 20:13)
3. Peter and John did not remember.
For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. (John 20:9-10)
4. The apostles did not remember (Lk. 24:9-11).
5. The two disciples on the Emmaus Road did not remember (Lk. 24:13-31).
6. Thomas did not remember.
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. (John 20:24-29)
Why were the faithful so quick to become discouraged and abandon Jesus at this time of need? It might be easier for us to be critical and judgmental when we can look back like armchair quarterbacks who have already seen the transpiration of events. However, these people were experiencing the events as they happened, and they had not yet received the Holy Spirit prior to the resurrection. Their fear of capture was genuine. Their shock and grief were real. Their response also fulfilled the prophesy of Ps 38:11 as recorded in Matt 27:55, Mark 15:40, and Luke 23:49.
The events of the weekend have ended, and the many disciples who came to Jerusalem for the Passover are returning home. Certainly, for many the trip was much different from others. People were trying to make sense of the Roman execution of this prophet from Nazareth, the death of the Most Faithful when they are celebrating the Passover, remembering God's promise of protection of the faithful. It is at this time that find two disciples, one named Cleopas, traveling Northwest of Jerusalem on a road to their Emmaus home.
And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. 14And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. 16But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.
What were the disciples talking about while they were walking? Luke's story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus emphasizes the uncertainty and puzzlement of Christ's followers. This is displayed in the variety of terms Luke uses to describe their excited conversation as they walked along the way. They were talking, homiloun (24:14-15), discussed, suzetein (24:15), and as another word translated discuss, antiballete suggests, were literally throwing ideas back and forth. It was then that Jesus joined them, unrecognized. (Victor Bible Background Commentary)
They were overwhelmed by unexplainable circumstances. Have you ever experienced a time when you were simply overwhelmed by events? Why, do you suppose, the disciples did not recognize Him? Verse 16 implies that God kept them from recognizing him. It is certainly apparent that these two men were not looking for Jesus, nor would they have reason to do so. Often we can fail to recognize a familiar person when that individual is encountered in a context different from that which is normal. We don't expect to see a familiar face in a strange place. We certainly do not expect to see the face of one who has just died. Consequently, there are many reasons why these men would not recognize Jesus. God had a purpose for this encounter with the men: Jesus was to use this as an opportunity to encourage these two and others who were so discouraged.
And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? 18And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? 19And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: 20And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. 21But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.
Note that the disciples testified that their hopes were dashed. Have you ever had your hopes and plans destroyed? Often, when such hopes are gone, we in retrospect can find that those hopes were not necessarily what God had planned for us. Note that the disciples misunderstood Jesus' purpose. They referred to the redemption of Israel. This is the term used to describe the setting free of a slave through his purchase by a benefactor. Though this is the same term that is used to refer to our being saved from sin, the disciples thought, as did all the others, that Jesus was going to free Israel from Roman rule. Furthermore, their reference to the third day really emphasizes their despair. It was the third day, and there was no change in their political situation. Their misunderstanding only served to feed their despair. They had thought that Rome would be overthrown on this third day. They did not understand to whom they are truly in bondage, and never understood the true purpose of God's plan of salvation. It is that one point that makes it so difficult for people, including Jews, to come to Jesus today.
Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; 23And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. 24And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.
Even amidst rumors of Jesus' resurrection, there was much doubt among the disciples. Word had spread of the empty tomb, and other disciples came to the grave during the day to observe its state. Where were the Roman guards that Pilate had posted? Where was the body of Jesus? Some had said that Jesus was not there because He was alive.
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
The Jews of Jesus' day and most since have one thing in common: they did not understand, nor did they have a heart to believe, the words of the prophets who had all pointed to the coming of the Messiah. The prophesies described Jesus' nature, as well as the nature of his ministry. His suffering and the purpose for that suffering was prophesied by Isaiah. The circumstances of the crucifixion were prophesied in Psalm 22. Jews are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah, and many have simply given up hope. They are left only with their traditions. Others still leave an extra place-setting at the Passover meal in the event that Elijah would come and visit. Other than some words from John the Baptist, there have been no more prophesies since those of the prophet Malachi because Jesus Christ is the prophesied Messiah who came, not to free Israel from Roman bondage, but to save all of God's children from the bondage of sin and its consequence of eternal separation from God. This was God's plan: that the price of forgiveness would be a blood sacrifice, prophesied in the form of the sacrifices that were conducted over the years. The Messiah left eternity to bring this message of salvation to mankind, and it was therefore necessary that He both provide the sacrifice and then return to eternity from which He came, providing a pathway for all who would place their faith and trust in Him. How does one come to understand this message? How does one communicate this gospel of Grace to a lost world?
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Why, do you suppose, Jesus took the time to walk with these two and explain all of the Old Testament scriptures that described Him, His ministry, and His passion? Jesus had compassion on them as he saw their grief and despair. He met these two at their point of need. So, Jesus explained the meanings of the prophesies that concerned the coming of the Messiah, and as his disciples, they were willing to listen to his words. Unlike the Jews who rejected Jesus, they wanted to know more. They truly wanted to understand what was going on as they dealt with their grief and confusion. What Old Testament scriptures do you suppose Jesus used? Certainly, Jesus spent some time in Isaiah 53:5 as well as many others. We find in later verses that by using the scriptures to describe the context of the situation, the two disciples were very encouraged. Likewise, when we go through periods of grief, we also can turn to the scriptures to find guidance and help.
As they walked on, Christ explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself, showing them that the Christ had to suffer these things and only then enter His glory (24:26). You and I will never fully understand what Jesus experienced here on earth, or begin to grasp what anguish that moment of spiritual death caused our God. But what we do know is that Christ had to suffer. Not because we deserved redemption. No, the necessity existed because of who He is, not because of who we are. (Victor Bible Background Commentary)
And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. 29But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
It was customary, as well as a traditional law, that one would always take in a Jewish stranger at night and care for him. We know from later verses how much the two men enjoyed listening to Jesus as they walked, and they probably hoped to hear some more of His teaching. So, they entered the house with the intent that they were to stay there for the night. They would have removed their sandals, and most likely, washed their feet and hands. They would have then started making preparations for the evening meal. They prepared it, placed it on the table, and started to eat ...
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
The dinner ended a bit differently than the two men expected. It would have been both proper and traditional for the master of the house to close the supper with the breaking of the bread and the blessing, much as Jesus did at the last Supper. However, Jesus took it upon Himself the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and distributed it to them. There were only a few people who would do this. This act alone would have caught their attention, and within its context they would have reason to observe this man not as a guest, but as a Rabbi, a respected teacher of the law and the prophets. It was at this point they recognized who Jesus was, and at that point He left them Why did they recognize Jesus now? Perhaps they saw for the first time the wounds on his hands. Perhaps they recognized the context of Jesus' prayer: its sincere and personal content rather than the traditional repetition of ritual. Whatever the two men perceived, God opened their eyes to see and understand who Jesus was.
What did the disciples mean when they said, "Were not our hearts burning..."? Have you had a similar circumstance when your heart burned within you while you listened to God's word being taught? I often refer to that attitude using the Greek word, animipseusmocox. Taught to me by my good friend and once-pastor, Clayton Day, he described this word as referring to an active curiosity, one that is sincere enough to inspire the person to act upon that curiosity to enable its satiation. Their desire to hear the word was sincere enough that they listened intently in order to understand all that they could.
What, do you suppose was the response of these two men to this experience? Their words to each other reveal how excited they were by his presence, and their later action reveals that they were very excited. Their grief and despair had suddenly turned into joy and hope. Certainly, Jesus' exit was dramatic and solidified for them their own understanding of who Jesus is: the long-awaited Messiah who would save God's people from the consequences of their sins.
Why did Jesus appear to these two at this time, on the first day of resurrection, rather than go immediately to the apostles? It is possible that, because they, like Jesus' enemies, were of those few who remembered that He would rise again on the third day. This was the third day, and Jesus rewarded their faith with His presence, thus causing them not to lose that faith. Perhaps Jesus knew that these disciples would not have an opportunity to return back to Jerusalem and, with many other disciples, see Jesus in one of his later visitations.
And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, 34Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
The two disciples did something unusual and risky. It was most likely about 8:00 to 9:00 PM, and they got up and immediately returned to Jerusalem, about a two-hour walk. Why did they do this? Without hesitation, the two who had just walked the distance from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, now filled with excitement, rose and ran all the way back to Jerusalem at this late night hour to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard. They knew that the disciples, like themselves, were grieved and confused, and news of Jesus' resurrection would bring them hope and joy.
What was the result of the suffering of Jesus? Through it, a way has been provided for salvation of all who would trust in Jesus. Though there was much sorrow at the crucifixion, what happened at and following the resurrection? Those who witnessed and believe in the resurrection no longer have a need to grieve, but rather have reason to have hope and Joy. There is hope when one believes that Jesus is who He says He is, and proof of it in the resurrection that Jesus promised to all who believe. Rather than spending an eternity separated from God, those who trust in the resurrection of Jesus Christ will spend eternity with Him, with God, with the eternal presence of the Holy Spirit.
We see in Jesus' experience that he went from death to life, and gives an example to us, that he provides the same resource for us. Those who love Jesus have no need to fear death or grieve the permanent loss of a loved one who knew Him. Jesus showed us that there is life after the grave. God had a purpose in Jesus' suffering, just as He has a purpose for all things that are experienced by those who love Him>
Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
This scripture says that all things work for good. Does this include even the abuse we suffer? Let's go back to another similar reference in Romans:perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
Jesus promised us an abundant life. This verse shows us one of the paths to that abundance. Therefore, when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow, remember that God has promised to bring good out of it for us, as we will be more useful to his kingdom when we allow Him to help us overcome.
And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
When we look back at the times of grief and despair we can see how God delivered us from it. What can we do when we see another going through a similar experience? Though experience is a tough teacher, tough experiences can serve to make us a better minister of the Gospel. It is often hard to counsel another when we "haven't been there." Consequently, God has used the varied experiences of people in their ministry. Some minister to specific groups of people who have shared experiences. One example is Chuck Colson, who found Jesus in prison, and started Prison Fellowship Ministries.
What are some of the specific things that we can share with lost people who are going through tough times? Each Christian should be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel, and to ask the hearer of that shared gospel if they understand it. If they do, they should be given the opportunity to express their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
On this Easter we celebrate the resurrection, the new life, a renewing. We also celebrate the new life that Jesus has given us through His suffering on our behalf. After all that God did to come to us, to live with us, to humbly suffer at our hands, and ultimately to save us, the only real response we can have is to have an inspired, yearning love for God that will never allow us to see the Easter event with a "warm and fuzzy feeling," but rather with a motivation to put our faith into action and to be a continually more effective minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.