Importance of the Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus is said to be a fulfillment of the prophecy of David. When coupled with other Old Testament prophecies the resurrection was purported to be irrefutable proof that Jesus is a messiah and the son of God. Therefore its importance to Christianity cannot be understated.
Paul glorifies the importance of the resurrection of Jesus in (I Cor. 15:13-19) when he says “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable”. This in itself shows that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the foundation on which Christianity stands. It is little wonder that nothing other than this will even be considered.
Paul states further that Jesus is “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). He emphasizes the importance of the physical resurrection by stating. “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preach to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve” (I Cor. 15:1-5).
In Acts 2:22-33 Peter preaches to the men of Israel that God had raised him who was put to death by godless men. In his sermon he quotes psalm 16. He explains to his listeners that in the psalm David was referring to a messiah and not to himself. As proof of David’s intention he goes on to say that even to that day the tomb of David was to be found in Jerusalem and if opened it would reveal the bones of David, proving that David was not the one meant to resurrect bodily. This was Peter’s way of claiming that it was Jesus and not David who was the Messiah.
The Resurrection of Jesus does not find Universal Acceptance
Not everyone agrees that Jesus in fact resurrected. For instance Pellegrino suggests that the apostles hid in the burial tomb and stole the body of Jesus before the soldiers were posted. However Pellegrino does not seem to have taken into account the factor that the apostles were so scared for their own lives that they went into hiding. Their fear is borne out by the fact that when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the apostles on the evening of the resurrection, they were hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). It was only after the Holy Spirit descended on them, on the Day of Pentecost, that they regained any semblance of courage. Therefore the question of their being brave enough to have robbed the body of Jesus from the tomb does not arise. Besides, if the apostles had indeed robbed the body of Jesus, why would they fabricate a resurrection story and be prepared to die rather than deviate from their faith? (1)
It must be remembered that none of the disciples were witnesses to the resurrection. They were only told the story of the resurrection by a few. It is possible that this majority was victim to a “massive deception”. They were told a resurrection story that could not be verified. Jesus was a charismatic figure and such stories that were told immediately after his crucifixion were readily believable. These stories were retold numerous times, with versions being changed to suit a variety of circumstances till finally some versions found their way into the Gospels as we know them today.
When Pellegrino wrote to Fr. Mervyn Fernando in Sri Lanka and asked him a hypothetical question. “What if archaeologists actually found, say bones and DNA of Jesus? Would a discovery such as this necessarily contradict what Christians believe about the Resurrection story?” Fr. Fernando drew Pellegrino’s attention to First Corinthians 15:35 from which it would appear that Paul’s understanding of the resurrection “is, the risen body of Christ …………. is a spiritual one, not the material / physical one he had in this life. That physical body would have perished, and if any part of it (bones) are recovered/ identified, it would in no way affect the reality of His resurrection”. In fact verses 44 and 46 refer to a spiritual body. According to these verses believers will “get a spiritual body, one that will be raised in incorruption, glory and power (15:42-44).” Besides this explanation a point against physical resurrection is the fact that all the Gospels state that the disciples and family members of Jesus were surprised on seeing the empty tomb. (2)
Other Reasons as To Why the Tomb Was Empty
There are several theories as to how the tomb became empty. The earliest source regarding this is from Mark who states that on the Sunday following the crucifixion a young man waiting for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome told them that Jesus had been taken up and that he would meet the apostles in Galilee. (3)
Another reason for the tomb being empty is that the tomb that was provided hurriedly was only temporary and that Joseph of Arimathea reburied the body of Jesus in a permanent tomb as soon as Jewish law permitted it. This may have been with or without the knowledge of the family. The visit to the tomb on that Sunday morning and the view that Jesus was raised bodily into heaven (Luke and John) a later apologetic position. Historians would reach the conclusion that the tomb was empty because the one originally provided near the site of the crucifixion in haste was temporary until a permanent one could be found. (4)
Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan refers to the period between the death of Jesus in 30 CE and the records of Paul in 50 CE of what the followers of Jesus under the leadership of James taught or learned about the death of Jesus. For hundreds of years many writers have tried to fill in those twenty years based on the accounts of Luke-Acts and the sharply polemical account of Paul in his letter to the Galatians. (5)
Another reason cited for the tomb of Jesus being empty is as suggested by Pellegrino: the disciples hid in the tomb of Jesus during the Sabbath and stole the body after sunset but before the soldiers were posted. (6).
According to I Corinthians 15: 6-7, the first account of the resurrection of Jesus is by Paul, where there are five hundred witnesses. James is also said to have been there. This account is not supported by any of the Gospels. There is no account of the resurrection in Mark. In Matthew 28:2 we are told that an earthquake announces the arrival of an angel from heaven who rolls away the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb of Jesus. In Luke (Lk 24:1-7) we are told that the women who went to the tomb see two men in dazzling clothes inside the tomb. Luke also states (Lk 24: 13-35) that the resurrected Jesus first appears to Cleopas and a companion on the road to Emmaus. However, they do not recognize Jesus until the evening. (7)
It was not only Cleopas and his companion that did not recognize the resurrected Jesus. Most of the people who saw the resurrected Jesus did not recognize him. Mary Magdalene does not recognize him. In fact she mistakes him for the gardener (Jn 20:15). Luke (Lk 24: 30-51) tells us that Jesus appears as a spirit, vanishes and then reappears and is finally lifted into heaven. This is said to have happened on the day his followers discovered the empty tomb. However as per (Acts 1: 3-10) Jesus appears to the believers for forty days and is then lifted to heaven. (8)
According to (Matthew 27:62–66) a guard of Jewish soldiers was posted outside the tomb of Jesus to prevent the apostles from robbing his body. According to (Matthew 28:1–4) an angel rolled away the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus. And according to (Matthew 28:11–15) the chief priests bribed the soldiers to say that the apostles had stolen the body of Jesus. Some say that a decree by Claudius sometime between 41-54 CE states “It is my will that graves and tombs lie undisturbed forever. . . . I require that he be executed for tomb robbery,” in reaction to the Christian claim that Jesus had resurrected. (9)
Matthew describes the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and another Mary near the empty tomb. Matthew states that appearance occurred when Mary Magdalene and another Mary were going back to tell the disciples about the empty tomb. It also reports the appearance of Jesus to his eleven apostles to tell them to “baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to make disciples of all people.”
According to Luke, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows that he is flesh and blood. During this appearance he tells them to wait in Jerusalem to begin their mission to the world. In Luke 24:13-32, Cleopas relates how Jesus makes himself known to him and his companion by breaking bread. This incident is said to have Eucharistic implications. According to Acts said to have been written by the same author as Luke, Jesus appears to his disciples and stays with them for 40 days before his ascension to heaven. The Acts also describe the appearance of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus.
According to John, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene when she is alone outside the empty tomb. John explains that Mary did not immediately recognize Jesus mistaking him to be the gardener. But John’s report of this appearance differs from the Synoptic Gospels in that Jesus appears to her when she visited the tomb the second time and remained there grieving after everyone else had left. He also reports a conversation having taken place between Mary and two angels that were inside the empty tomb. John’s narration of this encounter is the most descriptive as it details the conversation between Jesus and her (John 20:15).
John reports that Jesus later appears to his disciples – with the exception of Thomas – on the same day. A week later he again appeared to the disciples. It was during this appearance that he asks Thomas to touch his wounds to show the disciples that he is flesh and blood. He again appears to Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons and two other of his disciples near Lake Tiberias. The miraculous catch of 153 fish is said to be a consequence of this appearance.
Mark merely gives a brief of the appearances of Jesus reported by the other evangelists. While Mark also mentions the appearance of Jesus to Mary, he does not mention when this took place. While it is apparent that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first, Mark does not mention whether she was alone or if there was someone else with her. Scholars are in agreement that the reports of Mark vary significantly from other ancient manuscripts and that his report is probably a later addition. The Gospel of John gives the most detailed description of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene. In fact John actually details the conversation between the two during this meeting (John 20:14-16).
The Gospel of the Hebrews describes the appearance of Jesus to his brother James. While Paul reports several resurrection appearances, he does not describe them. (10)
(1) Stolen body hypothesis. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_body_hypothesis
(2) Franz, Gordon. (2007). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb.Retrieved 2011, from http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2007/04/04/so-called-jesus-tomb
(3) Ben-David, Yirm?yahu . (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(4) Ben-David, Yirm?yahu . (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(5) Ben-David, Yirm?yahu . (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(6) Franz, Gordon. (2007). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb ‘Rediscovered’ in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2022, from http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/03/the-so-called-jesus-family-tomb-rediscovered-in-jerusalem.aspx
(7) Where did Jesus appear first to His disciples after the resurrection? (2012). Retrieved 2012, from
(8) Talpiot Dethroned. (2000-2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/talpiot357921.shtml
(9) Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel., Chadwick, Jeffrey R., Judd Jr., Frank F. & Wayment, Thomas A . (2007). Roundtable Discussion. Retrieved 2011, from http://rsc.byu.edu/easterconference/2007/roundtable.
(10) Resurrection Appearances of Jesus. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_appearances_of_Jesus#The_appearance_to_Mary_Magdalene
Picture Credits: 1) The Resurrected Christ https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5027/5671120531_ef8293397c_o_d.jpg
2) Mary Magdalene and the resurrected Christ https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/IVANOV_YAV_HRISTA_MARI1.jpg