Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photo credit: gcu.edu
THE Gospel of Mark chronicled what happened after the burial of Jesus Christ. It said that early on the following Sunday, some of Jesus’ women followers – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (the mother of James and John) – went to the tomb to sprinkle more spices on the corpse.
Mark 16:2-5 recorded: “And very early on the Sunday morning, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were wondering among themselves who would roll away the stone for them from the entrance to the tomb, when they looked up and saw that the stone, huge as it was, had been rolled back already. They went into the tomb, where they saw a youth sitting on the right-hand side, wearing a white roe; and they were dumbfounded.”
The youth was actually an angel. He told them, “Fear nothing; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised again; he is not here; look, there is the place where they laid him. But go and give this message to his disciples and Peter: ‘He is going on before you into Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'”
Later on the same day, according to Luke, John, and Mark, Jesus appeared to the women and other of the disciples at various locations in and around Jerusalem. Most of the disciples did not doubt that they had again seen and heard the master they had known and followed during the time of his ministry in Galilee and Judea. A few disciples, however, doubted it at first (Matthew 28:17). Thomas, who had not been present at these first appearances, also doubted that Jesus had risen (John 20:24-29).
As recorded in the New Testament, the Resurrection became one of the most compelling doctrines of Christianity because, according to this doctrine, by rising from the dead, Jesus gave humanity hope of a life after death. However, some denied that Christ actually resurrected. Some five theories have been forwarded: fraud, swoon, vision, spirit, and heart.
The fraud theory says that either Jesus or his disciples (or both) simply invented the entire thing. It would have us believe that Christ was simply a clever crook who read the prophecies regarding the Messiah in the Old Testament and set about arranging for them to be fulfilled by himself. However, it would have been somewhat difficult for an imposter to arrange the place where he was to be born (it had to be Bethlehem) or for some Roman soldiers to cooperate by not breaking his bones on the cross, as prophesied in the Old Testament.
In the swoon theory, Christ “merely fainted on the cross and was later revived by the cool, dark air of the tomb.” But how did he get out of that tomb? What “bright light” did he use to blind and terrify the Roman soldiers who stood guard outside?
The vision theory advocates that the early disciples were guilty of using some kind of primitive LSD. If this were true, then the practice was certainly widespread, for, on one occasion alone, over 500 claimed to have seen him. There is not one speck of biblical or secular evidence to support such an empty theory.
The spirit theory holds that only Jesus’ spirit arose. But Jesus is said to have eaten while in his resurrected body (Luke 24:41-43). The new body still bore the marks of his crucifixion (John 20:27). This view, like the vision theory, cannot for one-second stand the logic of reason.
Finally, in the heart theory, we are to believe that “he was only resurrected in the heart of his friends.” The trouble here, however, is that none of those friends actually believed he would literally rise from the dead until they saw him with their own eyes and heard his words with their ears.
It is ironic and sad that the predicted resurrection of Jesus Christ was remembered only by his enemies, the Pharisees, and not by his friends. Matthew 27:62-64 says: “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember that the deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulcher 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.'”
Jesus Christ appeared no less than seventeen times after his resurrection. Five of these occurred during the first Easter Sunday, and six more took place between that time and his ascension. The remaining six happened between Pentecost and the completion of the Bible.
“Taken as a whole, the appearances are of such various characters and to so many people under so many different circumstances that the proof of the resurrection of Christ is as solid as any historical fact that could be cited in the first century,” comments Dr. H. L. Willmington in Guide to the Bible.
Why is there so much ado about the resurrection of Christ? The resurrection is the very linchpin of the Christian faith. The apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
“The resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning,” explained Dr. Gary Habermas, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry. “The earliest Christians didn’t endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after his crucifixion. That’s what changed their lives and started the church.”
Theologian Gerald O’Collins put it this way: “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.”
Dr. Willmington agrees. He contends, “The resurrection of Christ is the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence of the Christian faith. The sign of Christianity is really not the cross, but an empty tomb.”
Finally, here’s a thought from Dr. Charles S. Braden, author of The World’s Religions: “Men do not rise from the dead. People do not pass through closed doors. People are not suddenly snatched away or do not suddenly disappear into thin air. Yet the disciple Thomas in particular was told to put his hand in the wounded side of his master and to feel the nail prints in his hand. So perplexing is the story that many modern people have been led to question the truth of it, though they find it hard to explain all the circumstances which the Gospel narratives recount… By far, the larger number of Christians today are quite confident in their belief that the Gospel narratives of His resurrection are wholly to be relied upon.”
Faith, after all, gives substance to our hopes and makes us certain of realities we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).