|The Victory Of A Conquering God (2) (The Resurrection Historically and Philosophically Considered)|
|Who Moved The Stone?||135||A Purposive Universe||140|
|Foolish Theories To Explain Away The Resurrection||136||Resurrection – A Divine Action Consistent With Divine Purpose!||141|
|Was Jesus' Body Stolen?||137||Resurrection – Puzzling Or Purposeful?||142|
|Hysterical Visions Or Historic Facts?||138||Discussion Questions||143|
|Is The Resurrection Philosophically Feasible?||139||Discussion Questions (Continued)||144|
Who Moved The Stone?
We are looking at the meaning of Christ's resurrection. Great things were accomplished when Christ arose from the dead. The resurrection vindicated God's righteousness, proved God's promises, demonstrated God's power, sealed Satan's doom, provided man's salvation, and guaranteed man's future resurrection life!
Do you possess and enjoy the hope which the resurrection has brought into our despairing world? That hope has been given to our world through the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus. However, that hope only becomes yours personally and experientially as you take the living Christ into your life as Saviour and Lord. You must abandon all hope for salvation, aside from Jesus Christ. You can't save yourself. Only the resurrected Christ can save you. Turn your life over to the One who has conquered your enemy–death. Confess your sins today and let the power that raised Christ from the dead touch and transform your life.
He can deliver you from the bondage of fear and death, and give you new life. He can write your name in the 'Book of Life' (Revelations 20:15). You can live an abundant life on earth and enjoy eternal life with Christ someday in heaven. Turn your life over to Christ. Remember, the object of your faith determines the value of your faith. Put your faith in the resurrected Christ and you will live forever!
There are three ways to look at the resurrection of Jesus–devotionally, historically, and philosophically. Each way is important for a complete understanding of the resurrection. Some there are, honest people, who would like to enjoy the affirmations regarding the resurrection, devotionally, but who question the resurrection's historical authenticity and philosophical feasibility. It is to these honest people, who entertain honest doubts, that we must now speak.
If Christianity is founded on belief in the resurrection of Christ, what evidence is there that the resurrection is a historical fact?
The scriptures say that certain women found the tomb empty on Easter Day. The question that must be answered is, "Who moved the stone and what happened to the body of Jesus?"
Several theories have been given in an attempt to explain the empty tomb–explanations other than the traditional Christian explanation. We must give an honest answer to those who would ask us for a reason for the hope that we have within us. To do this we must briefly examine the theories which have been advanced to explain away the resurrection of Jesus.
"My heart cannot rejoice in what my mind rejects. My faith must be based on facts, not illusions! Thank you, God, that You are open to honest inquiry!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Honest doubt is the shadow side of honest belief. If I ask honest questions, I will find truthful answers!
Foolish Theories To Explain Away The Resurrection
To confront doubts regarding the historical reliability of the resurrection, we must examine the theories which have been advanced to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
To explain away the resurrection, some say that the women went to the wrong sepulcher. It is said by some that the women went to the wrong sepulcher because it was dark and they were greatly grief-stricken. There are two main weaknesses in this theory: (1) It was not completely dark. Luke says that it was 'at early dawn' (Luke 24:1), and Mark says that 'the sun had risen' (Mark 16:2). (2) These women were no fools. Two of the women who went to the sepulcher in the early morning had previously watched the whole process of burying. There were at least five women who visited the tomb, and therefore if one started on the wrong path, she would be corrected by another. It is not likely that all would go to the wrong sepulcher. Mary Magdalene returned later in the full light of the day, and if she would have gone to the wrong place the first time, it is not likely that she would have made the same mistake the second time. When these women came in the early morning, they came with a business like concern to anoint the body and they were determined to complete their tasks. If they had gone to the wrong place the first time, they would not have given up until they had found the right tomb.
There is another theory. It is called the Swoon Theory. Some say Jesus did not die on the cross, but that he only fainted. He revived in the tomb, left it, and then showed Himself to His disciples, and convinced them that He was the glorious Lord! It is almost impossible to conceive that people could take this theory seriously. (1) Only after Pilate was thoroughly convinced by the centurion that Jesus was dead, did he give Joseph permission to remove the body. The centurion probably was present when "one of the soldiers pierced his (Jesus') side with a spear, and at once there came out blood." (John 19:34) (2) It is inconceivable to believe that if Jesus fainted, he would be able to survive for thirty-six hours in a stone sepulcher without warmth or food, after He had experienced the pains of trial, mockery, flogging, and crucifixion. How could a weakling whose body was racked by pain, be able to move a large boulder, and that without disturbing the Roman guard? (3) How could a weak and sickly person give the disciples the notion that He was glorious in appearance and victorious over death? Would he not rather have a ghastly, deathly appearance, after going through such an ordeal? What happened to Jesus after the forty days? Could He have died without anyone knowing about it?
"God, I am so grateful that I do not have to commit intellectual suicide to become a Christian! My 'leap of faith' is not a blind leap! Christianity's faith is based on history's facts! Wonderfu1!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: An unexamined faith is a faith not worth having! My search for truths will lead me to surrender to the truth!
Was Jesus' Body Stolen?
Another theory says that thieves stole the body of Jesus. There is no evidence for this. How could thieves have escaped the attention of the guards to move the stone? Why would thieves have wanted the body in the first place, and why would they leave the clothes undisturbed?
Some say that Jesus' disciples removed the body of Jesus. It is argued by some that Jesus' disciples took the body while the guards slept. There are certain real difficulties to this theory also. (1) The soldiers were especially chosen to guard the tomb in order that the disciples might not steal the body and then claim that he arose from the dead. It is highly unlikely that all of the guards would have slept when they had a special assignment. How would guileless and defenseless women get past the guard to roll away the heavy stone? (2) The disciples' main emphasis in their preaching was the resurrection, and they were willing even to suffer for preaching it. Psychologically it is almost unthinkable that a group of men would suffer for a cause that they well knew was not genuine. The disciples were so convinced of the reality of the resurrection that they were willing joyfully to lay down their lives in martyrdom!
Others advance the theory that Roman or Jewish authorities took the body. Some argue that to avoid the trickery of the disciples or of others, the authorities took Jesus' body into safe custody. This theory has one main weakness which makes it completely invalid. The preaching of the resurrection by the disciples caused great disturbance, both to the Jews and Romans. As John Stott says, "The Jews feared conversions; the Romans riots." To avoid the disturbance which the preaching of the resurrection brought to both the Jewish authorities and Roman authorities, the body of Jesus could have been produced, if it had been taken by the authorities. The authorities never attempted to produce the body of Christ. If they could have produced it, Christianity would have been destroyed before it even got a good start.
These are the theories presented to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are harder to believe than the supernatural explanation of the Bible!
The resurrection is positively proven in the two following ways: (1) The Lord was bodily seen alive after the crucifixion; (2) The lives of the disciples were radically changed. The tomb was not only empty, but many actually saw the Lord after the crucifixion and their lives, as a result of seeing the living Christ, were wonderfully changed! "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
"God, you honor the honest doubter and condemn the dishonest doubter! My honest doubts are fading in the light of historical truth! Thank you for honest evidence–evidence that demands a moral verdict!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Because the body of Christ could not be produced, the body of the Church cannot be destroyed!
Hysterical Visions Or Historic Facts?
Paul lists those who saw Christ alive after the crucifixion: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
J. B. Phillips, well known New Testament translator, writes concerning the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians: "Then I came to the fifteenth chapter, which I have come to regard in some ways as the the most important chapter in the New Testament. Certainly it is the earliest evidence for the resurrection of Christ. We need to remind ourselves that so far there were no written gospels, and that these words were written some twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus. There would still be many alive who knew and remembered him, and Paul lists some of those who saw Christ alive after his very public death. I was struck again by the 'over five hundred Christians' who saw Jesus simultaneously, 'of whom,' Paul comments, 'the majority are still alive.' The evidence for the resurrection does not rest on hysterical visions in the half-light of early dawn but on actual 'appearances,' the last of which seems to have happened to Paul. I noticed the flat, matter-of-fact recital of known events. There is no attempt to persuade or prove, and certainly there is no artistic embellishment. Paul is, in effect, saying: these are the historic facts which we know." (Ring of Truth; pg. 32)
Some explanation must be given for the dramatic changes in the disciples' lives and many other Jews in Jerusalem. The same Peter who denied his Lord, is soon found fearlessly preaching in Jerusalem. Hundreds of Jews were converted within Jerusalem, despite the threat of the angry Jewish leaders. The message of the apostles was discussed and critically examined, and proved to be valid and persuasive.
Not only was Peter persuaded of the validity of the resurrection and even risked his life to preach it, but James, the brother of the Lord, became a strong leader among the believers in Jerusalem. James had previously opposed Christ and showed no tendencies to follow the teachings of his older brother. What factor so radically changed his life? What caused him to be willing to suffer martyrdom for the new movement? Nothing less than the fact of the resurrection! What turned Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle? The resurrection!
"God, what power can make the fearful into the fearless, the doubter into the believer, the impotent into the powerful, the whiner into the winner, the spineless into the courageous? The world has been shaped and shocked since Jesus came! Why? Because of resurrection power? I believe so!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Nothing less than resurrection power can change a Saul into a Paul, a bad man into a good man!
Is The Resurrection Philosophically Feasible?
We noted yesterday that the fact of the resurrection turned sinners into saints and persecutors of the faith into proclaimers of the faith! The disciples were so convinced that the resurrection was a fact, that their cowardice and disbelief were changed to an invincible faith. They could not doubt the validity of the resurrection after they had seen the Lord with their own eyes!
The very existence of the Christian Church for nineteen centuries, through periods of bitter persecution, is further evidence that a supernatural power was released into the world–a power that Christians call 'resurrection power' which enabled the Church 'to stand the test of time.'
Further, "there is the institution of the Christian Sunday–which can also be traced back to much the same place and date. To what does this owe its inception? The Jews were fanatically attached to their Sabbath, and the early Church was almost exclusively Jewish. It must have required some event of the deepest and most startling significance to make them change to the first day of the week. It did: it was nothing less than the resurrection. And the same line of reasoning can be applied to the festival of Easter." (The Evidence for the Resurrection; by J. N. D. Anderson; pg. 14)
There are those, however, who, even after being moved by the resurrection story, and after even being honestly and intellectually persuaded that the historical evidence for the resurrection is sufficient and valid, are nevertheless inwardly compelled to conclude that a dead man rising from the dead is so incredible that it is impossible to believe. Some who might be inclined to admit to the historical validity of the resurrection are not so quickly inclined personally to believe, because of the supposed rational and philosophical impossibility of the resurrection. Such an attitude of skepticism (after all the historical evidence is in) must be declared as prejudiced and unscientific. Nevertheless, the following question is worthy of consideration: "Can the resurrection be shown to be, not only historically valid, but also philosophically feasible?"
There is convincing evidence, other than the resurrection, for believing that Jesus was 'God manifest in the flesh, I although it must be admitted that the resurrection is the conclusive evidence. Jesus' unique claims, Jesus' miraculous works, the testimony of friends and enemies alike as to the sinlessness of Jesus' character, the mystery and majesty of Jesus' teaching–these facts all point to Jesus' deity. Should it seem incompatible and inconsistent for Jesus, who had shown such uniqueness preceding the resurrection, to have shown uniqueness in the events surrounding His death?
"God, the least I can say about Jesus is that He is unique! Unique in the way He came into the world! Unique in His words and works! Unique in His reactions to His enemies who nailed Him to a cross! Unique in his victory over death!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Because Jesus is altogether unique, He has a unique claim on my life!
A Purposive Universe
We contended yesterday that if Jesus showed uniqueness in His life, it should not be surprising that He showed uniqueness in His death. Considering the resurrection philosophically, should it seem incredible that Jesus, who was 'God manifest in human flesh' (as shown by all other evidence), should rise from the dead? Would it not be far more incredible if He had not?
Those who consider the report of the resurrection as philosophically infeasible, are those who have chosen a naturalistic view of reality. To adopt the naturalistic position is to adopt a mechanical, closed-ended conception which holds that the universe is like a perpetual-motion machine with fixed laws over which God has no control, and in which anything that appears to contradict the normal laws of nature cannot happen.
The one who has intellectual problems in philosophically accepting the resurrection as a real possibility needs to consider the broader, more inclusive view of reality; namely, the supernaturalistic view of reality, or sometimes called the purposive view of reality.
To adopt the supernaturalistic view of reality is to adopt the purposive view of reality. The purposive view offers a logical explanation for novelties or irregularities in nature. Prayer, providence, and miracles (the greatest of which is the resurrection) are understandable, and science and religion are complementary in understanding reality. It is not a matter of choosing between uniformity in nature's laws and reports of miracles, but both can be accepted without conflict or contradiction.
The principle can be apprehended and illustrated by noting that human experience and nature both show constancy in general, but flexibility in specific. For example, the general trend in a person's moral development can be predicted, but not the specific decisions, since they are made not on the basis of efficient causation, but on the basis of good as apprehended. As another example, consider that although there is uniformity in laws, nature shows flexibility in the changing of seasons and in the variety of days. There is constancy, but not identity.
Because God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and creator of all natural laws, it is al together reasonable to think that He could introduce a supernatural event in history if it would serve His eternal purposes. This world with its laws is a subsidiary system, subject to God's will and eternal purposes. Natural law says that a dead man cannot rise from the dead. God's eternal purpose demands that one man, Jesus, must rise from the dead if mankind is to be saved! A universe which has redemptive purposes at its heart makes the resurrection of Jesus both a philosophical feasibility and a moral necessity!
"God, I see that you are reliable enough to give mankind predicable laws by which he can routinely live his life, and yet you are loving enough to transcend natural laws, by which, through the resurrection, you save mankind from the unbearable routine of sin!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Because this is a purposive universe, I will live purposefully!
Resurrection – A Divine Action Consistent With Divine Purpose!
Another example of this principle of constancy without identity is seen in the fact that man's physiological processes are mostly mechanical, but his rational, mental processes are purposive, and therefore, man's mind not only supersedes his body, but guides it. "Professor Webb of Oxford insists that all men do, in practice, distinguish between one set of qualities, such as extension and motion, which we attribute to bodies and another set of qualities, such as those of thinking and feeling, which we attribute to minds. If we are going to be empirical, accepting the world as we find it, we must somehow find room for both sets of qualities." (Philosophy of Religion; Elton Trueblood; pg. 214) Thus, one can see that the purposive explanation for reality not only includes the mechanical, but transcends it. "The purposive conception is dualistic or pluralistic in that it admits the existence of both minds and bodies, though both are part of the same creation. Purpose is the larger conception, since it can include mechanism, and mechanism cannot include purpose. The purposive systems we know best (i.e., human beings) include mechanical levels which operate alongside the levels of consciousness and, though they follow different laws, can be used in the service of purpose." (Ibid; pg. 212)
From these examples it is plausible to see that, just as the human body is the medium of expression for the rational human mind, so the world with its uniform laws can be the medium for the activity of divine mind, who can supersede nature's laws if it serves His purpose. Nature is regular because mind is self-consistent, but novelty is understandable when an intelligent adaptation to meet a changing circumstance is necessary to serve purpose or reason. "Constancy of purpose must often exhibit itself by a change in procedure… The order which comes from purpose has, thus, a unity of aim and variety of method. Exceptions to the general rule would be fully consistent with a purposive order though the reality of the purpose would ensure that exceptions would be rare. Exceptions for a good reason, such as the welfare of the human race, would not be 'breaks' in a purposive order, but would, instead, be demonstrations of such an order." (Ibid; pg. 215 ff)
Man cannot always see God's purpose, but that fact doesn't invalidate divine purpose. "When we begin to look at the world with any genuine humility we realize that it is at least thinkable that there may be invasions into our causal system, for there is nothing illogical about the idea that God is superior to what we call natural law. We are helped along this liberating road when we realize that natural laws do not tell us what must be, but are mere generalizations of what, in a very short period of history, has been generally observed to occur. The Christian understands natural law as merely the way in which God's purposive action in our little corner of the universe normally takes place." (A Place To Stand; Elton Trueblood; pg. 93)
"Why should I think it illogical that the creator of nature's laws should supersede nature's causal system to accomplish the redemptive purpose of the universe? Thank you, God, for your invasion into human history!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The resurrection is not supernatural, but natural, from God's viewpoint–a divine action in time consistent with divine purpose in eternity!
1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Acts 26:8, Romans 26:26
Resurrection – Puzzling Or Purposeful?
We said yesterday that the resurrection is a divine action in time, consistent with divine purpose in eternity! If the purpose of God demanded that He supersede natural law and thus make an intelligent adaptation in order to cope with man's moral failure by invading human history, the Incarnation is explainable and the resurrection is not only historically valid, but also rationally and philosophically feasible.
A miracle is only a conspicuous exception to a natural law to achieve the eternal purpose of God, and is therefore not supernatural but normal, as seen from God's viewpoint. "By a miracle a Christian does not mean something mysterious and unaccountable, but rather an event in which the redemptive purpose of God is clearly manifest. A miracle is an alteration in the ordinary course of events which, far from being puzzling, is a clear evidence of divine purpose in God's world. If Christ rose from the dead, as the evidence indicates, that is a miracle. It is a miracle because, in this instance, God chose to intervene directly in the course of events and did so for a transcendently important purpose. If this was necessary to change men's hearts it is not really puzzling, but highly intelligible." (A Place to Stand; Elton Trueblood; pg. 94-95)
As we have already noted, Christianity is a historical religion; that is, it originated in time and in a specific geographical locality. The resurrection has no true devotional or philosophical meaning if the resurrection is not validated as a solid historical fact. We have seen that the evidence is overwhelming in making such a validation.
Thomas Arnold, the famous historian who was appointed to the chair of Modern History at Oxford, gave the following testimony to his own persuasion of the historic trustworthiness of the resurrection narrative: "The evidence for our Lord's life and death and resurrection may be, and often has been, shown to be satisfactory; it is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece, as carefully as every judge summing up a most important case. I have myself done it many times over, not to persuade others but to satisfy myself. I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of any sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead."
"God, Thou are the 'God who acts.' You have decisively acted out your eternal plan for human redemption on the stage of human history. Thank you!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The resurrection, the greatest of all miracles, is simply the manifestation of God's personal and purposeful concern for mankind!
Discussion Questions On 'The Victory Of A Connquering God' (Part II)
In summary form, name at least six realities which the resurrection of Jesus accomplished.
Describe what is meant by the statement: "The object of your faith determines the value of your faith."
What are three ways in which one can look at the resurrection of Jesus?
Discuss the two main weaknesses in the theory of those who attempt to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus by claiming that the women went to the wrong sepulcher because it was dark and they were greatly grief-stricken?
What is the 'Swoon Theory,' and why is this theory such a foolish theory?
Why is the theory which says that thieves stole the body of Jesus a theory that is totally unfounded?
Why is it illogical and inconceivable to argue that Jesus' disciples removed the body of Jesus from the tomb while the guards slept?
What is the main weakness in the theory which argues that Roman or Jewish authorities took the body of Jesus?
What two main arguments can be pointed to as positive 'proof' that Jesus arose from the dead?
List those who, according to 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, actually saw the resurrected Lord.
Why does J. B. Phillips (the well known New Testament translator) consider the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians to be one of the roost important chapters in the New Testament?
Name some of the Jews in Jerusalem whose lives were dramatically changed (following the death of Jesus), and note the most likely reason for the spiritual transformation of these persons.
What is the power that has enabled the Christian Church to exist for nineteen centuries, amidst many changes and amidst severe challenges and crises?
In light of the fanatical attachment which the orthodox Jews had to the Jewish Sabbath, why were the early Jewish converts to Christianity persuaded to exchange Saturday for Sunday as their day of worship?
What are significant facts, all of which combine to form strong evidence to validate Jesus' claim to being divine?
Discussion Questions On 'The Victory Of A Conquering God' (Part II) – Cont.
If Jesus showed uniqueness in His birth and in His life, should it be surprising that He showed uniqueness in His death? Why or why not?
Those who consider the report of the resurrection as philosophically infeasible are those who have chosen a naturalistic view of reality. Describe such a view of reality, and show why adopting such a view of reality makes it impossible to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
What is the supernaturalistic (purposive) view of reality, and why does such a view of reality make the bodily resurrection of Jesus both logically possible and philosophically feasible?
Illustrate from both human personality development and from physical nature how the contrasting principles of constancy and flexibility work together in a complementary fashion. How does the supernaturalistic view of reality take into consideration both the principles of constancy and flexibility as these principles relate to 'natural law' and 'miracle'?
Discuss what is meant by the statement: "A universe which has redemptive purpose at its heart makes the resurrection of Jesus both a philosophical feasibility and moral necessity!"
Discuss how the following statement helps make the bodily resurrection of Jesus more philosophically feasible: "Just as the human body is the medium of expression for the rational human mind, so the world with its uniform laws can be the medium for the activity of divine mind, who can supersede nature's laws if it serves His purpose. Nature is regular because mind is self-consistent, but novelty is understandable when an intelligent adaptation to meet a changing circumstance is necessary to serve divine purpose or reason."
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "The resurrection of Jesus is not supernatural, but natural, from God's viewpoint–a divine action in time consistent with divine purpose in eternity!"
Considering the supernaturalistic view of reality, do you agree or disagree with the following definition of a 'miracle': "A miracle is only a conspicuous exception to a natural law, to achieve the eternal purpose of God, and is therefore not supernatural but normal, as seen from God's viewpoint."
What is your personal reaction to the following quotation from Thomas Arnold (the famous historian who was appointed to the chair of Modern History at Oxford): "I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead."