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The Resurrection of Christ

The Rev. Ernest F. Kevan, B.D., M.Th.

 



The Campbell Morgan Memorial Bible Lectureship, No. 13 - 14[th] June, 1961.
Westminster Chapel, Buckingham Gate, London, S.W.1
[Reproduced by permission]

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The Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection of Christ. This is the fact by which the entire structure of Christian doctrine and experience is held together. If this be removed, then everything else is removed; if this be proved untrue, then everything else is proved untrue. No statement of the issues involved could be clearer or more forceful than the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians XV. 14-19, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ ... If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable". Reasoning of this kind means that if the resurrection of Christ is not a fact, then Christianity is a delusion.

Professor Godet, in his Lectures in Defence of the Christian Faith, speaks of the importance of the resurrection of Christ, and points out that it was this miracle, and this alone, to which Christ referred as the attestation of His claims and authority[1]. It is justifiable, therefore, to affirm that the resurrection of Christ is the primary conviction of the Christian faith.

This being so, it is not surprising that there have been many attempts on the part of the opponents of Christianity to discredit the resurrection of Christ. These attacks render it imperative that all Christians in every age "should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints".[2] This is the object of the present inquiry. First the evidence of the resurrection of Christ will be investigated by an examination of the witnesses, and then an inquiry will be made into the arguments in contradiction of it.


I. THE EVIDENCE OF THE RESURRECTION

Sometimes an investigation of the kind which is here proposed is deprecated. It is argued that all a man must do is to believe in Christ, and accept the rest on the strength of that belief. It must be agreed that such a simplicity of faith is all that is required for the forgiveness of sins and eternal blessedness. But the faith of the Gospel is historically founded, and it was the wisdom of God that it should be so. It is impossible, therefore, for the intelligent believer to be indifferent to the basic

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facts of his faith; and although the devout believer is convinced in his mind that He who once died on the Cross now lives for ever, it is incumbent upon him to look into the evidence. Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, "It is no doubt true that faith must ultimately rest on fact, and it is difficult to understand how Christian faith can really be 'agnostic' with regard to the facts about the empty tomb and the risen body, which are so prominent in the NT, and which form an essential part of the apostolic witness".[3]

In the facing of the evidence, Christian Apologetics begs no favours at the hands of historical criticism. In submitting its arguments it asks for no predisposing assumptions: neither does it stipulate that historical criticism shall regard the four Gospels or the New Testament epistles as inspired. Christian Apologetics expects, and, indeed, is anxious to have its evidence treated exactly as any other piece of historical evidence. It is even prepared, for the sake of the investigation, to put forward its claims merely as a hypothesis which shall be subjected to all the usual tests.

All that is required for historical evidence of any event is the testimony of credible witnesses, and all that is required for the proving of a hypothesis is that it shall account for all the facts. The Christian Apologist for the resurrection of Christ, however, has no fears on these points. The evidence he has at his disposal complies perfectly with what is required by the standards of historical criticism. Further, not only is he persuaded that his "hypothesis" accounts for all the facts, but he knows also that it is the only one that is able to do so.

The documentary sources of the evidence for the resurrection of Christ may be classified as follows: (1) The history of the Acts, (2) The record of the Gospels, and (3) The writings of Paul. Documents such as these are more than sufficient for the most rigorous demands of scientific investigation.


THE EVIDENCE OF THE HISTORY OF THE ACTS

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke sometime between A.D. 63 and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He explains in the preface to his Gospel that he gathered his information from eyewitnesses, and this, it may be concluded, was also the way in which he prepared the Book of the Acts. Further, as certain sections in the history show, by the use of the pronoun "we", Luke was himself a participator in some of the events which he narrates. He was in the midst of the early preaching, and took a share in the great happenings of the early days. Luke is, therefore, a contemporary and first-hand witness, and

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one also who has been proved by historical criticism to be conscientious and accurate. Moreover, it is impossible to suppose that the Early Church did not know its own history; and the very fact of the acceptance by the Church of this book is evidence of its accuracy. The reading of the story of those early days, as the Book of the Acts tells it, makes it clear that the resurrection of Christ was the perpetual theme of the apostolic preaching, and that the apostolic Church was brought into being by the fact of the risen Christ. Archbishop Alexander has said, "As the Church is too holy for a foundation of rottenness, so she is too real for a foundation of mist."[4] An impartial examination of this history of the Early Church reveals that everything centred in one great event, and that event was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In its joyful existence, in its faith, in its preaching, in its ordinances, and in its immediate observance of the Lord's Day the Church revealed that it was convinced that Christ had risen from the dead.


THE EVIDENCE OF THE RECORD OF THE GOSPELS

The Gospel according to John possesses considerable value as the testimony of an eye-witness. But, having been written by him in his old age, and therefore not appearing until towards the close of the first century, it stands rather apart. In the Synoptic Gospels, however, there is written evidence which belongs to a date some five or six years earlier than the Book of the Acts. If John be omitted for the moment, and in order to approximate nearer to the date of the resurrection itself, there is a triple testimony. This testimony comes from those who were participants in the history, and it belongs to a period separated from the event by no more than thirty years.

What that testimony is everybody knows. It tells how Jesus Christ, having been crucified and buried, was discovered early in the morning on the first day of the week to have risen from the dead. Visitors to the tomb found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and the Roman guard departed. Angels met the visitors with the question, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" In addition, they volunteered the information, "He is not here, but is risen".[5] This amazing discovery at the tomb was followed by repeated encounters with the Lord Himself. In the meantime, the Jewish and Roman authorities devised a tale by which to contradict the miracle. These records show that, although, the Lord had foretold His rising again - and the Synoptists record it at least ten times - none of the disciples seemed to understand it, and certainly none of them expected it. Those who first discovered the fact were filled

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with the mixed emotions of "fear and great joy"[6] and some of the Lord's intimate circle could not at first believe it.[7] Dr. Sanday refers to the alleged problem of harmonising the various accounts of the resurrection day with the subsequent appearances of Christ and says, "No difficulty of weaving the separate incidents into an orderly, well-compacted narrative could impugn the unanimous belief of the Church which lies behind them, that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day and appeared to the disciples".[8]

Here, then, is the witness of the Gospel records. These records bear the stamp of truth upon their very face, and closer examination of them serves but to confirm that impression. Indeed, it must be pointed out that the natural variation in the different accounts is one of the hallmarks of their historical trustworthiness. Further, the whole tenor of their style and language is such as to carry the conviction of their credibility. Especially is this so in their account of the risen Christ, the reading of which shows the sheer impossibility of personating a risen Christ without the reality. Every feature of the foregoing portraiture is preserved, yet nothing is merely copied from the antecedent period of His ministry.


THE EVIDENCE OF THE WRITINGS OF PAUL

For the establishment of an alleged historical fact no documents are esteemed to be more valuable than contemporary letters. Even if it be supposed that the Synoptics were not produced until the close of the first century, and that the Fourth Gospel be nothing more than the work of a writer of the second century, there is the unimpeachable evidence of the contemporary letters of Paul the Apostle. These epistles constitute historical evidence of the highest kind. The letters addressed to the Galatians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, about the authentieity and date of which there is very little dispute, belong to the time of Paul's missionary journeys, and may be dated in the period A.D. 55-58. This brings the evidence of the resurrection of Christ still nearer to the event: the interval is the short span of twenty-five years. Since Paul himself makes it plain that the subject of his letter was the same as that about which he had spoken to them when he was with them, this really brings back the evidence to a still earlier time. But it is not necessary to stop even here, for Paul says that what he had "delivered" he had first of all "received". The teaching which is contained in Paul's epistles concerning the resurrection of Christ, therefore, may be regarded as going back to the conference he had with Peter at Jerusalem.

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It is significant to notice how precisely and adequately Paul states the doctrine, and how he came by it. "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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 of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed."[9] Dr. Gresham Machen says, "What we have here, then, in the fifteenth chapter of this Epistle, in verse eight and the following verses, is a precious bit of what modern historians call 'primitive tradition'. It is usually admitted by friends and foes of our view that we have here a summary of what the very earliest Jerusalem Church said about the events that lay at the beginning of its life".[10]

In his epistles Paul everywhere alludes to the resurrection of Christ as something accepted and unchallenged by everyone. It has been further pointed out that in the church of Corinth, and also in the churches of Galatia, there were the divisions of party strife. In these places there were some who were bitterly opposed to Paul and his teaching. If, therefore, the resurrection of Christ were at all questionable, one may be sure that Paul's teaching upon this subject would have been seized upon by his foes as proof of his unfitness to be an apostle. But though they endeavoured to find all they could against Paul, there is not the faintest suggestion anywhere that anyone ever challenged him on the fact of the resurrection of Christ. True, there were some in Corinth who objected to the doctrine of the resurrection, but not even these denied the resurrection of Christ; and it is their acceptance of this fact which enables Paul to argue with them against their denial of the resurrection generally. The writings of Paul not only affirm the fact of the resurrection, but they reveal that it was a completely undisputed truth in the churches.

William Paley endorses this conclusion, and speaking of the documentary witness to the resurrection of Christ he says, "Every Epistle of every Apostle, every author contemporary with the Apostles, of the age immediately succeeding the Apostles, every writing from that age to the present, genuine or spurious, on the side of Christianity or against it, concur (sic) in representing the resurrection of Christ as an article

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of His history received without doubt or disagreement by all who called themselves Christians".[11]


ASSESSMENT

The significance of these three sets of trustworthy documents may now be assessed. First, as Dr. Sanday says, it is clear that "the conviction among Christians that Christ was really raised, dates from the very morrow of the Resurrection itself. It was not a growth spread over a long period and receiving gradual accretions of strength; but it sprang suddenly into existence, and it swept irresistibly over the whole body of disciples".[12] Secondly, it is impossible not to be surprised by the circumstantiality of the evidence. There is nothing vague about it; directions and details are remembered, the words spoken by our Lord, His gestures, His actions, and His commands are all clearly before the mind. Thirdly, the credibility of the evidence is enhanced by the very incredulity of the disciples and the surprised joy with which they ultimately believed the fact.


II. THE CONTRADICTION OF THE RESURRECTION

It is no cause for wonder that such a stupendous miracle as the resurrection of Christ should be denied by the rationalist or by those who are opposed to the Christian faith. The hypotheses which have been put forth in contradiction to the Christian view may be summarised under five types.


(a) Theory of theft

This view is associated with the name of Reimarus,[13] and suggests that the body of Christ was stolen by the disciples. But Reimarus by no means invented this idea: it was suggested long before Reimarus lived, indeed, on the very day of the resurrection itself. The Jews bribed the Roman soldiers to put forward this theory, and gave them the very words they were to use: "Say ye, his disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept".[14] Apart from the gravity of the offence for a soldier to sleep at his post, it is unbelievable that the whole guard should have slept, and should have slept through the noise that would unavoidably have been made in the rolling back of the great stone. Again, these guards would not have made such an acknowledgment of their negligence, without previous assurances of protection; and if that be so then their story carries clear evidence of collusion.

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The moral implications of this theory are also directly opposed to it. On this hypothesis, not only would the message of Christianity be consciously founded on a lie, and this is unthinkable when one reflects on the character of the apostles and their moral teaching, but also it would be impossible to account for the triumphant energy with which the apostles set about the task of world evangelisation. Such triumphant energy, says Godet, would be inconceivable in men who had to bear the burden of remorse, the crushing weight of the sense that they were bearing false witness before the world".[15] It is here that even the opponents of the Christian view come to its help, for Strauss,[16] the sceptic, rejects the hypothesis of imposture on the part of the disciples as morally impossible. "The historian," says Strauss, "must acknowledge that the disciples firmly believed that Jesus was risen."[17]


(b) Theory of swoon

This theory can boast the great names of Paulus[18] and Schleiermacher[19] but, like the theory of theft, it has been completely routed by Strauss. The defenders of the Christian faith can afford to stand by confidently while the opponents of the faith set about the destruction of each other's theories.

On this view it is claimed that the resurrection was nothing more than a simple re-awakening after a long swoon. It is asserted that Christ had not died, but only fainted; and the fresh air of the new tomb, together with the reviving effects of the spices with which He had been embalmed, soon brought Him back to life, and gave Him strength to reappear amongst the disciples on the third day. In refutation of this amazing hypothesis here are the words of Godet once again: "Jesus, before His crucifixion, had already suffered much, both in body and soul. He had passed through the anticipation of His death in Gethsemane. He had undergone the frightful pain of a Roman scourging, which left deep scars on the back of the sufferer, and which is almost equivalent to capital punishment. Then they had pierced His hands and feet with nails. The small amount of strength which He might still have had left had been worn away by the six hours of frightful suffering which He had already passed through. Consumed with thirst and completely exhausted, He had at last breathed out His soul in that last cry recorded by the evangelists. Again, a Roman soldier had pierced His heart with a spear. With no food or drink, with no one to dress His wounds or alleviate His suffering in any way, He had passed a whole day and two nights in the cave in which He was laid. And yet, on the morning of the third day behold Him reappearing,

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active and radiant! On His feet, which had been pierced through and through only two days back, He walks without difficulty the two leagues between Emmaus and Jerusalem. He is so active, that during the repast He disappears suddenly out of sight of His fellow-travellers, and when they return to the capital to announce the good news to the apostles, they find Him there again! He has overtaken them. With the same quickness which characterises all His movements, He presents Himself suddenly in the room in which the disciples are assembled… Are these the actions of a man who had just been taken down half-dead from the cross, and who has been laid in a grave in a condition of complete exhaustion? No."[20]

Strauss, not the ally of the believer, but his co-belligerent, writes: "A man half-dead, dragging himself in languor and exhaustion out of his tomb, with wounds requiring careful and continuous medical treatment - could He, in such a state, have produced upon the minds of the disciples the impression that He. was the victor over death and the grave, the Prince of Life - an impression which nevertheless was the source and spring of all their subsequent activity? Such a return to life could only have served to weaken the impressions which Jesus had in His former life made upon their minds by His life and death, and could never have turned their sorrow into enthusiasm, and intensified their admiration into adoration."[21]


(c) Theory of visions

This hypothesis comes from Strauss and Renan,[22] and has held the field among unbelievers inside the Church and outside the Church for over one hundred years. The advocates of the vision theory affirm that Mary Magdalene who first spread the news was a mental sufferer. They hold that she did not really see the Lord, but it was a mere hallucination, an effect of the mental disease, not yet completely conquered, of which Jesus had formerly cured her. From this hysterical woman the wild fancy spread among the first Christians, and became a kind of epidemic until a number of people persuaded themselves that they too had seen Him.

"I think," says Dr. Gresham Machen, "we ought to understand just exactly what that vision theory means. It means that the Christian Church is founded upon a pathological experience of certain persons in the first century of our era. It means that if there had been a good neurologist for Peter and the others to consult there never would have been a Christian Church."[23] This paragraph puts the position very

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plainly; although the advocates of the vision theory try to turn the edge of this criticism by saying that the visions were merely an unavoidable form in which the radiant faith of the early disciples perceived a spiritual truth. In answer to the suggestion about the spread of the mental disease, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll argues: "If the repetition of the same delusion in many different minds is possible, it is possible only in an atmosphere of heated and fanatical expectation of a certain event. But we know there was no expectation. We know that in the upper chamber, the doors of which were closed for fear of the Jews, there was nought but sorrow and sighing. Let it be remembered that the disciples thought not only that they saw Christ, but that they conversed with Him, that the interviews were held in various circumstances, and that there were many witnesses."[24]

The mental state of the disciples positively precluded hallucination, Science insists that every hallucination is the product of previous brain-states caused by abnormal stimulus from within or without. But there were no brain-states produced by previous experience to furnish the contents of this extraordinary hallucination. The brain-states which were uppermost with these men were the result of fear of the Jews combined with despair. Jerusalem just then was not a good vision climate.[25]

But if the visions of the risen Saviour were hallucinations, why did they stop so suddenly? Why, after the Ascension, does one not find others still seeing the coveted vision? By the law of development, says Dr. Mullins, "hallucinations should have become chronic after five hundred had been brought under their sway. But now hallucination gives place to a definite and conquering programme of evangelisation".[26]

The answer to the vision theory can be given in the following considerations: (1) The Lord not only appeared to the disciples, but He spoke to them and ate and drank with them. (2) Hallucinations are a phenomenon of disease either physical, moral or mental, but nothing of the kind is found in the subsequent lives of the apostles. Their sobriety and sanity are unimpeachable. (3) Hallucination on the part of an individual may be understood, but not on the part of five hundred simultaneously. (4) Hallucinations usually relate themselves to the hopes or fears which occupy the mind. But the disciples entertained no hope, no idea, of seeing that dead body which they had placed in the sepulchre reappear among them.

The vision theory, then, not only contradicts every word of the only existing records, but it is itself untenable on any ground.

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(d) Theory of objective visions

This view, advocated by Keim,[27] denies that Christ's body was raised, but holds that in some way the living spiritual Jesus entered into communication with the disciples after death. The living spirit of Christ sent "telegrams" to the disciples, which gave them a vision bearing the likeness of the body placed in the grave, and still lying there. It has been pointed out, and it is obvious to all, that this hypothesis really means that Christ deceives His people. He induces the disciples, and, therefore, the whole Christian Church, to believe what is not true. A view closely allied to that of Keim, but not precisely the same, is that of C. H. Robinson who suggests that the resurrection means a real objective appearance of the risen Christ without implying any physical reanimation; that "the resurrection of Christ was an objective reality, but was not a physical resuscitation". "But," says Dr. Griffith Thomas, "wherein lies the essential difference between an objective vision and an objective appearance? If the testimony of the apostles to the empty tomb is believed, why may not their evidence to the actual resurrection be also accepted?"[28]


(e) Mythical theory

According to this view there were no appearances of Jesus at all. The revival of Christ's spiritual influence on His followers, combined with the strong way in which the disciples spoke of the continued life of their crucified Lord, led to a misunderstanding of the apostles on the part of the early Church. Hence arose the myth of the resurrection: it grew out of the conviction of the disciples that such a life as that of their Master was imperishable. The answer to the mythical theory is that myth requires time in which to grow, but the authentic history of the period allows no such length of time, and it is known that the conviction was abroad at once.

In more recent times, however, the idea of myth has reappeared, but it has assumed another form. Bultmann uses the word "myth" to describe "man's understanding of himself in the world in which he lives".[29] He denies that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical event and says that it is merely an expression used by the first believers to explain to themselves their experience of freedom from the fear of death. Bultmann teaches, therefore, that the resurrection exists only "in the preaching" of the apostles as their way of proclaiming the fact that Christ has destroyed the power of death, and he declares that "Christ the Crucified and Risen One meets us in the word of proclamation, nowhere else". He contends

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that the resurrection of Christ is solely a preaching-idea, without foundation in fact, but at the same time it is such a powerful idea that many have been emancipated by it. It is quite true that the preaching of the resurrection of Christ has been the means of salvation to men; but it is not because it is preached that it is true, but because it is true it is preached.[30] Bultmann's mythological concept, however, is entirely without justification. It is refuted by the unmistakably factual nature of the resurrection records and it is unsupported by any reason save the scepticism of those who propose it.

Underlying all these hypotheses in contradiction of the fact of the resurrection of Christ there is one great and fundamental denial. It is the denial, on a priori grounds, that such a miracle is possible. Some have even said that no amount of evidence, however convincing in itself, would lead them to believe in an event which they philosophically hold to be impossible. It is needless to say that such an attitude is not only anti-Scriptural, but it is palpably anti-scientific. No science proceeds on a priori assumptions; all science is inductive, that is to say, it first gathers the facts, and then draws its conclusions. The unscientific and unphilosophical prejudice which, acting on pretended rationalistic principles, will not believe in the possibility of miracle, finds itself acquiescing foolishly in the most absurd hypotheses. But facts are stubborn and sacred things, and it is certainly better to believe in the supernatural than to believe in the ridiculous.

There certainly is a tremendous presumption against the resurrection of any ordinary man, indeed, it is most unlikely that any ordinary man should rise from the dead. But when confronted with Jesus, as He is portrayed in the Gospels, the proposition must be reversed, and it must be said of this man that it was impossible that He would not rise from the dead. As Dr. Ramsey has said, "Belief in the Resurrection… involves also belief in Jesus Christ".[31]

In order to reach some definite conclusion on this all-important subject it is useful to glance back at what has been said so far. Attention has been paid to the historical witness of the Book of Acts, the Four Gospels, and the Epistles of Paul; and they have been found to be credible witnesses such as satisfy the utmost demands of scientific historical enquiry. Examination has been made of the arguments in contradiction of the Christian testimony, the hypotheses of theft, swoon, hallucination, objective vision, and myth; and by the same standards of scientific criticism which were applied to the Christian witnesses these hypotheses have shown themselves to be utterly untenable.

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SUMMARY

It remains, therefore, to consummate the argument by drawing together from the evidence of the credible witnesses the three principal elements that make up the proof of the resurrection. There emerges first the indisputable fact of the empty tomb. The tomb was empty; and the foes of Christ were unable to deny it. So far, little reference has been made to this in the foregoing arguments, but the fact of the empty tomb deals a mortal blow to all the hypotheses which are set up against the Christian testimony. This is the stone over which all the specious theories stumble, and it is therefore not surprising to discover that reference to the empty tomb is studiously avoided by many of the counter-arguments which are brought forward.

It is historically true, as Dr. W. J. Sparrow-Simpson points out, that the empty tomb was not itself the cause of the faith of the disciples.[32] It created no faith, for example, in Mary Magdalene, or in the women, or even in Peter. Of John alone it is said that he "saw and believed",[33] but this was probably due to a God-given recollection of what Christ had foretold. Further, the force of the argument that the empty grave would not in itself afford any proof of resurrection must be acknowledged, and that distinct alternatives present themselves. Those alternatives are that the empty tomb was either a Divine work or a human one. No difficulty presents itself, however, when the decision has to be made between such alternatives as these. The enemies of Jesus had no motive for removing the body: the friends of Jesus had no power to do so. It would have been to the advantage of the authorities that the body should remain where it was; and the view that the disciples stole the body is impossible. The power that removed the body of the Saviour from the tomb must therefore have been Divine.

But though it may be admitted that the empty tomb was a work of God, this is still far from a logical proof of resurrection. God may have miraculously removed the body by some other means or for some other purpose. At this stage the second element in the proof becomes important, namely, the fact of the appearances of Christ to the disciples. The reality of these physical appearances of Christ has been challenged by those who wish to deny the miracle, but enough has already been said to show that they are established beyond all dispute. The position thus becomes much stronger, and consideration has now to be given to not one piece of evidence but two, there are the empty tomb and the appearances of the living Christ. When these are taken together it seems not illogical to say that there is irrefutable proof of the resurrection. The appearances

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without the empty tomb would not be sufficient to establish the fact, the empty tomb without the appearances would also be inadequate; but taken together the demonstration is perfect. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established;"[34] this is the Divine requirement for the certainty of any event. The proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is thus complete in the two-fold witness of the empty tomb and the appearances of the living Christ. But another feature may now be advanced, and so the threefold demand may be met. The third element in the proof of the resurrection is the amazing transformation of the disciples. It is psychologically impossible that the disciples could have been so transported with joy by the proclamation of a lie. The disseminators of deceit may be possessed of diabolical energy, and may pursue their purpose with a devilish drive that sweeps them on to success, but in such circumstances there is a phenomenon that is quite different from the mental and moral transfiguration through which these early disciples passed. The radiance of these men defies any other explanation than that which affirms, "The Lord is risen indeed".[35] Fraud does not engender such moral and physical courage as these first believers displayed; neither does delusion create moral kingdoms of such heavenly beauty and enduring strength.[36] "What was it," says Dr. Robertson Nicoll, "that made the sheep, so panic-stricken when the Shepherd was smitten on Good Friday, bold as lions on the day of Pentecost? The answer of the Gospels is that the resurrection had happened. How can we account for the wave of strength and hope that suddenly swept over the deeply despondent disciples, and made them the conquerors of the world? Between the blank despair and the exultant gladness are we to place a delusion, a lie? No, between them we place the risen Lord, and nothing but the fact of His triumph will explain how those who had been trying in vain to deaden the agony of disappointment were suddenly filled with life and might and courage, realising that when their Master made the step from old things to new, He made it for all His brethren."[37] The story is well known of a conversation which occurred at the time of the French Revolution. One of the leaders complained to the ex-bishop Talleyrand that it was so hard to start a new religion. "Surely," said Talleyrand, "it cannot be as difficult as you think." "How so?" sald his friend. "Why," he replied, "the matter is simple. You have only to get yourself crucified, or anyhow put to death, and then at your own time, to rise from the dead, and you will have no difficulty.' The Frenchman's subtle answer may be endorsed, and it may be affirmed again that nothing less than the actual rising again from the dead of the

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Lord Jesus Christ could possibly account for the transformation of the disciples and the faith of the Christian Church.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is demonstrated on the evidence of a three-fold witness. The witnesses are unimpeachable, and the evidence is indestructible, and the conclusion is inescapable. The Acts, the Epistles, and the Gospels, each in their own way, proclaim the message, "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept".[38] The empty tomb, the appearances of the living Christ, and the transformation of the disciples cry out with one triumphant voice, "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay".[39]

The believer may lift up his head as the living Lord proclaims, "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore".[40]


References

[1] F Godet, Lectures in Defence of the Christian Faith, 1883, p. 41.

[2] Jude 3.

[3] W. H. Griffith Thomas, Article "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ", The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV, p. 2566.

[4]The Great Question, p. 10, quoted in W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology, 1930, p. 78.

[5] Luke xxiv. 5-6.

[6] Matthew xxviii. 8.

[7] Matthew xxviii. 17.

[8] William Sanday [1843-1920], Article "Jesus Christ", A Dictionary of tile Bible, (ed. J. Hastings) Vol. II, p. 641.

[9] 1 Corinthians xv. 3-11.

[10] Christian Faith in the Modern World, 1936, p. 223.

[11] William Paley: Evidences of Christianity, pp. 481-482.

[12] William Sanday, Article "Jesus Christ", A Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, p. 640.

[13] 1694-1768.

[14] Matthew xxviii. 13.

[15] op. cit., p. 22.

[16] 1808-1874.

[17] Strauss: Leben Jesu, 1864, p. 289, quoted in Godet, op. cit., p. 23.

[18] 1761-1851.

[19] 1768-1834.

[20] Godet: op. cit., pp. 25-26.

[21] Strauss: op. cit., p. 298 quoted in Godet op. cit., pp. 26-27.

[22] 1823-1892.

[23] Christian Faith in the Modern World, p. 217.

[24] W. Robertson Nicholl, The Church's One Foundation, p. 146.

[25] E. Y. Mullins: Why is Christianity true? p. 200.

[26] E. Y. Mullins: op. cit., p. 201.

[27] 1825-1878.

[28] op. cit., p. 77.

[29] Rudolf Bultmann, "New Testament and Mythology" in Kerygma and Myth, edited by H. W. Bartsch, 1954 (English translation by R. H. Fuller), p.10.

[30] See David Cairns, A Gospel without Myth? 1960, p. 163. Bultmann's ideas are found also in Emil Brunner, The Mediator, p. 575 and see the excellent discussion of Brunner's reasons by G. R. Beasley Murray, Christ is Alive, 1947, pp. 15-18.

[31] M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ, 1945, p. 36.

[32] Article "Resurrection of Christ", Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, (edited by J. Hastings) Vol. II, p. 506.

[33] John xx. 8.

[34] Deuteronomy xix.15.

[35] Luke xxiv. 34.

[36] See E. Y. Mullins: Why is Christianity True? p. 296.

[37] The Church's One Foundation, pp. 135-137.

[38] 1 Corinthians xv.20.

[39] Matthew xxviii. 6.

[40] Revelation i. 18.

Prepared for the web by Robert I. Bradshaw in June 2005. Reproduced by kind permission of Westminster Chapel, London.