Daniël Maritz

The Most Dangerous Idea: Reflecting on the Resurrection of Jesus (Part 2)

Daniël Maritz | 23 November 2020 | 8 min read

In part 1 of this article the resurrection of Jesus was introduced as the most dangerous idea for mankind. Furthermore, the stage was set to discuss some of the pieces of evidence, which if properly theorized and thought about, points one to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The ones focused on here will include the empty tomb of Jesus, the women as the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb, and the changed lives of the disciples and early Christians.

The Empty Tomb

That the tomb of Jesus was empty on the Sunday morning, is a largely undisputed historical fact. Herman Bavinck for example claims that the truth of the empty tomb is “nowadays recognized by almost everyone.”[1] The empty tomb of Jesus is not a proof for the resurrection in and of itself, however, it is “an indispensable prerequisite to the evidences (the physical appearances of Christ). Even the physical appearances themselves would not be convincing proof that Jesus was resurrected bodily if His body was rotting in some grave.”[2] In this sense the empty tomb of Jesus is of great significance for the reality of a bodily resurrection. All four of the gospels coherently provide one with a scene of the vacated tomb and an angel confirming that Jesus is not there but has risen from the dead.[3]

Moreover, one must remember that the empty tomb was first announced in the very city where Jesus was crucified and buried. When defending himself before king Agrippa and Festus, the apostle Paul mentions in Acts 26:26 that “the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.” The events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were public events and anyone in Jerusalem could have gone to the tomb to verify the truth of an empty tomb for themselves. The empty tomb is also not denied by the Jewish authorities in Matthew 28:11-15. If Christ’s body was still in the tomb, they would never have had to go through the effort of bribing the soldiers to tell the people that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus during the night. Instead, the authorities merely had to point people to the tomb where the body of Jesus would still have lain. This would have been enough to prove that the disciples were lying about the tomb being empty in the first place.[4]

Timothy Keller also adds to these observations that

“If the body could have been recovered and displayed, it certainly would have. It is also of note that there is no record of early Christians making Jesus’s tomb a place of devotion and pilgrimage, which was normal for religious observance of the time. If his body had been there, this would almost certainly have been the practice. The tomb would have been inconsequential only if it was empty. So historians see the empty tomb as a given.”[5]

The Testimony of Women as the First Eyewitnesses

The first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women, and in those days, women were not really considered to be reliable sources of information and could not testify in court.[6] A 2nd century Greek philosopher, Celsus, saw this as a weakness of Christianity and used it as a critique against the claim that Jesus really rose from the dead. Referring to Mary Magdalene he wrote that “a hysterical woman” first saw the risen Jesus. But according to him, she was “deluded by… sorcery” and “so wrenched with grief” that she “hallucinated.”[7]

The goal here is not to refute Celsus on this point, his critique is somewhat expected given the status of women in those days. The point is rather to realize that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John confront us with women as the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb, and specifically Mary Magdalene as the first eyewitness[8] of the risen Jesus Himself. If the gospel writers were attempting to fabricate some sort of story with such an extraordinary claim as a resurrection from the dead, and they wanted people to believe it, using women as he the first eye witnesses of the empty tomb and the risen Jesus would not have been a smart move.

The best explanation for this is that it is the way the event played out. These women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb of Jesus and testified to the truth of His resurrection. N.T. Wright strikingly observes with regards to the gospel of Mark for example that

“Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones who find it. The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses. We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked… Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?”[9]

The Changed Lives of the Disciples and Early Christians

One more line of evidence to consider is the changed lives of the disciples and the early Christians. Through the course of His ministry, Jesus surrounded Himself with His disciples, who were constantly letting Him down. They were cowards and they scattered after the arrest of Jesus.[10] Nevertheless, after Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, they became leaders of different church communities and one after the other they were murdered for their conviction that Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross and rose again from the dead.[11] The fact is that you do not lay down your life for something you know to be a blatant lie, a myth, or some sort of legend. This is the big difference between the gospel accounts and the ancient myths. There were no martyrs for mythical characters. It should be added that this unwavering conviction of the disciples and other early believers “rested… on the appearances [of the risen Jesus][12] that they themselves had received or of which others in whom they had complete trust had told them”[13]

Furthermore, there were many messianic figures before and after the life of Jesus. Many of them promised freedom from Rome, but what usually happened was that these other messianic figures lead an uprising against the oppressors and Rome eventually slaughtered the “rebels” and the movement stopped right there and then. Once the messianic figure had been violently killed, his movement died with him. The followers of these messianic figures could then either abandon the movement or find a new messiah to lead their cause.[14] Yet, the Jesus-movement continued even after their Messiah, Jesus Christ, was killed and in spite of this fact they never appointed a new Messiah after Him. Why? Because He was really raised from the dead, and the followers said that even if He is not here anymore[15], He is still in charge of their movement. This claim was totally unique for that time.[16]

The only explanation for the changed lives of the early Christians, which were able to fuel their movement, was a real resurrection. Keller explains the consequence if one were to reject the resurrection of Jesus and still attempt to explain the changed lives of the early Christians: “If we try to explain the changed lives of the early Christians, we may find ourselves making even greater leaps of faith than if we believed in the Resurrection itself.”[17]

There are many other lines of evidence one could follow to argue for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. These three will suffice for now and show that the resurrection offers a significant truth for your mind.

Keller invitingly states that

“‘Don’t come to Jesus Christ because he’s exciting. Don’t come to Jesus Christ because he inspires you.’ Hitler was exciting. Hitler inspired. I mean, his meetings were wonderful, but he wasn’t true. He was a false messiah. Don’t come to Jesus because he’s relevant. If he’s true, he’ll be relevant. Don’t come to Jesus because he’s practical. If he’s true, he’ll be practical. Don’t come to Jesus because he’s moving. If he’s true, he’ll be moving. If he’s not who he says he is, if he’s not the ideal become real, if he’s not God broken into history, if he didn’t really do the things he said he did, if he didn’t really rise from the dead so people actually saw him and felt him and touched him … If that didn’t happen, he’s not relevant, he’s not practical, he’s not moving, but if he is true, he’ll be all of those things.”[18]

As a true historical event, the resurrection of Jesus offers a wonderful hope for your soul to enjoy. In the final part of this article we will explore this hopeful significance of the resurrection for the world.

Suggested Readings

Bass, Justin W. The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2020.

Flew, Anthony & Habermas, Gary R. & Bagget, David J. (ed). Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.

Habermas, Gary R. and Michael Licona R. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.

McGrew, Tim and McGrew Lydia. “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” (In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009], 593-662). Preprint version (without Blackwell page numbers or copy editing, posted with the publisher’s permission), available at http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf, accessed April 4, 2020.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, H., trans. John Vriend(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 440.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume 2: God, Creation (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers), 615.

[3] Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-8.

[4] David Haines, A Defense of the Resurrection of Jesus, p. 6-7.

[5] Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (New York: Viking), 243-244.

[6] Josephus (37-100 AD), the Jewish historian, for example wrote: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Flavius Josephus & William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged [Peabody: Hendrickson], 117). This indicates that women never had a reliable voice in society and could not be taken seriously.

[7] Celsus, On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians, trans. R. Joseph Hoffmann (New York: Oxford University Press), 67-68.

[8] The role of eyewitnesses regarding the resurrection of Jesus is significant. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, which was written within 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle Paul mentions many other eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. At one time He was seen by 500 people at once. Paul fills in the details by even mentioning the names of some of these witnesses. If you read this letter in those days, it is almost as if the apostle Paul is inviting you to visit these eyewitnesses and hear their story (also see Luke 24:15-27 and Mark 15:21 where names of people are explicitly mentioned as witnesses whom you could go and talk to).

[9] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press), 607-608.

[10] According to Bavinck “all the disciples had been offended by the cross. When Jesus was taken prisoner and killed, they had fled (Mark 14:50) and gone into hiding. But their faith revived when they learned that Jesus had risen” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 3, p. 438).

[11] One can consider James, the brother of Jesus, and the apostle Paul for example. Both of their lives turned from being skeptical towards Jesus, to embracing the truth of His life, death, and resurrection.

[12] Without the early appearances of the risen Jesus, the empty tomb would not have been enough to sufficiently proof a bodily resurrection. Bavinck explains that if the empty tomb were enough, the appearances of Jesus would have been unnecessary, thereby implying that the appearances are necessary (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 440). Wright also comments saying that “Neither the empty tomb by itself, however, nor the appearances by themselves, could have generated the early Christian belief. The empty tomb alone would be a puzzle and a tragedy. Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well enough known in the ancient world… However, an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the belief” (Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 686).

[13] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 3, p. 438. One can consider Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5ff.

[14] Two examples are mentioned by N.T. Wright. He refers to two of these messianic figures of that time who were killed after they revolted against Rome’s oppression and explains that “We can see this clearly enough if we imagine for a moment the situation after the death of two of the most famous would-be Messiahs of the period, Simon bar-Giora during the first revolt (ad 66–70) and Simeon ben Kosiba (i.e. Bar-Kochba) during the second (ad 132–5). Simon was killed at the climax of Vespasian’s triumph in Rome; Simeon, we assume, died as the Romans crushed his movement and with it all prospect of Jewish liberation. We only have to exercise appropriate historical imagination, thinking into the situation a few days after their deaths, to see how it would look… Jewish beliefs about a coming Messiah, and about the deeds such a figure would be expected to accomplish, came in various shapes and sizes, but they did not include a shameful death which left the Roman empire celebrating its usual victory” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God [London: Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press], 558-559).

[15] 40 Days after Jesus’ resurrection He ascended into heaven which explains His physical absence after His resurrection.

[16] Wright captures the answer that the disciples would have given as follows: “we believe that Jesus was and is the Messiah because he was raised bodily from the dead. Nothing else will do. And to this the historian has to say: yes, this belief would produce that result” (Wright, The Resurrection, p. 563). The “result” Wright is referring to here is the expansion of Christianity.

[17] Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 244. Bavinck phrases this point as follows: “From the beginning the resurrection of Christ was an enormously important constituent of the faith of the church: without that faith it would never have started” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 438).

[18] Timothy Keller, Faith: The Complete Guide (In Timothy Keller Sermon Archive [New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church]).



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