If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#20) Jesus Was and Is Alive

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Truth Encounter Ministries
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Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:27-28

One of the fundamental and critical aspects of the resurrection of Jesus is that it was a real resurrection. It wasn’t a sham. It wasn’t a hoax. It wasn’t the machinations of a devious conspiracy. It wasn’t a vision or hallucination. Nor was it merely a spiritual resurrection. 

The physical body of Jesus was raised from the dead.

We now come to the last of the most significant charges in our day—that Jesus didn’t “physically” rise from the dead. Before we look at them, let’s review the evidence we have examined so far that points to the reality of the resurrection:

  • The real death of Jesus and the real wrapping and burial in a tomb.
  • The sealing of the stone and the contingent of soldiers posted at the tomb.
  • The earthquake, the angel, the rolling away of the stone.
  • The terror of the guards and subsequent fleeing their post.
  • The women seeing the empty tomb and angels declaring the resurrection.
  • Peter and John examining the empty tomb and the empty grave wrappings.
  • The soldiers reporting that the tomb was empty and the rise of the polemic.

However, it is the appearances of a risen Jesus that truly cements the reality of the resurrection. Although we have mentioned those appearances before, it is now time to detail them and their significance. Jesus didn’t just appear to one or two and therefore leave us with some credible doubt, He appeared to many:

  • To Magdalene at the tomb
  • To the other women
  • To Cleopas and companion on the road to Emmaus
  • To Peter
  • To the Eleven in a locked room that first night
  • To the Twelve in a locked room eight days later
  • To seven of the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias
  • To the Twelve on a mountain in Galilee
  • To over 500 at one time
  • To James
  • To the Twelve in Jerusalem/Bethany
  • To the Twelve on Olivet
  • These are just the appearances that are recorded for us. Luke states that Jesus appeared to the disciples over a 40-day period, which implies it was much more than five or six times in our list. 

With all of this, let’s now look at the accusations concerning the appearances of Jesus after His resurrection. There are four that are prominent:

OneThe appearances were merely hallucinations.

When my dad began having strokes near the end of his life, he would sit in our dining room and, on occasions, ask who was walking around in the forest behind our house. Of course, in the beginning, we would look as well, and find no one. This happened enough that we eventually came to realize he was suffering from some form of hallucination. But only my dad experienced them. I loved him dearly, and I longed to look outside and see someone, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the reality of what was happening to him. But I never saw anyone. Never.

Hallucinations, by nature, are confined to an individual. And, by nature, they are not perceived by others. You may have a hallucination and might be able to tell me about it, but I wouldn’t be able to see it with you nor personally experience it with you. There is no such thing as “group” hallucinations that we are, by this charge, led to believe happened to the Twelve and to over 500 at one time. I remember when I first heard this theory and was struck by how irrational it was. Nevertheless, it still floats around.

Another answer to this charge is that not all who saw Jesus were “believers” and subject to the accusation that this was some "wish fulfillment" . Thomas was a skeptic; James was a brother who for his whole life had rejected Jesus as anything but a mere mortal; Paul was a persecutor of the Way when He met Jesus on the road to Damascus. They saw the risen Jesus and were radically and dramatically changed.

TwoThe appearances were mistaken identity.

Schoenfeld, in his Passover Plot, asserts that the disciples were simply mistaken about the appearances. They were so yearning for this to be true that they misinterpreted regular folks as being Jesus. He points to Magdalene thinking He was a gardener and especially the strange thing we find with Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus when they didn’t recognize Jesus until He broke the bread. For Magdalene, she was sobbing, and had therefore not recognized the angels as such, and it wasn’t until she finally turned toward Jesus and heard Him speak that she recognized him.

For the Emmaus incident, it is true that it has some strangeness to it. But let's do this first. Let’s look at the totality of the evidence in all of the other appearances again. If all of these were mistaken identity, then a lot of people had to, somehow, not only be fully complicit, but in some cases they had to “appear” and “vanish”. Revisit the clarity of the record: the person Magdalene encountered at the tomb sure acted and spoke as if He were Jesus, telling her He was ascending to His father. So, too, the person the other women encountered. They grasped His feet and worshipped Him and He told them to go tell His brothers that He would meet them in Galilee. These encounters, nor the others, meet the criteria for a "mistaken identity". Is it reasonable to think that not only Magdalene and the other women were mistakenly interacting with an unknown, complicit phony, but Peter and the Eleven and over 500 were also fooled? What about His brother, James? Are we to believe that James, who grew up with Jesus, mistook him for someone else? James' life was radically changed by this encounter. We are surely way beyond common sense to think they were all mistaken or deceived. 

Plus, there appears to be something miraculous in how Jesus first appeared to the disciples, even though the doors were locked. What common complicit Joe could do that? And why would he do that?

Maybe, returning to something more rational and plausible, it was just as the record declares—it was just as those who saw Him were convinced, even to their deaths—they really saw Jesus alive. They heard Him. They touched Him. They ate with Him.

So, let’s talk about the strangeness of the Emmaus event. Do we let this trump all the other evidence? No. We simply try to understand it in light of that evidence. Does Jesus, in His resurrected body, have the power to enter a locked room? Sure. It appears He did. He had the power to walk on water even before the resurrection. Could He, for His own purposes, hide His identity from Cleopas until He had gone through the Old Testament with him? Sure. Is it possible God could blind them to His identity for a short time? Surely that is possible. It is even possible Jesus hid His face from them... behind a veil or deep within a hood. Any of this is reasonable.

So, in the face of the overwhelming evidence in all of the other appearances where Jesus was clearly seen, the Emmaus event is not hard to reconcile. The bottom line, however, is that in the end, even Cleopas recognized Him as Jesus. And then, He “vanished from their sight.” This is hard to pull off by a “mistaken identity” person. In fact, this encounter caused them to immediately drop their plans and hustle seven miles back to Jerusalem.

Seeing the risen Jesus has changed many a person’s plans. 

Three. The resurrection was spiritual and therefore the appearances were only spiritual.

This is the notion that Jesus didn’t physically rise but, instead, was raised spiritually. This theory has lots of tentacles and various forms. When it was first offered, some began to ask the reasonable question about the empty tomb. If Jesus were raised spiritually, then the body would still be there. In later forms, then, the theory necessarily evolved to include God destroying the physical body while raising the "spiritual" Jesus. Jehovah’s Witnesses follow a form like this. I personally know several who do as well. In their case, Jesus has become more of a “force” or a “thought” than a real person. This is what often happens as a consequence of this theory. The reality of Jesus fades into something metaphysical, something found more in our spiritual contemplations and meditations than in the reality of a risen Lord.

It seems as if Jesus were specifically destroying this notion when He asked the disciples that first night for some fish. He ate it in their presence, not because He was hungry, but to assure them He was not a ghost or a figment of their combined imaginations. Luke even begins that encounter by saying that the disciples “thought they were seeing a spirit”. Jesus made sure they knew He was physically present with them. The physical body of Jesus has risen from the dead. The physical body of Jesus was fully alive again before their very eyes.

Four. The appearances are all part of the resurrection myth/legend.

We’ve dealt this this charge multiple times. A. N. Sherwin-White, professor at Oxford University and famous historian, declared that even after two generations there is still too much historical truth embedded in people for a legend to commence forming. In 1844, theologian Julius Muller issued a challenge for anyone to find a legend that had developed within this timeframe and to this day his challenge still stands unmet. Declaring that the resurrection appearances are nothing more than legend is an easy charge to make, but it has no valid basis. This, again, is why understanding the early nature of the resurrection creed and polemic is so very important in our defense for the reason for the hope that is in us. (1 Peter 3:15)  

We have seen a number of desperate attempts to explain away the resurrection, from “the disciples stole the body” to “the disciples were hallucinating”. All of them are found deeply wanting. Keep this in mind, however... we are not dealing with a lack of evidence for the resurrection of Christ here, we are dealing with a lack of “want to” in the heart. 

So, what does the physical resurrection of Jesus mean for us believers? Well, the answer to that is plentiful and we will deal with those in the coming days. However, for now, contemplate that the physical resurrection of Jesus, as the first-fruits, is the basis for our hope that one day, you and I will be physically resurrected as well. Second, contemplate that Jesus was not only alive on that first day, but He is alive today. He hears you, just as He heard Magdalene. He sees you just as He saw Thomas and Thomas saw Him and touched Him. He is just alive today as He was when he cooked fish by the sea after His resurrection. And thirdly, recognize that when Jesus makes Himself known to people, they are radically and forever changed. As Thomas cried, "My Lord, and my God!", and as in one of my favorite musicals "Then Came the Morning", Magdalene sings, "I've just seen Jesus, and I'll never be the same again!", so, too, you and I are changed people. For, by faith, we have also seen the risen Savior.

And we will never be the same again. 

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If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#1) the Seal Was Broken
We don’t spend much time talking about the seal that was placed upon the tomb, but I think it is significant. Here is the historical record: The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:62-66 The historical account states that the chief priests and the Pharisees “made the tomb secure by sealing the stone…”.  This seal was most likely several ropes that were drawn across the stone and then affixed to the tomb walls with a soft clay imprinted with some symbol of authority. It was also likely that the ropes were also sealed at their juncture in front of the stone. In this way, no one could move the stone or the ropes without breaking the dried clay and destroying the “seal” affixed upon the clay.  The seal was there to “put on notice” that no one was to mess with the tomb. Rome could deal quite nastily with those who did so. Now, this doesn’t mean much to us today, for we are long past the norm of using “seals” as they were utilized in ancient times. but in those days, a seal was inviolable. It represented authority, authenticity, and finality. No one messed with a seal. In the book of Esther, when King Ahasuerus issued the order to save the Jews, he commanded them to “seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked.” When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, “… a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel." In the vision concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the Scripture says this: And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Isaiah 29:11 The permanence of a seal against all who were unauthorized to break it was an inviolable part of their world.  It becomes even more apparent when John is caught up to heaven and there beholds the scroll with seven seals. John begins to weep because there was “no one worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” Of course, we find that the Lamb, “standing as though it had been slain”, was worthy to break the seals. And when each of those seals were broken, great calamity came upon the earth. Seals in the Scripture mean something. And John had wept, because the seal represented an inviolable wall to anyone who did not have the authority to break it. Seals show authority. They show authenticity. And they show finality for all except the one who had the authority to break them. And so, we now come back to the tomb. The seal, whether it was a Roman seal or the High Priest’s seal, represented a fixed closure that no one was allowed to breach. When it was set upon the tomb, there was a finality, a stamp of ultimate authority, that said, “this tomb is closed”. Ah, but God is not subject to the laws or seals of man. I can imagine that when the earth began to shake and the stone was rolled aside, that those clay seals with the authority of man impressed upon them broke into a thousand pieces and lay as trash littering the ground. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the seal of man, meant to keep Him in the grave, had been utterly and completely destroyed. But there is one more thing that must be mentioned regarding “seals”.  In John 6, Jesus said this: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:27 If God seals something, it is sealed! In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Eph 1:13 “… it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Cor 1:21 This is God’s seal of authority, authenticity, and finality. You are His, sealed with His guarantee. Oh my! [previous] [next]
5
If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#5) the Angels Would Have Announced It
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:1-6 It may be too bold to say this, but I believe that it should come as no surprise to anyone that the announcement of the Lord’s resurrection was made by the angles, for this, indeed, was a cosmic moment. And, also not surprising, is that there is controversy over this: how many angels, where they were, and what did they really say. Matthew and Mark have one angel; Luke and John have two. We will deal with all of that soon. But today, we want to ponder the fact that it was the angels that announced the resurrection and why. Recall the great passage in Galatians (don’t skip through it… read it): What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Galatians 4:1-5 The advent of the Messiah was a “set time”—set by God. It wasn’t just that we landed on a nice calendar day. This was as if all the prophecies and all the promises were set on a timer and they all went off together at this moment. It was a cosmic moment: the time in which God was going to enter the world as a human being in order to redeem those who were in bondage under the law. It was a moment that began with the birth of the Messiah and extended through His resurrection… one big cosmic moment. John Calvin refers to the resurrection as “the closing scene of our redemption.” And the privilege of announcing this cosmic moment was going to be given to the angels. They came to Mary and to Joseph. They came to Zacharias and then on the night of His birth, the heavens were filled with a host of angels announcing the news… not to Herod or to the High Priest, but to the lowly, despised and smelly shepherds. Not in a palace or in the temple, but out in the middle of a common, ordinary field.  Should we, therefore, be surprised that it would be the angels who would announce His resurrection? And, to a woman in a graveyard? We will deal more with this later, but recall that women in that culture were second-class citizens. Jesus changed all of that forever. But it was no small deal in those days that the angels would break the news to a woman, and to Mary Magdalene, who at one time had been possessed by seven demons and no doubt suffered from the ravages those demons would visit upon her.  No, this is not surprising to us, for this is who God is. God’s heart is with the humble. And He blesses His creatures by allowing them to carry out His purposes and plans. Thus, He sends angels to announce the Moment of Moments. So, who are these “angels”?  Well, they are an amazing part of God’s creation. There are tons of them, “innumerable”, says Hebrews 12:22 and “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” says Revelation 5:11.  That is a lot of angels! There is even some conjecture that we might each have an “assigned” angel. When speaking of the children, Jesus refers to “their angels in heaven”. This certainly is inconclusive, but there surely are enough of them to go around! Maybe that is why there are so many. One thing we know for sure, they do minister to us: Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:14 Angels are strong. They are mighty. They battle the forces of darkness and they serve God as He sends them to fulfill His purposes. They are messengers, but they also carry out some of God’s judgments. When Herod was struck down and eaten by worms because he did not give glory to God, it was an angel that struck him. (Acts 12:23) Some are sent to patrol the earth. (Zechariah 1:8-11) Scripture even says you might have come in contact with angels as they go about their duties in human form: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 And so, it was the angels who kicked off the Moment and became quite active in the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. And it was the angels who ministered to Him in His times of need on earth. When Jesus had finished 40 days of fasting and had been tempted by Satan, the angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:11) When He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His soul was “deeply grieved to the point of death”, an angel came and strengthened Him. (Luke 22:43) I can imagine, then, how much they would have been straining at the bit to save Him from the scourge and the nails. All they needed was a word from Him and they would have swept in like a ferocious army. When Peter impetuously cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, during the arrest, Jesus admonished Peter and said,  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:53-54 A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. Twelve would be 72,000 mighty angel warriors. If one angel can buckle the knees of the guards, imagine what 72,000 would do?  So, as Jesus was being scourged and nailed, as he hung on the tree, all He needed to do was say the word and the angels would have rescued Him. But He didn’t.  Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how easy it would have been in the midst of all of that pain and suffering to call out for rescue and relief? To just say the word and all the misery of that moment goes away? But no, He didn’t. It was our sin and His love that held Him there—denying Himself for our sake.  The angels who filled the sky with praise and glory at His birth are now held in check, silent at His death. The earth spoke, yes, but the angels remained silent. But! On the 3rd day, all that changed! The angels are released and silent no more. They announce the News of News—“He is not here! He has risen just as He said!” Yes, if Jesus rose from the dead, then the angels would have been there to announce it. You could not have kept them away. He is risen indeed! [previous] [next]