Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jesus' Resurrection

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Resurrection of Jesus:

Q:  Did Jesus actually rise from the dead on the first Easter, or is it a myth intended to teach us something?  How can we know if it is true?

The  resurrection of Jesus is an actual historical event which literally occurred approximately 1980 years ago, but it is not by blind faith that we accept that this event (and the others of Jesus’ life) actually occurred, but because they have been reported to us by reliable eyewitnesses. 

Five books of the Bible report the Resurrection of Jesus and the events of the following 40 days, in which He appeared to His follower alive.  The Gospels of Matthew and John were written by men who were first-hand eyewitnesses to these events.  The Gospel of Mark was written by an associate of Peter, based on his eyewitness testimony, and the Gospel of Luke along with the book of Acts were written by a doctor, based on his interviews of the eyewitnesses. 

The four authors who wrote these books are reporting events which they witnessed or which they heard from the witnesses, much like four television stations might all report the same news event.  Although some people today would insist that these reports are mythical stories, the authors themselves do not portray their reports as mere myths.  Instead, they wrote their reports as historical fact and make it clear that they intend them to be read as such. 

In this light, it would be only reasonable to examine these four authors’ accounts by the same standards applied to other pieces of historical literature of the time.  When this is done, it is found that the resurrection of Jesus actually has more eyewitness reports than many of the major events of Greek and Roman history which we commonly accepted without objection.

Not only do we have more eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus than these other events, but we also have more copies available to verify that the reports of Jesus’ resurrection have been accurately copied than we have of the reports of the other events.  In addition, this great number of available copies are older and more consistent than those of other events of the time.  In fact, I myself have had the privilege of visiting the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan where I was able to read from copies of Biblical books that were almost 1900 years old, and I still have a CD with images of several of these pages.

Beyond the textual evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, we also can examine the physical evidence.  The founders of every other major religion died and their tombs are visited by countless followers to this day, because their bodies are still there.  On the other hand, the location where Jesus had been buried is uncertain, and nobody has ever produced His body to refute the claim that He rose from the dead. 

The Bible records that some of Jesus’ enemies claimed that the disciples stole His body, but His disciples were as surprised as anyone when they did not find His body, and some thought it had been moved by others.  Additionally, what would be the odds that a few unarmed Jewish fishermen could overpower the trained Roman soldiers who had been assigned to guard the grave to prevent against just such an occurrence?

Other modern objectors have claimed that Jesus did not actually die, but merely passed out, but the details given in the Gospels, especially by Luke, a doctor, clearly describe a man who has died.  Beyond that, Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers—the most proficient executioners in human history, who certainly knew how to make sure that a man was dead. 

Even more, if he had merely passed out, he would not only have needed to survive two nights in a cold, sealed stone tomb, but to do so wrapped in a few dozen pounds of spices and burial cloths, and recover so well as to be able to unseal the tomb from the inside by removing a stone that would typically require at least two men to move.

If all of this were not enough evidence, His own mother and brothers, who would have known His actions most closely, as well as some of His fiercest enemies, such as Saul (later re-named St. Paul) worshipped Him as God.  Only something as miraculous as the resurrection could bring this about.  Furthermore, even under the pressure of torture, none of the disciples who witnessed His resurrection ever retracted their claims. 

There is simply no other explanation to the resurrection of Jesus than that it actually occurred, just as He predicted during His life.

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