When Jesus and the twelve reached Caesarea Philippi, He asked them a very important question: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man, am?” (Matt. 16:13). Naturally, there were many thoughts and rumors of the Savior’s identity circulating Judea at the time–John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah–just as there would continue to be throughout history. Peter, however, answered the question correctly: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). That Jesus claimed deity is beyond dispute (cf. Matt. 17:1-5; Mark 2:5-12; John 8:24; etc.), the question is, how do we know His claims were, and are, true? How did Peter know? What had he seen and heard that would drive him to the correct conclusion, that Jesus is the Son of God?
The reality of Jesus’ deity has been proven more than adequately. Those like Peter, who saw and heard Him on earth, believed because of His miracles–“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did” (John 2:23)–and because of His preaching–“And as he spake these words, many believed on him” (John 8:30). Scripture testifies to the fact that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God (cf. John 20:30-31). This, of course, assumes that the scripture can be trusted and the miracles, testimony, and other evidence of Jesus’ deity it puts forth, should be accepted as fact. Other articles in this Christian Worker edition will deal with those questions. Our purpose is to explore one primary form of evidence for the deity of Jesus–the Resurrection.
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ, and so does His claim to the the Son of God. Our hope stands upon the resurrection (1 Pet. 1:3) and without it we are most miserable (1 Cor. 15:15-19). Paul wrote that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4) and Jesus predicted His resurrection on multiple occasions (cf. John 2:19-21; Matt. 17:9; Luke 9:22-27; etc.). Therefore, if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, then He was a false prophet, and certainly could not be the Son of God. Though there is a great body of evidence proving the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, consider three brief, but fundamental arguments.
First, the empty tomb. After Jesus was buried, Pilate placed guards at the tomb, and sealed it with a heavy stone to prevent Jesus’ body from being stolen (Matt. 27:62-66). Those guards were witnesses to the resurrection and were bribed by the chief priests to lie and say that the disciples stole the body, the very thing which they were stationed to prevent (Matt. 28:11-15). Later, the apostles began to preach that Jesus has raised from the dead. A claim that easily could have been rebuked by the Jewish leaders simply by producing His body. But the reason the Jews never produced Jesus’ body to prove His disciples to be liars, is the same reason they bribed the soldiers to lie. The tomb was found empty, and remains empty to this day, because Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. Rest assured that His enemies would have left no stone unturned in order to produce His body or any evidence at all that would prove the claim of resurrection to be false. Yet, they cannot.
Second, the existence of theories explaining the empty tomb. The Jewish authorities were not the only ones who would scramble to explain why the tomb was empty. Throughout history, several theories have been suggested attempting to explain away the resurrection. The swoon theory suggests that Jesus did not actually die on the cross but fainted due to exhaustion and was revived in the tomb. Another idea is that Jesus only appeared to His disciples through spiritual visions or even hallucinations. Further, it has been suggested that the resurrection account is simply a legend that grew over time in Palestine and spread throughout the world. While there are a number of problems with these ideas, and many more like them, it is beyond the scope of this article to explore those problems. We simply want to make one observation, and that is that the very fact that these theories exist is evidence that Jesus’ did not remain in the tomb. It if had, there would be no need for outlandish explanations for its disappearance.
Third, the spread of Christianity and the faith of the disciples. As Gamaliel recognized, many religious movements have come along throughout history, and none with permanent staying power (Acts 5:34ff). That cannot be said about Christianity. How could one explain the spread of a religious movement centered around a lowly Jewish carpenter in first century Palestine to a globally recognized religion more than 2,000 years later? How could one explain the willingness of so many in the first century to suffer terrible persecution and even death because of their faith in the risen Lord? How could one explain the radical change in Saul of Tarsus from an elite Jew who persecuted Christians, to an apostle of Christ and greatest preacher the world will ever know, save Christ? These things cannot be explained apart form the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God has never intended for anyone to believe anything without adequate evidence. He has revealed Himself clearly in creation (cf. Ps. 19:1) so that those who deny His existence do so without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Likewise, the incredible claim of the resurrection of Jesus. The evidence for the truth of that claim is so overwhelming as to put its reality beyond dispute. This article has only touched the hem of the garment, in exploring that evidence. It is an absolute fact that Jesus rose from the grave, and it is an absolute fact that He is, indeed, the Son of the Living God.