Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Messiah Is Risen: Evidences for the Resurrection
"Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain...if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you [Israelites] are still in your sins! Then also those [Israelites] who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (I Corinthians 15:12-14, 17-18).
by Dr Peter Hammond & Jared M. Compton
In 1815 all of Europe agonized in suspense waiting for news of the impending battle between the Duke of Wellington and the French emperor Napoleon. For over 25 years Europe had been convulsed by the French Revolution, the mass executions of French nobles, the guillotine, and two decades of Napoleonic wars, which had turned all of Europe into a battlefield. And, just when they had thought that the threat was over, with Napoleon defeated and in exile on Elba, Napoleon had returned, mustered a huge army and marched to destroy the British Army under the Duke of Wellington. People waited in great anticipation for news of the critical battle, which would decide the future of all of them.
A sailing ship semaphored (signaled with coded flags) the result of the decisive battle. A signalman on the top of Winchester cathedral decoded the message from a ship in the channel: "Wellington defeated" then fog obscured the ship and the message was sent out throughout the British Isles: "Wellington defeated!" Shock and depression spread with the devastating news. Then several hours later, when the fog lifted, the signal was completed: "Wellington defeated the enemy!" As the full message of the decisive victory at Waterloo was proclaimed throughout the land there was tremendous rejoicing. Wellingtons' victory at Waterloo ushered in 99 years of peace in Western Europe.
The bodily resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead is tremendously important. Death is man's greatest enemy, and it has conquered all men but the Messiah. Cities and nations, like people, are born and grow for a season, and then fade away. Homes, clothes, even vehicles, wear out and eventually go back to dust, just as do their owners. The Bible describes this universal reign of decay and death as "the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8:21). In science it is recognized as the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- the Law of Increasing Entropy. Left to themselves, every system tends to become disordered, to run down and eventually die. All the founders of great religions and movements have died and you can visit their graves. Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, Marx, and Lenin. They are all dead and decayed in the grave. But Yeshua the Messiah is alive!
So, what difference does that make? You may ask. The resurrection of the Messiah is vitally important because it demonstrates the Messiah's victory over death, it gives hope to all of Israel, it shows that eternal life is available to believers from Israel, it points to the ultimate triumph of YEHOVAH God over all evil, and it provides an indisputable proof that the message about Yeshua the Messiah, as both judge and savior, is true.
"Because He has appointed a Day on which He will judge the world [of Israel] in righteousness by the Man Whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all [of Israel] by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
Is the resurrection historically reliable? It depends on whom you ask. The human writers of Scripture, particularly Paul and the gospel writers, seem to have thought so. In fact, as we have seen, Paul went so far as to suggest that if the Messiah did not rise, Christianity is nothing but a blind alley -- a fool's hope (1 Corinthians 15:14). To be sure, a good number of people think Christianity -- along with its tale of resurrection from death -- is precisely that -- a tale.
They routinely suggest that the resurrection of the Messiah did not happen, and that the existing records (especially the gospel accounts) are themselves the problem. These records, it is claimed, are simply the late and largely fictitious creations of that strand of Christianity eventually dubbed "orthodox" (much to the chagrin of the competitors it snuffed out). Therefore, we must ask -- can the history the New Testament teaches be trusted, or has the alternate view gotten things right?
The Research of Skeptics
The resurrection is so important and foundational to true Christianity that it has been targeted for the most relentless attacks. Frank Morison, a lawyer, determined to disprove the resurrection and thereby undermine Christianity. The result of his exhaustive investigations was his conversion to the Messiah and the publication of his book: Who Moved the Stone? which decisively demonstrates the overwhelming evidence for the resurrection.
A skeptical university lecturer, Josh McDowell, determined to disprove Christianity by investigating evidence against the resurrection. The result was also his conversion to the Messiah and publication of the monumental: Evidence That Demands a Verdict which exhaustively and conclusively presents documentation and evidence upon evidence substantiating the historical truth, factual accuracy, archeological evidence, manuscript evidence, fulfilled prophecies, transformed lives, and other indisputable evidences which support the fact of the resurrection of the Messiah from the dead and the truth claims of Christianity.
Thomas Arnold, Professor of History at Oxford University, one of the greatest historians of the 19th Century wrote: "I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better, fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair enquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose from the dead."
Simon Greenleaf, recognized as one of the most skilled legal minds ever produced, developed the Harvard Law School. He is recognized as the top authority on what constitutes sound evidence. Simon Greenleaf made a thorough and exhaustive examination of the objective evidence and the testimony of the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In his book: The Testimony of the Evangelists (Baker, 1874) he concluded: "It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact."
Simon Greenleaf declared that any court of law, if presented with the evidence of the resurrection, would have to give a verdict in favor of the integrity and accuracy of the Gospel writers and the fact of the resurrection.
One of the most popular books ever written, and most successful films ever produced, Ben Hur, was a result of a skeptical challenge by General Lew Wallace to the authenticity of the Messiah's resurrection, and a careful examination of the evidence.
The alternate view has gotten things wrong because it erroneously assumes two things about the New Testament account. First, it wrongly assumes the accounts of the Messiah's resurrection were written long after the death of the historical Messiah (i.e., the Messiah nearly everyone admits lived and died in the first century A.D.). Second, it mistakenly assumes these later writers fabricated the accounts of the Messiah's resurrection so that the historical Messiah would match the Messiah they were already worshipping. To deal with these FALSE assumptions, we must show that the records are both early and filled with details not likely to have been invented by later Christian groups.
What Are the Facts?
The religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had campaigned and conspired to have the Messiah arrested and executed on trumped up charges, had a compelling interest in disproving any claims of the resurrection. They had presumed that the execution of Yeshua would eliminate this threat to their religious power base and silence his supporters. These Jewish religious leaders had great concerns about the corpse of the Messiah and they approached the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for a military detachment to secure the tomb (Matthew 28:62-64).
The Roman governor's priority in the volatile province of Palestine was to preserve peace and stability. He recognized the political problems that would ensue if anything happened to this religious teacher whom he had three times declared innocent, and ultimately washed his hands in front of the crowd declaring, "I'm innocent of this man's blood" (Matthew 27:24). His wife had warned him: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him" (Matthew 27:19).
Pilate was only too aware that a travesty of justice had taken place, and the last thing he needed was a review of his shameful conduct and dereliction of duty in this case. Ensuring that the victim's corpse remained buried was definitely in Pilate's political interests as well. "Take a guard, Pilate answered. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how. So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard" (Matthew 27:65).
The Roman Guard
As the chief priests had approached the Roman governor, and as the Greek word Koustodia is used to describe the detachment of soldiers, it was evidently a Roman guard. If only a temple guard had been used, there would have been no need to approach Pilate to issue the order. Additionally the concern of the guards after the resurrection to be protected from consequences from the governor (Matthew 28:14) confirms that those guarding the tomb were Roman soldiers. The detachment would have consisted of at least sixteen soldiers with four men placed directly in front of the entrance of the tomb, on duty, at any time. Under Roman military law any guard who deserted his post, or who fell asleep on duty, would face crucifixion. Typically, if Roman soldiers allowed a prisoner to escape they would face the same sentence as the prisoner -- in this case crucifixion.
The seal placed on the stone at the entrance to the tomb signified the administrative authority, and only an authorized officer of Rome would be permitted to break the seal. Anyone breaking a Roman seal without permission would be tracked down and executed.
Although the intention of the religious and political leaders had been to ensure that the phenomenon of the Messiah ended at the tomb, their extraordinary security measures have only served to confirm the truth that they had murdered an innocent man and that Yeshua was truly the Messiah, the adopted son of the Living God, "the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth...the One Who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more" (Revelation 1:5, 18).
The Messiah's Victory Over Death
"Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the LORD descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead, and indeed he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him. Behold I have told you.' So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying 'Rejoice!', so they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me'" (Matthew 28:1-10).
The Empty Tomb
The Messiah was buried in a well-known tomb. This is important, because if the location of the Messiah's tomb was uncontroversial, the claim by the early Church that the Messiah had vacated his tomb could be easily verified (or, for that matter, discounted). That the messiah's tomb was well known is attested by material both early and non-legendary. Mark's gospel -- written no more than 30 years after the Messiah's crucifixion and itself based on even earlier sources -- mentions that the Messiah was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43).
This early detail was not likely a fictitious insertion by later Christian authors. After all, Joseph was a member of the Judahite Council (or Sanhedrin; Mark 15:43). In other words, why would later Christians invent a story about a Judahite Sanhedrin helping the Messiah? Had the early Christians created this detail, the Judahite authorities could have disproved it easily. They could have checked the records to find out whether or not Joseph had been a member of the Council and/or whether or not his tomb had been used -- not to mention vacated -- by the Messiah.
Not only was the Messiah's tomb well known, it was also found to be EMPTY. These details are also found in very early sources, this time not only in Mark's report (16:1-8) but also in Paul's (implied in 1 Corinthians 15:4). In fact, many scholars date the tradition Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:3 to within five or six years after the Messiah's death.
Moreover, Mark's report of the empty tomb contains obviously non-legendary material. It indicates that the tomb was found empty by women. In Judahite society at that time, the testimony of women was considered unreliable. As Josephus -- the early Judahite historian (ca. A.D. 31-100) notes -- women were not allowed to serve as credible witnesses in Judahite courts. To this N. T. Wright adds, "If [the early Christians] could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it."
Matthew's still relatively early account itself ADDS to the historicity of the empty tomb. Matthew records what the early Judahite response was to the apostolic preaching of the Messiah's resurrection. Significantly, it was not: "These fellows are out of their minds -- here is the Messiah's body!" Rather, the Judean authorities invented a tale that suggested the disciples had stolen away the body (Matthew 28:13). In short, the earliest Judean response was itself an attempt to explain WHY the body was missing and the tomb was empty.
Attempts to Avoid the Truth of the Resurrection
To explain away the empty tomb, the enemies of the Gospel have had to resort to some desperate deceptions. The first was to suggest that the disciples had stolen the body. This incredible theory suggests that those same disciples who had slept in the garden, fled at his arrest, denied him before a young woman, were hiding in fear behind locked doors, could have unitedly overcome sixteen professional Roman soldiers, dared to break a Roman seal, moved a two ton tomb stone, just to steal a corpse! A dead Messiah would have served absolutely no purpose for the disciples. What possible motivation could they have had, even had they possessed the ability to overcome the military, political and logistical obstacles? They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Everyone of the disciples suffered severe persecution, most dying as martyrs for the faith. Would you die for a lie?
Did the Messiah Really Die?
Others have questioned whether the Messiah had really died on the tree. Perhaps he only fainted? This swoon theory would have us believe that the Temple Guard, who had probably executed many people (the man in charge, would most probably have supervised dozens of executions), had failed to ensure that this high profile political prisoner was not actually dead. Considering the vicious flogging which the Messiah had already endured at the hands of the Romans, the excruciating torture of crucifixion, the stoning that he received while hanging on the tree and the spear thrust into his side, all provide convincing evidence of death.
Yet, those advocating the swoon theory would have us believe that one who had endured such savage flogging, crucifixion, stoning and a spear thrust to the heart, could not only have survived these horrendous punishments, but that he was revived on a cold slab in a cold tomb. Further that he somehow disengaged from the grave clothes, and one hundred pounds of spices, ointments and wrappings which had effectively mummified him, rolled away the two ton stone, overpowered, or eluded, the Roman soldiers, and somehow found and impressed the disciples that he was resurrected from the dead? These suggestions have only to be mentioned in order to be dismissed as unbelievable.
The Empty Tomb
Another desperate attempt to explain away the resurrection of the Messiah has been that they went to the wrong tomb. All of them. Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, the other women, all went to the wrong tomb. And somehow neither the Pharisees, nor the Sadducees, nor the Roman soldiers, nor Joseph of Arimathea, whose tomb it was, thought to point out that the tomb was in fact still occupied! However, this theory is also impossible, as the tomb was not in a cemetery, but in a garden privately owned by Joseph of Arimathea. There was no other tomb in that garden!
The Absence of the Body
And all that the Roman and Judean leaders had to do in order to end Christianity forever was produce the corpse of the Messiah. But they couldn't do it. Even when the apostle Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and proclaimed: "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33). And many thousands of Israelites in Jerusalem, including many Pharisees, came to faith in Yeshua the Messiah.
The Nazareth Inscription
The Nazareth Inscription is one of the most powerful pieces of extra-biblical evidence that the resurrection of the Messiah was being preached right from the beginnings of Christianity. It is a Greek inscription on a marble tablet measuring approximately 24 inches by 15 inches. The exact time and place of its discovery is not known. The text records an abridged decree by Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54), instituting the death penalty for tomb robbing -- a very unusual punishment. This fact clearly proves that the story of the resurrection of the Messiah was widely known almost immediately after his crucifixion. In other words, the story of the resurrection of the Messiah must have been a story that was circulated by his apostles themselves, and it was not a later invention by Christians of the post-apostolic period, as some modern scholars in the past have argued. The Nazareth Inscription does force modern scholars into making a choice of either believing in the resurrection of the Messiah or of believing that his disciples stole his body from the tomb in order to perpetuate a great religious fraud. Since its original publication in 1930 by M. Franz Cumont, no scholar has published evidence to disprove its authenticity.
The Crisis of Credibility
To the Judean religious leaders, this was their worst nightmare -- a disaster! The proclamation of the resurrection of the Messiah undermined their power and credibility. Thousands of their followers now believed that they had condemned an innocent man, the Messiah himself. The new religion of Christianity was undermining the power base and credibility of the Pharisees and Sadducees. If the body of the Messiah could have been found, Christianity could be stopped dead in its tracks and the threat to the religious status quo would have ended. Since they desperately needed the Messiah's corpse, the Judean leaders would have used every means at their disposal to hunt it down and find it -- if that was possible.
The Testimony of Eye Witnesses
However, we are not only dealing with the empty tomb, and the absence of the body, but the testimony of eyewitnesses. On at least twelve separate occasions the Messiah was seen after rising from the tomb. Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9); the other women (Matthew 28:8-10); Peter (Luke 24:34); the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35); ten of the disciples (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-24); all eleven disciples, eight days later (John 20:24-29); seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-23); to five hundred at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6); to James (1 Corinthians 15:7); to all eleven apostles, and others, at the ascension (Acts 1:3-12); Paul (Acts 9:3-8); and John (Revelation 1:12-18), all saw the Messiah bodily raised from the dead.
Paul's early account speaks of hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen the risen Messiah (1 Corinthians 15:5-9). This detail is not only early, but it is also non-legendary. Timothy Keller explains,
"Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing [ca. 56] and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul's letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn't exist" (The Reason for God: Christian Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton).
To explain away the testimony of all these eyewitnesses, enemies of Christianity suggest that these were merely hallucinations, perhaps as a result of hypnosis or hysteria. However, while hallucinations tend to be unique psychological experiences of an individual, we are here dealing with a large number of individuals, who at different times, in different groups, in different places, both indoors and outdoors, on a hilltop, along a roadside, by a lake shore, all saw the Messiah. They saw him, they ate with him, they saw the wounds in his wrists and in his side.
And far from being gullible, it would appear that his disciples were very skeptical and slow to believe. Thomas declared that he would not believe that the Messiah had risen unless he personally placed his fingers in the nail prints in his wrists and feet and his hand in the wound in his side.
The Transformation of the Disciples
Three considerations demonstrate that the early Church's belief in the resurrection was not something they simply created. First, the majority of Judahites did not believe in a resurrection in the middle of time (i.e., before the final judgment), and they would not have called a non-bodily appearance a resurrection. Rather, for Christian Israelites such as the disciples, "He is risen" meant that the Messiah was indeed bodily risen. Therefore, we must ask, from whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection before the final judgment come -- if not from the reality of the Messiah's resurrection appearances?
Second, resurrection, though important, was central to neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor Judahite thought in the time between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament period (often referred to as Second Temple Judaism). In contrast, resurrection became a CENTRAL TENET of Christian belief (see Paul's "first importance," 1 Corinthians 15:1-6). Again, we must ask, what made resurrection so CENTRAL to early Israelite, Christianity?
Third, we must remember the disciples were so convinced of this event that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. One must, therefore, explain what happened to the disciples between their fearful flight (John 20:19) following the Messiah's arrest and crucifixion, and their BOLD preaching soon thereafter (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:2). (We might add to these the conversions of Paul and James; see Acts 9:1 and John 7:5 respectively.) In short, we must ask -- WHAT CAUSED THESE REMARKABLE TRANSFORMATIONS?
The resurrection of the Messiah from the dead transformed the disciples' grief to joy, their cowardice to boldness, their skepticism to faith and their doubt to determination. It turned Saul, the persecutor of the church into Paul the apostle of the church.
It also transformed society and history. The resurrection transformed an Israelite remnant into the worldwide "Christian" albeit pagan Church. Over 2-Billion people worldwide describe themselves as people who believe in the resurrection of the Messiah from the dead. The very existence of the largest religious movement in the history of the world is another powerful evidence of the truth of the resurrection.
The Messiah himself had prophesied his resurrection from the dead. And because of his fulfillment of this, we can be absolutely certain that Yeshua the Messiah is the first-born of the Israelite brethren, as he claimed. By his resurrection we can know that the sins of those of us of Israel are forgiven through his blood sacrificed on the tree on the Mount of Olives: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world [of Israel] that He gave His only begotten Son that Whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:14-16).
In the end, the alternative view's assumptions simply DO NOT account for these three facts: The empty tomb, the appearances, and the rise of the early Church's belief in the resurrection of the Messiah are details that come from early sources and cannot be satisfactorily explained as the creation of later Christian writers. Still, these three facts do not automatically prove the resurrection, since any number of explanations could be, and in fact are, given for them (e.g., someone stole the Messiah's body, the disciples hallucinated, the Messiah did not die on the tree).
At the present time NONE of these alternative explanations has gained much traction -- since each stretches the bounds of credulity. It is, however, important to note two things: first, that alternative explanations of these facts rarely are offered, something that provides a certain amount of confirmation of their firmness; and second, that the alternative explanations proposed are incredible, though it is claimed that believing in a resurrection is even more so. After all, for some skeptics the resurrection would be a miracle and miracles -- it is routinely asserted as fact -- simply do not and cannot happen!
What It Means to the True Christian
Because of the Messiah's death on the tree we can rejoice that the past sins of those of us of Israel are paid for -- we are forgiven, justified by faith.
Because of the Messiah's resurrection from the dead, those of us of Israel can rejoice in the prospect of eternal life here on this earth.
Because of the Messiah's ascension we can know that he has all authority and that his Great Commission will be accomplished on this earth.
Because of the coming of the holy spirit at Pentecost we do not need to trust in our own abilities, but in YEHOVAH God's power alone. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the LORD."
We serve a risen savior! Death is defeated. The Messiah has risen -- victorious over death, hell, Satan and the grave.
Yeshua the Messiah is the Resurrection and the Life. Those of Israel who believe in the Messiah, though they may die, yet shall they live (John 11:25).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us [of Israel] again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
-- Edited by John D. Keyser.