“FEAR nothing; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised again; he is not here!” That was what the angel told Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (the mother of James and John) when they went to the burial site of Jesus Christ.
The women visited the tomb to sprinkle more spices on the corpse. Jesus was buried on Friday afternoon and since Saturday was a Sabbath day, they were not able to do what they wanted to do. They planned of doing it on a Sunday morning.
“And very early on the Sunday morning, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were wondering among themselves who would roll away the stone for them from the entrance to the tomb, when they looked up and saw that the stone, huge as it was, had been rolled back already,” reported Mark (16:2-4).
After the discovery of the empty tomb, the Gospels indicate that Jesus made a series of appearances to the disciples. These include the appearance to the disciples in the upper room, where Thomas did not believe until he was invited to put his finger into the holes in Jesus’ hands and side and beside the Sea of Galilee to encourage Peter to serve his followers.
His final appearance is reported as being forty days after the resurrection when he ascended into heaven, where he remains with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit until His second coming.
The good news is that Jesus was alive. He was raised from the dead. As recorded in the New Testament, the resurrection became one of the most compelling doctrines of Christianity, because, according to this doctrine, by rising from the dead, Jesus gave humanity hope of a life after death.
“The resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning,” explained Dr. Gary Habermas, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry. “The earliest Christians didn’t endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after his crucifixion. That’s what changed their lives and started the church.”
Theologian Gerald O’Collins puts it this way: “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.”
But skeptics, agnostics and non-Christians believe resurrection was a hoax. They have this theory that Jesus only fainted from exhaustion on the cross, or he had been given a drug that made him appear to die, and that he had later been revived by cool, damp air of the tomb.
In 1929, D.H. Lawrence wrote Love Among the Haystacks and Other Stories. In one of the stories, the author surmised Jesus escaped and fled to Egypt, where he fell in love with the priestess Isis. Hugh Schonfield, the man behind The Passover Plot (1965), alleged that it was only the unanticipated stabbing of Jesus by the Roman soldier that foiled his complicated scheme to escape the cross alive.
The question is: Did Jesus really die in the cross or was it a sham? In the book, The Case for Christ, Dr. Alexander Metherell told author Lee Strobel that that Jesus really expired while he was hanging in the cross. When he was interviewed, Dr. Metherell was a consultant to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and a board certified in diagnosis by the American Board of Radiology.
Here’s the explanation of Dr. Metherell on the cause of death of Jesus: “Once a person is hanging in the vertical position, crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.
“After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again, he’d have to put himself up exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore.
“As the person slows down his breathing, he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis – the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to an irregular heartbeat. In fact, with his heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that he was at the moment of death, which is when he was able to say, ‘Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ And then he died of cardiac arrest.”
There are several other theories forwarded that Jesus Christ was never resurrected. There are those who believed that either Jesus or his disciples (or both) simply invented the entire thing. Christ, they claim, was simply a clever crook who read the prophecies regarding the Messiah in the Old Testament and set about arranging for them to be fulfilled by himself.
Others believed the early disciples were guilty of using some kind of primitive LSD. There are those who think only Jesus’ spirit arose. And there are those who believed that Jesus Christ was only resurrected in the heart of his friends.
Jesus Christ appeared no less than seventeen times after his resurrection. Five of these occurred during the first Easter Sunday, and six more took place between that time and his ascension. The remaining six happened between Pentecost and the completion of the Bible.
“Taken as a whole, the appearances are of such various characters and to so many people under so many different circumstances that the proof of the resurrection of Christ is as solid as any historical fact that could be cited in the first century,” comments Dr. H. L. Willmington in Guide to the Bible.
Why is there so much ado about the resurrection of Christ? The resurrection is the very linchpin of the Christian faith. The apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Dr. Willmington puts the resurrection in a different perspective manner. “The resurrection of Christ is the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence of the Christian faith,” he pointed out. “The sign of Christianity is really not the cross, but an empty tomb.”
Finally, here’s a thought from Dr. Charles S. Braden, author of The Word’s Religions: “Men do not rise from the dead. People do not pass through closed doors. People are not suddenly snatched away or do not suddenly disappear into thin air. Yet the disciple Thomas in particular was told to put his hand in the wounded side of his master and to feel the nail prints in his hand. So perplexing is the story that many modern people have been led to question the truth of it, though they find it hard to explain all the circumstances which the Gospel narratives recount… By far, the larger number of Christians today are quite confident in their belief that the Gospel narratives of His resurrection are wholly to be relied upon.”