“Show us a sign…”
“We seek a sign,” the rulers said,
“Some wonder you devise.”
“Destroy this body,” He replied,
“And I will make it rise!”
The persistent cry of the leadership of Israel in response to Jesus’ message was for a sign which would confirm His claim of messiahship. Their demand was consistent with the prevailing view that Israel’s promised deliverer would work great wonders in the midst of the chosen nation. The crux of contention, however, between the Anointed One and His opposition did not repose in signs. It rested rather in the sign that would confirm all of the signs manifested throughout His ministry. “Destroy this temple,” He told them, “and in three days I will raise it up . . .he spoke of the temple of his body” (Jn. 2:19, 21). God’s ultimate answer to Jewry’s seeking would be found in another question: “, . . Why seek ye the living among the dead? He Is not here, but is risen. . . “ (Lk. 24:5, 6)! Christ’s resurrection would affirm all of the signs He offered, but supremely, it verified through the “sign” Jesus’ deity, and provided the divine impetus for all that would follow in Christianity. Philip Schaff, a church historian, emphasizes the importance of the event: “The miracle of the resurrection and the existence of Christianity are so closely connected that they must stand or fall together. If Christ was raised from the dead, then all of His other miracles are sure, and our faith is impregnable; if He was not raised, He died in vain, and our faith is vain.”
Following His resurrection, Jesus “. . . showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen by them forty days, and speaking of things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). His apostles and disciples were to be “witnesses unto me” (Acts 1:8). This witness was directly related to His resurrection. This fact is stated repeatedly in the Book of Acts, with the fullest explanation set forth in 10:39-43. We quote verses 40 and 41: “Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” Also contained in the passage is a reference to the prophets: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (v. 43). In these verses we are exposed to three evidences of Jesus’ resurrection: (1) personal proof; (2) prophetic proof; and (3) people proof.
Jesus of Nazareth said that after three days He would vacate His tomb — He did. It was the sign previewed in type through the prophet, Jonah. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights In the heart of the earth” (Mt. 12:40).
It was in the highest interests of Rome and Israel’s unbelieving leaders to make certain Jesus’ body remained in the grave. Accordingly, the chief priests and Pharisees requested of Pilate and received a Roman detachment to accomplish their purpose. We are not told how many soldiers were dispatched to the garden tomb, but “Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch; go your way, make it as sure as ye can” (Mt. 27:65). One can be certain that no frightened band of dispirited disciples could have taken His body from the watchful legionnaires.
Various arguments have been advanced by skeptics, secular and religious. None, however, approach being plausible alternatives to the central fact of history. The empty tomb stands among the eloquent witnesses to His resurrection.
The risen Christ displayed His resurrection body in such a way as to insure our understanding that His rising from the dead was both literal and physical. Listed below are a few examples:
“. . . They . . . held him by the feet. . .” (Mt. 28:9).
“. . . They saw him. . . ” (Mt. 28:17).
“. . . Jesus came and spoke unto them. . .” (Mt 28:18).
“. . . He took bread, and blessed it, and broke it… ” (Lk. 24:30).
“Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Lk. 24:39).
“They gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and an honeycomb. And he took it and did eat before them” (Lk. 24:42, 43).
“. . . He showed unto them his hands and his side. . . ” (Jn. 20:20).
“. . . Reach here thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach here thy hand, and thrust it into my side. . . (Jn. 20:27).
After He had risen, Jesus spoke to His followers concerning “. . . things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The messianic kingdom, spurned by the leaders of the Jewish people, is absolutely essential to the outworking of Jehovah’s program on this planet. The King must mount the throne of David in Jerusalem and establish a reign during which “. . . the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). The interaction between prophecy and the resurrection is developed in two aspects: past and future. In the old Covenant God reveals the coming, ministry, suffering and reign of the Messiah. Isaiah sketches the program.
ISAIAH’s MESSIANIC FOREVIEW
Past: Coming – Isaiah 7:14; 9-6 Ministry – Isaiah 42:1-7 Suffering – Isaiah 53
Resurrection: Isaiah 53:12
Future: Reign – Isaiah 11:1-12
As one can readily observe, the resurrection is the indispensable link between the preparation and realization of God’s successive programs of redemption and reign.
Jesus had a great deal to say about the future and Israel’s Messiah. With unchallengeable accuracy He detailed Jerusalem’s coming desolation (Mt. 23:38), decimation (Mt. 24:1, 2), and centuries long capitulation to Gentile tyrants (Lk. 21:24). Scanning the period approaching the “end of the age” He projected Jewry’s regathered residence in Israel during earth’s final holocaust (Mt. 24:21 -24). Meticulously, Jesus outlined the developing decadence in international political and economic systems which would result in military confrontations, rampant epidemics and starvation accompanied by increased upheavals in nature (Mt. 24:4-11).
These days would. He said, be marked by a proliferation of false cults and messiahs who would deceive multitudes of people. All of this would culminate in the entrance of Satan’s consummate defiance of God (Mt. 24:15), and the divine answer to earth’s dilemma, the coming of the “Son of Man” (Mt. 24:29-30). Under His triumphant reign Israel will experience her final ingathering to the Promised Land (Mt 24:31).
Our point is that Jesus of Nazareth did not simply predict what He thought might occur — which is the best man can do. No, he foresaw history before it was lived out on the stage of human events — which only the living God who knows the future can do. Thus another of the great resurrection evidences is the King’s revelation of events during unborn millennia within days of His leaving Joseph’s tomb.
Finally we consider the remaining element in the three resurrection evidences — the witnesses.
That is, what the resurrection accomplished in their lives.
In the wake of the crucifixion the disciples were emotionally mutilated, physically endangered and spiritually crushed. Given their eager enthusiasm for the immediate establishment of the messianic kingdom and the lack of perception regarding Jesus’ statements about His impending death, one can readily understand their collective condition. “ . . . The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews. . . (Jn. 20:19). Nor are we surprised to learn that they met the first exclamations of Jesus being risen with some degree of skepticism (Lk. 24:11). He soon convinced them, however, that death was now a servant and within a short time over five hundred other believers would have the privilege of seeing the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:6).
We are well aware of the fact that truth is pursued in courts of law through the testimony of eyewitnesses. There were enough registered eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy the requirements for credibility in any courtroom in the world — Jesus Christ is alive! Yet another confirming factor is seen in the universal agreement until their deaths by all of those recorded as witnesses to His resurrection. It is inconceivable, had all of these men been induced to perpetuate a fraud (which is in itself impossible to believe), that all of them, in the face of ostracism, persecution and martyrdom would remain steadfast in the deception until their deaths.
Saul of Tarsus provides a case in point. He was the most virulent leader of the opposition to Jesus and His followers. The young man was a proud descendant of Benjamin and an arrogant Pharisee who “. . . made havoc of the church, entering into every house and, haling men and women, committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). It was the same Saul who was “. . . yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. . . ” (Acts 9:1). In his capacity as chief persecutor of saints he superintended the execution of deacon Stephen (Acts 7:58). He, no doubt, heard Stephen as the martyr described his view of the resurrected “. . . Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Saul, in the birthpangs of his transformation into a soldier of the cross, would soon find himself prostrate before Stephen’s Christ pleading “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? “ (Acts 9:6). The antagonist-turned-apostle would later describe his experience in these words, “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). History bears witness to Paul’s coming alive in the power of the risen Christ.
And then there is the great host of saints who over two millennia have found life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). In the midnight of degenerate paganism early believers stood erect to disseminate the light of His life. Speaking of them, a secular historian has written, “Nor could the pagan fail to see that they had peace of mind, hope, and certainty, strong enough to carry them through the fires of persecution, when for the rest of the world there was no peace, when hope was dying, and certainty unattainable.” The light that shone through them still shines today. It emanates from beyond the open door of an empty tomb; it is the light that dawned on resurrection morning!