Bound by sins darkened glow
In this world of pain and woe
Helpless, hopeless to us He came
And in the midst was slain
Darkest night, the Light extinguished
Will we forever captives be?
Messiah’s mission ends in death?
Where’s the hope of life and peace?
But by power He awaketh
All of death He did breakth
By His death, deaths defeated
Sins depleted of its power
Thus the hour of unrest
Has become our hope, our joy, our rest
For in Christ’s death,
Yes, He burst the bonds that bound Him
And leads many captives in His wake
Yes, from the cross He is victorious
And all of heaven hails He’s glorious!
If the resurrection didn’t happen why go to church? Why read the Bible? Why seek to uphold the New Testament ethic?
The launch of the World Wide Web in 1990 changed the world. It led to a wealth of information unprecedented in any other age to include what followed after the creation of the printing press in 1440. The Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution, the first moon landing, the first flight, the Model T, antiseptics, the Industrial Revolution; they changed the world and, one could argue, for the better. However, their significance pales in comparison to the question of the resurrection.
The topic of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is profoundly important. Upon it Christianity, indeed, heaven and hell rest. It is the hinge on which the direction of one’s life hangs, but it is more than that. The resurrection, if it happened, means that the hermeneutic with which we look at the world, even the whole of the universe, must correctly fit that evidence.
It means that all of history—that of the television to that of Tokyo—and everybody—Albert Einstein to Adolf Hitler—hang in the balance. It means that there is a day of reckoning; a day of profound peace and of hell. It means this world will one day finally be great for some and for others it will be the best they’ve known. It means that there is purpose and extreme futility.
It means that the unreal is real. It means that the far out has burst upon the scene. It means that what is seen is not it. It means that there is more. It means that there is meaning and direction to the cosmos. It means history is going somewhere and it is on its way.
If the resurrection happened then that new creation is the most significant thing that has happened since the (literal) beginning of time with the creation of all things. If the resurrection indeed happened then it confirms the words and work of Jesus. If the resurrection happened, it truly changes everything.
Second, it is important to consider arguments for the resurrection because the Bible itself all over the place argues for the resurrection. It’s what the Christian hope is built upon. If it didn’t happen then what are we doing?!
So, many of the sermons in Acts seek to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah (see Acts 9:22; 13:16ff; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 18:4-5, 19; 19:8ff; 24:25; 26:6, 22-26; 28:23, 31 cf. 18:28; from the beginning of the church preaching and teaching was integral 2:42). Also, Luke wrote an “orderly account” to Theophilus so that he would have “certainty” (Luke 1:3). Luke said that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs” (Acts 1:3).
Peter says “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). John talks about very tangible proof: “…we have heard… we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands… the life was made manifest, and we have seen… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn. 1:1-3). Even when warned at the cost of punishment Peter and John said in Acts that they could not but speak of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
The reality of the resurrection is something that is obviously very important to the New Testament authors. It is something that they did not take for granted but gave witness to (cf. e.g. Jn. 19:31-37). The reality of the resurrection is no less important for us today. We must still give testimony to it. We must still give the “many proofs” (cf. Acts 1:3) for it.
Before look at the question: did the resurrection happen? I think it’s important to consider: is it even possible for the resurrection to happen? So, let’s consider the assumptions that we have as we look at the evidence.
Our starting places or assumptions have a big impact on the way we weigh evidence. For instance, in Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mocking Bird the correct verdict could not have been given in that context (i.e. Maycomb’s racist white community) because people excluded the possibility that anyone other than the black man, Tom Robinson, was guilty. Despite the strong evidence that Atticus Finch put forward Tom was still convicted. Why? Because people were prejudice against the truth. The people’s a prior assumption, that Tom was guilty because he’s black, led them to not honestly look at the evidence and pronounce the correct verdict.
This sadly still happens. It happens in the court of law and it happens when people consider the evidence for the resurrection. Atheists and naturalists will obviously claim that Jesus could not raise from the dead because for them that is not even a possible option. It must have been something else. There must be a different explanation. And so, they propound all sorts of other ideas. Yet what they offer does not do justice to all the information.
More common, however, is a more popular form of denial. Either people just say it’s not possible without clearly weighing the evidence or they deny it because of doctrine. That is, they don’t like certain things that the New Testament teaches and realize if they deny the resurrection then they don’t have to worry about any of the other teachings; such as repentance. However, as Timothy Keller has said, “The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like [Jesus’] teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Notice that this teaching is of “first importance.” There is a lot that we can disagree on but this is not one of those things. This is one of the absolute bare essentials. If we lose this then the whole structure collapses. Also, notice that Paul is delivering something to us that he “received.” Paul is incorporating an earlier confession or tradition that was passed down.
First, Jesus was Crucifixed. Christ died (1 Cor. 15:3). And He died on a cross. This is basically an undisputed fact. Tacitus says:
“Christ, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and a pernicious superstition was chekcked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital istelf” (Annals of Imperial Rome xv.44).
The Talmud even reports that Jesus (Yeshu) was hanged (as in on the cross) on the eve of the Passover (b Sanh 43a-b; cf. Justin Martyr Dial. 69) for practicing sorcery (it is important to note that the authorities did not deny that “strange” things accompanied Him). The Jewish historian Josephus says that Pilate condemned Jesus to the cross (Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 3, par. 3). Lucian, a Greek writer of the 2nd century, mentions the crucifixion of Jesus as well (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13).
This is very significant, because to be hung on a tree, to be crucified, was to be cursed in the eyes of the Jews. Paul tells us this (Gal. 3:13) reminding us of Deuteronomy 21:23. How could Christianity develop and believe in a crucified, cursed, carpenter as their long-awaited promised Messiah? What could make sense of the fact that Jesus was crucified and later venerated as the Promised One, indeed, God incarnate? Surely a crucified man could not be the Messiah (Deut. 21:22-23 cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). Plus, the expectation was a king in the vein of David. A Yehoshu’a that defeats Israel’s enemies, not a Yehoshu’a that will be defeated by dying upon a tree.
This makes the existence of the Church all the more amazing. Why would people such as Peter, James, and Paul follow—to death!—someone that was crucified?! What could account for this historical fact? Why would Jews switch their day of worship from Saturday, the Sabbath, to Sunday in light of someone that died a horrible death on the cross? Why would the Church be persecuted for “eating flesh” (i.e. celebrating the Lord’s Supper) if Jesus only died and never raised?
Of course, we know that Jesus, the Messiah, died as the Lamb of God to take away our sins. We see that His death was the fulfillment of passages like Isaiah 53. However, that was not immediately understood. They did not a first understand that the Messiah must suffer many things (cf. e.g. Lk. 18:31-34; 24:11). They did not understand that Jesus’ death was indeed in “accordance with the Scriptures.” Yet, they would understand. So, we see, “Jesus’ resurrection is, in fact, the best explanation for why ancient monotheistic Jews would worship him as divine.”
Second, Jesus was Buried. Jesus was buried (1 Cor. 15:4). Laid in a tomb and later His tomb was found empty. There are multiple attestations of this. The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell us about this. Further, they tell us that women were the first people on the scene. This is significant because a woman’s testimony was no good in court in that day. If the empty tomb story would have been made up they would not have chosen women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection. Instead, it would have made sense for them to say that Peter, for instance, was the first person on the scene.
Also, they would not have left any discrepancies in the accounts. However, discrepancies remain. They are not irreconcilable but they remain. If the story of the empty tomb was fabricated the account of it would be much more tidy. Anyhow, if Jesus did not rise from the dead His followers would have no motivation to claim that He did.
One of the theories put forward against the resurrection is that Jesus was not actually dead when He was taken off the cross. However, think of this: Jesus would have been a more horrific image than a zombie. He would have been in no position to convince His disciples that He had rose from the dead. Plus, He would then be a deceiver which greatly conflicts with His amazing ethical teachings.
All of this aside, it is just not possible that Jesus would have lived through the whole ordeal. So William Lane Craig has said that the apparent death theory is foolish when we consider “the beatings of Jesus, His exhausting all-night trial and interrogations, His scourging, His crucifixion, the spear in His side [which serves to demonstrate that He did in fact die], the binding and wrapping of His body in seventy-five pounds of linen and spices, and the cold tomb sealed by a large stone.”
In fact because of the type of beating that Jesus underwent before He was even crucified He could have died even beforehand so there was no way that He would have lived through the crucifixion. Further, the guards though not doctors or scientists likely had as much experience with dead bodies as morticians. They would have known if Jesus was not dead. So Alexander Metherell, who has both a medical degree and a doctorate degree in engineering and has edited five scientific books, has said that “there was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead” and “there’s just no way he could have survived the cross.”
People have even claimed that Jesus death was faked. They claim that Jesus was slipped a drug that put Him into a deep stupor (they use Mk. 15:36 as their proof text) so people thought He was dead. However, this theory falls short for a number of reasons. Not least is the fact that had Jesus fell into a deep stupor He would have in fact died. One of the ways, probably the most common way, which people died on the cross was through asphyxiation. Thus if Jesus was drugged He would have certainly died of asphyxiation anyhow.
William Edwards concludes his study “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ”:
“It remains unsettled whether Jesus died of cardiac rupture or of cardiorespiratory failure. However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”
Although the “swoon theory” is unbelievable it does lend credibility to the other evidence leading to the resurrection. This is because if someone is willing to claim that Jesus did not die on the cross rather than face the other evidence then the other evidence must be substantial indeed.
So what then is the significance that Jesus was buried and that Paul and the confession stated that? The Heidelberg Catechism says that “His burial testified that He had really died.”
Third, Jesus’ Tomb was Empty. Jesus rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:4) and thus left an empty tomb. Actually, it was never even claimed that the tomb was not empty. That was not an option that anyone could have claimed because the tomb was empty. Instead, the authorities that wanted to crush the early Christian movement said that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matt. 28:13, 15). Yet, that claim is preposterous for a few reasons. For example, Jesus’ followers did not have the motivation or the means to put on such a pointless charade (the penalty for the tomb-breaker was capital punishment, see the Nazareth Inscription). People have also put forward the idea that the women went to the wrong tomb. This view, however, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. If the women had gone to the wrong tomb then the authorities would have said so. They did know where the tomb was; they set guards in front of it.
First, we see early attestation that the tomb was empty. Paul quoted an early confession that Jesus was raised (1 Cor. 15:4) which implicitly states that the tomb was empty. We also have other very reliable historical sources that all claim that the tomb was empty.
Second, if the tomb wasn’t empty it would have been impossible for the Christian movement, which is founded on the resurrection, to get started in Jerusalem. Perhaps if the disciples would have moved somewhere else then it would have been possible but not in Jerusalem. People there had certainly seen Jesus teach, die a horrible death, or at least heard rumors about Jesus. Jews and Gentiles alike had reasons for hostility against the radical upstart movement. People didn’t understand Christian teaching and as Jesus predicted it brought division. So if people in Jerusalem could have produced Jesus’ body to shut up the movement before it got off the ground they would have. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t. If the tomb was not empty then there could be no Christian movement; especially in Jerusalem. Paul and the Gospel writers all identify and give names of multiple people that were said to be eyewitnesses of the resurrection. If people wanted to they could question them and determine the validly of their claims. So Craig shows that “the controlling presence of living witnesses would prevent significant accrual of legend.”
Again, and thirdly, the fact that the Gospels tell us that women discovered the empty tomb argues for its validity. This, once again, is because if the Gospel accounts had been made up, they would not have been made up to include women being the witnesses to the empty tomb. Something else to consider looking at is the Shroud of Turin.
Fourth, Jesus Appeared to Many. Jesus appeared too many (1 Cor. 15:5-9). Paul gave a pretty substantial list of witnesses. In fact, Paul basically said, they are still around, here are their names, you can go question them yourself. Actually, that is apparently what Luke did. Luke did a thorough investigation of the whole thing and his final verdict was that the resurrection and thus the Church did indeed happen.
The New Testament lists twelve separate appearances over a forty-day period:
- Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:10-18)
- Mary and the other women (Matt. 28:1-10)
- Peter (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35)
- Ten apostles (Lk. 24:36-49)
- Eleven apostles (Jn. 20:24-31)
- Seven apostles (Jn. 21)
- All of the apostles (Matt. 28:16-20)
- Five hundred disciples (1 Cor. 15:6)
- James (1 Cor. 15:7)
- Again to all the apostles (Acts 1:4-8)
- The apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9; 1 Cor. 15:8; 9:1)
One of Jesus’ followers (likely Mark) fled naked risking great shame (or worse) but was transformed by the good and surprising news of the resurrection (cf. Mk. 14:32-52). Paul, a persecutor of the Church, was radically transformed and ended up being persecuted himself for preaching the truth of Jesus the Christ’s resurrection.
As has been very often pointed out:
“The disciples… went from dejected, dispirited and grieving followers of a crucified rabbi to apostles, those who had beheld the risen Christ and who, on that basis, preached him as Lord of life and the Judge of history… The actual resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the disciples’ transformation from cowardice, despair and confusion to confident proclamation and the willingness to suffer persecution, hardship and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus and his gospel.”
And who would die for a known lie? Who would go to a bloody painful death if it could be avoided simply by denying a lie?
After Jesus was taken His apostles were scared and hid in the upper room. Peter denied Jesus 3 times. After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to the apostles and many others. After the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus they were no longer scared, they were emboldened. All of the apostles died for their beliefs, except John. Yet, tradition says he was boiled alive and later exiled to the island Patmos. Following is how the apostles died:
- Peter- crucified
- Matthew- the sword
- John- died a natural death after being boiled in oil and exiled
- James, son of Alphaeus- crucified
- Philip- crucified
- Simon- crucified
- Thaddaeus- killed by arrows
- James, the brother of Jesus- stoned
- Thomas- spear thrust
- Bartholomew- crucified
- James, the son of Zebedee- the sword
Many have contended that the appearances were just hallucinations. However, this theory also falls short for various reasons. Actually, even the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide, believed that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead even though he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. So, for instance, he said, ““When this frightened band of apostles suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society… Then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.”
Others have put forward the “conspiracy theory” view that says the disciples made up the resurrection story. However, as I said, the Gospel accounts have small, though not contradictory, discrepancies in them. This would not make any sense if the early followers of Jesus got together and fabricated the whole thing. However, it would not make any sense for them to fabricate the whole thing anyhow. What would they gain from such lies?! Nothing. Nothing but persecution and death. So clearly the crucifixion of Jesus was not just some conspiracy theory that some whacks made up to serve their own end.
Can you imagine the disciples saying, in the words of William Lane Craig,
“Let us band together… to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the sham to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go out to all nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! And even if we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit.”
Even mobsters, like Henry Hill and Alphonse D’Arco, from time to time break down and confess what they swore on life and limb they would not confess. Surely Jesus’ followers who had everything to lose and nothing to gain would break down and confess it was a hoax if it was. Thus the “conspiracy theory” fails to meet the demands of the evidence.
Further, Craig points out that “if we distrust these men, then we must distrust all writers of history and records. If we accept the records of secular historians, then we must by the same standard also accept the reliability of the disciples’ testimony to the resurrection.” Similarly, Licona points that “to claim as useless any effort to know the past is not only the death of history but of the legal system too.”
If Jesus Christ has been raised there is purpose and direction to the cosmos; to our life. If Jesus rose from the dead His claim and promises our justified. If Jesus rose then we, who have faith in Him, will also rise. If Jesus rose the Kingdom of God and new creation has broke into this broken world. Truly, “The resurrection of Jesus… is the symbol and starting point of a new world.”
- How has the resurrection changed you?
- How has it changed someone you know or know of? For instance, think of the Apostle Paul.
- How should the fact of the resurrection continue to change you?
- What should you do differently this week in light of the resurrection?
- How can you thank Christ for the resurrection and all that it means?
- Lastly, read 1 Corinthians 15 this week, pray, and think about the importance of the resurrection of Christ.
 Marten Hengel rightly says Paul considered the “Jewish-Messianic message and its concomitant scriptural evidence… quite important from the very beginning.” (Marten Hengel, “Paul in Arabia” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12.1 , 59).
 Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 115
 Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, 530. See also e.g. Licona’s discussion of John Dominic Crossan’s view in The Resurrection of Jesus, 44-45 see also 608.
 See also John Adams in Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 609.
 Keller, The Reason for God, 210. Also, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 279.
 Licona says “Paul wrote the letter we now refer to as 1 Corinthians in A.D. 54 or 55. If Jesus died in A.D. 30, we are reading a letter that was written within twenty-five years of Jesus’ death by a major church leader who knew a number of those who walked with Jesus. If this letter contains tradition that Paul has preserved, we are even closer than twenty-five years to the events it claims to report” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 223-24. See 223- 35).
 Even John Dominic Crossan says the fact that Jesus was crucified is “as sure as anything historical ever can be” (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991], 145).
 Martin Hengel says, “A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish” (Crucifixion John Bowden trans. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977], 10) as Paul himself later would say (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). See also Ibid., 61-62, and esp. 89. Justin Martyr Apology I ch. 13. Also the Alexamenos graffito shows how foolish many thought it was to worship one that had been crucified. The graffiti depicts a Christian worshiping an image of a man on a cross with a donkey head.
 cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 75. Truly, “a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms for the Jews” (Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 292). Paul himself was among the rulers that “did not recognize him,” the Messiah, nor what the prophets said regarding Him (Acts 13:27). Yet he later was enlightened to the fact that the Scriptures were fulfilled (v. 27b) when Jesus was condemned, i.e. “cursed,” on a tree (v. 29 see also vv. 30-39). Also, Loren T. Stuckenbruck after examining the relevant apocalyptic and early Judaism literature says, “messianic speculation varied from author to author and even within the documents themselves” (“Messianic Ideas in the Apocalyptic and Related Literature of Early Judaism” 112 in The Messiah in the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 90-13.
 In Paul’s day “Messianic expectation married social discontent. The result was the offspring of anticipation and action” (David P Seemuth, “Mission in the Early Church” in Mission in the New Testament, 51). People, not least Paul, did not expect a suffering servant that would die a violent death to be the long awaited messiah. They expected a messiah that would bring violence to their oppressors.
 See Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 579-80 and Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 554. “Wright argues that the empty tomb and the postresurrection appearances of Jesus are necessary conditions for the rise of early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 107).
 Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 553.
 Cf. e.g. Wright who says “women were simply not acceptable witnesses” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 607 cf. 326). Also, Craig, The Son Rises, 59-61.
 So N.T. Wright has said, “The stories exhibit… exactly that surface tension which we associate, not with tales artfully told by people eager to sustain a fiction and therefore anxious to make everything look right” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 612).
 Or, as Islam teaches, Jesus was not really the one that was crucified. This, though ludicrous, is not any worse than thinking Jesus did not really die. Surah 157-58 says, “And [for] their saying, ’Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”
 To think of it in terms of the miraculous, it would be more miraculous for Jesus to have lived through the crucifixion and what lead up to it then that He was resurrected from the dead.
 See his further helpful elaboration in The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 37-40.
 Cf. Alexander Metherell, interviewed in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 196.
 Alexander Metherell, interviewed in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 200, 202.
 William Edwards, M.D., et.al., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association (March 26, 1986), 1463.
 Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 41.
 Craig, The Son Rises, 106. “Something more than mere curiosity about an ancient puzzle draws our attention to the first centuries of Christian history… whether or not we regard ourselves as Christians or in any way religious, we cannot altogether escape the tectonic shift of cultural values that was set in motion by those small and obscure beginnings” (Wayne A. Meeks, “The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993], 1). “The creation of so many texts and their survival is remarkable and counter-intuitive. Jesus was a Jew, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Greco-Roman world. He came from Nazareth, a tiny village in Galilee, a remote landlocked principality. He was crucified, a brutal and humiliating form of execution reserved for the lowest orders to deter subversives, troublemakers, and slaves like those who followed Spartacus” (Paul W. Barnett, “Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?” 228-29 in In Defense of the Bible).
 See Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 546.
 Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 551.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Fortress Press, 1988), 125.
 Craig, The Son Rises, 24. Craig says this referencing Eusebius of Caesarea’s argument in Demonstratio evangelica 3. 4, 5.
 See Craig, The Son Rises, 23-36 for a concise and pungent argument.
 Craig, The Son Rises, 25.
 Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 95.
 Thomas Arnold as quoted in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 217.
 Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 608.
 Ibid., 610 cf. 619.
 N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008), 67.
“’Monday’ Thursday? That doesn’t make any sense… Why do we celebrate ‘Monday’ Thursday and why would we celebrate it on Thursday?”
“Muandy Thursday,” not “Monday Thursday,” has to do with remembering what happened on the Thursday before Jesus was crucified. There were a lot of significant things that happened on this Thursday.
Maundy Thursday is known as commemorating variously the day of the Last Supper and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the foot washing of the disciples, Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal and arrest of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. So we commemorate Maundy Thursday for these reasons. However, why is it called “Maundy Thursday”? What does Maundy mean?
Maundy most likely comes to us from John 13:34 where Jesus says at the Last Supper (on Thursday): “A new commandment I give to you, love one another.” The word for “commandment” in Middle English is maunde, in Old French it’s mandé, and in it’s Latin mandatum. So, in other words, “Maundy Thursday” could be called Commandment Thursday or even, as it is sometimes called, “Covenant Thursday.”
So on Muandy Thursday we think of the command and the covenant. It is important to remember both. So, what was the command? Love one another. That is what we are told to do. And that doesn’t seem that hard, at first. Until we realize that we are given a comparison. The command is that we love one another love even as Jesus has loved us (Jn. 13:34). On Thursday, so many years ago, Jesus gave us a huge “maundy,” command. How can we live up to it? We must remember the amazing context in which it was given.
There were all sorts of events and themes that converged on this weekend in history. The Passover, a historical event in the life of the Jews where they celebrated their spectacular salvation, was celebrated. Yet, we also see that the LORD reaches down to save again, and this time no blood needed to be painted on the door frame. There was no need for a Passover lamb. He had come in the form of a Suffering Servant (cf. e.g. Is. 53).
Jesus brings a New Covenant (Matt. 26:26ff; Mk. 14:22ff; Lk. 22:14ff; 1 Cor. 11:17ff). One that had long since been promised. One that gives His people new hearts, hearts to follow after God (cf. Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27). God takes His peoples sins literally upon Himself (cf. God taking the violations of the covenant upon Himself, Gen. 15; Is. 53; Jer. 34:18). He fulfills the Covenant that His people continually failed to fulfill. Jesus felt the weight of being forsaken. He cried out, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?!” Jesus was cut off like we deserve to be for breaking His Law.
Understanding the covenant, Jesus’ amazing work of salvation, and understanding what Jesus calls us to is very important and we see them intermingled on Maundy or Covenant Thursday. Jesus fulfills the covenant and His blood is spilled for us, and yet there is still a type of condition to the covenant: we must follow hard after Him.
So, first notice that on Maundy Thursday so many years ago, Peter tells Jesus that he does not want Him to wash his feet (Jn. 13:6). It is striking to me that Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v. 8) and then He goes on to say, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (v. 14). So Jesus is saying don’t try and work for your salvation (you can’t) but follow my example and serve others because I have served you.
Works do not save us. We are saved by accepting the work that Jesus did on our behalf, He washed us. And, in fact, if we try to work for our salvation we “have no share with [Jesus] (v. 8). However, that in no way negates the importance of works, to the contrary; it gives works deep significance. We are called to imitate Christ (v. 14-16). Jesus told Peter he could not work for salvation (v. 6-8) but works do have their place. Jesus served Peter (even enabling Peter to serve Him cf. John 1:13; 14:16; Gal. 5:16-24; 2 Peter 1:3; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:25-27) through the cross and thus Peter served Jesus imitating Him, even to death (cf. John 13:14-16); tradition says, death by upside down crucifixion (cf. John 21:18-19). Peter was saved by trusting Jesus Christ’s all-sufficient service and yet Peter served and imitated Jesus out of a supreme joyous thankfulness (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9; 2:21-25; 4:13-14).
May we serve in the same way and with the same motivation that Peter did. May we work and serve Christ not to earn right standing before God but, to demonstrate that through Christ’s atoning death we have right standing before God. If we have been declared righteous in Christ then let’s live righteously before Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). Let’s obey Jesus’ commands in light of His New Covenant.
The Triumphant Paradox
Introduction. We find people by characteristics. They’re tall, or funny, or whatever it is… When my wife, Leah, is looking for me in a crowd it is her standard procedure to go around and ask people: “Have you seen my husband, he’s talk, dark, and handsome?” She does this because it is a description of me and will help her find me… 😉
The Messiah was found, or wasn’t found, in the same way. There were certain things people were looking for. Many people had different views on what exactly to look for. In fact, even John the baptizer was confused over who exactly the Christ would be and do (cf. Matt. 11:2ff; Lk. 7:18ff).
We see that there were many converging views throughout Scripture and in other literature around the time. There were many so-called christs or promised ones (that led people astray) (e.g. Acts 5:36; 21:38; Ant. 17:271ff; 20:97-98). Scripture indeed has many promises. How could one person meet them all? In fact, could the Messiah even be a person at all (cf. e.g. Is. 9:6-7; Zech. 2:11)?
A Few Questions. As we look at this text in the surrounding context of the book, the New Testament, and the whole of Scripture a few questions come to mind. What did the Jews expect in regard to the Messiah? Why was Jesus crucified, didn’t many people think He was the Messiah? Where do we see the Jewish expectations for the Messiah in Scripture? Where did the Jewish expectation of peace and victory go? How from a New Testament perspective do we make sense of the fact that the Messiah suffered and died? What did Paul and others say about the Messiah?
Main Point. However, before we get to these questions, or some of them, I think it will be helpful to state what I see as the main point of this passage in light of the whole of Scripture. The main point: Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah and fulfills the messianic prophecies in unexpected and amazing ways.
Messianic Expectations. There are many texts in Scripture that tell us about the expectation of the Messiah. See for instance: 2 Sam. 7:12-13, Ps. 89:3; 132:11, Hos. 3:5, Mic. 5:2, Is. 9:6-7; 11:1, 10; 55:3, Jer. 23:5-6; 30:9; 33:20-22, 25-26, Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25, and Zech. 9:9 which our text highlights. There are also many other texts that are somewhat ambiguous but nevertheless point to the Messiah. The Suffering Servant passage from Isaiah 53 is a powerful passage but many would have been unsure about how it fit into the expectations of the Messiah (see “Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53”).
Messianic Expectations as Seen in Zechariah. Many passages also talk about the New Creation which the Messiah will usher in (see An Anthology of New Creation). However, since our passage today mainly deals with Zechariah we will primarily look at the expectations brought up by that book. Here is a tentative list:
- Jerusalem will not have walls because so many people will be in it (Zech. 2:4)
- The LORD will be the wall for Jerusalem and will dwell there (2:5, 10; 8:3)
- The nations shall be the LORD’s people (2:11; 8:22-23) (note the wording in v. 11: The LORD sends the LORD?!)
- The LORD will send His servant the Branch, i.e. the Messiah (3:8 cf. 6:12; Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5)
- The Branch, the Messiah, shall build the temple of the LORD and rule on the throne (6:12-13)
- The LORD will remove the iniquity of the land on a single day (3:9)
- Jerusalem will be called the faithful city (8:3)
- There shall be great peace (8:12)
- Israel’s enemies will be destroyed (9:1-8; 14:11-15)
- The Promised one will rule “from sea to sea” (9:10)
- The blood of the covenant will set prisoners free (9:11 cf. Lk. 4:18)
- God will pour out fierce recompense on Israel’s enemies and Jerusalem will be inhabited again (12:1-7, 9)
- God’s people will have a spirit of grace poured out on them and will weep over Him who they pierced (12:10: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn”).
- On that day, the day when they weep over Him they pierced, they will be cleansed (13:1)
- God will rid the world of uncleanness (13:2)
- The Shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered (13:7)
- The LORD will be King over the whole earth (14:9 cf. Phil. 2:10-11)
- The world will be a kind of temple (14:20-21)
Text. Here is an anthology of the “Triumphant Entry” texts:
 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples,  saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’”  So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them.  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”  And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” (Lk. 19:28-34 cf. Matt. 21:1-3; Mk. 11:1-6).  This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” [Zech. 9:9] (Matt. 21:4-5 cf. Jn. 12:14-15).
 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them [the cloaks, not the donkeys] (Matt. 21:6-7 cf. Mk. 11:7; Lk. 19:35).
 And as he rode along, they [variously described as “most of the crowd,” “many,” and “multitude of disciples“] spread their cloaks on the road.  As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen,  saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk. 19:36-38 cf. Matt. 21:8-9; Mk. 11:8-10; Jn. 12:12-13).  And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”  And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11 cf. Deut. 18:15).
 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side  and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk. 19:39-44).
 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.  The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.  The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.  So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (Jn. 12:16-19).
Explanation of the Text. First, we see that Jesus orchestrated the whole course of events (Lk. 19:28-34 cf. Matt. 21:1-3; Mk. 11:1-6). Truly, no one took Jesus’ life from Him but He laid it down on His own accord (Jn. 10:18). Jesus directed His disciples about what to do. They found the colt just as He said and they did just what He said. Jesus was now bringing in His “hour” by the events that He sets in order here.
Second, the events took place to fulfill Scripture (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:4-5 cf. Jn. 12:14-15). So Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foul of a donkey.” And Psalm 118:25-26a is also mentioned: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who come in the name of the LORD!” (see also vv. 19-24, 27-29).
Third, the people welcomed Jesus as the Messiah who would bring peace and victory (Lk. 19:36-38 cf. Matt. 21:8-9; Mk. 11:8-10; Jn. 12:12-13). The people call out: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” What does that mean? It is basically a cry for deliverance. It reminds me of when God’s people in slavery in Egypt cried out to God for Him to save them and so God sent Moses. Well, here God’s people are crying out to who they see as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Promised One, the Deliverer, the Rescuer. They’re saying: “Save now! (cf. 2 Sam. 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26; Ps. 118:25) If you’re David’s promised son then start your reign now” (see the significance of Jesus being David’s son, i.e. decedent, in e.g. 2 Sam. 7:12; 1 Chron. 17:10-14; Matt. 1:1, 17; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 22:42-45).
We see what the people expected through their words and actions. They not only said “Hosanna!” they also welcomed Jesus as a victorious king with palm-branches (see Lev. 23:40; 2 Kings 9:13; 1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7). Interestingly, Jesus, though a common name in that time, is the equivalent of Joshua which means “The LORD saves.” The LORD does indeed save, but not in the way that He did through the hands of Joshua in this case.
Many stories have paradoxical elements. What is a paradox? It is something that seems absurd or unreasonable but nevertheless may prove true. It is something that seems like it doesn’t make sense, at least, at first.
So in Tolkien’s famous series you have a little hobbit that defeats smog and really is used to defeat the evil powers. This is a kind of paradox. You don’t expect a little hobbit to do that sort of thing. You don’t expect David to defeat Goliath. You don’t expect the team in the sports movie to win the game because they are not very good and they have never won before… Oh wait, no, you do expect them to win… but you shouldn’t. They always win! But the reason it is a movie is because they shouldn’t win.
So we have a paradox in Scripture that we confront in this text. Jesus does bring victory and peace but not when and how people expected Him to. Jesus crushes Satan, and all wicked powers, by Himself being crushed (cf. e.g. Gen. 3:15).
Fourth, the people were clearly confused as to the identity of the Messiah (cf. Matt. 21:10-11; Jn. 6:15; Lk. 19:39-44), even the disciples (Matt. 16:21-23; Jn. 12:16). Remember Peter, after he had confessed that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). Peter said this about Jesus suffering and being killed (v. 21). People just didn’t have a category for how the Messiah would save. Even John the baptizer, who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), said from prison, “Are you the promised one, or should we look for another?” (cf. Matt. 11:2ff; Lk. 7:18ff). No doubt he was confused by the fact that he was in prison and the Kingdom, from his perspective, had not come.
What the Jewish people were looking for was not a Son of David riding on a donkey but on a war horse. Solomon, David’s son was not the Messiah as it turned out, though he had thousands of stalls of horses for his chariots and 12,000 horsemen. Conversely, Jesus didn’t come with horses—or even a horse!—He came on a lowly donkey. Yet, remember that there are problems in trusting in horses (see Deut. 17:16; Is. 31:1-3). Instead of trusting in horses we are to trust in the LORD God (Ps. 20:7). What the Jews were looking for was something more like what will yet come. Revelation tells us about the coming of the white horse (see Rev. 19:11ff).
So, throughout Christendom, today is known as “Palm Sunday,” the day of Jesus’ “Triumphant Entry,” but rather should perhaps be known as “Paradox Sunday” or “Fickle Sunday.” The people ended up saying “we do not want this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14 cf. Is. 53:2-3; Jn. 1:10-11). They praise Jesus one day and almost the next are crying: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
So, how do we understand these things? What about people’s expectations for the Messiah? Did Jesus fulfill them? Will He fulfill them?
The Impact of the Expectations. The people cry out in praise but then just a few days later this man who many people saw as the deliverer was Himself delivered to be crucified on a tree (and cursed is every man hung on a tree, Deut. 21:22-23). How can we make sense of this? How did they make sense of it? How does the New Testament and it’s teachers make sense of it? And how should we make sense of it?
Is Jesus the Messiah? If so, where are all the other promises? Maybe the question should actually be asked differently: If Jesus fulfilled 60 major prophecies and 270 ramifications how could He not be the long awaited Messiah?! It has been said that the probability of one man fulfilling all those prophecies’ is 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.
Further, as the Apostle Paul said, “Jesus was declared to be the Son of God… by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits Paul also explains (1 Cor. 15) which means there is more “fruit” to come (i.e. the resurrection/new life/New Creation). We have also been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:13-14).
Regarding the resurrection, Professor Thomas Arnold who wrote the History of Rome and who was appointed the chair of modern history at Oxford said,
“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again form the dead.”
After Jesus was taken His Apostles were scared and hid in the upper room. As we know, Peter denied Jesus three times. They too doubted that He was, in fact, the Christ. However, after Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to the Apostles and many others. After the Apostles saw the resurrected Jesus they were no longer scared, they were emboldened. They believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. All of the Apostles died for their beliefs, except John but tradition says he was boiled alive and exiled to the island Patmos. Who would die for a known lie? To what did the Apostles have to gain?
Here is how tradition says the Apostles died:
- Peter- crucified
- Matthew- the sword
- John- died a natural death after being boiled in oil and exiled
- James, son of Alphaeus- crucified
- Philip- crucified
- Simon- crucified
- Thaddaeus (who replaced Judas Iscariot)- killed by arrows
- James, the brother of Jesus- stoned
- Thomas- spear thrust
- Bartholomew- crucified
- James, the son of Zebedee- the sword
Further, we could discuss that all the promises will be fulfilled. All Scripture, as Paul reminds us, finds it’s yes or fulfillment in Jesus. The war horse, as we saw, will come (cf. Rev. 19). Jesus will bring peace like we have never known, but He will crush any rivals. Jesus will fix all our aches and pains. All things will finally be made new!
Just a word and all wonders wrought
God announced, and behold, it was all good
Creation had communion with the Creator
God walked in the Garden
Yet with Adam the serpent did conspire
And brought the world into mire
Beckoned to the grave
Yes, the curse burst upon the scene
But in the midst a seed of hope was seen
Many men came and went
Was the hope of promise spent?
Many lambs, prophets, priests and kings
Yet none with true salvation in their wings
Darkness for a time
No prophet’s voice was heard
Yet in the darkness I Light it shone
And it would overcome the darkness
Behold, O’ world, your Prophet, Priest, and King
Jesus the Promised Seed and Lamb
The curse brought in shall be expunged
Yes, replunged upon the Son
Christ was crushed as promised
But in His crushing, crushed Satan, sin, and death
He was cursed to reverse the curse
He felt our plight to set all things right
The lion to lay down with the lamb,
Because, the Great I AM, was slain
No more brier prick or thorn to stick
All shall be made new
When our King all subdue
All shall be made new
Conclusion. Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah and fulfills the messianic prophecies in unexpected and amazing ways. Further, Messiah Jesus is coming back soon to establish His eternal reign. He will make things finally good, in fact amazingly good beyond what we can understand. Yet, He will also carry out justice beyond what we can understand.
I end by saying: praise Jesus for His amazing work! Hosanna! Maranatha!
 In John 12:13 it says the large crowd “went to meet him.” Andreas J. Kostenberger points out that “’went to meet him’ (rare in biblical literature: in the NT elsewhere only in Matt. 8:34; 25:1; in the LXX only in Judge. 11:34) was regularly used in Greek culture, where such a joyful reception was customary when Hellenistic sovereigns entered a city” (John, 369).
So, for the sake of argument, suppose Christ did indeed raise from the dead. That is, imagine He died, was in the grave three days, and then rose, came back from the dead. Suppose that actually happened, and I don’t mean some vague floating mist that Jesus’ disciples claimed was His body.
I’m saying, suppose the bodily resurrection of Christ really happened, what then? How, hypothetically, of course, would His followers have responded?
You’d think it’d leave a movement in its wake. One that would continue to the present day. One that would continue to practice their strange practices. They would do and say things that otherwise wouldn’t make sense. All this would be the result of a revolution that happened because of the resurrection of Christ and couldn’t be explained any other way.
I’m pretty sure it’d lead to a revolution of how people lived and saw things (which are tied very closely together). A revolution would certainly happen. It would affect all sorts of things:
There would be psychological differences in the group that followed Jesus. If the group was frightened after Jesus’ death, for example, hiding away, we would expect that after His bodily resurrection they would be emboldened. They would be excited. They would tell people about Jesus.
In short, their psychological state would go from scared, disillusioned, and depressed to fearless, reassured, and energized. They would go from hiding in shame to hazarding their lives.
Because of the transformation of their psychological state their actions would be transformed as well. So, we would expect, if Jesus did arise from the dead His followers would tell others about it. In fact, they would go to great lengths and suffer much to tell others about Him. They would willingly be counted insane or even go to the gallows, so to speak. In short, they would show through their actions that they had seen, and touched, the resurrection.
Religious texts would be reexamined and reinterpreted in light of the traumatic event. For instance, Jews would look at Isaiah 53 through a different lens. The group of followers would also have other practices that couldn’t be explained in any other way except by the resurrection. For example, they may have a meal celebrating the work of Jesus. This practice would be looked on as very strange by outsiders and yet they would still practice it because of its significance.
Previously held religious traditions would be changed. Changes that couldn’t have taken place except through a cataclysmic event; such as the resurrection of Jesus. Examples of ingrained religious traditions that would be very significant if changed: 1) The day that the religious group gathers for worship. 2) The changing of a religious rite used to enter the religious group. An example here would be the doing away with circumcision as a rite of entrance into a religious community.
It is not unreasonable to believe that if something very big actually happened it would lead to change in tradition. However, it must be understood that traditions do not change unless there is a very traumatic reason to change them. For example, it would take something huge to change the day that a religious group would gather for worship if they were told to worship on a particular day (see e.g. Ex. 20:10) and it would take something big to change the religious rite of passage into a group if there was already a solid precedence for a particular rite (see e.g. Lev. 12:3).
If the resurrection really happened it would have left a heritage in its wake. People would still be impacted by it. People would still gather in mass in celebration of it. People would still be psychologically changed by it. People would tell other people about it. People would… be transformed.
If the resurrection really happened…
If the resurrection really happened you would think we wouldn’t be lackadaisical about the way we lived.
Do we, do I, really believe that Jesus died, was laid in a tomb, and after three days, rose from the dead?
If the resurrection really happened it changes everything!
It changes me. It changes you. It changes our approach to life, to death.
Read 1 Corinthians 15.