Imagine with me a moment: It was Saturday evening, and a handful of men were hiding in an upstairs room. They were utterly miserable - they were puzzled and depressed. And because of fear, they bolted the door. The bottom hand fallen out of their world. They had given their all in loyalty to their Leader. Everything had been centered in Him, and now...He was dead !! His grave was in a garden close by. Just one more idealist removed and with Him all His grand, but unfulfilled, promises.
Now picture these same few men just a few short weeks later. Some of them are now on trial before those who were responsible for the death of their Leader. The "crime" with which they were charged was that of preaching about Him. Neither beating nor the threat of death was sufficient to keep them quiet. They said" "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
They were treated like criminals, accused of madness, charged with being drunk, and hounded from city to city. And yet, these things they counted as experience in which to rejoice.
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?
WHY THE TREMENDOUS CHANGE?
They now believed their Leader was alive.
HOW DID THE DISCIPLES KNOW JESUS WAS ALIVE?
They had seen and been with Him. In their own words, they could not help but speak of things they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears. They had been eyewitnesses to an awesome event. This is what caused the tremendous change in each of them.
Today we continue our study of the letter sent to the church in the city of Smyrna.
Revelation 2:8 NKJV
8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
Today, we are going to look at the last phrase in this verse: "...who was dead, and came to life."
This statement would have great meaning to those in Smyrna. It was a city that had died on several occasions in ancient history. The death of the city closest to the time of John, was the destruction of Smyrna in 590 BC, by Cyrus, the Persian. For nearly 300 years, this area of Asia was populated by 3 or 4 very small villages. It was by the order of Lysimachus and Antigonus, a general in Alexander the Great's army, that this city was rebuilt in 280 BC, and grew into a very prosperous city.
Jesus is dictating a letter to a suffering church. He says, "I know what you are going through. I once was dead. You are worried about martyrdom. I've been there. The risen Lord Jesus who is addressing these Smyrnaean Christians identifies Himself as the same Jesus who was crucified at Golgotha and rose from the dead three days later. Jesus says that he "was dead, and has come to life." He is the risen Lord Jesus! Christianity recognizes that everything issues forth from the resurrection.
Probably as much as anything, the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ shows how unique Christianity is among all the religions of the world. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, just like He prophesied would happen, then He had credentials and a validity that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammed is dead. Moses is dead. But, according to the claim of Christianity, Christ once died, but was resurrected by the power of God, and remains alive to this day. If this has occurred, then Christ's uniqueness is certainly established.
Some of the facts leading up to the death and burial of Jesus;
1. When they were near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus told his disciples he would die and be raised the third day.
2. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the Christ which had been prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures.
3. He was arrested, judged a political criminal. He had 6 trials - 3 by the Romans (Pilate) and 3 by the Jewish Sanhedrin.
4. He spent the night before His crucifixion in the dungeon below Caiaphas' home.
5. Jesus was whipped in Pilate's hall with a flagrum, a leather strip with bits of stone and metal attached to, or imbedded in it.
6. He was made to carry his cross beam of the cross along the via Dolorosa (the way of sorrows.)
7. He is crucified on Golgotha between two thieves.
8. A spear was thrust through the side of Jesus. It was meant to penetrate the side of the heart. The fact that both water and blood flowed from the spear's penetration...indicated that Jesus was already dead.
9. Death by crucifixion is death by asphyxiation. Their weight would make it difficult to breath, so they would use their legs to push up in order to take a breath. That is why the guards came around to break their leg (John 19:32).
10. According to Jewish law, Jesus was not left on the cross overnight.
11. After Christ is taken down from the cross, Pontius Pilate orders His body turned over to Joseph of Arimathea for burial.
12. Also according to the Jewish burial, custom, the body of Jesus was wrapped in a linen cloth. About 100 pounds of aromatic spices, mixed together, were applied to the clothing around the body.
13. Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb that was cut out of a single rock (Luke 23:53).
14. The entrance to the tomb was low. John 20:5 tells us that John stooped down to look into the entrance.
15. A large stone was rolled in front of the tomb (Matthew 27:60; Mark 16:4). Matthew says, in Greek, "Mega Lithos" - meaning large stone. Mark adds a third word "Mega sphodra lithos," - meaning very large stone. A stone this size - to secure a 4½ to 5 foot entrance, would have weighted at least 1½ to 2 tones. It would have been rolled into place downhill, making it much more difficult to remove uphill.
16. A guard was assigned by Pilate to secure the burial place of Jesus. The Greek word for "Guard" is "kou sto DI a." A Roman Koustodia was made up of between 4 and 16 men - usually four per shift.
17. A Roman seal was place on the stone in front of the tomb (Matthew 27:66).
WHEN DID THE RESURRECTION OCCUR?
Matthew 28:1 NKJV
1 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.
The other Mary is probably Mary, the mother of James. This was very early on Sunday. John 20:1 says it was still dark.
WHAT DID THEY SEE AT THE TOMB?
The stone had been rolled away from the entrance. The Bible tells us that an angel rolled the very large stone from the entrance and sat on it (Matthew 28:2).
WHAT DID THE ANGEL TELL THEM?
Matthew 28:5-6 NKJV
5 But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
"He is not here" means that at this very early hour, the resurrection had already occurred.
What if I were to tell you that there were absolutely no eyewitnesses of the Resurrection? I have read most of the books written by C.S. Lewis. In one of them, he makes a comment that brought me up short. He said, "The New Testament says nothing about the Resurrection of Christ." I looked at that again, wondering if there was a typographical error in the book. Then I realized what he was saying. Nobody was sitting inside the tomb and saw the body start to move, stand up, take the linen off, fold them, and leave. It doesn't appear that Jesus needed the stone to be rolled away to leave the tomb. I believe the angel rolled away the stone for our benefit, not his.
In each of the gospel accounts relating the early hours of the Resurrection Sunday morning we are told that women came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. And an angel speaks to them saying, "He is not here, He is risen." I am so glad the angel did not just say, "He is not here."
Some of you may remember when 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, one of four African-American girls, were murdered in a church bombing by white racists. It occurred in Birmingham, Alabama. For years family members kept returning to the grave to pray and leave flowers. In 1998 they made the decision to disinter the deceased for reburial at another cemetery. When works were sent to dig up the body, however, they returned with a shocking discovery. The grave was empty. Understandably, family members were terribly distraught. Hampered ;by poorly kept records, cemetery officials scramble to figure out what had happened. Several possibilities were raised, the primary one being that her tombstone had been erected in the wrong place. In the midst of determining what had happened, one explanation was never proposed. Nobody suggested that young Addie Mae had been resurrected to walk the earth again. Why? Because by itself an empty grave does not a resurrection make.
The angels did not just say, "He is not here." He added, "He is risen!" A missing body is not absolute proof of a resurrection. But if He is really alive again, there would possibly be eye-witnesses who saw him alive.
Did the resurrection actually happen? Was the tomb of Jesus really empty? The controversy over these questions has continued from then until now. Critics of Christianity and even some Christians do not realize the immensity of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an enormous amount of historical, literary and legal testimony supporting its validity.
Dr. Frank Morrison, a lawyer who had been brought up in a rationalistic environment, had come to the opinion that the resurrection was nothing more than a fairy-tale. He felt that he owed it to himself and others to write a book that would present the truth of Jesus, and dispel the mythical story of the resurrection. Upon studying the facts, however, he came to a different conclusion. The sheer weight of the evidence, when screened through what constitutes legal evidence, compelled him to conclude that Jesus act5ually did rise from the dead. Morrison did write his book, but not the one he had planned. It is titled, Who Moved the Stone..
The historical fact of the resurrection is the very basis for the truth of Christianity. To put it simply, Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One cannot be true without the other. When Buddha or Mohammed died, it changed nothing of their religions. That's because their religions are based solely on what their founders taught. But for Christianity, what Christ taught is so much tied to who He is and whether He is who He said He was.
The importance of the Resurrection to Christianity is identified in 1 Corinthians 15:13-17 NIV
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
The New Testament goes one step further and teaches that the resurrection was the one thing that declared Jesus to be the Son of God.
Romans 1:4 (NIV)
4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God [how?] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
And Romans 10:9 says that one cannot be a Christian without believing the resurrection of Christ.
9 That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
That is very blunt and straight-forward. Salvation requires belief in the resurrection.
The Roman soldier's lie
Not much time needs to be spent contesting those who believed the tomb was never empty. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. Even the opponents of Christ - the Jewish religious leaders - did not contest this point. They believed so strongly that the tomb was empty, they felt compelled to devise a lie, to keep their followers from flocking to this new religion.
Matthew 28:11-15 (NIV)
11 …some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.
12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,
13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'
14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.
The theory that the disciples stole the body
There are some obvious problems with this theory?
The first problem with the theory is even humorous. If the Roman guard had fallen asleep, how could they have known it was the disciples who had stolen the body. Any lawyer for the defense would have loved to put that captain of the guards on the stand for cross-examination.
The second problem with this theory is equally humorous. The mere thought that the entire "guard unit" would have fallen asleep must have raised some eyebrows. The guards were a highly disciplined group of soldiers. Fear of punishment produced in them a faultless attention to duty, especially during the night watch. If the disciples had tried anything, it would have been a 10-second war. One soldier could have dealt with the entire group of disciples. He could have single-handedly sent them running for cover. And keep in mind we are talking about a group of disciples that showed no courage during the arrest and death of Christ. As Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:56 tells us all the "disciples left Him and fled."
The third problem with this theory also has a light side. The position of the extremely large stone in front of the tomb would require it to be moved uphill and away from the entrance. It is difficult to defend the idea that the entire guard unit slept through it all not to have heard the rolling 1½ to 2 ton stone.
The fourth problem with the theory that the disciples stole the body is this. They would have to allege that the followers of Christ not only foisted a lie upon the people (which is totally contrary to what their Master taught and died for) but that they lived out the rest of their lives proclaiming a lie about a "risen Christ." The fact of the matter is that they were willing to face arrest, imprisonment, beating and horrible deaths and not one of them ever denied the Lord or recanted of his belief that Christ had risen.
This view is so far-fetched that even Dr. D.F. Strauss, a very vocal opponent of Christianity, confessed, "The historian must acknowledge that the disciples firmly believed that Jesus was risen."
The final problem with this theory needs very little explanation. If the disciples had stolen the body of Christ, how could the many post-resurrection appearances of Christ have been explained away? Especially since they were made to over 500 people at one time.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in the very city where the resurrection occurred.
One reason for attesting the historical reliability of the resurrection is that the accounts of the resurrection were circulated and preached in the very city (Jerusalem) where they could easily have been confronted with contrary evidence, if it existed.
In 1 Corinthians 15:6, the Apostle Paul states that most of those who had seen Jesus were still alive, and could be questioned as to the accuracy of what the disciples were preaching. When those who wrote the New Testament argued their case for the gospel, they appealed to common knowledge concerning the facts of the resurrection. Had there been any tendency to depart from the actual facts in any material respect, there were hostile witnesses in the audience that would have corrected them.
Jewish Converts to Christ in Jerusalem
WHO MADE UP MOST OF THE EARLY CONVERTS TO CHRISTIANITY?
The 3000 converts on the Day of Pentecost and the thousands later in Acts were almost all Jews. They were either residents of, or visitors to, Jerusalem. And the heart of the message of this new way of life was the resurrection of Jesus.
HOW EASILY DO JEWS GIVE UP THEIR RELIGIOUS PRACTICES?
Not easily at all. They tenaciously hang on to their rituals and practices and beliefs. For these early Jewish converts, the evidence for the resurrection must have been extremely strong to convince so many thousands of Jews to a way of life that was so foreign to what their religious leaders had taught them all their lives. People do not give up their inbred religious customs very easily.
The Jewish leaders knew they were losing thousands of followers to this heretical new sect all because of a claim that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Each one of those early Jewish converts was a testimony of the proof of the empty tomb, for the simple reason that they would never have become disciples if that tomb still contained the body of Jesus.
No, something happened almost 2000 years ago that literally changed the course of history -- changing it from BC (Before Christ) to AD (the Latin Anno Domini - the year of our Lord). That "something" was so dramatic it completely changed 11 men's lives, so that all but one died a martyr's death. That something was an empty tomb -- an empty tomb that a 15-minute walk from the center of Jerusalem would have confirmed or disproved.
The evidence of eye-witnesses
One of the greatest evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the fact that there were so many people who personally saw Him alive. And not all who saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion were friendly to His teachings.
Paul saw Christ on at least three occasions.
1 Corinthians 9:1 NKJV
1 Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?
And then we have Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 15:8, "last of all he appeared to me also." Let's read the verses preceding this one. Do you remember what 1 Corinthians 15 is called? It is called the resurrection chapter of the Bible. And it speaks not only of Christ's resurrection, but also ours.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 NIV
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
This is an incredible testimony of Jesus being alive. We are presented with the names of some of those who saw Christ alive. In many of these appearance, there were multiple people who could corroborate the fact of a risen Christ. And Paul says in verse 6 that most of those who had seen Christ after his death were still alive, and could be questioned.
Notice that James is mentioned among this list of eye-witnesses. This is James, the half-brother of Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph. James was not a believer of Christ being the Jewish Messiah. You can read that in John 5:7. What changed him to a believer? He became an eye-witness of the risen Lord. He would later write the book of James, and would become the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Not only do we have this list of eye-witnesses given to us by Paul. The gospels and the book of Acts also record eyewitnesses.
CAN YOU NAME OTHER EYE-WITNESSES THAT ARE NOT MENTIONED BY THE APOSTLE PAUL IN HIS LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS?
Let me attempt to give you a list of all the eyewitnesses in chronological order.
1. Mary Magdalene - Mark 16:9.
2. A group of 5 women between the tomb and the city - Matthew 28:9.
3. Simon Peter - Luke 25:34.
4. Two disciples on their way to Emmaus - Luke 24:15.
5. 10 of the disciples (Thomas was missing) - Luke 24:36.
6. All 11 disciples a week later behind closed doors - John 20:26.
7. He meets 7 of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee - John 21:1.
8. He appears to more than 500 at the same time - 1 Corinthians 15:6.
9. James - 1 Corinthians 15:7.
10. The eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee - Matthew 28:18. It was here that Christ gave them the Great Commission.
11. The believers who met with Jesus when He ascended into heaven - Acts 1:3-11.
12. Stephen, after the ascension - Acts 7:55-56.
13. The Apostle Paul on several occasions - first on the Damascus road - Acts 9:1-8.
14. The Apostle John on Patmos - Revelation 1:12-13.
What we have in all these eye-witnesses is a wealth of evidence that Christ was alive. This was not merely a fleeting observation of a shadowy figure by one or two people. There were multiple appearances to numerous people. And several of the appearances were confirmed by more than one New Testament Book. The most logical explanation for the change that occurred to the disciples is the resurrection of their Lord. Why else would they, almost overnight, change from a cowering group of fearful men behind closed and locked doors, into a band of unashamed and bold preachers of the gospel (the good news) where, upon examination of the Book of Acts, we find the account of the resurrection is the heart of their message.
The Resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church. The earliest Christians didn't just endorse Jesus' teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after His crucifixion.
British Theologian Michael Green, said,
"The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity. There can be no rational doubt that they occurred, and that the main reason why Christians become sure of the resurrection in the earliest days was just this. They could say with assurance, 'We have seen the Lord.' They knew it was He."
From this foundational belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, and continued to exert great influence down through the centuries.
Sir Edward Clarke, a British High Court judge, conducted a thorough legal analysis of the first Easter Day. He said:
"To me the evidence is conclusive and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. As a lawyer I accept the gospel evidence unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts that they were able to substantiate."
In the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job, this patriarch asked the question "If a man die, will he live again" (Job 14:14)? This is where the importance of Christ's resurrection becomes so important. In John 14:19, Jesus said "Because I live, you will live also." Our resurrection is tied to the veracity of His resurrection.
The apostle Paul states, in 2 Corinthians 4:14:
14 ...we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.
In Paul's first letter to this same church we read, in 1 Corinthians 6:14, By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also."
All of this indicates that death is not the end of it all. A person does not cease to exist when their body dies. So many people think we are in the land of the living, on our way to the land of the dying. But the reality is that we who belong to Christ are currently in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living. Let me say it again this way: The Bible knows nothing of a concept of death that means the person ceases to exist.