A pastor friend recently told me that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest proof that death and everything else that could hold us down has been conquered.
Do I agree with him? Yes. But that is not all there is to the story.
It would require much more than a discussion, an article or even books for that matter, to really explain the full import of the significance of Jesus’ empty tomb.
Almost all available early sources tell us that Jesus died unequivocally on that first Good Friday at the hands of the most efficient killing machine in the history of mankind; the Romans.
Saint Mark tells us that the governor sent a senior officer to make certain Jesus was really dead. Saint John tells us that a lance was plunged into his side, from which water and blood oozed out. Confirmed dead, the governor gave permission for the body of Jesus to be removed from the cross.
Was that the end as expected? No.
Three days later, not only did his body disappear from the tomb, those who knew Jesus so well reported that, as promised, they had seen him appear in flesh and blood. Saint Luke reported that Jesus walked through locked doors, spoke and ate with people, and Saint John told us that he even gave Saint Thomas the chance to reach his hand and thrust it into the wounds of his crucifixion.
Today’s staunchest critics like opponents of Jesus’ day, and many of today’s ‘Jesus did not exist’ advocates, i.e professor G A Wells, and scholars from all walks of life, almost unanimously agree that the body of Jesus was never found after his crucifixion. And no one in history has been able to offer a satisfactory explanation to account for the disappearance.
Among the countless artifacts that archaeologists working in and around Israel today have found, the Delphi inscription, among other sources in and outside the Bible, show us that Saint Paul believed and preached the resurrection.
Many authorities, dating as far back as AD 36, bear testimony to this too. The apostles risked their lives for it, were willing and did indeed die for it, save John who was exiled to Patmos.
Because we have seen a number of skeptics deny Jesus’ death and resurrection, the question of whether we can trust the gospels and the ancient early text becomes imperative.
And in this ostensible simple question lies the crux of the matter for the Christian faith, the hope of mankind over death, and as many argue, the best things the soul of a man should gravitate towards.
A number of bible critics, western atheists, and even Islamists have come forward to point out that the New Testament accounts are a “…hopeless jumble of confusion…” because as they claim, there are inconsistencies in the stories of the witnesses and as such should be rejected. The Islamists for example, on the one hand say because the gospels were written 60 years or so after Christ, their records could not be trusted. Yet on the other hand, they want us to accept the Qur’an written over 700 years after Jesus, in a place, time and by a person as far removed from Jesus and the events as the earth is from the sky.
They say Allah replaced Jesus with a strange man at the very moment he was to be crucified, prompting the question; why would a theology that doesn’t believe that a man can take the sin of another man argue that an innocent man was used to take the place of Jesus who they claim was a mere man?
The so called inconsistencies in the gospels can be likened to what we see today of news reporters, or witnesses of, let’s say a road accident, who are expected to tell their stories from memory, and so should not detract from the fact that an accident indeed happened?
British scholar Ian Wilson made the point when he said it is in the same so called inconsistencies that the authenticity and truth in the resurrection stories can be found.
Keen observers would also notice that women were the very first reported to have testified to Jesus’ resurrection. Why would the writers choose women, whose testimony held no water in first century Jewish culture, as prime witnesses of the events if the accounts were invented?
All the synoptic writers tell us that the women took careful note of Jesus burial site, and so could not have mistaken the place as some desperately try to argue.
The gospels also contain very unflattering details about its writers i.e, how those of them who swore to go to the grave with him forsook him when he was arrested, how even Saint Peter cowardly denied, swearing he never knew him, three times.
Hugh J. Schonfeild in his book the Passover Plot says the vinegar given to Jesus on the cross was some sort of a medicine to induce the appearance of death so that his disciples can revive him later, and that the gardener that Mary Magdalene saw when she went to the tomb was actually the man drafted to revive Jesus which she mistook for Jesus himself.
Some argue that Jesus actually survived the cross, emigrated to France or Egypt or even India. In fact the Ahmadiya Muslims of Kashmir can still point today to a tomb where they say Jesus was buried after living to a ripe old age of 80 years!
Many years ago, one Richard Reitzenstein and his colleague at the History of Religion School, Germany, started the argument that the resurrection story of Jesus is similar to the death and resurrection stories of ancient pagan fertility stories, like the cult of Osiris or Tammuz etc that were prevalent in the Near East in ancient times.
Some also insist that Jesus’ disciples suffered from what they called “Post Hypnotic Programming” that Jesus somehow programmed them to believe, and so on.
But serious minded scholars, from comparing Jesus’ story side by side these fertility gods’ stories, have pointed out that Jesus’ story is far different from anything before or after it; and Psychologists have pointed out also that no one today can fully explain what hypnosis really is nor can it be used on a group to all believe the same thing at the same time. If experts do not fully understand hypnosis today, why then should some argue that Jesus used it on his disciples comprising 500 people 2000 plus years ago?
Professor Dieter Georgi of Howard University absurdly argued that the resurrection story was written into the gospel account later. He pointed to tomb worship in ancient Jewish culture involving men like Hanina Ben Dosa, whose tomb is still used as a place of worship till date as an example for this idea.
Well, for us Christians, the risen Christ is as real as the lines in the palm of our hands. And for this reason, I will conclude this piece with excerpts from one of C S Lewis’s books:
“We come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection… Christ had defeated death… The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced opened…God has come down into the created universe, down to manhood – and come up again, pulling it up with him…
The things he says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, “This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,” but he says: “I am the truth, and the way, and the life… No person can reach absolute reality, except through me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved… If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. Come to me everyone who is carrying a heavy load. I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Rebirth. I am Life. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.”
As a mortal man, this is the crux of the matter for me, and the significance of his empty tomb…