No Resurrection, No Christianity

John 20

The whole of John Chapter 20 speaks of Christ’s resurrection and the events surrounding it. The resurrection is a fundamental Christian doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls. Without the resurrection, Christianity has no hope to offer. Paul makes that point clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:11-19. Now considering the centrality of the resurrection to Christian doctrine, it is important we study it. In this lesson, I will consider five points about the resurrection which can be gleaned from the text.

The Resurrection Is historical.

The empty tomb points to a true historical event. Christ was crucified. He was buried. And he resurrected. Dr Simon Gathercole of the University of Cambridge in an online article noted that,

The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur. [1]

To establish the historicity of the resurrection, let’s look briefly at three points worth considering about the resurrection in the text.

(i) It happened on a specific day.

The resurrection is recorded to have happened on the first day of the week which is a Sunday. Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday. He rose on the third day. The disciples will further adopt this day as the Lord’s day—the day of worship. That day became the believers “solemn assembly” when they met to worship (Deut. 16:8, Jn 20:19; 26, Acts 20:7).

ii) There Were Eye Witnesses Account

Jesus didn’t vanish into thin air when he resurrected. He showed himself to people as proof of his resurrection. Mary Magdalene (vv. 1-2; 11-18), Peter, John and the other disciples (vv.3-10; 19-20), Thomas  (v.26). In Jewish tradition, witnesses must be two or more to be admissible and the events met that criteria (See Deut. 17:6; 19:5).

(iii) The Resurrection Wasn’t A Hoax.

Before Christ resurrected, there were fears his disciples will steal his body and feign a resurrection (Matt.27:62-66). However, firstly, the disciples were not expecting a resurrection to go to the extent of faking one (vv. 2; 9). They had also locked themselves up for fear of the Jews and there was no indication they had the capability of stealing the body (v.19). Moreover, the tomb, according to Matthew was under security guard (Matt. 27:66). Finally, the folded grave cloths defeats a robbery. What grave looter has the luxury of time to nicely fold grave cloths?

(iv) There Was An Empty Tomb

That there was an empty tomb is evidence for the resurrection. If Christ didn’t resurrect, then his body must have been seen in the tomb. However, all who came to the scene looked into the tomb and didn’t see Christ’s body. Mary Magdalene thought the body had been stolen. Peter and the other disciples looked into the tomb and saw nothing. There was simply no body in the tomb. A very informative article from the gospel coalition by Paul Rezkalla, titled 4 Reasons to believe in the empty tomb is worth our attention in this discourse. These four points are (i) The empty tomb predates the gospel, (ii) the body was buried in Jerusalem, (iii) the empty tomb was discovered by women and (iv) there were claims of a stolen body. [2]

A Fulfillment Of Scripture

John speaks of the resurrection in relation to Scripture: “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead (v.9). Jesus, while he was with them also spoke of his death and resurrection (John 2:19-22). Paul also speaking of the resurrection speaks “in accordance with Scripture” (1Cor.15:1-3). The resurrection happened as Scripture prophesied. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebuked the disciples for not believing what was spoken of him about the events in Scripture of his death and resurrection:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

We see Christ walking them through Scripture—the Old Testament— and opening their eyes to the truth of what was written about him.

The Resurrection Is The Foundation Of The Great Commission 

When Christ appeared to the disciples, he charged them with the great commission: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (vv.21-23).

Christ sends the disciples, gives them his very breath of life — the Holy Spirit and puts authority in their proclamation of the gospel which when believed brings life and damnation to those who will not believe. Because Christ rose; the disciples had the power and basis upon which to witness about the gospel (1Jn. 1:1-3, 1Pet. 1:16-20). Paul says  “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1Cor.15:14 ff). Christ rose from the dead and that’s the hope of believers and sinners who will run to him in faith. Matt Permann in an online article titled Historical Evidence for the Resurrection points out seven reasons for which the empty tomb gives credence to the resurrection. And he mentions preaching of the gospel as the first. He wrote:

…the resurrection was preached in the same city where Jesus had been buried shortly before. Jesus’ disciples did not go to some obscure place where no one had heard of Jesus to begin preaching about the resurrection, but instead began preaching in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had died and been buried. They could not have done this if Jesus was still in his tomb–no one would have believed them. No one would be foolish enough to believe a man had raised from the dead when his body lay dead in the tomb for all to see. [3]

The Resurrection Teaches Christ’s Divinity.

One thing we cannot miss in John’s gospel is Christ’s divinity. John opens his book with that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. (John 1:1). Thomas’ response to Christ  in v.28 is instructive: “My Lord and my God!” Been a Jew, that is blasphemous if Christ was not God. And knowing who Christ was, he would have rebuked Thomas if his assertion about him was inaccurate. Again, we will note in the text that, when Thomas first told the disciples he would see the marks on Christ’s hands before believing, Jesus wasn’t present. But in Christ’ second appearance to the disciples, he showed Thomas his crucifixion marks:

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. (vv26-27).

Christ’s omnipotence and omnipresence is displayed in that event. He knew Thomas’ doubts though he wasn’t physically present when Thomas expressed those doubts. All things are bare and naked before God (Heb. 4:13). Christ is God. Peter tells us it was impossible for death to hold him down  (Acts 2:24).

Faith And Eternal Life In Christ

John ends his account by saying:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God , and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30-31).

To John, this is his overarching motive for writing his gospel account; that people will come to Faith in Christ. The end goal of Christian ministry is leading people to faith in Christ by the preaching of the gospel. Anything else apart from this has no grounds. All we do as Christians and ministers of the gospel must have this one goal: that people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God , and that by believing [they] may have life in his name.” Anything else is, borrowing from  Paul, to be counted as dung.

Notes:

1 Dr Simon Gathercole, What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/14/what-is-the-historical-evidence-that-jesus-christ-lived-and-died.

2. Paul Rezkalla, 4 Reasons To Believe In The Empty Tomb, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-to-believe-in-the-empty-tomb

3. Matt Permann, Historical Evidence for the Resurrection, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection

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