Yesterday (April 16, 2017) concluded the week that changed the world. This was an intense week of services, I would imagine, for most Christians. What we were celebrating is known as Pascha. The Old Testament celebration was known as Passover. Jesus is ultimately the Passover lamb. Therefore, the blood of Jesus Christ is better than the blood of bulls and goats. I want to say just a few things about this before the celebration passes all too quickly.
Jesus suffered fatal torment. This is one of the most well-established facts of ancient history. Even in today’s modern age of scientific enlightenment, there is a virtual consensus among New Testament scholars, both conservative and liberal, that Christ suffered fatal torment. Therefore, these scholars agree as well that the body of Jesus was buried in a private tomb. It was the tomb of Joseph Arimathea. As a member of the Jewish court that convicted Jesus, he is hardly Christian fiction.
I think considering the fact that females in ancient Judaism were routinely considered little more than chattel, the empty tomb accounts actually end up providing powerful evidence that the gospel writers valued truth over cultural correctness. Today, we might say “political correctness.” Not only that, but the earliest Jewish response to the Resurrection presupposes the empty tomb. In the centuries following the Resurrection, the fact of the empty tomb was forwarded by the friends and foes of Christ alike.
Now here is the point: Christianity simply could not have endured an identifiable tomb containing the remains of our Messiah. One thing can be stated with absolute certainty: the apostles did not merely propagate the teachings of our Lord; they were absolutely certain that He had appeared to them in the flesh after His crucifixion, after His death, and after His burial. Although we are now two thousand years removed from the actual event, we too can be absolutely certain with respect to Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances.
I love 1 Corinthians 15. It is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture because here the apostle Paul is actually reiterating a Christian creed, and this is not just any creed — this is a creed that scholars of all stripes conclude can be dated to mere months after Messiah’s murder. Now, the creed unambiguously affirms Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. It is free from legendary contamination. Ultimately, it is grounded in eyewitness testimony.
I said this many a time on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, but I think the most amazing post-Resurrection appearance involves James. Because before those appearances, James was embarrassed by all that Jesus represented, but afterward, he was willing to die for the notion that Jesus was indeed God.
Then you look at what happened as a result of the Resurrection. This is unique in human history, because within a span of just a few hundred years, a small band of seemingly insignificant believers succeeded in turning an entire empire upside down. Within days of encountering the resurrected Christ, not merely twelve but thousands of people willingly surrendered their spiritual and sociological traditions. What I am talking about here is the Sabbath, for one. It was transformed into a first-day-of-the-week celebration of the rest we have through Christ, who delivers us from sin and the grave. Not only so, after the Resurrection, followers of Christ suddenly stopped making animal sacrifices. Why? Well, they recognized that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant because the blood of Jesus Christ was better than the blood of animals. So, the Jewish rite of Passover was radically transformed. In place of the Passover meal, believers began partaking of the Eucharist. In like fashion, baptism took on a brand-new meaning. Prior to the Resurrection, converts to Judaism were baptized in the name of Yahweh, God of Israel, but after the Resurrection, converts to Christianity were baptized in the name of Jesus, and in doing so, believers equated Jesus with Israel’s God.
One thing I am certain, if twenty-first-century Christians could fully apprehend the reality of the greatest feat in history, they (like their first-century counterparts) could turn the world upside down. That is precisely the point.
We are those who will never die. We can be persecuted. We can be even killed, as many Coptic Christians have been lately in the Middle East. We just heard in the news last week, I believe it was Palm Sunday, of Christians dying while they are worshiping Christ. So, we are asking the question, why would anyone die? Well, they know that they will not die. Those Christians are not dead. They are alive; they are in the presence of Jesus Christ, and one day, the body that was blown up in church will be resurrected immortal, imperishable, incorruptible.
Resurrection, bottom line, makes all the difference in the world.
If you haven’t read 1 Corinthians 15, carefully do so, because in that passage Paul makes the four-part argument that I just did. Jesus suffered fatal torment, the tomb was empty, He appeared and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive, and, as a result, they were radically transformed.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NIV)
This blog is adapted from the April 17, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.