The truth of the Cross explained.
Contributed By Kong Hee
The period from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Easter Sunday is traditionally known as the Passion Week. It is the holiest week in the Christian Church calendar. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ have been documented extensively in the Holy Scripture. If Jesus is indeed the Son of God, death would never overpower Him. As such, we read of the resurrection in the following passages:
• Four Gospels (Matt. 27:62-63; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; John 2:19, 21).
• Book of Acts (Acts 1:3, 22; 2:31-32; 3:14-15; 4:33; 13:30-31; 17:18).
• Paul’s writings (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:4-8).
• Peter’s words (Acts 10:40).
Most importantly, Jesus Himself personally testifies that “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18). In that resurrection, Jesus’ soul and spirit were reunited with His body, which was made alive by the Holy Spirit. He physically rose from the grave, never to die again. Jesus was the first to experience that because while others were restored to physical life, they didn’t have a new body. Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43) and Lazarus (John 11:38-44) were raised from the dead, but they would ultimately die again. These people would die because Satan, who has the power of death, had not yet been conquered (Heb. 2:14). Christ became the firstfruits (example) of those whose souls would be redeemed from sin (1 Cor. 15:21-23).
Why is the resurrection important? Because Christianity stands or falls with it. Paul says, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty . . . And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). In the landmark book Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Vol. 1, author Josh McDowell writes that “the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless, hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings, or it is the most remarkable fact of history.”
Throughout the centuries, there have been many theories to explain away the possibility of a resurrection. The Theory of Substitution claims that Jesus was never crucified in the first place. Someone else who looked like Him was forced to take His place. If that is true, then Jesus is guilty of deceit, dishonesty and heartlessness. He cared little for the death of an innocent bystander, or for the grief of His closest disciples.
Another theory is the Swoon Theory that states that Jesus never really died on the cross. After hanging for six hours, unknown to the public, He managed to come down in a “swoon.” He was then laid in a cool cave and was later revived by the application of healing ointment and strongly-scented spices. The Swoon Theory suggests that Jesus didn’t want to die, which is evident by Him “hiding” in Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal. His prayer for God to pass the cup from Him also showed His reluctance to die (cf. Matt. 26:39). Besides, there were no witnesses to actually see the crucifixion. The fact that Mary mistakenly took Jesus to be a gardener confirms that He was in disguise to hide from the authorities!
Is the resurrection a hoax or an actual historical event? Josh McDowell, a lawyer by training, puts forth the following ten evidences:
1. Jesus was not afraid to die. In fact, He predicted His own death (Matt. 17:22-23; 20:18-19).
2. Jesus was willing to die. When the Roman soldiers came to arrest Him, He didn’t cower in fear, instead He boldly “went forward” to talk to them (John 18:4).
3. Jesus was definitely sentenced to death. To be sure He remained dead and buried, He was put through six trials to prove His “guilt.” He first appeared before Annas and Caiaphas the high priest, who felt that Jesus was worthy of death (John 18:13-14). He then stood before the highest religious court in the land, the Sanhedrin, who sought charges against Him to put Him to death (Matt. 26:57-59). He was then taken to Pilate and Herod, and the former sentenced Him to death by crucifixion (Luke 23:1-25).
4. There were political motives for His death. To the Romans, Jesus was a rebel by affirming that He was “the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:3). Pilate could face the wrath of Tiberius Caesar for not dealing with a potential menace to the empire. To the Jews, failure to bring a radical troublemaker to the authority could lead to reprisals and stricter oversights from the Romans in the long run.
5. There were economical motives for His death. Jesus upset the commercialization inside the temple (Matt. 21:12-16). Temple service required provision to be made for getting what was needed for the sacrifices—animals, wood, oil, etc.—especially for pilgrims from afar. The great feasts provided opportunities for extortion to abound. Jesus drove the lot out. The chief priest and the temple elders were upset.
6. There were religious motives for His death. Jesus was getting more popular than the established religious leaders. The Pharisees were saying among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19).
7. Crucifixion ensured the certainty of death. The Persians used it. Alexander the Great used it. In Israel, crucifixion was usually reserved for idolaters and blasphemers. It was the most degrading and cruel form of death sentence. And it was the surest way to guarantee a criminal dies. For Jesus, the pre-crucifixion torture included the whipping using long leather strips with sharp jagged pieces of bones and lead. Most people would have simply died by the end of the whipping. Jesus was then made to wear a crown of thorns and carry the cross up Calvary hill. A seven inch spike was then driven through His wrist nailing Him onto the cross. It was a custom to speed up the death of a criminal on the cross by breaking his legs. But in the case of Jesus, it wasn’t necessary because He had already died (John 19:33). To ensure His death, “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (v. 34). Medically speaking, this implies that Jesus died of a heart failure due to exhaustion and shock. The Romans would never allow the body of a criminal to be taken down from a cross unless they are absolutely sure he is dead. The death must be certified by four executioners. When Jesus was taken down, there was no question that He had truly died.
8. The solid rock tomb made certain there was no possibility of getting the body out. As a Jew, Jesus was buried according to Jewish custom, which will never allow a dead body to be left overnight without embalming. The body of Jesus was covered with 100 pounds of spices and then wrapped in embalming cloth that was sewn by women using three separate garments (John 19:39-40). There was absolutely no possibility of Jesus waking up naturally and freeing Himself from the cloth and the spices. The very large stone against the door of the tomb (Matt. 27:60) weighed 1.5 to 2 tons. Twenty men couldn’t have moved it. To further secure the tomb, the authorities put a Roman seal on the stone to ensure that the tombstone was not tampered with (Matt. 27:66). The Roman seal came with a warning sign that grave robbers would be severely punished. Finally, there was a Roman guard unit of four to 16 men watching over the tomb to make certain that no one stole Jesus’ body away (Matt. 28:11).
9. Yet, the tomb was empty. This could only mean one of two things: (a) the dead body of Jesus was stolen. This by itself would be a miracle considering all the precautions already taken by the Roman and Jewish authorities to prevent anyone from doing that. Besides His dead body was never produced. (b) Jesus Christ really did resurrect from the grave!
10. The immediate psychological and social impact attest to a resurrection. On Easter Sunday, Jesus Christ made at least 15 appearances after His crucifixion and burial:
• Mary Magdalene (John 20:14; Mark 16:9)
• Women returning from tomb (Matt. 28:9-10)
• Simon Peter, later that day (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
• Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-33)
• Disciples with Thomas absent (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-24)
• Disciples with Thomas present (John 20:26-29)
• Seven by the Lake of Tiberias (John 21:1-23)
• 500-over believers in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:6)
• James the brother of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7)
• Eleven disciples (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:33-52)
• Ascension day (Acts 1:3-12)
• Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor. 15:8)
• Stephen the Martyr (Acts 7:55)
• Paul in the temple (Acts 22:17-21; 23:11)
• John on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:10-19)
The enemies could have easily disproved the resurrection with a corpse from the grave, but no body was ever produced. Instead the religious leaders resorted to bribery to concoct a story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body by night (Matt. 28:12-13). Yet, there is no historical record of a search for Jesus’ body because too many people at that time had witnessed the resurrection.
The psychological impact among Jesus’ followers was so tangible that they moved from disillusionment, fear and unbelief into courageous faith. What could have precipitated such transformation? Only one thing—an actual resurrection appearance by Jesus Christ! More than just the early apostles, millions of Christians over the last 2,000 years were willing to suffer persecution and death for their faith in a resurrected Savior.
Josh McDowell is right: the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either a terrible hoax or indisputable history. McDowell says that the promise of the resurrection is this: what happened to Christ can happen for us. Like Him, we will die, but His resurrection is a promise that death is not the end. His resurrection is the prototype for our own.
Jesus is our example: if we follow Him, He can make a way when there seems to be no way.
He can raise our dreams when they seem to have died.
He can resurrect marriages that seem to have failed.
He can bring divine health to our broken bodies.
He can lift you up when you feel like you’ve fallen.
This Easter, let’s put our trust and hope in the One who died and rose again. Because through His sacrifice, we can all do the same.