Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Eyewitness Evidence)

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Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus:

Eyewitness Evidence

 

by: Pastor Brian Chilton

 

When a tornado touches down, reporters search for individuals who witnessed the tornado first-hand.  One may report on the sound of the tornado while others may report on the direction and intensity of the tornado.  The more eyewitnesses’ one is able to find, the more detailed and accurate story can be built.

When it comes to resurrection of Christ, the number of eyewitnesses is staggering.  Six documents give us information concerning the resurrection appearances of Jesus: the Gospel of Matthew (which came from part to whole from the apostle Matthew himself), the Gospel of Mark (which came from eyewitness testimony of the apostle Peter dictated to John Mark), the Gospel of Luke (an investigative biographical reporter who obtained several eyewitness reports), the Gospel of John (which came from the eyewitness testimony of John the apostle), the Book of Acts (the same as Luke’s Gospel), and 1 Corinthians 15 (an early Christian formulation recorded by Paul).  From these sources, we are able to construct four categories of witnesses: the women, the disciples, groups, and the adversaries.

Women

It is of great interest that Jesus chose to appear before the women and it is of even greater interest that the church used the women as witnesses to the resurrection.  Why?  In the first century, women were not viewed as reliable sources.  It was viewed that two women would equate to a single male’s witness.  Yet, the church used the testimony of women on equal level as the testimony of men.  Let us look at some of the women who met the risen Christ firsthand.

“But very early on Sunday morning* the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man* must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.”[1]

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is an interesting woman.  She was a disciple of Christ par excellence.  She never left the side of Jesus.  Perhaps due to this, she was the first to see the risen Lord.  Speculations exist as to the relationship of Mary to Jesus.  Some think of Mary as being Jesus’ wife.  Scripture does not in any way give this indication.  However, we do know that Mary had been cured a demonic possession in Luke 8:2, “Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.”[2]  Whatever the case, Mary from Magdala was chosen to be first to see the risen Lord Jesus.  From the testimony given in the gospel records, Mary was a woman of great faithfulness.

Joanna

Joanna is another woman who was listed among the women who saw Jesus risen from the dead.  We do not know a lot about Joanna except for what we learn in Luke 8:3 in that she was the wife of Chuza, who was himself a steward of King Herod.  Joanna must have been one of substantial financial wealth as it seems that she helped support the ministry of Jesus quite a bit.  Joanna’s faithfulness was rewarded as she too was one of the early witnesses of the risen Lord.

Mary, the mother of James

Not a lot is known about this Mary, either.  This Mary is the mother of James the Lesser and Joses, perhaps her husband was Alphaeus.  She was a faithful follower of Jesus and one who witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.  She was Galilean and not much more is known.

Salome[3]

Salome is the wife of Zebedee and the mother to the apostles James and John.  From a link in John 19:25, Salome may have been Mary the mother of Jesus’ sister, therefore making Salome Jesus’ aunt.  If this is true, it would have been intriguing to note that the cousins and aunt of Jesus believed in Him before His own brothers did.  Salome’s faith would be substantially increased as she witnessed Jesus risen from the dead.

Mary the mother of Jesus

“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.” [4]  Even though Luke does not specifically mention Mary as a witness to the risen Lord, one can clearly see that Mary, the mother of Jesus was in attendance in the choosing of the new disciple to replace Judas Iscariot who hung himself after turning Jesus in to the authorities.  Clearly, one could strongly argue that Mary was another witness of the risen Lord Jesus.

Not only did the women see the risen Lord Jesus, many male disciples witnessed the risen Lord.  Let us look now at the disciples who were listed among those who saw the risen Lord.

Disciples

Robert Sloan defines “disciple” as, “Follower of Jesus Christ, especially the commissioned Twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The term “disciple” comes to us in English from a Latin root. Its basic meaning is “learner” or “pupil.”[5]  The disciples were in fact students and followers of Jesus.  The fact that the disciples remained faithful to Jesus of Nazareth after His crucifixion when expecting a military leader speaks volumes to the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection.  Something changed the disciples from a bunch of cowardly spectators to a bunch of bold players in the ministry of the church.  Let us now examine the disciples who witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.

Peter

In the formulational creed posited by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, we read, “He was seen by Peter* and then by the Twelve.”[6]  Although Peter was in attendance at the other visitations of the risen Jesus, the gospels do not tell us about the individual experience that Peter had with the risen Jesus.  In John 20:1-5, John tells us that he and Peter went to the tomb after Mary Magdalene had told them about seeing the tomb empty and witnessing the angels.  Peter and John went to the tomb and then went home.  Mary then had her encounter with Jesus.  Perhaps Jesus met Peter on his way home.  Or, maybe Peter hung around in a private area before going home.  Maybe Peter went back to the Garden where Jesus told him to pray.  It seems to be that it was right after Mary’s experience with Jesus that Peter had a one on one encounter with the risen Jesus.

Ten Apostles

“One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),* was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”[7]  Jesus appeared to ten of the eleven disciples.  Where was Thomas?  Well, Thomas being the natural skeptic probably was preparing to head back to Galilee to restart his fishing business.  Being the skeptic that he was, I could see where Thomas may have thought, “Well, it was nice while it lasted, but this ministry is over now.  I had better start thinking about my future now.”  Perhaps Thomas was planning to say “good-bye” to the disciples.  God only knows for sure.  But, nonetheless Jesus appeared before the ten disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, April 9th, 30AD.

Thomas

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” [8]

For those of us who are skeptically inclined, we can find great appreciation in the witness of Thomas.  Throughout the ministry of Jesus, Thomas was always somewhat of a “negative Nancy.”  He was skeptical of Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom and was sarcastic when he thought that the disciples should go down and die with Jesus.  Thomas the realist had a difficult time when the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead.  Thomas probably thought, “Yeah, and I bet you want me to believe that there is an ocean in the Sinai Peninsula too, huh?  That was, until about a week later.  The Sunday following Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared again to the disciples this time with Thomas present.  It seems that Jesus strung Thomas along for a while perhaps to test to see how long he would stay with the disciples.  Thomas uses the phrase “Ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου.”[9]  The phrase “my Lord and my God” was used for the Roman emperors in the emperor cult of the time.  It showed that the emperor or Caesar was a god and overlord of the people.  In this sense, Thomas showed that he now knew that Jesus was THE Lord of all creation and THE God who had come in flesh.

Amazing as it is, Jesus not only appeared to individuals, He also appeared to groups.  This is something of vast importance for the skeptic who would claim that the disciples simply had grand hallucinations.  Large groups do not have the same hallucination.

Groups

Jesus appeared to a group of people at least five times.  Some groups were large while others consisted of a couple.  In all of these occasions, numerous people witnessed the reality of Jesus’ resurrection as they were conversing with the risen Lord Jesus.

500 Brethren (1,000 – 1,500)

“After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.”[10]  Paul documents as part of the early Christian formulation that Jesus appeared to over five hundred brethren.  Two things need to be addressed with this number.  First, Paul says that over 500 brethren witnessed the risen Lord.  It could have been 520 or even 550.  Second, notice that Paul does not record the witnesses of the women in 1 Corinthians 15.  In first-century times, women and children were not counted in official numbers.  If you notice, Luke does not mention the women in attendance in Acts until the presentation of a new disciple.  My guess is that the women were not counted in this number.  We see the same phenomenon with the feeding of the 5,000.  Only the men were counted.  If you take into account the women who were in attendance at the feeding of the 5,000, then the number of actual individuals present soars to 10,000.  If you take into account that the average household had 6 children, then the number soars to a possibility of 35,000 people who were in attendance.

Using the same logic, we could take the 500 who witnessed the risen Jesus at one time and multiply that by two to take into account the women who were there and get 1,000.  We could also naturally assume that children would have been present, also.  If that is the case (also taking into consideration that the average Mediterranean household of the first-century had 6 children), we could multiply the women with the average house of 6 children and get a possibility of 3,500 individuals who could have witnessed the risen Lord Jesus at one time.  This is phenomenal!  How do 3,500 people have the same hallucination?  They don’t.

Men on Road to Emmaus

That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles* from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,* he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.*” [11]

This special appearance is also referenced in Mark 16:12.  Although this was a small group that experienced the risen Jesus, the appearance is nonetheless phenomenal.  This event seems to have taken place late in the day of the first Easter Sunday, April 9th, 30AD.  The two disciples were concerned about what had taken place.  Jesus appears to them and explains everything to them.  Towards the end as they sit to partake of supper, the two men understand that it is Jesus who was speaking to them all along.  After Jesus left their sight, the men ran back towards Jerusalem to tell the disciples.  When they arrived, they told the disciples about what happened.  The disciples were talking about how Jesus had appeared to Peter.  At that time, Jesus appeared again before them all.  Notice the depth of detail in the story.  Unless one takes a bias against the possibility of the supernatural, the reader cannot help but see the eyewitness details given in this account.

Other Groups

Other groups of people witnessed the Risen Lord Jesus.  Those 120 who were present at Jesus’ ascension all witnessed the risen Jesus as well as the 72 who were previously sent out by Jesus.

The 120 at the Great Commission

“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”[12]

So how do we get 120 out of this number?  Well consider the reading in Acts after the ascension takes place and the people re-gather in Jerusalem to assign a new disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot who had hung himself after betraying Jesus, Perhaps some 120 or more were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  “During this time, when about 120 believers* were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them.” [13]  Peter tells the people, ““God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.”[14]  It could be argued that many others saw Jesus risen from the dead because Luke records, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.”[15]  Can we know with certainty that all 120 were there at the ascension of Jesus?  Well, no.  But, can we imagine that they would not have been?  No.  It would seem that it could be argued with a great deal of certainty that the disciples witnessed the risen Jesus at that time as Peter storms the streets proclaiming that they had all seen the risen Jesus.  I think you could also argue that many others in the streets of Jerusalem may have seen the risen Lord.  Perhaps that is why upwards of 3,000 people were added to the church at the preaching of Peter…because the people knew the resurrection to have been a fact.

The 72

“The Lord now chose seventy-two* other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.”[16]  “Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”[17]  We cannot say for sure that the 72 witnessed Jesus risen from the dead at one time.  However, from the previous passages, I think one could strongly infer that they did.  The 72 may have been part of the over 500 that witnessed Jesus or perhaps they were part of the 120 who witnessed Jesus at His ascension.  Nonetheless, from the rendering of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, I think it can be safely said that the 72 witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.

Adversaries

If you really want to know something about a person, ask that person’s enemy what they think about the person.  Like in all things, you would have to take the person’s thoughts with a grain of salt.  However, when an adversary has a change of heart, you must listen.  Some of the strongest attestations pertaining to the resurrection of Christ come from two adversaries who witnessed Christ risen from the dead and became staunch leaders of the church that they had previously opposed.  Those two individuals are James and Paul.

“Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.”[18]

James

James, the brother of Jesus, was not a follower of Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  James and the brothers thought that Jesus was a little crazy.  John writes, “His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For even His brothers did not believe in Him.[19]

James may have even been the brother who told Jesus to go to Judea.  Yet James became a disciple of Jesus after Jesus was crucified.  That does not make sense.  Well, it would if you added the resurrection factor.  James became a believer in Jesus after he witnessed the power of life in the resurrected Jesus.  James would even write, “This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[20]

Paul

Paul was in the same category of James.  Paul was not a believer in Jesus.  Paul sought to destroy the church.  Yet, Paul ceased from seeking the church’s destruction to seeking the church’s growth.  What happened?  Paul witnessed the risen Lord Jesus.  His witness of Christ is given in Acts,

“As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.”[21]

This event would transform Paul for the rest of his life and even into eternity.  Paul became one of the greatest missionaries that the church has ever seen.

Conclusion:

Weightlifting is a great hobby for me.  I especially enjoy powerlifting.  Being in my mid-thirties, I pay a greater price for lifting heavy weights than I did in my twenties.  However, I have had great success with weightlifting.  I can still bench press around 500 pounds, but my squat lift is what really has impressed.  A friend of mine wanted me to workout with him and a buddy of his.  That day, my chest was sore and could not hoist up weight in the bench press as much as I desired.  However, I wanted to show him that I was truthful in what I could do.  So, I threw on close to 600 pounds on the Smith-machine to squat.  I can still to this day see his, his buddies, and others eyes in the weight room that day bulge out in disbelief.  They could believe the reports of my lifts because they could see firsthand the accuracy in one of my reports.

People at work could believe my reports too because he and others could tell them of my lift.  Well what if over 500 people told you the same thing?  Would you believe them?  That is what you have in the resurrection of Christ.  Others could be added to the list such as the guards at the tomb and bystanders who may have witnessed the risen Christ.  The core question is, do you have the faith to believe what the evidence suggests…that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead?


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Lk 24:1–12.

[2] Luke 8:2.

[3] See Mark 16:1.

[4] Acts 1:14.

[5] Robert B. Sloan, Jr., “Disciple” In , in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 425.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:5.

[7] John 20:24–25.

[8] John 20:25–29.

[9] Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010), Jn 20:28.

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Corinthians 15:6.

[11] Luke 24:13–34.

[12] Acts 1:6–11.

[13] Acts 1:15.

[14] Acts 2:32.

[15] Acts 2:41.

[16] Luke 10:1.

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:7.

[18] 1 Corinthians 15:7–9.

[19] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 7:3–5.

[20] James 1:1.

[21] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Ac 9:3–9.

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