Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - November 1, 2007 

Proof of the Resurrection

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1974
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, November 2007

Read the accompanying Newsletter for November 2007

 

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I want to present something that really will prove the Bible to be the inspired word of the Almighty God without any doubt whatsoever. The Passover commemorates the death of Jesus Christ and dying for our sins. That happened over there some 1900+ years ago in Jerusalem but it has very much importance for us today. His death is important.

But do you know there is something as important, or perhaps even more important than His death? That is His resurrection. Obviously you cannot have His resurrection without His death. His death is important theologically, scripturally, legally, because that is when our sins were taken care of. Afterward He came up out of the grave. He was resurrected from the grave.

I do not want to concentrate so much on His death as I want to concentrate on His life, particularly His resurrection. The resurrection took place on the 17th of Nisan. We do not have any holy days associated with the resurrection. But I want to point concentrate on His resurrection three days after His death, because that sign of the resurrection is the most important sign that could be given to show that Jesus Christ in reality was and is the Messiah. 1 It will also prove the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures at the same time.

The Sign of the Resurrection

Let us look at the one sign that God or Christ gave to the whole world that He was to be the Messiah. That is in Matthew chapter 12. Let us put it into proper context because I want to speak not about His death, I want to speak about His life, and particularly about His resurrection.

“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Master, we would see a sign from you.’ But he answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign’; …”

That is most important to be cognizant of brethren. So many of us like to see signs ourselves, don’t we? I do not look at things of that nature. I do not think we should. I do not think we ought to prompt God. It is “an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign.” Supposedly it is signs or miracles that will convince people. That is true, it will convince people alright.

In the next few years there is coming a system on this earth where fire will be brought down out of heaven by a man. Lots of other miracles will be done to support a beast power which is going to be at Jerusalem, and that power shall be substantiated by miracles, because “an evil and adulterous generation” desires miracles. They want them all the time.

Do you know the ekklesias in Paul’s orbit or responsibility in which there were more signs than any other? They were the weakest of the ekklesias. Take the letters of First and Second Corinthians and look at the miracles that were associated with Paul’s ministry there. Miracles are beautiful, but there were lots of miracles associated with those people. There were spiritual revelations given time and time again to members, and they seemed to require signs. You come to Galatians and signs seem to be there as well, but those were weak churches. They were growing in grace and knowledge.

You come to the mature ekklesias, the ones that really had the bedrock of God’s teaching: Ephesus, at first. Then we come to Philippians, and then Colossians. Those are the mature ekklesias of Christ, the ones in which the Holy Spirit was operating at full power. Do you know what? No miracles. Do you know why? They did not need them. They could see God’s Spirit in action without a lot of miracles. 2

Miracles are fine and wonderful, very pleasant to have. They are helpful, but if we seek miracles, if we seek signs, Jesus said it was “an evil and adulterous generation” that just seeks them. Miracles are normally given, I will admit, at the beginning of things.

Once they got settled down and they saw the spiritual truths of God, and that spiritual truth was more important than physical miracles, then you do not have so many miracles.

I would rather know, anytime, the real spiritual truths of God and have God’s Spirit working in me to bring out love, faith, hope, goodness, righteousness, all of those virtues of God’s Holy Spirit, than have miracles, signs, wonders, and things like that, though those are necessary on occasion. Take the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. I do not read so much where there will be lots of miracles. It is “an evil and adulterous generation that seeks” for things of that nature. Miracles are physical manifestations of things. The more you require, the more physical you are. The less you require miracles, the more spiritual you are.

The Miracle of Miracles

There is one miracle of miracles that we must all have and God has given it to us so we might appreciate that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. It is the one sign here in Matthew 12:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

What He means by this one sign is that there would be a death, of Himself. He would go into the heart of the earth and be there for three days and three nights, and then come up out of that earth. It would be a resurrection from the dead. The miracle is His resurrection of the dead. That is the one sign that God has given to the world that Jesus is the Messiah. None other. All the other signs (and He did many, John 21:25) are peripheral compared to this one right here.

Of all the miracles Jesus did, though they substantiated His authority that He was the Christ (and many other things that took place back there substantiated His role), but the one sign was that of His resurrection from the dead. That is what Matthew chapter 12 is all about. They wanted to know if He is Messiah or not. Here is the one sign, because that one sign is the most provable to the world.

I will make this statement: when you look at all of the records about the death, entombment, and resurrection of Christ, when you look at all the records and analyze them carefully, as any historian looking at documents would analyze them, you will find it requires very little faith to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I did not say it requires no faith. I said “very little faith.” It is more demonstrable than many other major historical events of the past that everybody accepts these days.

The Example of Alexander the Great

Take for example Alexander the Great and his exploits into Asia Minor, into Asia, and all the way to India. Do most of us dispute the history books on those things? No, we do not. They come from records of ancient times. It is most interesting that there was not one single biography of Alexander the Great until 400 years after his life. You ought to read about that biography. It says one man was saying one thing about him, another historian says another, and another, and another, right down the line, but what they have to do is to sift it out to try to get the kernel of the truth of it. They get the kernel of the truth out and that is what goes into the history books. Hardly anybody disputes it. There are all types of reasons for disputing Alexander’s exploits. Not essentially. He certainly made his journey to India. There is no doubt about that, but there are all types of difficulties because many of the records we have to go by are very late records indeed.

But when it comes to the New Testament which talks about Jesus Christ, they are very contemporary records. They are very close to the time of the events. Most of the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, I will admit, most of it (not all but most) comes from the New Testament itself. Are these records reliable to tell us about Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead? That is what we will have to look at. I have four major points that most historians, in fact all historians, use to be able to show whether or not historical records are reliable.

Brethren, we have got to be able to prove whether or not Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead! This is the one sign that will show He is Messiah at the present time. That is what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 12. Many people in the world believe He is still in the grave over there, or that He never even came to earth. Some people actually believe that, as silly as that might be. But we have got to know whether or not He really was resurrected from the dead. If He was, then that is the greatest event that you can possibly imagine. His death is one thing. His resurrection is another. That is important of all for us to know. That is why I want us to emphasize that the Bible actually proves historically, from every evidence that you could amass, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you have Christ resurrected from the grave, do you know what you have done? You also have brought in and proven the whole of the Old Testament into the orbit of divine literature. Jesus Christ while He was on this earth vouched for every word of it, didn’t He? He said that was His father’s Scripture. It is the Scripture. If He was in the grave three days and three nights as He said He was, in a state in which He was dead, having no power whatsoever over His own life because He was dead, but a power in heaven called God the Father resurrected Him right on time schedule; if that is the case, then you can place a great deal of reliability in the words that came forth from Jesus Christ.

It also will show that the New Testament revelation, which came from the pens of the apostles, is true. Simply put, Christ’s resurrection is the central truth that makes this Bible the inspired Word of God!

It is also the central truth that means your salvation is guaranteed, because with Him still in the grave, your lives are hopeless. Not now, but in the future your life will end when you die. That is all there is to it, unless Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. It will give you great comfort to prove that, because if He came up out of that grave, then you can come up out of it too.

So everything really homes in on this one sign that Jesus Christ said we should be looking for, and it is a sign which goes to the whole world, not just to the elect group, but to the whole world. Brethren, it is the most provable of all of the signs that Jesus Christ gave, and it has to be that way.

Are the Documents Reliable?

Are these documents reliable that speak about the resurrection of Christ? Let’s face it, we must acknowledge one thing: most of the information comes from people who are sympathetic to the resurrection, from the apostles themselves. That is quite true.

Some people would say this is the first mark against reliability, because those people are sympathetic to it. They wanted to perpetuate the belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. They want to substantiate their religious beliefs and many people say they would go to no end of lying, of stretching it here, or stretching it there, to be able to substantiate those claims. That is what a lot of people say. But all we have to do is to use the rules that all historians use for testing the credibility of ancient written records, or any record for that matter. When we test them, the New Testament and the fact of the resurrection comes out in a glory that no other historical event of the distant past can approach. That is a fact.

Let us look at the Gospels because most of the references to Christ’s death and resurrection will come from the Gospels, and some people say, well, these are from writers who have a chip on their shoulder and are trying to prove a point. If that is what we want to accept, I suppose we can. But before we just say that is it, and forget about it, let us look at the evidence to prove that these writers are indeed very reliable, by all of the rules of historical criticism available today to say whether or not there ever was an Alexander the Great, a Julius Caesar, a Justinian the Great, or a Pope Gregory. That is right.

All of the evidences are here in the Scripture, in the New Testament, to be able to prove it, as there are to prove all these other things that many people accept without much criticism at all. We need to subject the Scripture to a good deal of scrutiny. After all it does say to prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and I think that if you subject the Scripture to proof, you are not on the wrong wavelength with God. You are on the right wavelength, because therein will be your faith and your confidence that these things actually did take place. Let us take a look at this one sign, the resurrection of the dead. Most of the information comes from the Gospels and from the apostles, that is quite true, but let us ask, are the Gospels and epistles reliable?

There are four major rules of determining credibility of ancient historical documents. We realize what was written in the Bible about the resurrection took place almost 2,000 years ago. Here are the rules. I will give them to you briefly at first, and then we will comment on them from the Scriptures themselves.

Point 1: Recorders of Events Should be Contemporaries

Were the men who recorded the events contemporary to the events? They must be contemporary.

This makes sense because the first biography of Alexander the Great, as I said before, was written 400 years after the event. Many apocryphal teachings came into Alexander’s life by that time. Indeed they certainly did. Alexander reportedly had Technicolor eyes by the time they got through with him. That is a fact. One said he had a gray eye on one side and a blue eye on another; another says he had a black eye here, so forth and so on. Everybody admitted one thing, his eyes were two different colors. All types of teaching began to come in that people did not know about. The manner of his death, for example, did he die in a drunken debauch? Did he have malaria? Was it because he was taking drugs? Was it because he just was a sexual inebriant. I am putting the two together, as a drunkard who was sexually fired up so to speak, and certain types of venereal diseases were killing him. No one knows. In fact even the manner of death they do not know really about. They just know he died. They do not know exactly how he died, or for what reasons.

There is a story that Alexander instructed, when he was to be put into his coffin, his hands were to be outstretched. Maybe this is true, maybe this is apocryphal, I do not know. I am giving you an example here of what they say about Alexander. Whether it happened, I do not know. But his hands were to be out­stretched, so he commanded, with his palms open. On the sides of his coffin was to be made this statement in Greek: “I came into this world without anything. I gained the whole world and I left with nothing.”

It could be true. If it is not true, it is a good saying. Christ said something similar (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; and Luke 9:25). There are all sorts of stories about Alexander because there were some contemporary records, but no one thought of writing a biography and he certainly did not write an autobiography.

To show credibility of the Gospel records about the resurrection of Christ (and that is the most important thing anyway, because all of the others will fall into place once we prove that), are the writers about the events written in the Gospels, were they contemporary to those events, very near the times? That is most important. The reason for that is because many critics would not necessarily like what they see, and if these men are writing when there were many critics are still around, it shows an openness to criticism.

Point 2: There Must Be Many Witnesses to These Events

Were there many witnesses to the events? The more witnesses, the greater the credibility. In the Gospels we have four witnesses writing there, but through the other apostles we have more witnesses. The records of the apostles say there are many witnesses who were contemporary at the time the apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 15:6). Over 500 he said were still alive. If anybody wanted to go down to Jerusalem they could just check. The more witnesses there are, the more reliability you can place in a record.

Point 3: Did the Men Always Maintain the Truth of the Events?

Did the men who wrote these records always maintain until their death the truth of them? Or especially if the question is over a major event, a controversial event:

(a)  Did the diverse men in various areas of the world maintain their belief in
      the reliability of the record until the day of their deaths?

(b)  Better yet, were they persecuted for that belief?

(c)  And even more importantly, were they martyred for that belief?

Point 4: Do Hostile Contemporaries Try to Disprove the Belief?

Did people who lived at the same time, but were hostile to the belief, not wanting to believe it, try desperately to disprove it in every way. Did many of them finally come around and say, yes, it is right?

Of course, I am homing in on the resurrection of the dead of Christ, that is true, but this point could go for any event. It makes no difference. Were there people hostile to it, not wanting to believe it, but in the long run they did believe it? It could not be overthrown even by those who were in hostility to it.

When you put all of these four points together to establish reliability of some ancient document or some ancient truth, and you are able to prove them, you have very strong evidence that the things written did in actual fact take place.

Point 1:  Evidence for Contemporaneity

Let us take a look in detail at the first point, witnesses being contemporary to the events. After all, the Gospel writers were not very far in time from the events, were they? The writings themselves did not take place very long after the events. Let us look at just one writer of the Gospel himself, Matthew. It could apply to all the other three Gospels, but primarily let us say Matthew. Historically speaking, this is tradition but it certainly cannot be argued away too far, that the Gospel of Matthew was written within a generation of the death and resurrection of Christ, at worst two generations, if you want to be hypercritical on the matter. You could not go much beyond 80 AD, 85 AD at the latest.

Better yet, put it before 70 AD, and most scholars that I know of today have it somewhere in the neighborhood of 65, 67 AD, somewhere around there. That makes excellent sense. So Matthew then is contemporary to events. He claims to be an eyewitness to Jesus Christ when He came up out of the grave.

What did Matthew write in his Gospel? He not only wrote about the resurrection of the dead, but he wrote about 5,000 people on one occasion who had food given to them out in the area of Galilee when they only had a few fishes in a basket and a few pieces of bread. On another occasion he mentioned about 4,000. 3 Up in Galilee there were all types of people who saw miracle after miracle. We read that at the time there were officials like Pilate who desperately wanted to see Jesus because of the miracles that were done. Herod Antipas, who was king, also wanted to see him (Matthew 27:24; Luke 9:9, 23:4, 8, 12, 14–16, 22).

One thing we can know is that Matthew wrote at a time when many of these people or their descendants were still very much alive to know whether or not what Matthew was saying about these miracles was true. Let us say he was writing somewhere about 35 years after. Just imagine, let us go to the United States and into New York State. We all know Times Square. We know the festivities that take place there, particularly on December 31st and the 1st of January every year. Throngs of people come into Times Square.

Imagine an author writing in 1974 describing an event that took place at New Years Eve at Times Square in New York City in 1939. I was alive at the time, I was a small boy, but some of you sitting in this room were grown people even at that time. Some of you were old enough to understand the circumstances.

Suppose in 1939 in a 2˝ year period before (let us say from 1936 up to 1939) here was a prophet going throughout the cities of New York State, doing miracle after miracle, and even the governor of the state says at the end, I’d like to see you. The King, like Herod, also wanted to have something to do with him. John the Baptist, who was the greatest of the prophets (Luke 7:28), who all the people recognized (even Josephus mentions him), even he is connected with these events. For a 2˝ year period throughout New York State, here is this prophet going all over and thousands of people are following him. Then on New Years Eve (that is the time when lots of people throng to Times Square) something big happened.

I used New Years Eve because do you know the time Jesus was crucified? He was crucified at the exact time the Passover Lamb was being killed. He was up there on the cross for 6 hours while people were coming and going, mulling around to go to the Temple to get all the Passover Lambs, He was up there on the tree of crucifixion in full view of thousands and thousands of people that had come to the Passover.

It was not on Adar 2nd or Tishri 29 or something like that or some other date, this was one of the times when people crowded in from all over the world to come into Palestine and particularly to Jerusalem. This was not done in a corner. This is the point. It was done at a time, Josephus (Jewish Wars 6:425) says, that there were some 2 million people sometimes crowded into the Jerusalem area for the Passover period.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ took place when there were thousands of people there. If I said hundreds of thousands I am not exaggerating. Not every one of them saw Jesus. On the other hand, the report of Jesus had gone around all over the Judean and Galilean areas for 2˝ solid years of His preaching. Here He is in Jerusalem and up there on a tree crucified right in the midst of thousands of people. These events were widely known as the apostle Paul reminded King Agrippa and the Roman Procurator Festus:

“For the king knows of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.”

That is why a New Years Eve would be a good time to crucify this fictional prophet who went through­out New York State. Do you get the analogy? And then crucify him right in the middle of Times Square at a time when thousands of people are there. If someone like Matthew, writing a mere generation later in 1974 about events that happened in 1939 in New York, I’ll tell you, you would be knowledgeable about that.

The interesting thing about Matthew is that he wrote in the Greek but in the Hebrew idiom. 4 Even the higher critics say this. Matthew was writing back to the Jews. Do you know where these Jews were resident? They were resident primarily in Judea. He was writing to Jerusalem itself, telling these people about events that happened back in 1939 on New Years Eve in Times Square, and the 2˝ years that preceded that.

If those things were not true, and he was bringing in people like Pilate, the Roman governor. He was bringing Caiaphas the High Priest in there, the top ecclesiastical man. (In England that would be like the Archbishop of Canterbury.) He was bringing in the Sanhedrin which was the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land. All of this was in Jerusalem. He is bringing in also the witnesses of 4,000 and 5,000 people up in Galilee and other areas that saw miracle after miracle. He is writing this within a generation after the events, and sending it right back to the same area that saw all these things happen!

He might be a little mistaken on a few little points here and there someone might reason (however, Matthew was not), but on the major points there would have been thousands of witnesses that would have been around to say, Matthew, you are beside yourself. You are mad. Whoever heard of such a thing like this? Not only does Matthew say it, Mark says it, and Luke the Gentile says it, and John says it. And Paul later on says it. And lots of people say it. Josephus said it, and lots of others said it also.

On this first point you must have a record that is contemporary and Matthew fits the bill precisely. He sends this record to the very people who saw all these things take place. That should give a great deal of reliability to the record itself.

The number one proof is the resurrection from the dead. No one saw that; no one saw Him come up out of the grave. That is quite true. We will get to that later. But as far as the events concerning His death, there were thousands of witnesses able to show it. Matthew is writing something far better than our histories of Alexander the Great which are 400 years after. This is quite contemporary to the events, writing right back to the same people, many of whom saw these things back in the equivalent of 1939.

Point 2:  Evidence for Many Witnesses

Let us go to the next point, which is the fact of many witnesses. I have already given a bit on this, but there were many witnesses to the crucifixion. The execution of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul says, was not done in a corner, way off somewhere in Arabia. It was not done at some time during the year when there were only a few people around here and there. It was done at Passover time when there would be thousands of people around. As I said over 2 million people sometimes were there at the time.

Forgetting about Matthew just for a moment, and let us go to many witnesses. Of the 27 New Testament books, almost all of them were written within one generation, or a generation and a half, after these things took place. The last of them, that is the Gospel of John, took place within three generations, and most people by that time were dying off, that is quite true. But most of the activities of the Gospels and of the Epistles that documented what happened in Palestine, all of these activities were put down in written form when there were thousands and thousands of witnesses to be able to substantiate or contradict these things. If it was written many, many years later then I think you may have some reason for doubting it.

Even the harshest critics admit that of the 27 books of the New Testament at least 15 of them were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD at a time when there were thousands of witnesses around to testify one way or another on these events. That is point #2. I really put Points 1 and 2 together.

Point 3:  Maintaining the Truth

Do we have men who wrote the records and then were willing to stand by what they wrote to be the truth even to the place of giving their lives for it? If you can get records like that, there is a great deal of reliability to that testimony, especially if you get diverse groups of people, many of them, particularly too if you can get people who are not esoteric by nature, mystical, or spiritual, where they want to give out something which is mysterious and mystical.

Most of the writers of the New Testament and most of the early apostles were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector. Do you know what a tax collector does? He collected tribute. A tax collector is one who puts down and accounts 10 denarii from this family here that passed by the way of Capernaum, and he has to make the books balance. It all balances at the end of the day, or the end of the year. A tax collector is one who scrutinizes facts probably more than anybody else, and that was what Matthew was, a tribute collector.

The others were fishermen. Though they were Jews, they were practical men. All they had to do was put down the net in the Sea of Galilee, they would say, well, I’m a Christian Scientist, I got 153 anyway even though the net was empty. No, they did not look at things that way. They were practical men. We find here that the apostles, all of them to the day they died, not one single one of them ever said that the death and resurrection of Christ was a falsehood. There is no way of showing it if these epistles were written much, much later.

The interesting thing about this is that these apostles continually said that lying was a vice that ought to be shunned. Indeed, they said any liar is not going to have his part in the Kingdom of God, but a liar is going to have his part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). Lying is a vice that they all denied and in fact they utterly condemned it. 5 These people were willing to stand up and say that what they were writing was the truth. Let us take a look at these writers of the New Testament, particularly the apostles, in their own records. Remember, there is no doubt about that because there were thousands of witnesses around.

Let us look at Peter. The apostle Peter was present at the last Passover with our Lord. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane along with the others while they slept, while Jesus prayed. The next morning after he woke up he took a sword and he cut off one of the ears of the people that Christ healed. 6

Then as Peter was standing near the court of the Sanhedrin, when a young girl came up and said to him, you know, you are one of those Galileans. You are one of those people who were with Him. After all he had a Galilean accent so it was pretty easy to tell. Peter denied it. He denied it a second time, and he denied it the third time, and he cursed about it. Finally, when Jesus Christ was up there on the cross, do you know where Peter was? We do not know where he was. He scattered to the winds.

What about all the other apostles? They scattered to the winds as well, all but one exception that we know of, the Gospel of John says that Jesus’ mother stood afar off and watched the crucifixion. It must have been pathetic for her to see that, but beside her was the disciple that Jesus loved (John 19:25–27), John.

As far as we know he was the only one who stood off in the distance with Jesus’ mother and watched the crucifixion. The rest of the apostles were scared and they were afraid. Here they had been with Christ for 2˝ years. They had seen the 5,000 and the 4,000 fed with a few crumbs of bread and a few fishes. They had seen all types of other things happening, particularly when they were out in the Sea of Galilee and a great storm comes up and all that Christ has to say is “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:35–41), and a great calm immediately happens. They even saw Lazarus resurrected back to physical life after 3 days.

They saw things like that all over the place, but at the last moment when He is going to be crucified, they all scatter to the winds. I suppose the main reason for it, even though Christ told them He was going to die about a year before He was crucified, I think they still had difficulty believing. At the same time they were afraid for their own lives.

Before we start criticizing them, if you or I would have been there we probably would have done the same thing. In fact, I am certain we would have, because that is our own human nature coming out there. Believe me, I am glad in one way they failed as they did because it shows their human nature was leading them away from Christ. This is very helpful for us to understand. Their weakness will lead us to Christ.

If we would have been there we would have done the same thing. This becomes a very important witness to the resurrection of Christ, three days and three nights later, when we realize that all of those men just scattered to the winds and they were afraid. They were afraid that the Jewish government, then the Roman government would take them and crucify them too! Before the crucifixion look at the beatings Christ went through (Matthew 26:67, 27:30; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63; John 18:22, et al.). They were afraid!

So they left, and Jesus Christ died on the tree of crucifixion — alone.

That was supposed to happened. That was in the plan of God. But the interesting thing is this, three days and three nights later, some women were approaching the tomb, they looked and the stone was rolled back. They looked inside and there was no body of Jesus. It was gone. They looked and saw the grave clothes that bound him around like an Egyptian mummy. How did He get out of that?

Then they ran and told some of the apostles. Peter, he says it is impossible, but he ran and looked, and there he saw the empty tomb. Then some of the others did as well. Then they saw the Lord. They saw Him resurrected. They could hardly believe it.

They went back and they were rejoicing and happy, and all of them saw this except one, Thomas. He said, I have got to absolutely see him before I am going to believe that. He got his chance about a week later. He got to see Him and touch Him as well (Luke 24:39–40; John 20:20, 25, 27; 1 John 1:1).

The interesting thing is that there was a 40 day period, so the Gospel writers tell us, in which Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem and up in Galilee. I think that record is true. I will tell you why it is true, because this can be shown without any doubt whatsoever to be a fact. It is because here are these men who claimed to have been 40 days with the Lord after He was resurrected, true, they did not see Him come out of that grave, but they saw Him with the nail prints in his hands and in His feet, and also in His side. They saw Him and they saw Him alive.

They knew good and well He was dead up there on that cross. There was not any doubt about that. The Roman government knew that He was dead too. The Jews made sure He was dead. So when they put Him in the Tomb, He was very much dead. If He was not dead when they took Him down off the tree of crucifixion, He would have been once they put all the wrappings around Him because He could not breathe. Did you ever see an Egyptian mummy? Maybe if He had just a little spark of life in Him, He would still be dead from the wrapping.

He was dead alright. He was lying there for around two hours as they prepared Him to be put in the Tomb, and they knew He was not breathing. He was dead. No one could have gone through that trauma anyway without dying. So they put His body in there and three days and three nights later He was walking with His disciples and with the women. He visited with them for forty days — so they said.

How can we prove then that what they said was true? Here again reliability must be shown. I will tell you how to do it without any difficulty whatsoever.

The Ascension and Pentecost

On the 40th day we find Jesus going from the Mount of Olives back into a cloud to heaven. That was the last they saw of Him in bodily form. Ten days later comes Pentecost, which was on a Sunday, believe it or not, they were all there on the right day, at the right time, and they received God’s Holy Spirit with power. The interesting thing about it is, this is Pentecost, and then what did Peter and the rest of them begin to do with glory and with vigor and enthusiasm?

All twelve of them, and there were 120 of them at least when they made the selection of Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:12–26). And there were many more than that who saw Jesus from the dead because as late as 1 Corinthians chapter 15, around 56 AD Paul said there were still 500 brethren down in Jerusalem that you could go and talk to. They were still alive. So He was seen of many, many hundreds of people. It might have gone to several thousand, I don’t know, but there were 500 left by the time of the apostle Paul.

Anyway, these men got up in the midst of a crowd of people after Jesus told them to wait until Pentecost and “not depart from Jerusalem” (Acts 1:3–4), before you start to preach I am resurrected from the dead. There are theological reasons for this, but look at it so far as proving the fact of the resurrection of the dead.

When was He crucified? He was crucified at Passover when thousands and thousands of people were there. No one saw His resurrection from the dead, that is quite true. The apostles saw Him after, but most of those masses did not. For 40 days He taught the disciples privately and intimately. Then He goes back to heaven and says you wait until Pentecost before you say anything. They waited until Pentecost because you know what happens? Virtually all those same people that saw Him hanging there on a tree of crucifixion would be there back in Jerusalem. 7

Before, they saw His disciples, Peter and the rest of them, scattering to the winds, and Jesus had to die alone. This time, however, the same people in Jerusalem, thousands and thousands of them, see the apostle Peter and all of them get up and proclaim that same Jesus Christ whom you crucified (Acts 2:36) not 50 days before, is now alive from the dead.

The people that finally accepted that message, it says, were 3,000 Jewish men (Acts 2:41). It goes on to say a little later that it increased to 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). Where were these men from? They were from all over the Roman Empire and they had come to Jerusalem. Most had been there at Passover time, no doubt. Three thousand Jewish men. Now these Jews were not like the apostles. They had not traveled the road with Jesus in Galilee, and all of that. They were listening to the testimony of Peter and the rest of them, and they believed in the resurrection of the dead that took place some 50 days before, all 5,000 of them from the testimony from these witnesses that were up there preaching.

The interesting thing is that at Passover time all of these witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were afraid for their lives. Peter even cursed saying, no, I did not have anything to do with Him. Not at all. And everybody knew that was the way it was. But when it came to Pentecost time, here are all of them in unison preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in the midst of that same hostile Roman government, the same hostile Sanhedrin, the same potentially hostile Jewish people that did not really want to believe it, and yet 5,000 of those Jewish men accepted it.

Now someone may say, well, that did not actually occur. There were not 5,000 people there on that Pentecost day. Look, if that was the case, if it did not occur, you know that the Book of Acts was written by the Gentile physician Luke around 62 AD and no one disputes that. That is about 30 years away from the event. By that time there still would have been thousands of people who were there at that memorial Pentecost day when all these things took place. They could have been witness to it. Luke was leaving himself open for criticism all over the place if what he wrote was not essentially true.

The Jews who were converted that day were normal Jews, I suppose, and they expected the Messiah to come on a white horse and not to die. But they were convinced, all 5,000 of them, that Jesus actually rose from the dead. They were convinced primarily for one reason only: they were convinced that the apostles were convinced that the resurrection had taken place. 8 Psychologically looking at it, can you imagine people 50 days before being in a sense of dejection, depression, emotionally drained, fearing for their lives, and running to the wind. Then 50 days later, such a transformation; they are just exactly the opposite!

If that had happened to one man you might say he is a schizophrenic individual. You might imagine that with our modern terms. You might even consider it with two people or three, saying there is collusion going on. But all 12? Or all 120? Plus the 500 that also saw Him from the dead? Listen, to be able to convince people who saw Him hanging on the tree some 50 days before that He is now alive from the dead, and the number comes to 5,000 people, well, it is against all rules of psychology to imagine that these people convincing them were a bunch of psychotic nuts. It just does not work. Those people must have realized that something was really going on there!

The Spread of Christianity

What definitely did happen was this. We know from Roman records that the Gospel spread out from Jerusalem and went into Samaria. It went into Asia Minor. It went into areas like that all over the Roman empire. I am going a little ahead of myself here, but it is interesting that even Roman records of the middle of the 1st century AD were talking already about Christians, or people believing in Christ, in Rome and in pretty powerful positions there already.

A little later on, though we might say that the Christian truth was corrupted, and that was quite true as far as doctrine was concerned, it was still based upon the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. Even the Roman Catholic Church or the Greek Catholic Church, though they may have doctrines later on that were diverse from the original teachings, nevertheless, the central teaching of Christ’s resurrection was the basis of the existence of those churches. The whole Roman world was taken over by Christianity or by the belief in the resurrection from the dead in a short 300 years after the event. That means it reached out and embraced the philosophers of the heathen, as well as all types of other people. That is an historical fact no one can deny!

They were talking about Christ crucified and resurrected all over the Roman Empire by the end of the 1st century. This notorious fact is something that no historian can deny. There must have been some substantial truth to all of that to begin with, or you could not convince the world, which was hostile to the belief anyway, in such a short time, unless it was true.

No Longer Afraid

This testimony, this 3rd point that men would be willing to die for the reliability for the records that they are giving is an important one because 50 days later those people at Pentecost saw the apostles in an entirely different attitude than they were before. They were standing up not even fearing for their lives. Their lives were in jeopardy but they were up there and doing just exactly as a strong man would do with God’s Holy Spirit backing them up, and 5,000 people were converted as a result of it. Then more people were later converted, and the belief spread all around the various areas of the world.

So we know that the apostle Peter was crucified later on for his belief and though some people went away from certain doctrinal points of view a little later, they may not have been witness to Christ’s resurrection. For example Demas went away (compare Colossians 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:10), and we have Diotrophes going away (3 John 1:9). You take the original apostles, put them all together. Did a single one of those people, though they might have disagreed with one another later on (I don’t know, maybe they did), did any of them ever recant and say that Jesus Christ was not resurrected from the dead? They could not say that because that would have been a lie; it would have been against all of their psychological makeup to be able to do such a thing.

Peter died for his faith. Every single apostle save one, and that was John, as far as we know, died for his faith that he had as a martyr. Maybe one or two might be willing to die for a faith kind of a thing, but not all of them. Not only were the apostles doing that, what about Stephen, the first Christian martyr? What about many, many other people who were willing to lay down their lives for Christ in the early 1st century when many of these witnesses were around? Now we come to the 4th point.

Point 4: Hostile Converts

People who were hostile to the event believed it, or they could not overthrow it. This is the fourth point to prove reliability of any type of historical document. The New Testament is an historical document compiled from eyewitness accounts.

What about people who were hostile to the belief from the very beginning? I can give you one man in particular, and I will talk about others a little bit later on. One man was hostile to the belief, and he was not an “ignorant” fisherman, if you want to call them ignorant. He was not a tax collector. This man who was hostile to it was the number one Jewish scholar at the time, at least potentially. He was a young man at the time. He was given the responsibility to suppress the belief because of his hostility, and absolutely he was convinced that Jesus had not been resurrected from the dead. He had been given the opportunity of rounding up these Christians who believed in that resurrection, putting them to the sword. His intellectual mind was so strong in understanding the Law that he used every argument you could possibly imagine from the Old Testament to show the unreliability of the apostles’ witness that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

This man could appropriately be called the Adolf Eichmann of his day, for Christianity in the first years of its existence. He went around rounding up believers all over the place to put them in prison and to kill them. This man of course was Saul who finally became the apostle Paul. This man was an intellectual. He was one of the top scholars in Jerusalem at the time. He was under authority from the High Priest to round up these people. 9 The High Priest was the top man and Saul had letters from him to go and round up these people. So the apostle Paul was certainly a man of very high esteem in the eyes of the Jews.

There was no one more convinced of the non-resurrection of Christ than he. No one was more determined to disprove it than he was. Paul had many of the elders in the Jewish nation behind him. All of them had their theological arguments against Christ’s resurrection. He certainly did as well. The practical evidences that the apostles had, they just put that aside because they were more interested in the theological side, I am sure, than anything else.

So we find that Saul (later Paul) was vehemently against the practical evidence and his mind was closed to any acceptance of it. He had those letters of the High Priest in his hands, going about rounding up Christians. He thought he had full authority from God and from everybody else to do it.

On the road to Damascus one day about noontime, you know his story, he saw Christ Jesus. Christ said, “Saul, Saul, why persecute you me? it is hard for you to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14 and 9:4–5). You know the story from then on. The apostle Paul asked who it was. It was Jesus Christ:

“And I [Paul] said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you persecute.’”

At that moment scales came over his eyes and he was blind. He was taken to Damascus and Ananias prayed over him and the scales came off. It seems like the theological evidences he had amassed from the Old Testament, with his great intellect, instead of just showing that the resurrection was not true, from then on he was able to see just what a fool he had been even from Old Testament evidence. He began to see the practical side of it.

Maybe you might say it is unfortunate in one way that the apostle Paul had to see a vision of Jesus Christ in order to be convinced. Maybe so, but that was what Jesus Christ gave to him. He gave Saul a vision that he was never going to forget. When he saw that side of it, the intellectual side which he had looked into, the Old Testament became very clear to him. Paul from then on had an uncompromising acceptance of Jesus’ resurrection.

This proof of the resurrection to the apostle Paul was overwhelming. What did he do? He began to preach Jesus instantly. Do we need to rehearse the life of the apostle Paul from then on? He was told in Acts 17:6 that he and his associates “have turned the world upside down” by their effective teaching throughout Asia Minor, throughout Greece, and finally even to Rome. Who was mainly responsible for getting the Roman Empire to see that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead? It was really the apostle Paul. He went about with all types of authority to be able to do it.

The apostle Paul’s letters have been accepted by the highest of the critical scholars. At least 10 of the letters have been stated to be authentic from the apostle Paul. They have to be, at least 10 of them. We know that all 14 of them are, but if you are a hypercritic you would still have to say at least 10 of them are without any doubt whatsoever. And of those 10, do you know what Paul says? He speaks about the resurrection of Christ — His crucifixion and His resurrection. That was his main theme.

This man continued to preach and to teach throughout the Roman Empire going through all types of trauma, constantly in jeopardy of his life. He mentions some of the things that he had to go through. These are reliable records that no one could possibly deny. He was willing to give up his life time and time again, and finally he did pay for his beliefs by having his head chopped off in the city of Rome (Eusebius, Church History, 2.25). 10

He had his head chopped off because that was the “easy” way to die according to the Romans. If you were not a Roman citizen, crucifixion was a good way to die. They had other methods, but if you were a Roman citizen as the apostle Paul was, they gave you the benefit of not having any pain, so what they did was to cut your head off. At least they did not think there was any pain, nobody ever came back to tell you, but that was supposed to be the most humane way of dying.

Do you know what the apostle Paul did? To the last moment he put his head out on the block and his head was chopped off. Not only did he do that, but the other apostles did the same thing. Never once did he deny or give in on that central truth, nor did anybody else who had seen Jesus Christ after His resurrection from the dead. It was a fact to them. The interesting thing about it is that Paul was hostile to it at first. That is the point I want to make here.

There are other people who were hostile as well. Many of the Jews would have been. The Romans certainly would have been as well. They brought up all kinds of trumped up charges to show that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, like He was stolen away by His disciples, they bribed the guards, and things like that (Matthew 27:62–66 and 28:13). It is interesting that while all of that was circulating amongst certain of the Jews, and the apostle Paul was in on that right at the first, the apostles kept on teaching Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead in jeopardy of their lives. All of them, once the apostle Paul was converted as well, all of them, some of them even hostile, were converted and continued in the faith until they died. 11

By the middle of the 1st century the truth of the resurrection, the major fact of Christianity, was so entrenched in many people’s minds throughout the Roman Empire that it was to be a going concern from then on. This convincing took place within one generation after the events actually occurred in Jerusalem.

And remember, the events took place at Passover time when there were hundreds of thousands there, or at Pentecost time when the apostles got up and preached Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul also went at feast times with thousands of people around, and he got up and preached Jesus Christ. They never gave in once. It would be psychologically impossible for all types of people to get together and have collusion on a matter of this nature where they were telling people to believe in Jesus Christ with their very lives — not only their lives but the lives of their wives and their children, telling people to believe in this when they themselves say in other Scriptures to never tell a lie, always tell the truth.

One kind of a psychotic nut might be able to do that and get away with it. Maybe two, maybe three, but hundreds? It is impossible. Our minds will not accept that because we ourselves are human beings and we know how people act. Yes, there are nuts in the world, but not like this, that could change the Roman empire upside down in one short generation, as the apostle Paul was accused of doing. Paul said:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

This is really a challenge to the Corinthians if you want to put it this way, that if they wanted to go there, if there were still almost all of those 500 left, then go to Jerusalem and look them up, and see what they say. The other apostles are over there, ask them too. Ask them all. If they all say He was resurrected and He wasn’t, this is the greatest deception that any man has ever seen in the history of the world, when people are willing to lay down their lives for this deception. It is utterly impossible to believe that what was happening in the 1st century, so entrenched in Roman history, and in events which cannot be overthrown, it is impossible to believe that the central truths of it happen to be a lie. The central truths have to be right. Someone might argue a point here and there, but not that the resurrection of Christ is false.

It is provable by the actions of people who saw Him after He was resurrected, by antagonists who did not want to believe it but finally did, the thousands of witnesses who saw Him crucified, the thousands of witnesses that saw the apostles with vigor at the day of Pentecost preaching so that 5,000 of them were converted as a result, and over 500 people seeing Him at one time, and other occasions.

These things are just amassed together so that it becomes impossible to deny. At least one thing you can say without any doubt. You can be convinced, and any Cal Tech scientist would say this, or anyone over at UCLA in the Department of Psychology would have to admit this, that at least the people (because we have so much evidence about the spread of Christianity, it went so fast in the 1st century), the people who began to believe in the resurrection of Christ, believed people whom they thought also believed it in the heart. You have to accept that. These people were willing to give up their lives, not only their own, but the lives of their wives and their children to be able to support that belief. That you cannot get away from.

The Central Truth

So what is the central truth of Christianity? Christ gave it to us. It is not the other miracles He did while He was up in Galilee, though they are substantiated. It is not anything else that you can think of that Christ did. In some ways it is not even the fulfilling of prophecy in certain places, even though that is also important, but the number one central truth is the proof of the resurrection of Jesus Himself.

The records are contemporaneous. That is quite true. There were many, many witnesses to support it, even hostile witnesses to support it. And people who saw it were willing to give up their lives unto death, which many did, to be able to substantiate that truth. Brethren it is psychologically impossible for us to deny that one central truth of Christianity.

We should not look on His death so much from that point of view, even though it is important. Let us look on His life. Let us look at where He is now. Let us understand and believe that He was resurrected from the dead, just exactly as the Father said.

That is a guarantee, so Christ said, and the rest of the apostles, that YOU can be resurrected too, to have eternal life with Him. I think that is a beautiful thing. This is where the essence of Christianity lies. So from now on let us be thinking about Him alive from the dead. By Him being alive, His resurrection has vouched for the entire New Testament and the Old Testament. Brethren the Holy Scriptures are inspired, but the Scriptures are inspired because of the One who made it in the first place, Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead, the most provable event in the history of the world by the most reliable methods that you can imagine. We do have a resurrected Savior.

Ernest L Martin, 1974
Edited by David Sielaff, November 2007


1 See my article “Christ and Messiah” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d051001.htm and Dr. Martin’s article “Types of Messiah in the Old Testament” at http://www.askelm.com/prophecy/p060601.htm. His article “The Seven Miracles of John” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d020901.htm tell of a specific set of 7 miracles in the Gospel of John that relate to the Messiahship of Jesus.  DWS

2 See Dr. Martin’s articles “The History and of Miracles (and their Failure)” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d050202.htm, “The Corinthian Experience” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d031101.htm, and “How to Interpret Biblical Signs” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d980210.htmDWS

3 For the story of the feeding of the 5,000 see Matthew 14:13–21. The account of the feeding of the 4,000 is in Matthew 15:32–39. For Jesus’ comments on both these events see Matthew 16:5–12.  DWS

4 “Matthew” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915, 1st Edition, from Dr. Stanley Morris, IBT, 1997:

“Many hold, in accordance with old tradition, that it was originally written in Hebrew …, and afterwards translated into Greek, either by Matthew himself or by some person unknown. This theory, though earnestly maintained by able critics, we cannot see any ground for adopting. From the first this Gospel in Greek was received as of authority in the Church. There is nothing in it to show that it is a translation. Though Matthew wrote mainly for the Jews, yet they were everywhere familiar with the Greek language. The same reasons which would have suggested the necessity of a translation into Greek would have led the evangelist to write in Greek at first. … this Gospel has never been found in any other form than that in which we now possess it.” 

DWS

5 Just two example verses:

Colossians 3:9: “Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds.”
 
James 3:14: “But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.”  DWS

6 Mark’s Gospel related Peter’s account of events. The other Gospel writers mention Peter’s participation in all the events Dr. Martin cites, see Matthew 26:50–54; Mark 14:46–47; Luke 22:36–38, 47–51; and John 18:10–11.  DWS

7 Most who came great distances for the Passover stayed through the time of Pentecost.  DWS

8 And they themselves were familiar with many of the ancillary events surrounding the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost times.  DWS

9 The High Priest was the equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury if I were in England. We do not have any ecclesiastical head over here in America.  ELM

10 In Eusebius, The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary, trans. by Paul Maier (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), p. 85.  DWS

11 A number of priests became believers. One would expect them to be hostile and deny Christ’s resurrection. Acts 6:7:

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  DWS

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