e. Refutations from Enemies
The most astounding fact about Jesus’ resurrection is that nowhere can be found (in the Bible and in first history historical records) of his enemies refuting Jesus’ resurrection! We can find only two kinds of reactions from his enemies:
– In Acts 2 Peter proclaims boldly Acts 2:32 “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
The Jews opposed to his teaching did not refute him! They were silent! Why? The evidence of the empty tomb was there for any inhabitant of Jerusalem to examine. Indeed no body was there to be found. Although the Roman seal had been broken on the tomb, no one had been arrested. Although Jesus’ body had disappeared while under Roman guard, these guards had not undergone their death sentence! Moreover no one was able to produce Jesus’ body!
– The apostle Paul had been arrested in Caesarea because of complaints from the chief priests and Jewish leaders. Festus investigating the matter discovered: Acts 25:7 “When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.”
Why were the Jews irritated with Paul?
Acts 25:19-20 “They had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.”
The Jews could not explain the empty tomb, nor could Festus. He declared to King Agrippa: Acts 25:20 “I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges.”
Investigation would have been easy if a body could have been produced!
The silence of Jesus’ enemies speaks louder than the message preached by the Christians. “The silence of the Jews is as significant as the speech of the Christians.”
Faitbairn, A.M. Studies in the Life of Christ. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1896, p. 357.
-As we have just seen Paul was accused by Jews and brought to justice to Festus and eventually to King Agrippa. Paul proclaimed: Acts 26:22-23 “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
Paul was mocked for his beliefs. Acts 26:24-28 “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
They didn’t believe him. His message was clear (see Acts 26:23): Jesus is risen from the dead! No evidence to the contrary was ever presented as a rebuttal!
Paul challenged King Agrippa and Festus with evidence: Acts 26:26 “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” However they mocked him.
– The apostle Paul had the opportunity to testify about the risen Christ to the Athenians. Some of them mocked him as well: Acts 17:32-34 “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed.”
However some believed him.
f. Christian Church
i. The gospel message
The Christian church’s central message has always been: Acts 10:39-40 “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.”
Its foundation is based on Jesus’ resurrection. Any mortal blow to that foundation, like producing Jesus’ body, would have annihilated the church. Instead it strove and spread around the world. Who would have thought that the message, preached by a bunch of unlearned men like Peter and James, about a criminal (dying on a cross was reserved only to criminals) who died and rose again would survive the Roman Empire. Moreover it not only survived the Roman Empire, it also penetrated it and spread itself in all four corners of the world!
Nowadays even our calendars are based on the fact that Jesus came to this world: B.C. for before Christ and A.D. for Anno Domini, which is the Latin for “In the year of the Lord”. Several of the Western holidays are based on events that happened in Jesus’ life: Christmas, commemorating Jesus’ birth and Easter, commemorating Jesus’ death on the cross. However, no remnants of the Roman Empire are being celebrated in this world any longer. What used to be a world power is now forgotten. Not so concerning the gospel message!
Although the Christian church suffered much persecution from the Jews and the Romans, as well from many other cultures, it continued to strive. Nor torture, nor death could stop the message that Jesus has indeed been risen from the grave.
ii. Key changes in the Jewish social structures
At its beginning, the early church constituted solely of Jews, as its origins started in Jerusalem. Later, the message was spread to non-Jews as well, as directed by God’s Holy Spirit. (See Acts 10).
We have to remember that the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks and Romans had persecuted the Jews for more than 700 years. Jews had been captives in these nations. What’s remarkable is that Jews still exist today! No other nation survived the consequences of such deportations and exile. Where are the Babylonians, Hittites and Ammonites today? They all disappeared from the surface of this world, as they were amalgamated with other nations. Not so with Jews!
Why not? To the Jews social structures that gave them their national identity was extremely important to them. They would make sure that these social structures would be taught to their children, would be reinforced in their Shabbat services and in their rituals. Had they not done so, they would have been assimilated into other cultures as well, like the Babylonians and Perizzites did.
To Jews these social structures were of utmost importance, as they believed God Himself entrusted these to them! For a Jew to abandon any of them, he/she would risk his/her soul to be damned to hell after death.
Now the appearance of Jesus in their midst where he taught for 3 years, followed by his crucifixion (30 000 other Jews died of the same death in that time period) and his resurrection changes all that. 40 days after Jesus’ crucifixion, tens of thousands of Jews had become his followers and were willing to give up or alter all five of the Jewish social structures that were so important to them! No other historical event has ever caused such an uproar in Jewish circles!
Which social structures are we talking about?
1. Animal sacrifices
Since their origin dating as far back as Moses and Abraham, Jews offered animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. Lev 14:19-20 “Then the priest is to sacrifice the sin offering and make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. After that, the priest shall slaughter the burnt offering and offer it on the altar, together with the grain offering, and make atonement for him, and he will be clean.”
After Jesus’ death, these Jewish follower of his stopped offering animal sacrifices!
Heb 7:27 “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”
Heb 9:12-14 “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
Heb 10:10 “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
2. The Law
Jews emphasized the importance of keeping the laws that had been conveyed to them through Moses. This is what separated them from pagan nations. Josh 22:5 “Be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you…”
However after Jesus’ death, these Jewish followers proclaim that one is not saved by merely keeping the law.
Rom 3:20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Rom 3:27-29 “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
3. The Sabbath or Shabbat
The Sabbath was crucial to the Jews. Ex 31:16-17 “The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.”
After Jesus’ resurrection notice how these Christian Jewish followers meet on Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ resurrection!
”He appeared in life, and demonstrated Himself in His baptism; how He that appeared is both God and man; He suffered for us by Thy permission, and died, and rose again by Thy power: on which account we solemnly assemble to celebrate the feast of the resurrection on the Lord’s day, and rejoice on account of Him who has conquered death, and has brought life and immortality to light.”
Didache (90 AD) Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book XXXVI, A PRAYER COMMEMORATIVE OF THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST, AND HIS VARIOUS PROVIDENCE TO THE SAINTS.
“If, therefore, they who were under the older dispensation came into a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord’s day, on which day also our life rose through him and through his death, which certain deny, through which mystery we have received faith (and through this abide, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher), 9:2 how shall we be able to live apart from him, of whom even the prophets were disciples, and waited for him in the spirit as their teacher? And on this account, he whom they rightly expected, when he came, raised them from the dead.”
Ignatius (107 AD), The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians chapter 9:1 and 2.
(For more information on this go to http://www.sabbaths.org/meeting.html)
Jews always believed in one God. Deut 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Jewish Christians preached a different kind of monotheism, where God the Father, God the Son and God’s Holy Spirit are one.
Matt 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Eph 4:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Jews could not accept such a notion, even less that a man could be man and God at the same time. No wonder they wanted to stone Jesus while he was alive!
John 10:25-33 “Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
5. The Jewish Messiah
Jews believed that their Messiah would be a political leader who would obliterate the Roman armies. Even Jesus’ disciples could not understand why Jesus declared he would be put to death. It didn’t match their theology of a victorious Messiah!
Matt 17:22-23 “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.”
However after his resurrection, they preached of a Messiah who suffered and died for the sins of this world.
Rom 4:25 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
1 Cor 15:3-4 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
How could one explain that in such short period of time tens of thousands of Jews were willing to give up and/or alter these social structures that used to be so important to them?
There is only one explanation: They had seen the resurrected Jesus!
iii. Christian Sacraments
Matt 26:26-29 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
1 Cor 11:23-26 “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
The Lord’s Supper commemorates His death. How sad one might think. However notice how Christians were partaking to this sacrament:
Acts 2:46-47 “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
They were rejoicing of the fact that Jesus had died for them. What could have been a ceremony of unbearable pain was instead celebrated with great joy. Why? Because Jesus did not remain in the tomb. He rose up on the third day! Jesus was alive!
Col 2:12 “Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Rom 6:1-7 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
Once someone accepted Jesus as his/her Lord and Saviour and repented of his/her sins that person was baptized.
Baptism symbolized clearly, from the texts that we just read, an identification between the repented sinner and the death and resurrection of Jesus. When he/she goes down under the water he proclaims that he/she died of his/her old nature. When he/she rises out of the water, he/she identifies with the new resurrection life of Christ, who is the one who makes this new life possible.
In other words, baptism celebrates Jesus’ death and resurrection and we can be part of this resurrection life!
Jesus’ death and resurrection is clearly the corner stone of the Christian faith.
Question 1: What proofs do we have that Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead? What argument is most convincing to you?
Question 2: Why were the refutations by Jesus’ enemies futile?
Question 3: Did some people see Jesus after his resurrection? If yes, how many people as a minimum saw him?
Question 4: Why would tens of thousands of Jews be willing to change and alter important social structures of theirs, especially since they had been kept for millennia?