The Resurrection: Theologians, So-Called
Did Jesus mean it literally? Perhaps He referred only to the great resurrection, in which, by the way, the Pharisees fully believed. Regardless, the religious leaders could take no chances on His followers stealing the dead body and faking a resurrection. Guards were posted and the tomb was sealed (Matthew 27:62-66). Both proved useless.
Those same guards were bribed (with “large money,” Matthew says) to perjure themselves by claiming that just such a conspiracy had indeed happened, that the dead body had been stolen by zealots and a fraud was about to be perpetrated (Matthew 28:11-15).
Liberal theologians have relentlessly continued the attack for two thousand years. Some have claimed that the resurrection was not physical but communal. In other words, they would have us believe that Jesus’ followers wanted so badly for Him to be alive that in the space between them they just made it so. These “theologians,” so-called, claim that Jesus’ resurrection was not bodily but cultural and emotional, a shared hope so desperately held among them that it became “real” in their hearts, but not in His body.
In 1967, one writer, Hugh Schonfield, even went so far as to endorse the testimony of the bribed guards in a book called The Passover Plot. According to Schonfield, the vinegar-soaked sponge lifted to Jesus on the cross was actually filled with a drug powerful enough to simulate death. He further claimed that Joseph of Arimathea rescued Jesus before He died, later resuscitating Him for “post-resurrection” appearances.
Why all the desperate effort to discredit the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Because His resurrection is all our hope, the ground of all true faith in Christ. He died and rose again. He did not nearly die, He did not rise from the dead merely in the minds of His followers or in the hearts and affections of His friends. His resurrection was not an idea or a wish. It is a fact. His scars still visible, He rose physically.
The grave could not hold Him. Death had been done to death, and that is the hope of our faith. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul labeled the resurrection as the gospel in which we stand and by which we also are saved.
Christ died for our sins…and…was buried, and that he rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Paul goes on to frame the importance of the resurrection in no uncertain terms.
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ now risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith I vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:12-9)
The scriptures to which Paul refers are the Old Testament, of course, which certainly tied resurrection to the Messiah. Later in that same chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul even references both the Feast of First Fruits and Genesis.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Testified to by many eyewitnesses, the resurrection of Christ was not some addendum to the story added by medieval monks five hundred years later. The resurrection was written of in all the Gospels in substantial, complementary detail.
Furthermore, the fierce opposition from both religious and political leadership lends weight to the veracity of the resurrection. If Jesus’ resurrection was but a fraud put forward by blue-collar conspirators from Galilee, then it is doubtful that such substantial bribes would have been paid after high-level negotiations were carried out between the high priest and the governor himself.
Such powerful forces of darkness are not marshaled to oppose bizarre myths unlikely to outlive the perpetrators themselves. Indeed, modern books claiming that the resurrection was a hoax perpetrated by the misguided or the power hungry are part of the satanic effort to hide hell’s greatest defeat behind a cloud of accusation. It will not work. Pilate could not seal the tomb. The soldiers could not guard it. The Sanhedrin could not pay enough bribes to stop the news of Jesus’ resurrection from spreading. And faithless unbelievers cannot write enough evil books to put Him back in the tomb.
The greatest of all the doctrines of Christianity quickly became its sweetest greeting and response. Shared among believers, sometimes whispered to each other in settings that could have meant death, the encoded words spoke of a hope, a shared eternity that neither Rome nor religious opposition could destroy.
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.
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