Houston Graduate School of Theology

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Historical Jesus's Resurrection

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By Dr. Doug Kennard, Professor Christian Scripture, Houston Graduate School of Theology In the Old Testament, the afterlife is described as in sheol. Perhaps the only clear mention of personal resurrection in the OT is that of Dan 12:2 where the dead will awake from their sleep to either everlasting life or everlasting contempt.[1] Belief in resurrection hope is common in early Judaism.[2]

Jesus predicted His death and resurrection on the third day (Matt 12:40; 16:21; 17:9, 12, 22–23; 20:18-19; 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; Luke 9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:32; 24:7; John 2:19). Paul claims that Jesus’s resurrection, as occurring on the third day, fulfills the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:4). No OT text claims the timing of third-day resurrection of the Messiah, but the sentiment grew, among Pharisaic early Judaism, that began to see the biblical text describe the general resurrection and even a Messianic resurrection on the third day.[3] However, Paul may have meant that the fact of resurrection fulfills Scripture (maybe Isa 53:11-12; Ps 16:8-11), and Jesus’s resurrection happened to occur on the third day, as Jesus predicted (John 2:18-22). The disciples did not always understand what Jesus was saying until after He resurrected (Luke 9:44).

Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56). Pilate gave the priests a guard to seal the tomb, but, early on the first day of the week, a severe earthquake and a shining angel moved the stone away (Matt 28:1-17; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; Gos. Peter 34-39). The guards fell down catatonic and then reported to the chief priests what had happened. The chief priests set up the conspiracy theory that while the guards slept, the disciples stole the body, which would mean a death sentence for the Roman guards for sleeping on duty. However, the guards were paid and protected.

Two angels, looking like men, announced to the women at the grave that Jesus had risen, so they should not be afraid (Matt 28:5-17; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). The angel showed the women where Jesus had been laid. An angel told Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women to tell Peter and the disciples. The women departed quickly with fear and great joy to tell the disciples. The disciples did not believe the women at first. John outran Peter to the tomb but did not go in. Simon Peter arrived and went into the tomb and beheld the linen wrappings lying there and the face cloth rolled up by itself. The view of the wrappings in the tomb was compelling for John to believe. No one would have taken the body and left the wrappings; Jesus must have resurrected!

Jesus then met the women and reassured them not to be afraid (John 20:11-18; possibly Mark 16:9; Gos. Bartholomew; Chrysostom, Hom. Jo. 86.2). He urged Mary Magdalene not to keep clinging to Him because He had not ascended to the Father. That is, Jesus was still here so she did not have to hold onto Him as if she was losing Him again immediately in ascension. Then Jesus urged them to tell the brethren that He would meet them in Galilee. The women worshipped Jesus.

Jesus appeared to some disciples, including Simon, on the Emmaus road, indicating from Scriptures that He must resurrect (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus also appeared to ten disciples (Luke 24:36-46; John 20:11-23). Jesus ate some broiled fish before them. He explained that He had predicted His death and resurrection, and so had Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, which all must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44; 1 Cor 15:4). Thomas had been skeptical, having not been with them during this visit when they told him that they had seen the Lord. However, eight days later, Jesus came again and convinced Thomas, offering his wounds to demonstrate the corporeality of His resurrection body (John 20:24-31). The gospel proclamations throughout Acts record that the disciples had seen the risen Lord.[4]

Jesus then met up with the disciples by the Sea of Galilee (Luke 24:36-46; John 21:1-25). Peter and the fishermen had gone fishing, but, with Jesus prompting, the catch was too great to haul into the boat with one hundred fifty three fish (John 21:3-6, 11). At that point, John recognized that it was Jesus, so Peter jumped overboard and swam the hundred yards to shore. Jesus fed them breakfast.

Jesus also appeared to His brother James, who had earlier been resistant (1 Cor. 15:7; Matt 12:46-47; Mark 3:32; Luke 8:19-21).

These Galilee resurrection appearances continued to occur, because, in one instance, only seven were present, while, in another instance, there may have been eleven, and another which Paul indicates had five hundred at one time (Matt 28:7-20; John 20:24-26; 21:2; Acts 1:2-13; 1 Cor 15:6). Eventually, the whole of the new twelve saw Jesus raised including Mathias (Acts 1:22-23 as well as Justus; 1 Cor. 15:5). After reassuring them that He would be with the disciples until the end of the age, Jesus lifted His hands to bless them and then bodily ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Two angels told the disciples that Jesus would return in the same manner as they had watched Him go. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy and continued to praise God in the Temple.

After Jesus had ascended, He appeared to Paul also (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:9-18; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; Gal 1:11-17). About mid-day a bright light shown around Saul of Tarsus, blinding him; so he fell to the ground, but was commissioned to bring forgiveness to the Gentiles.

Fifty percent of Luke’s prediction statements about Jesus’s resurrection mention that they fulfill Scripture. For example, Luke’s and John’s resurrection narratives add this emphasis of fulfilling the prophets (Luke 24:25-26, 46; John 20:9-10). Furthermore, in Paul’s defense before King Agrippa, Jesus’s resurrection is declared as fulfilling the prophets (Acts 26:22-23, 27). Paul’s writing also expressed resurrection as fulfilling Scripture (1 Cor 15:3-4; Rom 1:2-4).

The resurrection is an event within which God vindicates Jesus, declaring Him to be the Son of God, or King (Acts 2:25-32; Rom 1:4). Luke considered the resurrection appearances by Jesus Christ to be definitive proofs (τεκμηρίοις, Acts 1:3) that Jesus is the resurrected King, Who will bring in His kingdom. As such, the resurrection becomes a central tenet for the statement of the gospel.

[1] Baldwin, Daniel, 204-6; Wright, The Resurrection, 108-10.

[2] 1 En. 58.3; 62.14-16; 91.10; 92.2; 108.11-14; 2 Bar.[Syriac] 30.1-5; 2 Macc 7.9-14, 22-23; 14.43-46; 4 Macc 7.19; 16.25; 4 Ezra 7.32; Sib. Or. 4.180; T. of Ben. 10.6-8; T. Levi 18; T. Jud. 24; Ps. Sol. 3.11-12; 4Q521 frag. 2, col. 2.1-13; frags. 7 and 5, col. 2.1-7; 1QH 14.29-35; 19.10-14; Targum Songs 8.5; Josephus, Ant. 17.152-4; 18.1.3-5; J.W. 2.151-3; 2.8.14; Ap. 2.217-8.

[3] T. of Hos. 6:2 interprets reviving Israel on the third day; Tg. Jon. on Isa 27:12f. describes salvation on the third day, implying resurrection); there is also mention of third day resurrection in Midrash Rab. on Gen 22:4; 42:18; Exod 19:16; Josh 2:16; Jonah 2:1; Ezra 8:32.

[4] Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:10; 10:41; 13:31; 17:31; 22:7-13; 23:6-8; 26:13-19; Josephus, Ant. 18.64; Nicene Creed; Old Romans Creed; Apostles Creed.