Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the resurrection of Christ. Last week, we looked at five naturalistic explanations of the resurrection by unbelievers. Today, I also want to look at proofs for the resurrection. Luke says that there are many convincing proofs of the resurrection (Acts. 1:3). Not only can we prove that Jesus rose from the dead, Luke says that there are MANY proofs of his resurrection (not just one or two) and the proofs are strong. The Greek word that he uses is proofs indicates the strongest type of legal evidence. In today’s language, it would mean “beyond a reasonable doubt”. There was solid evidence for the resurrection. Unfortunately, many Christians today do not know what the proofs are.
Evidence for the Resurrection
What is the evidence of the resurrection? Let me share with you three proofs of the resurrection that no critic can deny.
Proof One – Jesus’ Tomb was Empty
The first proof of the resurrection was the empty tomb. It is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. The tomb was empty on Easter morning. That is a fact that no critic can deny. If anyone does deny it, ask them, Where is the body of Jesus? It has never been found. Opponents of Christianity have not really denied this. They simply said that the disciples must have stolen the body (Jewish response) while the guards were sleeping (Roman response).
Proof Two – The Early Church Believed Jesus Rose from the Dead
This is a fact that no critic can deny. Even the most skeptical NT scholar has to admit that the early church believed that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, not only did they believe it, they were willing to risk their entire life on it. They were willing to die and be martyred for this belief.
The question then becomes, Where did this faith come from? How did the early Christians get this strong faith in the resurrection of Jesus? How did then come to believe this? It did not come from contemporary Judaism. One could say that the early Christians must have been very gullible but, as we have seen, this was not the case. Some of them were very skeptical (Thomas) and slow to believe the message (Apostles).
Proof Three – People Claimed to See Jesus
This is a fact which no critic can deny. The earliest Christians had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the resurrected Christ. This is the primary proof of the resurrection in the NT. What convinced the early Christians was NOT the empty tomb. What convinced them were the appearances.
The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus
1) Jesus appeared multiple times to people
He did not just appear once. There are eleven appearances of Jesus within a forty day time period between his resurrection and ascension. Jesus appeared five times on Easter Sunday. Five of those eleven appearances took place on Easter Sunday. Some people saw Jesus more than once. Peter saw him six times.
2) Jesus appeared in different geographic locations
He appeared in the city of Jerusalem. He appeared in Emmaus (seven miles away). He also appeared in Galilee (eighty miles to the north).
3) He appeared to men and women
Jesus appeared to both genders. The women saw him first. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.
4) He appeared to individuals and groups of people
Jesus appeared to individuals but most of His appearances were to groups of people. He appeared to both large groups and small groups of people.
5) He appeared to both friends and enemies.
Jesus didn’t just appear to his friends either. He appeared to Paul, who was at the time an enemy of Christians and a persecutor of the church (after the forty days, appearance number twelve). He even appeared to one skeptic – Thomas. Thomas was a complete skeptic, as we will see.
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene. Then he appearance to the rest of the women on their way back from the tomb. He appeared to Peter and the two from Emmaus in the afternoon and he appeared to the ten Apostles in John 20. There were only ten apostles there. Judas was not with them, because he was dead and Thomas was not there either. We don’t know where he was.
There is a very important lesson from this. When you are not with God’s people (don’t come to church or skip small group), you miss out. Thomas was not with the Apostles. Jesus appeared to all of them and he missed it. Jesus appeared five times on Easter Sunday and then did not appear to anyone for a whole week. Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the Apostles again and this time Thomas was with them (John 20:26-29). What was Thomas’ reaction to all of the appearances? He doubted that they took place. It is easy to criticize Thomas here but we have to remember that all of the other Apostles had the same reaction (Mark 16:9-14).
Is Doubting Thomas a Good Role Model?
Thomas did not believe the other apostles that Jesus rose from the dead and said that he would not believe them until he saw the risen Jesus himself. In fact, what he actually said was, ““I will not believe unless I stick my finger in the hole in his hand and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). We call him Doubting Thomas today. Is Thomas a good role model for us today? Is anyone here a Thomas? How many think that Thomas was right to doubt? Is it okay to be a doubter? How many think that Thomas was wrong to doubt? Both are actually right.
Thomas is one of the most fascinating of the Apostles. He had some good qualities. Many things about Thomas are commendable. There are some things about Thomas that I like. In some ways, we should be like Thomas.
Positive Aspects of Doubting Thomas
1) He didn’t just jump to conclusions.
2) He didn’t just follow the crowd.
3) He wasn’t gullible or naive (Prov.14:15).
4) He thought for himself. He was an independent thinker.
5) He used reason and logic, rather than just emotions.
6) He demanded proof. Faith had to be based on evidence.
7) He asked questions, rather than just taking everything at face-value.
It’s good to ask questions, as long as they are genuine questions. Some ask questions, not to get information, but just to argue. The Bible does speak of “foolish questions” (II Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9). Questions by themself are good, not bad. We are commanded to love God with our mind as well as with our heart.
However, some things about Thomas are not good. There are some things about Thomas that I do not like.
Negative Aspects of Doubting Thomas
1) Thomas was not just a doubter. He was an UNBELIEVER
That is what Jesus called him. He said, “Do not be unbelieving but believing” (20:27). Was Thomas a believer? You say, of course he was. He was an apostle but Judas was an apostle and he was not a believer but at this point he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
2) Thomas was NOT really open-minded
He is not a sincere seeker. He was not open to all of the evidence. He had all kinds of evidence staring him in the face. He had the TESTIMONY of the women, the nine other Apostles who had seen Jesus and he had the FACT of the empty tomb but he refused to believe it, just like many people today who do not believe despite an abundance of evidence.
We have atheists who do not believe in God, although the evidence is overwhelming. John and Peter at least checked out the women’s story of the empty tomb. They ran to the tomb to check it out. Thomas refuses to believe, despite the evidence. It did not matter how many apostles told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he didn’t believe. “If Jesus really rose from the dead, how come I haven’t seen him? I am an Apostle too”.
3) Thomas refused to believe unless he has PHYSICAL PROOF
He demanded proof and the proof had to be visual and tactile. He wanted to both see Jesus and touch Jesus himself before he would believe he rose from the dead. There are millions of people in the world today just like Thomas. There are many scientists today who are unbelievers because they based everything on empiricism. Anything that cannot be seen, measured and empirically analyzed is rejected.
Belief in God is rejected, because it can be proven empirically. Belief in heaven and hell is also rejected. Belief that we all have a soul inside us is also rejected. Thomas has become the patron saint of skeptics (cf. John 4:48). How many of us believe in Jesus? All of us. How many of us have actually seen Jesus? None of us.
4) He TESTED God
If God is really up there, let him do this or that and then I will believe”. In Greek he uses a double negative, which is the way to emphasize things. It is like he said, “There is no way in the world that I will believe he rose from the dead, unless I stick my finger in the hole in his hand and put my hand in his side.” “I won’t believe in God unless he heals me of my cancer”. Usually God does not respond to things like this but in this case he did. The Bible tells us not to do this. It says, “You shalt not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7).
Despite his unbelief, Jesus appears to Thomas and doubting Thomas became confessing Thomas (John 20:28). He appeared to him a second time in John 21 and a third time in Acts 1, so he had at least three appearances of Jesus. Incidentally, we learn something else here about the resurrected body of Christ. Jesus had a glorified body.
He was able to walk right through a locked door (John 20:19, 26 Luke 24:36). His body could appear and disappear (Luke 24:31) but he was not always bright and shining like the sun. Here Mary is talking right to him and mistakes him for the gardener, just as the two disciples walking to Emmaus mistook Jesus for just another traveler. His body also retains its scars (cf. Revelation 5:6). He still had the wound in his hands and side. Our resurrected body will not retain our scars. It will be perfect.
Proof Four – Lives Were Changed
This is also a fact that no critic can deny. What turned Peter from a coward, who fled at the scene of the arrest, denied Christ and trembled at the presence of a servant girl into a bold preacher of the gospel who was eventually martyred for his faith? What turned the Apostle Paul from the great persecutor of the church to a great preacher, missionary, author of two-thirds of the NT and eventually a martyr. The good thing about giving your testimony about how God has completely changed and transformed your life after salvation is that no one can argue with it. People can argue with this passage or that passage but they can’t argue with a changed life.