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11 April 2017

The greatest day in history: a magnificent triumph (part 2)

Richard Blake (LT pics 2016) Richard Blake Church member
Resurrection (© donut_diva, used under a Creative Commons licence)

Far from hiding away now, the disciples were eager to declare their message – whether to huge crowds of thousands, to private individuals, to Jews and Romans, Greeks or Ethiopians – and so to the ends of the earth.

This is part 2 of a three-part series examining the historical evidence which supports the Biblical account of the Easter story. Read part 1 here and look out for part 3 later this week.

The first Christians could never be silenced by intimidation or beatings, and even executions did not stop the movement. An early martyr Stephen claimed to have seen the risen triumphant Jesus waiting in heaven to receive his faithful dying servant.[1] New witnesses arose to take the place of the fallen.

So what had happened? What can account for this change around? Might Jesus’s followers, keen to keep his memory alive, have made up some claim that he had returned to life and met with them? And then stuck to this invented tale through thick and thin, dying for a story they had made up? That stretches credulity to breaking point.

Rather more believable would be the suggestion that they really believed in the resurrection but must have been mistaken. But in that case who invented the story or caused the confusion and persuaded the disciples of its truth?

The New Testament accounts show that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the first day of the week. It was a well-known, identifiable site for it belonged to a prominent wealthy politician. The authorities, Jewish and Roman, wanted to destroy the new belief which openly accused them of putting to death the Lord of Glory, none other than God in human form – a frightening charge indeed. But they never produced the body. They most certainly would have done if they could. If they had, the whole Christian faith would have collapsed at once as a delusion and fraud. The authorities could not show the corpse of Jesus because they didn’t have it. Who might have taken it? Grave robbers? They would have had to breach a military cordon first. If later they had broken cover and told the truth, they could have expected massive rewards. But no such story emerged.

Garden tomb, Jerusalem (© upyernoz, used under a Creative Commons licence)

The Gospel account of the Resurrection was believed because no one had evidence to contradict it; instead there were numerous accounts from followers of Jesus that they had seen him alive from the dead, triumphantly magnificent – accounts from women, fishermen, Jesus’s half-brothers who never believed in him before his crucifixion, individuals, a pair, small groups, a sizeable crowd of 500, and finally the sceptical brilliant hostile rabbi, Saul from Tarsus.[2]

So powerfully did these people believe in the Resurrection that they were fired with enthusiastic courage to proclaim it. And all in the teeth of opposition – the hostility of their own culture, the suspicions of Roman government, and eventually full-blown persecution. Many died for the cause.[3]


This is part 2 of a three-part series about The greatest day in history:


Footnotes:
  1. Acts 7:55–56.
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:3–8.
  3. ‘He [Jesus] shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’ (Hebrews 2:14–15)

Picture credits:

  • Resurrection: © donut_diva, used under a Creative Commons licence.
  • Garden tomb: © upyernoz, used under a Creative Commons licence

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