Who Is Jesus?
Nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus asked the Pharisees, "What do you think of Christ? Whose Son is He?" (Matthew 22:42). This question perplexed many people. The general public was confused about Christ. Some thought He was Jeremiah the prophet, while others thought He was Elijah. King Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. For the most part, Jesus was thought to be the Messiah's forerunner—a man with God-given miraculous powers—not the incarnation of God Himself.Back to Top
Jesus Is God
Throughout history much of the world has wanted, in the same way, to speak highly of Jesus without recognizing His deity and lordship.
- Pontius Pilate said, "I find no guilt in this man" (Luke 23:4).
- Napoleon said, "I know men, and Jesus was no mere man."
- Strauss, the German rationalist, said Jesus was the "highest model of religion."
- John Stuart Mill said Jesus was "the guide of humanity."
- The French atheist Renanas said Jesus was "the greatest among the sons of men."
- Theodore Parker said Jesus was "a youth with God in his heart."
- Robert Owens said Jesus was "the irreproachable one."
But all of these descriptions and titles fall short of identifying Jesus as He fully is—the Messiah, God in human flesh.
People are still confused about Jesus to this day. In fact, more people profess faith in Jesus, without really knowing who He is, than ever before. We all must come to grips with the same questions that Pilate faced, "What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:22).
C.S. Lewis wrote, "You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool; you can spit at Him and kill Him for a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
Jesus is part of the Trinity.
Jesus never became God. He was God before He was born, and He remained God after He became man. His deity was pre-human, pre-Bethlehem, and pre-Mary.
Once on earth, Jesus never laid aside His deity; He only veiled His deity for a time. We know this because Jesus momentarily revealed His glory in transfiguration on the mount with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1–5). At that time, He shone like the sun. (The real miracle was that He didn't shine all of the time!)
"Infinite and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arm. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's son."
Jesus was virgin-born.
The Virgin Birth is not an optional belief; rather it is essential to a relationship with God and belief in His Word.
It would, no doubt, have been possible for God to send Jesus to earth as a complete, yet sinless, human being without parents. But it would have been hard for us to see how Jesus could be fully human. On the other hand, it would have been possible for God to have Jesus come into the world with two human parents, with His full divine nature somehow united to His human nature. But then it would be hard for us to believe Jesus was indeed God.
Those who say that the Virgin Birth is impossible are essentially denying God's Word and God's ability to do miracles when and where He chooses.
Jesus forgave sins.
Forgiveness of sins is reserved for God alone. In Luke 5, a crippled man is lowered through the roof before Jesus; and He says, "Your sins are forgiven you." (Luke 5:20). After seeing this, the Pharisees rightly asserted, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (They got no argument from Jesus).
Jesus replied, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But so you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins, [He said to the crippled man] Arise, take up your bed and go to your house'" (Luke 5:23).
Jesus made a clear claim to deity.
Jesus said, "Unless you believe that 'I AM'…you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). If we believe that He is God in human form, then we must also accept the process God used to bring Him to us. Jesus claimed to be God on many occasions. For instance, we know that Jesus, on many occasions, accepted worship. But Jesus also said that worship was reserved for God alone (Matthew 4:10).
Scripture also tells us that the Pharisees "sought to kill Him because He…said God was His father, continually making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). So without a doubt, Jesus claimed to be and was God.
Although He was God, Jesus accepted all the limitations of humanity, except sin itself. Jesus came from the presence of angels to a cave filled with animals, from the throne of Heaven to a "feeding trough." He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl. Jesus entered this world as a helpless human baby unable to do more than lay still, stare, wriggle, and coo. He needed to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child.
Jesus Was Human
It is difficult for us to comprehend that Jesus, who possessed divine attributes such as omniscience and omnipotence, still went through normal human development. Imagine Jesus learning to read and write! He had the limitations of humanity, but not the limitations that sin brings in one's life.
As a man, Jesus became tired, hungry, and lonely. We are told that when He went to Samaria, ultimately to meet the woman at the well, He was weary (John 4:6). When on the cross, no doubt extremely dehydrated, He said, "I thirst!" (John 19:28). After He fasted for forty days in the wilderness, we read that He was hungry (Matthew 4:2).
Jesus experienced physical weakness.
When He was on the way to Calvary, bearing His cross, He fell beneath its weight. A man named Simon from Cyrene had the great privilege of carrying it a short distance for Him (Matthew 27:32). Finally Christ died like a man in the sense that His body ceased to function just as ours does when we die.
Jesus had a human mind.
From the Bible, it appears that He went through a learning process. "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him…And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men...They found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:40, 52, 46).
Jesus experienced human emotions.
Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus said, "Now my soul is troubled…" (John 12:27). In the story of Lazarus, we see Jesus express a broad range of human emotion. "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him?' He asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. Jesus wept" (John 11:33–35).
We are called to resemble Christ in our actions (Philippians 2:5). To have Christ's attitude is not some mystical, unreachable goal. It is profoundly practical and applicable. We must simply seek the will of God above everything else. We must keep God's will foremost in our lives. Christians must empty themselves, laying aside ambition and personal glory to find God's formula for true success!
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Jesus Was Fully God and Fully Man
It is a mystery to us how, in Jesus Christ, humanity and deity are co-mingled. Jesus is clearly God and claimed to be on many occasions (Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:6–8). Yet, He allowed Himself to be humbled, voluntarily experiencing human limitations.
The account of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples exemplifies that He simultaneously succumbed to human limitations and possessed God's omnipotence. What could be more human than our Lord's sleep of total exhaustion in the boat, and what could be more divine than His stilling of the winds and the waves? (Mark 4:36–41).
Jesus also faced temptation, as we do. Some people wonder if Jesus was truly vulnerable to temptation. This is a very important question, for the answer clarifies that incredible and never-to-be-repeated blending of deity and humanity in one person (Luke 4:1–13).
Although Jesus could have met Satan's offers to sin with the full force of His deity, Jesus chose to meet Satan in meekness, withholding His vast supernatural power. He did not banish His tempter or remove Himself from temptation's presence. He displayed power under constraint. To be sure, Jesus felt the presence and pressure of temptation like we do, but remember that Jesus did not share our sinful nature, so the necessary element for temptation to succeed was not present (Hebrews 4:15, James 1:14).
Jesus left us an example to follow as we face temptation. You may think that His temptations were not true, since, as God in the flesh, He did not really have the capacity to fall. But let me ask you this, Have you ever been tempted and resisted? Or do you believe the adage, "The only way to get rid of temptation is to give into it"? Is temptation only real if you give in to it? Certainly not; it merely becomes resisted temptation. The presence and the pressure of temptation are quite real, regardless of our response.
It was important for Jesus to be tempted. His temptation experience shows us that our God cares for us and can fully understand the pressures we face (Hebrew 2:1–7). Because He has faced the devil's taunts and resisted, He is able to aid us, who are likewise tested. His example also teaches us how to effectively resist temptations. He showed us how to use God's written word to defend ourselves against the devil.Back to Top
Why Did Jesus Come?
When Adam sinned in the garden, he forfeited paradise and this world to Satan, who became the god of this world (Ephesians 2:2). Satan received dominion over the planet and filled it with gross perversions. He is primarily responsible for the injustice, the violence, and the rebellion against God. He has infiltrated politics, the media, and even religion through the hearts of evil people.
When sin entered the world, God in His holiness could no longer fellowship with His creation. But God made provision for His beloved children. He sent Jesus to reverse the effects of humankind's sinful choice, and restore humankind to relationship with God. Jesus came to purchase back that which was forfeited in the garden. He came to bridge the gap between the holy God and sinful man (Matthew 20:28; Revelation 5:2, 6–13; John 3:16).
For this reason, all attempts to reform this world, culture, and society through education, politics, and economics are futile. The only change that can have any effect is a change of heart brought about by God when one follows Jesus Christ.
It is not true that "all truth is God's truth," because much of what we call "truth" is not God's truth.
Satan, in his temptation, offered Jesus an opportunity to bypass the cross and still possess the earth. That is precisely why Jesus responded to him so sharply. Satan could not offer Jesus the true deed to the earth. Only the "Lamb who had been slain" would be worthy to claim lordship. The crucifixion was not a rude interruption to the otherwise wonderful life of a great humanitarian or moral teacher. It was Jesus' goal and destination from the very beginning of time.
Jesus spoke of the cross frequently and even gave vivid detail of His impending death. He knew exactly what was about to happen in His life. Yet Jesus resisted the temptation and chose to go to the cross in our place. This was Christ's act of love (John 2:19–23; Mark 10:32–34). God's just nature required that the penalty due to us for our sins would be paid. At the cross of Calvary, God's justice and love met (Romans 3:25–26).Back to Top
Jesus Is the Only Way to God
Some people say, "All roads lead to God." This is a dangerous falsehood. The Bible clearly teaches that the sacrifice of Jesus was the only way to settle the issue of sin
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus had complete foreknowledge of what lay ahead, including the betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, and the fact that He would be largely abandoned for a time by His own disciples. He also knew well about the cruel and horrendous physical pain He was about to endure—the torturous whipping and the merciless crucifixion.
Probably what gave Him the most pain, though, was His foreknowledge that all of the sin of the world would be dumped on Him on the cross. This, for Jesus, was a fate worse than death, for He had never in any capacity sinned, and now He would suffer and be apart from the Father.
In this prayer, Jesus did say, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me…" But the fact of the matter is, if the salvation of humankind was to be purchased, it was not possible to avoid the cross. Even after His resurrection, Jesus again pointed out that it was necessary for Him to "suffer these things and enter into His glory" (Luke 24:25).Back to Top
Jesus' Ministry on Earth
Jesus' life also had purpose along the way to the cross. He served humankind in ministry. He healed the broken-hearted. He freed the oppressed. He returned sight to the blind and He delivered the captive.
Jesus is still ministering to humankind in these ways today from His heavenly throne. He cares for those who have lost loved ones, whose hearts ache from separation, and whose souls throb with the pain of failure. He lifts up those crushed with life, those who are shattered, broken down, and mistreated. The same Jesus who walked this earth, who calmed the seas with a word, also loves you.
Likewise He opens our eyes to our sins, shows us God's glory, and delivers us from evil. This Jesus, who was crucified, bore the sins of the world and rose from the dead, wants to forgive you of your sins right now.
God dropped a lifeline to you in the form of Jesus Christ. Take hold of Him. Receive His love and forgiveness. He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."Back to Top
Why Did Jesus Die?
What is the single most important event in human history? Without question, it is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the cross of Christ…
- God and humankind were reconciled.
- God's righteous demands were satisfied.
- What was lost by humankind in the Garden of Eden was regained.
- Satan and his minions were dealt a crippling blow.
- Our salvation was purchased
We can never talk about Christ's sacrifice on the cross too much, or contemplate it too often. Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper for this very reason, saying, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).
- He died so that you could enter into a close fellowship with Him.
- He died so that you would no longer live an empty, lonely, purposeless life.
- He died so that you could be forgiven and free of an ever-present guilt.
- He died so that you could know that there is life beyond the grave in Heaven for you.
Never underestimate the priceless gift God gave you at the cross of Calvary.Back to Top
Christ's Death and Resurrection: The Cornerstone of Our Faith
Scripture tells us that the foundation of Christianity rests in Christ's death and resurrection:And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (1 Corinthians 15:14–17).
The good news it that Jesus did die and rise again—and because of this, we know that there is truly life beyond the grave!
The originator of a new religion came to the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perlgord and complained that he could not make any converts. "What would you suggest I do?" he asked. "I should recommend," said Talleyrand, "that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day."
Christ's crucifixion is humankind at its worst.
As the incredible story of the Crucifixion begins, we find that people had treated Jesus—God in human form—in the worst way possible:
- When the One by whom the world was made set foot on this earth, "the world did not know Him" (John 1:10).
- The eyes that sin had blinded saw no beauty in Jesus that He should be desired (Isaiah 53:2).
- At His birth, there was no room in the inn, which foreshadowed the treatment He was to receive at the hands of men (Luke 2:7).
- Shortly after His birth and throughout His ministry, His enemies tried to do away with Him, but "His hour had not come" (Matthew 2:13).
Christ's crucifixion is the ultimate sacrifice.
Finally, the hour of Christ's death had come (John 12:23). Jesus had earlier told His disciples, "No one takes [My Life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (John 10:18).
Jesus' road to Calvary began with a decision in Gethsemane. While Jesus briefly displayed His power to His enemies in the Garden of Gethsemane (see John 18:5), He chose to lay aside His divine privilege and willingly go to His death. In this way, He demonstrated His great love for us (John 15:13).
The crucifixion of Christ
Upon His arrest, Jesus was brought to the High Priest, then passed over to Pilate, then sent to Herod, and then returned to Pilate. Because of the unique charges brought against Jesus, He had become a political problem for the ruling government. In spite of being declared innocent of all the charges brought against Him, He was still blindfolded, ridiculed, and beaten, enduring the cruel scourging of the Roman whip. Ultimately, He was sentenced to death on a Roman cross.
The actual act of crucifixion was incredibly barbaric and torturous. Crucifixion was not simply a means of execution, but also an instrument of incredible pain, anguish, and humiliation. This method of execution fulfilled a number of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, or Savior of the Jews:
- The Messiah's hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16).
- The Messiah would have wounds on His hands (Zechariah 13:6).
- The Messiah would become a "curse" for us by being "hung on a tree" (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).
In the Old Covenant, an animal would act as a scapegoat for the atonement of the people's sins, but it failed to get to the root of the problem. Jesus—the perfect, sinless Son of God—became the final atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2).
Though Jesus was God, He was still human with human emotions. He clearly had the ability to feel real physical pain. Interestingly, when Jesus was offered the "sour wine mixed with gall" to drink in order to numb the pain, He refused it (Matthew 27:34). Earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane, He had contemplated a way to lessen the suffering: "Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done'"(Matthew 26:42).
Jesus chose to experience the full extent of His pain for us. In his article, "The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View," Dr. Truman Davis gives this description of Jesus during His final hours on the cross: "He experiences hours of limitless pain, cycles of joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, and searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins—a deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over...the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues. The tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air" (Arizona Medicine, Vol. 22, March 1965, pp. 183–187).
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The Seven Statements Jesus Made from the Cross
In incredible agony, Jesus made seven statements from the cross:
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."
In Luke 23:34, Jesus made this statement following the people's comment in Matthew 27:42, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save."
"Today you will be with Me in Paradise."
Found in Luke 23:43, Jesus uttered these hopeful words in response to the one thief beside Him who had come to his senses and asked Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom" (Luke 23:42).
"Woman, behold your son...[Son,] behold your mother."
Jesus spoke these endearing words in John 19:26–27 to two of the closest people in His life: His mother, Mary, and His disciple John. Even in death, He refused to think only of Himself.
At this point, Scripture records that there was "darkness over all the land" (Matthew 27:45). The Greek word for "land" could be translated "earth," indicating the entire world. Several historical and extra-biblical sources suggest that such a universal darkness did occur. In fact, history relates that in a report from Pilate to Emperor Tiberius, Pilate assumes the Emperor's knowledge of a certain widespread darkness, even mentioning that it took place from 12:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon.
"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
These words are found in Matthew 27:46. The horrifying presence of sin surrounded Jesus at this dreaded moment: "And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). To be forsaken of God was much more of a source of anguish to Jesus than to anyone else because He was absolutely holy. Never for one moment during His entire earthly life did He ever step outside of intimate fellowship with His Father. Yet, this was something the Father had to do in the life of the Son so that we could come back into the relationship He desired to have with us from the beginning—the relationship that had been forfeited back in the Garden.
Scripture repeatedly speaks of this moment:
- "He shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11).
- "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- "[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree..." (1 Peter 2:24).
Imagine for a moment how hard this must have been for the Father. He loved His Son! Jesus never had a thought that was out of harmony with the Father's mind. His Son never spent a moment out of His conscious presence. He had never committed one sin!
We are given a glimpse of this kind of sacrifice when God told Abraham, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering [to Me]" (Genesis 22:2).
We don't know what was said between Abraham and Isaac in those final moments before Abraham raised the knife over his son. Nor do we know the details of what happened over those three hours when Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself.
Abraham took the knife in his hand, but was stopped in a last-minute reprieve. God the Father, however, did not stop at the last moment. God Himself took the great knife of His own fierce wrath against sin and brought it upon His Son.
Why did this have to happen? Jesus had to go through this ordeal because of the unscalable wall between God and man. God in all His holiness could not look at sin: "[He is] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness." (Habakkuk 1:13). As a result, man, in all his wickedness, could not look at God. So the holy Father had to turn His face and pour His wrath upon His own Son. This was the greatest sacrifice Jesus could have possibly made, yet He had to feel forsaken of God because that is the necessary consequence of sin.
In John 19:28, Jesus said, "I thirst!" In saying this, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy, "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21).
"It is finished!"
In John 19:30, we find this "battle cry of the cross." Never again would He experience pain or be in the hands of Satan. Never again would He, even for a moment, be forsaken of God. He had completed what He had been sent to do (John 5:36; John 17:4).
The word finished is translated in many ways…
- It is made an end of.
- It is paid.
- It is performed.
- It is accomplished.
What was made an end of? Our sins and the guilt that accompanied them.
What was paid? The price of redemption.
What was performed? The righteous requirements of the law.
What was accomplished? The work the Father had given Jesus to do.
Finished was Satan's stronghold on humanity. "He has made [you] alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:13–14).
"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
These final words (see Luke 23:46) signified the restoration of the relationship between the Father and the Son, but they also ushered in the new relationship we can now have with the Father. Immediately the veil in the temple, a visible reminder of the barrier between God and man, was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). In essence, God was saying, "Through the death of my Son, you now have total access into My presence" (see Hebrews 10:19).
What kept Jesus going when His disciples deserted Him, when the crowds screamed "Crucify Him!", when He underwent the horrible ordeal of taking on all of the sins of the world? You did! Paul said, "[He] loved me and gave Himself for me…" (Galatians 2:20).
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Why Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
Four hundred years before the birth of Christ, the renowned Greek philosopher Socrates drank the poison hemlock and lay down to die. His friends asked, "Shall we live again?" The dying philosopher could only reply, "I hope so, but no man can know."
In the oldest book of the Bible, Job asks the question, "If a man dies, does he go on living?" This is where the resurrection of Jesus Christ comes in. It gives us the absolute hope that there is life beyond the grave.
Some may say, "You don't have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead to be a Christian," but don't you believe them! Christ's resurrection from the dead is not a peripheral issue. It is foundational to our faith. In fact, it sets the Christian faith apart from all others. The Apostle Paul strongly emphasizes this point, saying, "If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17).Back to Top
Countering Common Arguments against the Resurrection
For that reason, it's easy to see why people have attempted to "explain away" the resurrection of Jesus. Let's examine the most common arguments people give as to why the Resurrection did not take place:
The "swoon" theory
Premise: Jesus did not actually die, but He went into a deep coma (or "swoon") from the severe pain and trauma of the Crucifixion. However, in the cool atmosphere of the tomb, He "revived" and was somehow able to get out of the strips of cloth wrapped tightly around His body and appear to His disciples.
Rebuttal: Remember, the Roman guards were actually the first to report Jesus' death (John 19:33–37). They were experts at execution and would be put to death themselves if they allowed a condemned man to escape death. They were so certain that Jesus was dead, they did not even bother to break His legs. And when the spear they thrust into Jesus' side brought forth blood and water, they had final proof of His death, for this occurs when the heart stops beating.
Also, for the "swoon" theory to be valid, Jesus would have had to survive massive loss of blood through the scourging, the nail wounds, and the spear thrust. In addition, in this impossibly weakened condition…
- He would have had to endure 40 hours without food or drink, manage to unwrap Himself from His grave clothes, and roll away the massive stone closing the tomb—and then convince His followers that He had risen from the dead.
- He would have had to travel countless miles in that condition to make many appearances to His disciples over a period of 40 days.
- He would have had to delude the disciples into thinking that He could simply appear in a room without the use of a door.
This theory is so absurd, it really doesn't deserve to be dignified with a response. Yet there are some who would conveniently hang their doubt on it.
The "no burial" theory
Premise: Jesus was never put in the tomb to begin with. Instead, He was thrown into a mass grave for criminals, according to Roman custom.
Rebuttal: If this were true, neither the Jewish leaders or the Roman soldiers would have bothered to seal the tomb knowing His body was not in there (Matthew 27:62–66). Moreover, to disprove Jesus' resurrection, they would only have had to retrieve the body and put it on display.
The "mass hallucination" theory
Premise: Everyone who claimed to see the risen Lord was hallucinating out of an earnest desire to see Jesus alive again.
Rebuttal: Jesus' disciples had not expected to see Him alive again (Mark 16:10–11). It came as a complete and total shock to them. Scripture also tells us that 500 people saw Him on one occasion alone.
Ironically, the nonbelievers initially had more faith in the words of Jesus than His own disciples. The chief priests and Pharisees came to see Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore, command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.' So the last deception will be worse than the first" (Matthew 27:63–64). They remembered Jesus' words concerning the Resurrection, while the disciples had apparently forgotten them!
The "stolen body" theory
Premise: Jesus' disciples took His body in order to fulfill Jesus' words (see Matthew 27:64). According to Scripture, this story goes back to the day the guards who had stood watch at Jesus' tomb told the chief priests what had transpired. The chief priests bribed the guards, telling them to spread this story instead of what they had witnessed (Matthew 28:11–15).
Rebuttal: Jesus' friends could not have taken His body because they had left the scene, convinced that He was dead. When the women reported Jesus' resurrection to the eleven apostles and other believers in Jerusalem, "their words seemed…like idle tales, and they did not believe them" (Luke 24:11). The apostles had no reason to counterfeit Jesus' resurrection since they did not even believe it themselves. How could it be that the very men who fled for their lives, while Jesus was still alive, could suddenly muster the courage and ingenuity to steal the body from a guarded tomb, and then boldly start preaching and teaching about a Jesus they knew was dead?
Christ's resurrection is not a lie.
If the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a lie, how could all of the apostles—with the exception of one man—go to an early grave saying so? According to church history and tradition, all of them died the death of a martyr.
- Peter: In Rome, Peter was severely scourged and then crucified. He asked to be crucified upside down, not upright like Jesus.
- Andrew (Brother of Peter): Andrew was martyred in Patrae, Achaia. It was there that he was bound to an x-shaped cross and crucified. He preached to his persecutors until he died.
- James (Son of Zebedee): James was the first of the apostles to be martyred. His death is the only martyrdom of the apostles mentioned in the New Testament (see Acts 12:2). Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, was responsible for beheading James.
- John (Brother of James): Tradition tells us John was put in a caldron of boiling oil, but the oil mysteriously did no harm to John. Afterward, he was banished to Patmos. Though John was sentenced to death because of his faith, he was the only apostle who did not die for his belief in the risen Christ.
- Philip: This apostle was martyred in Helipolis. He was scourged and later crucified.
- Bartholomew (Nathanael): According to the "Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew," he was put in a sack and thrown into the sea. Another tradition states he was crucified upside down after being flayed alive.
- Thomas: This apostle of Christ was run through the body with a lance in India.
- Matthew (Levi): Matthew was slain in distant Ethiopia.
- James (Son of Alphaeus): The apostle James was stoned and was then beaten to death with a club.
- Judas, Son of James (Thaddaeus): Church tradition is not clear on the martyrdom of this apostle. One tradition states he was crucified, while another tradition claims he was shot to death with arrows.
- Simon (the Zealot): Tradition states Simon was crucified in Britain after preaching the gospel there.
If his life would have been spared, don't you think at least one of them would have suddenly exposed such a lie under threat of death? Of course he would have! But they did not expose it because it was not a lie—it was truth.
Jesus' enemies would not have stolen His body because His resurrection was the very thing they were trying to prevent. It would have defeated their own purposes to do so. If they had taken it, they would have produced it to prove that He was no longer alive.
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What Happened after the Cross and before the Resurrection?
Did Jesus go to Hell?
This is an interesting and important question. Those in the so-called "Faith Movement" have a version of this that is highly unscriptural. A leading teacher in the "Faith Movement," Frederick K.C. Price, has said, "Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on the cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into Hell itself and to serve time in Hell separated from God...Satan and all his demons thought that they had Him bound, and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of Hell to serve our sentence" (Hanegraaff, Hank. Christianity in Crisis. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1993. p. 163). This is not what the Bible tells us. Jesus did not go to Hell.
Jesus did have some important work to do after the cross and before the Resurrection. Scripture tells us, "Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.' (Now this, 'He ascended'—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)" (Ephesians 4:8–10).
To understand exactly where Jesus went, look at the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). This was not simply a parable, for Jesus used an actual human name. Thus, we can conclude that Jesus was giving us an actual glimpse of life beyond the grave. The story describes a place called Hades, where there was both a place of comfort and torment. In the Old Covenant, when a person died, he went to Hades. If the person was a believer, he went to the place of comfort in the bosom of Abraham (Hebrews 11:13). The nonbeliever, on the other hand, went to the place of torment, which was separated from the place of comfort by a great chasm.
When Jesus died, He descended to Hades into Abraham's bosom, the place of comfort, and proclaimed liberty to those who had died in faith. He then took those believers with Him (along with the thief on the cross) to Heaven, where all believers now go immediately upon death.
To this day, the nonbeliever will go to the torment compartment of Hades, to await the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:13–15: "The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire."
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What Was Jesus' Resurrected Body Like?
Jesus' resurrected body gives us an idea of what our resurrected bodies will be like.
He had a body of flesh and bone.
"Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, 'Peace to you.' But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have'" (Luke 24:37–39).
His body could be touched and felt.
"Suddenly Jesus met them. 'Greetings,' He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him" (Matthew 28:9 NIV). "Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing'" (John 20:27).
He ate before their eyes.
"While they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, 'Have you any food here?'" (Luke 24:41).
He was recognized by the disciples and His followers.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus at first because "their eyes were restrained," but once their eyes were opened, they did (Luke 24:13–35). Mary Magdalene at the Garden Tomb suddenly recognized Jesus by the tone of His voice (John 20:16).
He appeared in the same body which the nails had been driven into.
"Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side" (John 20:19–20a). Scripture tells us that when Jesus comes again, He will still bear those marks (see Zechariah 12:10).
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What Does Jesus' Resurrection Mean to Us?
We will be resurrected.
Jesus' resurrection assures us of our future resurrection. Since Jesus both died and rose again, we shall be raised like Him: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:20–22 NIV).
We will have glorified bodies.
Our new, glorified bodies will be in some degree like Jesus after His resurrection (1 John 3:2–3). To what extent, we cannot be certain. Yet, if they were to be totally like His, it would mean that…
- We would be clearly recognizable.
- We would not be limited by the normal constraints of life.
- We would still be "touchable" (not disembodied spirits).
- We would still eat!
We will be judged.
Jesus' resurrection is proof of a future judgment. "For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31 NIV). We have all seen people commit wrongs against others in this life, but this reminds us that God's justice will ultimately prevail.
We can live Christ-like lives.
Jesus' resurrection gives us power to live the Christian life. "And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you" (Romans 8:11).
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ™. NIV ™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by biblical, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.