By Raymond Taouk
The resurrection of Christ from the dead by His own power is by far the greatest historical event as it brought about the great split in human history. Our Modern day dating is based on the amount of years that have passed since the birth of Christ and this would not be so if He had not risen from the dead as a confirmation of testimony he gave concerning His divine authority. Christ coming, death and resurrection has split human History in half. Truly He was not like other men.
If Christ had not risen from the dead there would be no compelling reason to suppose that He was more that a ethical teacher or philosopher or fraud than other men. This is because Christ himself affirmed that he would rise from the dead as a final confirmation of his doctrine. Now if the resurrection of Christ were to be abandoned no Gospel or Epistle would remain in the New Testament. That Christ had risen from the dead by His own power was the message that the believers of the New Testament period were concerned to make known. They never for a moment imagined that there could be a Gospel apart from the resurrection. If this message of the resurrection, which the early Christians made known to the world, was actually true, if Jesus of Nazareth did rise again from the dead, then we are face to face with surely the greatest historical fact in human history. For no other historical personage has such a claim ever been made.
Science and the resurection
Many have a vague notion of what science is all about. Science realize on material facts, it can go beyond this. Science does not even explain "why" things happen (i.e. why do we have gravity?) it seeks only explain what takes place in a given serious of chemical reactions (not always giving the correct answer!).
While many are overawed by the smattering of scientific learning which we happen to posses. But those of us who learn the actual findings of the foremost physicists of the present day cease to be so confident; we discover that there is an enormous range of phenomena for which physical science is unable to offer the sketchiest explanation. The true scientific method to anything is to approach any given problem with a completely open mind, examining all the relevant evidence and all the possible objections and then reaching whatever conclusions may be clearly indicated. In like manner, all the evidence in favor of the resurrections should be examined and all possible objections should be minutely considered.
Evidence may be direct or indirect. With any fact of history, the evidence must necessarily be indirect because we cannot bee absolutely certain about any event in the past but really on evidence to confirm its happening. For example we know that George III became King of England in 1760 but there is no person alive who was living and is still alive now to verify it. It is a historical fact but a fact dependent on the credibility of historical witnesses. So many witnesses in so many different places attest to the fact of George III becoming king in 1760 and there are so many corroborative details, that to question it would be absurd to say the least.
The truth or falsity of an historical event can only be ascertained by collecting all the evidence, analyzing it, weighing it, pondering upon it and finally deciding upon the balance of probability whether it happened or not.
The life and Death of Jesus Christ
That Jesus of Nazareth was born and lived and preached a doctrine is not disputed by any, so it would be vain to expound on this. However that Christ actually died as is attested to in the scriptures are historical certain and is confirm by great number of both Christian and Non Christian sources. For example, Jesus could not have survived crucifixion. Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate that possibility. Roman law even laid the death penalty on any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including bungling a crucifixion. It was never done.
We have number non-Christian sources that attest to the fact of Christ's death. For example In the year 93-94 AD we have the testimony of the well known Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities (18.3.3. sub sub sections 63-64) who explicitly states:
"At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah [some believe this part is a later Christian interpolation]. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out."
Another Jewish source that confirms the same is the Jewish Talmud (complete about 220 AD), which although it speaks of Christ in offensive terms, nevertheless remains as a witness to the fact of his death of the cross under Pontius Pilate. Amongst the Pagan Sources both St. Justin Martyr (Apol. I, 35,48) and Tertullian (Apol. V, 21) affirm in their works that in the Roman archives there existed two official reports from Pontius Pilate, telling of Christ's condemnation and crucifixion.
We also have the existing testimony of a number of great Roman historians. Tacitus, a Roman historian who lived under the Roman Emperor Trajan, writing in his Annales which he published between the year 115 and 117 AD states that "Chrestus (that Christ), the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius" (Annal, XV, 44).
The event of Christ death is scripture is confirmed by the fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus' legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals (John 19:31-33), means that the soldier was sure Jesus was dead. Breaking the legs hastened the death so that the corpse could be taken down before the sabbath (John5: 31). St. John the Evangelist, who was an eyewitness, certified that he saw blood and water come from Jesus' pierced heart (John 19:34-35). This shows that Jesus' lungs had collapsed and he had died of asphyxiation. Any medical expert can vouch for this. St. John however was only one witness amidst a great number such as the Centurion, several soldiers, The Blessed Virgin Mary, the pious woman etc. In fact Polite received testimony of the death of Christ from the Centurion (Mark 15:39 - 45). The survival of Christ was physically impossible. The Scourging, crowning with thorns, carrying of the cross, three hours agony thereon, the opening of His side. What is more is that the body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed (John 19:38-42).
The Resurrection of Christ and its importance
"I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth, and will behold all that sleep, and will enlighten all that hope in the lord" - Ecclus 25:45 Christ resurrections gives us hope in the future resurrection and certitude far greater than we previously had of life beyond the grave. Christ himself tells us this saying "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live" (John 11:25). St. Peter also proclaims "God raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God" (1 Peter 1:21).
The Scriptures tell us that it was Christ appearance to His apostle that caused them to believe in His resurrection as prior to this they all believed him to be dead. In fact even after His resurrection the Apostle Thomas protested openly that he refused to believe unless he saw the risen Christ himself, and so Christ did appear to him in the flesh affirming to him "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed" (John 20:29).
From this we come to understand that the resurrection of Christ was an objective fact of History, which began to transform first the lives of those whom Christ had associated himself with and then those who came to know him through their testimony.
The resurrection of Our Redeemer from the dead is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith. Christ was to use this resurrection of His as a confirmation of His divine mission and so it's not only a historical fact but also this fact contains a whole message of its own. In order to seal His testimony Christ foretold to the apostles that His resurrection would be a sure sign of His divine mission saying ""The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill him, and the third day He shall rise again" again "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . But He spoke of the temple of His body" (John 2:19).
St. Paul understood well that Christ resurrection was essential to the testimony he gave, so essential that to eliminate it would be to eliminate the very message of Christ. Hence Paul declares "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain . . . But now Christ is now risen from the dead" (1Cor 15:14).
St. Paul does not hesitate to affirm that if the resurrection is denied then so to is the whole Christian message. Its is essential to doctrine of Christ, namely that whole doctrine of the economy of salvation. In fact this truth was also understood well by even the Pharisees who mention to Pilate that Christ had declared that on the third day he would rise again and asked for a guard to watch the sepulcher (Matt 27:65). But their precautions served only to confirm the truth of the resurrection "for an Angel of the Lord descended from heaven: And coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it: and his countenance was lightening, and his raiment as snow" (Matt 28:2). The guards, we are told, ere terror-stricken at what they saw, and became as dead me, but recovering from their first alarm, they hastened in the city and told the chief priests what they had seen. But the priests, after taking counsel with the ancients, bribed them to say that, while they were asleep, the disciples came by night and stole the body away. They gave them a great sum of money to spread the story in the city, and promise to save them from the anger of Pilate if word of this reached his ears. And they did as they were commanded (Matt 28).
Now could anything be more trivial than to bring in as witnesses of a fact than men who own up that it was done while they were asleep? If they were asleep, how could they see the disciples come and take the body away? How could the disciples pass them, and break the seal, and roll away the stone, which we are told was very great, without disturbing the soldiers? Why were the guards not punished for neglecting their duty, which for such an offense as sleeping on duty was punishable by death! The timid disciples who, when our lord was arrested in the garden of Gethesemani, left Him and fled, were not the men to embark on such a bold and hopeless venture.
This resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ had long ago been foretold by the prophets prior to his coming as the Prophet David declares " Psalm 15:10 " Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption." - Christ rose without experiencing any corruption of the body" and Isaias speaking of the Messiah to come declares "In that day, the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the gentiles shall beseech: and his sepulcher shall be glorious".
On the third day after His death, therefore , Christ, by His won Divine power, reunited His soul to His Body and rose again immoral and impassible, that is, never again to undergo death, and no longer capable of pain or suffering: "I lay down my life, that I may take it again . . .And I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again" (John 10:17).
Moreover, Christ, being once risen, is no longer subject to death as are those who are miraculously raised to life.
Christ in raising Himself from the dead, became the cause and principle of the resurrection of all men, according to the words of St. Paul "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all (who hold to the faith) shall be made alive" (1 Cor 25:22). Our Lord Jesus Christ after His death and resurrection still retained in His body the marks of His sufferings, as we gather from the words to St. Thomas "Put in thy finger hither, and see My hands, and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless but believing" (John 20:27). These marks will remain to show that He rose again for us, and as tokens of His victory nd triumph over sin and the devil and death. They continually plead to His eternal Father for mercy on our behalf; they remain for the consolation of the just, whom they serve to remind of the price paid for their redemption; and for the confusion of the wicked, by reminding them of the justice of their condemnation.
- CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS -