Easter Cancelled. They’ve found the body…

Posted by on Sep 11, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Graffiti was an art form during my university days. It adorned three of the walls of every toilet cubicle. One wall was devoted to political comment, another to the smutty, the third to the witty and clever. By and large contributors conformed to this unwritten guideline, and a few days before a now long past Easter the headline ‘Easter has been cancelled. They’ve found the body!’ appeared on the third wall. It has stuck with me through the years.

In its own way, it is deeply insightful. Produce the body of Jesus, and whilst the impact of Christianity would not disappear overnight, its reason for being would. The apostle Paul saw this with crystal clarity, writing in 1 Corinthians 15: 17,19 ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all.’ Why pitied? Well its pretty pathetic to build your life upon an illusion, and if Christ is not the death transcending victor proclaimed in Christianity, then there truly has been much ado about nothing.

So what are we to make of the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?

First let’s note what isn’t being claimed. Jesus didn’t come back from the dead. The Bible gives accounts of others who did, Jesus himself restoring Jairus’ daughter to life (Mark 5:21-43) and calling Lazarus back from the grave (John 11:1-44). Both went on to die again at a time and date now unknown to us.

By contrast, Jesus returns to his disciples in his resurrected body effectively showing us what we can expect our bodies to be like on the other side of death. Again it is Paul who is so perceptive about this, when he writes ‘Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep'(1 Cor 15:20). In other words, Christ is the first in the harvest that still awaits. Just as he has been raised from the dead, so shall all those who place their trust and faith in Jesus. Like Jesus, they will have a body that is both similar and dissimilar to their present body. The disciples could recognise Jesus – but it took a while. And the biblical accounts record that the resurrected Jesus could enter a room through locked doors and appear and disappear rapidly. Similarity and difference. Not back from the dead to live on this planet for a little longer, but appearing from the other side of death giving a foretaste of what awaits. It is the triumphant announcement not of the end of death, but that death is not the end.

‘Ho hum,’ you say. ‘Very fascinating and all that, but hardly probable. Don’t want to be rude, but this story must be filed in the fiction section. You are confusing its classification.’

So is there any evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?

First, the obvious. Easter has never been cancelled because the body has never been produced.

True, there could be a range of reasons for this. We have all heard of cases where someone is assumed dead but a lingering doubt remains because no body has been located. Whilst not common, it happens from time to time.

Not that we should be too quick to assume that the disappearance of Jesus’ body is insignificant. Something must have happened to it. What? Why couldn’t they find it? And let’s be clear about this… as the fledgling Christian faith grew, there was plenty of motivation to find it. If the leaders of his time found Jesus so troublesome that they crucified him, it turned out he was even more troublesome after his death. His teaching simply wouldn’t disappear and was elevated to the indisputable by the claim that the grave had proved incapable of holding him captive. It would have been so helpful to have been able to produce a body before the story caught hold. But they didn’t – presumably because they couldn’t. Interesting…

Then there is the clear change in the lives of his disciples.

By all accounts they were at best a pretty ordinary bunch. Indeed, the case can be made that they were somewhat below average. After all, whilst most of them were fishermen, the Bible never records an account of them catching any fish without Jesus first performing a miracle. Average fishermen catch fish on their own. They were probably wise to have changed careers. I guess this is why Paul is a little disparaging in his description of the early church, ‘Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’ (1 Cor 1:26-27) Bottom line and an indisputable truth – this somewhat below average group of people went on to decisively change all of human history, and that for the good.

How did they do it? Realistically, if you were a gambling person you wouldn’t have backed them. The smart money was on Christianity never surviving long enough to become Christianity. Everyone assumed that post crucifixion, this brilliant but disturbing teacher from Nazareth would be quietly forgotten, his former followers again pursuing unsuccessful careers in fishing.

Something happened to change them. They were very clear as to what it was. They claimed that they had met the resurrected Jesus. Even the most sceptical of them, Thomas by name, recounted how he had been invited to touch the pierced hands and side of Jesus. At that point he stopped doubting (John 20:24-29). The transformation that came over the disciples was staggering. Filled with courage, they boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. They did it with a conviction that others found compelling. And they did it at the cost of their own lives. Of the disciples, all but John was to be executed for insisting on telling this story, and John was to be imprisoned on the Island of Patmos for his emphatic refusal to renounce his conviction that he had seen the risen Jesus.

Was it sheer stubbornness on their part? All earlier portraits of them were of pretty fickle people, so realistically, that one is unlikely.

Were they an inherently suicidal group, intent on martyrdom? Well perhaps one or two might have been, but all of them… a bit of a stretch don’t you think?

Were they gullible and deluded – fooled by who knows what trickery? Perhaps… clearly something happened, so it would be interesting to know what it was. If trickery, it wasn’t a once off conjuring act. There were several resurrection appearances, and each was found to be convincing. So I wonder who did it? Clearly not Jesus if he was dead. So who? And why? And… well, let’s face it, to assume some deliberate hoax, well that takes a fair stretch of imagination.

Something happened post crucifixion. We know it did, because there is no disputing the transformation that took place in the disciples. Whatever it was it was so powerful that it led to the transformation of the world. Now that doesn’t happen every second Tuesday.

Their explanation has become the explanation given by the church through the centuries. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. That account continues to resonate deep in the human heart. It could well be because it is true…

Oh, and by the way, Easter remains as a firm calendar booking. Still no body to show…

Nice chatting.

4 Comments

  1. As a prominent American lawyer once said “Let’s assume that Christ did not rise from the dead. Let’s assume that the written accounts of His appearances to hundreds of people are false. I want to pose a question. With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eyewitness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body: `Listen, I saw that tomb – it was not empty! Look, I was there, Christ did not rise from the dead. As a matter of fact, I saw Christ’s body.’ The silence of history is deafening when it comes to testimony against the resurrection.”

    • Well said.

  2. The Gospel authors were neither “historians” nor “eyewitnesses.” None of the Gospels states that it was written by the author later arbitrarily assigned to it. None claims to be written by an eyewitness. The earliest, Mark, was written 35-40 years after the supposed events. Two of the other three, Matthew and Luke, are based on the first one, with a few new anecdotes thrown in, resulting in three Gospels which contradict each other. The fourth, and oldest one, is a grotesque Neo-Platonist fantasy which contradicts all the older gospels. Incidentally, there are some “Gospels” which are not included I the official Bible. Christians have been faking evidence for 2,000 (for example, the thousands of “miracles” ascribed to “saints”). Classical texts, especially religious ones, include many fakes and interpolations. Considering the amazing things that Jesus supposedly did, it is odd that there is no real historical evidence that he even existed. Did you think Mohammed physically ascended to Heaven from Jerusalem, as stated in near-contemporaneous sources about someone who is generally acknowledge to have been a real historical figure? Of course not. All religions and mythologies tell impossible stories. The best evidence against the Resurrection is in the Bible itself: the Jews, who knew him — if he existed — overwhelmingly rejected his Messianic claims, connived in his execution, and disbelieved in the Resurrection. Who were the “Christians”? A handful of drifters who went missing when Jesus was arrested. Where were 5,000 he fed when the Jews were shouting, “Give us Barabbas!” All this was happening in the Roman Empire, in a province heavily garrisoned by the Roman army. There is no Roman evidence of Jesus. Saint Paul, Tertullian, Origen, and other Roman Christian theorists admitted that the Gospel story was absurd, but should be accepted on faith.

    • Hi Bob.Sorry for the delay in replying to you. This post originally appeared a few years ago and is no longer very active – but let me give a quick response. If when you say the Gospel authors were not historians, I can only assume you mean “not historians in a 21st century sense” – and of course you are right. But then no one was. For their time and setting, the accounts they have left us are remarkable and dramatically better and closer to the event than the vast majority of accounts of other events in antiquity from which we have to piece together history. Luke’s gospel is especially careful when it comes to detail – actually, its impressive for its time. As regards the authorship of the gospels, there is no compelling reason to dispute the traditionally assigned authorship. It is highly probably that Matthew and John were written by disciples of Jesus, Mark by John Mark – who worked closely with Peter, Luke by a travelling companion of Paul. Some were direct witnesses to the events discribed, all were close to the action and to those who were witnesses. A balanced account of the arguments for and against the traditional authorship is found at this link https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-wrote-gospels/ It is possible that Luke and Matthew drew from Mark’s account. What of it? In recaping history it is natural to consult whatever sources are available and then to agree or elaborate. None of the three slavishly repeat the other. Each adds its own contribution and leaves us with a rich portrayal of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. To describe John as a “grotesque Neo-Platonist fantasy” is strange. John certainly sees things in a fresh light and writes with poetic beauty and grace, usually pointing to deeper underlying truths, rather than simply recounting events – though his interpretation is always based on events, events which are easily identified and confirmed from the other 3 gospels. Through the centuries people have found John’s account profound and moving – and I fully agree with this. As regards your comment on the Jews rejecting Jesus – well yes and no. Many did reject him, but until the start of Paul’s ministry to the gentiles almost all converts to Christianity were Jewish – and that number included many Jewish religious leaders. You dismiss the Christians as a handful of drifters… pretty emotive summary don’t you think? And so amazing that these drifters changed the world so decisively for the good. And they were pretty courageous drifters, willing to die (and in many, many cases, actually dying) for what they claimed to have witnessed and clearly believed to have been true – that Christ had risen and that death therefore no longer caused them fear.
      Thanks again for your response Bob.

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