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Friday, March 1, 2013

What if the Resurrection Never Happened?

“A historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable” wrote the late Dr. Rudolph Bultmann, an influential New Testament German Theologian. Presenting an opposing view is Dr. N.T. Wright. Presently, he is a world’s leading Bible scholar having done extensive research on Jesus’ resurrection. He says, “Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.”

From the day Jesus’ tomb was found empty until today, the debate over Jesus’ resurrection has been as divisive as ever among scholars. For the sake of consideration, let us agree with the skeptics who say Jesus’ died but was never resurrected. This presents at least three major problems.

Spiritual.  According to Christian teaching Jesus’ death provided the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins. His resurrection completed the work. No resurrection would mean no forgiveness. Humanity would be cursed to bear the guilt and shame of their sin forever. All people would be destined to a vain life and fearful death because of no hope beyond ourselves.

Moral.  According to Christian teaching God declares He does not lie and listed it in the Ten Commandments to be obeyed by His followers. If the resurrection never happened then God is a liar. Jesus is a liar. The Apostles are liars. The whole Bible is a lie. The billions of Christians for the last 2000 years (including this writer) are all liars. The entire Christian religion would be humankind’s greatest conspiracy.

Theological.  According to Christian teaching, Jesus was not a mere man but divine and His resurrection was ultimate proof. If Jesus had not risen from the dead it would be legitimate to ask “How could God have died . . . and stayed dead?” If there was no resurrection Jesus was not divine. His miracles were a hoax. His teachings are empty. He is nothing more than an influential historical figure like Socrates, Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

What shall we say in response? His tomb is empty. His bones have never been found. There were eye witnesses to His resurrection. One early follower said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). For centuries billions of these witnesses have been transformed by Him. JESUS IS ALIVE! HE IS OUR HOPE FOR TODAY AND FOREVER!

2 comments:

tikhon said...

With respect and the realization that I am just picking nits, I have to disagree a little with your statement that "No resurrection would mean no forgiveness." While it is completely possible you're correct, it seems far from an established fact in Scripture.
As you wrote the line before, it is the shedding of blood that was the impetus for forgiveness. Sacrifice for the remission of sins is a practice seen throughout Israel's long history of sacrifice, "setting the table" for God's fuller revelation of that truth. Not once did anyone expect a slaughtered sheep to return to life so that they could know their sins were forgiven. I know this is over-simplified, but I think the model still holds. It was blood that was the means of forgiveness.
Furthermore, it seems to me that by declaring "It is finished," one could make a reasonable assumption that Jesus' redemptive work was completed in his (imminent) death (he couldn't very well declare the work finished after he died, after all).
I do think that we can know our sins are forgiveness because of the resurrection. And that should give us motivation to learn about the historical reality of the event, and ground ourselves in it like Paul. If we're looking to place our eggs somewhere, it is in this particular basket.
Additionally (and maybe more importantly?), Jesus' resurrection is his vindication, and it perfectly, brilliantly trumps the Jewish argument that anyone--even a righteous man--hung on a tree is cursed.
The resurrection isn't just important, it is everything. Despite my nitpicking, I do wish to say that I appreciate your efforts. We need more folks like you speaking out against the Bultmannian "Christ of faith." I see it in churches, even though no one knows Bultmann. Such a figure undermines the reality of Jesus' redemptive work and places Christianity on the shifting sands of a subjective, personal faith, that can be dismissed as myth or shaken by doubt.
Thank you again, and very best regards.

Clint Decker said...

Tikhon,thank you for reading the column and taking time to share your thoughts. You were very thoughtful and gracious. Additionally, your comments were challenging making me think of things I hadn’t considered before. If I may, I’d like to respond.

You are right that a resurrection was never part of the sacrificial laws in the OT. There isn’t a place in scripture where an ox, lamb, bird or any other animal rose from the dead.

I believe much of the OT was “looking forward” to Christ. The animals that were sacrificed were each a “type” of Christ “looking forward” to a “better sacrifice”. Ultimately the animal sacrifices were incomplete. They were lacking. They weren’t “perfect sacrifices”. I believe that all affected “forgiveness”. I believe forgiveness was granted by God only because of looking forward to Christ.

In order for Christ to provide the forgiveness of sins (OT sins, present and future) He had to be the perfect sacrifice. Perfection is deity. No one is perfect but God. If He was perfect He had to rise from the dead. How could God die and stay dead? We couldn’t have had forgiveness just with Christ’s death. His resurrection was validation of being the perfect sacrifice.

In order for Christ to provide the forgiveness of sin He also had to have “power over sin”. One of the evidences of sin in our world is death. Death came through Adam and Eve because of their sin. To conquer death is to conquer sin. Therefore, forgiveness of sin can’t be granted unless there is power over sin. His resurrection was ultimate victory in defeating it. He gained power over sin by conquering death through His resurrection.

Unless Christ rose from the dead there would be no possibility of forgiveness. Everything hinged on His resurrection. I agree with Paul who said, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Thanks again for your response. Continue coming back to our blog. Blessings!! - Clint Decker