This is the conclusion (for now) to a long series on the Resurrection of Yeshua. It started as a reaction to the Discovery Channel documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” Click on “Jesus-Tomb” to the right to follow the whole thread, or “Resurrection” to follow just the later part of the thread. Be sure to at least scroll down to “A Resurrection Case Outline” before you read this.
The Resurrection of Messiah was not an Expected Event
• Something like resurrection is implied in some messianic texts. The clearest example is Isaiah 53:10-11. First, the Suffering Servant is said to die and then he is said to see his offspring. This is a hint of life after death. Then, in verse 11, he is said to see something. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint have a different reading than the traditional Hebrew Masoretic text. They read “he will see the light,” which can be taken as the light of life.
• Nonetheless, the disciples did not expect Yeshua to be resurrected. They doubted and did not believe. When told of the empty tomb: “But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Even when seeing Yeshua on the mountain in Galilee, some still had doubts (Matt. 28:17). Thomas refused to believe until he could touch the wounds (John 20:25).
• The unbelief of the disciples is explainable by the fact that Yeshua’s resurrection was not exactly like the traditional Jewish belief:
o The Jewish hope was for all Israel, not one individual. The disciples expected a resurrection of all Israel (John 11:24), but not for one individual to be raised.
o The Jewish hope was for the end of the age, not in the middle of history.
o Therefore, the disciples did not invent the resurrection to match Jewish hopes with Yeshua’s life. They were just as unprepared for the event as everyone else. They only understood it afterward and not in advance.
Yeshua’s Death Defeated the Disciples’ Faith
The disciples were surprised by the death and resurrection of Yeshua. After his death they were not waiting by the tomb expecting a miracle. They were defeated. They fought against his arrest, were afraid to be identified with him at his trial, did not bury his body but left that to another, and were together in grief when the women came to tell them the tomb was empty. The women were not going at dawn on Sunday to see an empty tomb, but to anoint and wrap the body! The Gospel of Mark, whose ending is uncertain, quite possibly is intended to end with Mark 16:8, where the empty tomb is discovered and the women are afraid, not even knowing at that point the joy of the resurrection. Yet this defeated group will soon be transformed.
Yeshua’s Resurrection Gave the Disciples a New Power, unexplainable Any Other Way
These defeated disciples were absolutely transformed after Yeshua appeared to them and after Shavuot that year, when a new power came on them. These defeated peasants became proselytizers able to flood the Roman empire in a decade or two with a new faith. For example, by the year 48 (only 18 years after the resurrection) the issue of Yeshua became known to the Roman emperor Claudius who forced all the Jewish people out of Rome because of riots about Yeshua (recorded in Seutonius’ Life of Claudius). Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide famously said in 1977:
When this scared, frightened band of apostles which was just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee; when these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master and failed him so miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation. (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 1983 edition, Augsburg Publishing, p.125).
It is impossible to explain the power and willingness of the disciples to die holding on to their faith if something real and endued with the power of Israel’s God had not happened to them. The reality of Yeshua’s bodily resurrection is the only hypothesis that explains the change.
Yeshua’s Resurrection is not Explainable by Natural Means
• He was not merely comatose. Not only does this make light of Roman expertise in executing criminals, but it defied logic to think someone could recover from a coma in a dark cave after a day and half without water.
• It was not a conspiracy. In the first place, Matthew records the theory that the disciples stole the body and discounts it. Furthermore, the disciples’ willingness to die holding to their story suggests that they firmly believed it to be true.
• It was not a hallucination. William Craig rightly observes that hallucinations are of expected events and the resurrection of one Jew before the end of the age was not expected (Jesus Under Fire, p.161). It also defies credibility that so many would have the same hallucination. They were not hallucinating about something they believed would happen in advance. They saw the unexpected and struggled to explain it after the fact.
• It was not the desperate hope of a defeated movement. Some have suggested the disciples expected Yeshua to be exalted after death and imagined it. It has already been shown that there was no such expectation. They were appalled and troubled by Yeshua’s resurrection and only afterward understood it and proclaimed it. The power of their proclamation makes sense only if they were certain it was true.
Yeshua’s Resurrection Vindicates his Messianic Claim
Yeshua claimed by his actions to be Messiah. He healed the blind and lame and sick. He cast out demons. These were signs of the Messianic Age. He entered Jerusalem in what can only be described as a deliberate Messianic procession. He protested in the Temple, not actually trying to reform it, and asserted his Messianic authority in keeping with Malachi 3. He also claimed in his words in many ways and at many times to be the Messiah. He was executed as a false king of the Jews by the Romans and as a false Messiah by the Sanhedrin. He was executed as a messianic pretender. His resurrection vindicates his claim. Only God’s power could resurrect. God would not raise a false messiah. No other want-to-be messiah has been resurrected, only Yeshua. The only explanation is that he is who he claimed to be.