Why the Physical Resurrection of Christ Is So Believable
September 1995By Lauren A. King
Lauren A. King, a Quaker, is Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at Malone College in Ohio.
Two events recorded in history -- among many others -- may be confidently accepted as having actually happened: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the emergence and triumphant growth of the missionary/martyr Church. Missionary because to grow as it did -- in the boast of Tertullian, to conquer without arms the Roman Empire -- must have required the bold, devoted, extensive, persistent effort of numerous bearers of its claims. Martyr because this growth occurred in the face of fierce and often systematic persecution which produced armies of martyrs. Legend, for example, reports that all of the 12 Apostles except John died as martyrs.
Further, these two events were somehow related, apparently causally, for the Church made the crucifixion a central part of the claims and message which proved so phenomenally effective in winning adherents not merely among Jews but among Greeks and Romans, as well as ultimately among mankind the world over. But how out of the criminal execution of Jesus could this bold missionary/martyr Church possibly have arisen? The shameful death of a group's leader and the destruction of high hopes for him do not ordinarily produce a powerfully growing following which makes his death, especially if disgraceful, the center of its raison d'être. Could it be, must it not be, that some third factor entered in to produce a tie between this death and this Church?
And must it not have been of exceedingly strong persuasive power to accomplish the transformation from what must have been disillusionment, shattered hopes, and despair arising from the crucifixion to a mood that made men willing to challenge openly the Jewish -- and ultimately the Roman -- establishment, and win?
The Gospels and Acts offer an explanation of how this revolution happened and how out of it there came good news, a Gospel: Jesus, they declare, rose bodily from death and thereby decisively verified His claim to be the Son of God incarnate and crucified for the salvation of mankind. His empty tomb and repeated appearances eventually convinced the at first incredulous disciples and sent them forth to proclaim boldly the Gospel of incarnation, saving death, and bodily resurrection. They were so electrified by this faith that they went everywhere teaching it, with the result that multitudes over the Empire accepted that good news, and the Church emerged and grew triumphantly.
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