This claim is the center-piece of Christianity. As all four Biblical narratives about Jesus life and death attest, Jesus died from severe torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Romans and the blessings of the leadership in Israel. On a purely human level, Jesus’ teaching was obviously threatening the power and status of those in the theocratic leadership of Israel, and Rome was wary of anyone causing disruptions. It created a perfect storm which resulted in Jesus’ execution. On a spiritual level, Jesus life and death fulfilled over 108 distinct prophesies and became the culmination of the Old Testament religious covenant to the Israelites and the world. The New Testament Scriptures indicate that perfect storm was actually God-orchestrated, for the purpose of providing forgiveness and grace to the human race.
It’s powerful stuff, and the deeper you get into it, the more powerful it becomes. Jesus was the culmination of the Jewish sacrificial system for sins because He was the ultimate sacrifice, taking away sins once for all according to the book of Hebrews. (It’s why John the Baptist once announced Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” -Lambs were often used as sacrifices)
Taking away sins once for all, meant a person no longer had to feel separated from God by sin, and provided a way for anyone to approach God, without a priest to intercede. It’s one reason three of the four Gospel accounts record the curtain of the temple being torn in two by an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death. The curtain of the temple is what separated “the Most Holy Place” -where the presence of God was- from the outside world. The meaning being that humanity no longer had to be separated from God because of Christ.
And that only begins to scratch the surface how in Jesus, or through Jesus, so much of the Old Testament religious teaching is fulfilled, or reaches the highest order of magnitude. But none of it matters, if Jesus never got out of the grave.
Some will try to prove or disprove this by arguing and debating over the harmony of the Biblical narratives. Much of the world, and even many in Christianity unfortunately, will claim the accounts do not agree. They are different for sure. They are different in the same way different people relate the same account of a tornado, or a crime. They are different in the same way I would describe something one way, and you might describe it another. The differing accounts, including different details, can still both be true. It’s why police will question more than one person, trying to piece together the whole picture. You can do the same with the accounts in the Bible. One account says two angels were at the tomb, another says there was an angel at the tomb who spoke. Since neither account specifically says there was ONLY ONE angel, neither is necessarily false. After all, I went home yesterday and spoke to my wife. That is true. Of course, I spoke to my kids too, and some people that dropped by as well. But it’s my story, and if I want to tell you I spoke to my wife and leave it at that, -I can. It’s still true. Likewise, the Gospel accounts are different, but they don’t rule out each other. You can put them all together in one story, and it’s quite an amazing big picture.
But something Jesus Himself said about His death and resurrection struck me last week. Jesus said this: “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” -Luke 11:29-30
Just as Jonah was a “sign” to the Ninevites, so Jesus would be a sign to the generation of His day. He wasn’t talking about us, nor people throughout history, but about being a sign to the people He was speaking to. Just like Jonah.
Jonah you see, looked like “Night-of-the-Living-Dead-Guy” when he walked across the city of Ninevah. That’s what happens when you’ve just spent 3 days and nights in the belly of a fish. Weird and somewhat disgusting things can happen to a person when for 3 days a fish is trying to digest you. It’s a miracle he survived at all, but even so, the people of Ninevah would have smelled him coming, and when he got there, he probably didn’t look much better. Just as Jonah’s ordeal would have been a crazy sign to the people in Ninevah at the time, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and everything else that happened along with it, would have been a sign to the people in Jerusalem.
Not every day you see a guy rise from the dead, or have a guy spit out of a fish on the beach.
What made it a sign for them especially, was because unlike us, they could investigate it themselves. They could go to the tomb to make sure he was still there. Pardon the pun, but they could tell if something fishy was going on. We can’t do that. We rely more on faith, reasoning, our own experience, our sense of what is true, the few historical facts we have, but the generation around Jesus… they had Jesus right in front of them.
And one reason I believe (there are many) is simply this: They never proved it wrong. Christianity grew like wildfire in those early days, in the same city where it all happened, despite the same threat of violence against them that had crucified Jesus. When Peter stands up in Acts 2 and starts to preach about Jesus for the first time, the book of Acts records that he said this: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” -Acts 2:22
They already knew about the miracles of Jesus, and the signs. They were in the best position to reject the claims. And they didn’t. There are many explanations I’m sure, such as the idea they were too dumb, or just wanted to believe so badly, or were really just trying to revolt against economic oppression, etc….
As for me, I believe the best explanation is the one that says as amazing as it sounds, He really did rise from the dead. A great many people of His generation believed it, and to me, that speaks volumes.