Christians often claim that the resurrection of Christ is the piece of evidence that seals the deal- the game-changer. If Christ rose from the dead, then Christianity must be true! But let’s think about this. What’s so special about the resurrection?
It is probably true that Mohammed heard a voice speaking to him. It probably did happen. But is it really special? Lots of people hear voices. Joseph Smith may well have had a vision which started Mormonism. But is it really special and unique that he had a vision? Lots of people have had visions. Lots of people have funny spiritual experiences. Is there anything really special and compelling about the resurrection experience of Christ which compels our allegiance? The resurrection of Jesus is a battle with our greatest enemy- death- and therefore it is a more special experience to consider than most others for that reason alone. But furthermore, Jesus engages our greatest enemy death in a way that is entirely unique from how others have engaged with death. Consider these three factors.
1. Jesus did not just escape death- he confronted death. There are plenty of stories of religious experiences of heroes in history who escaped death by ascending up into Heaven without dying. Enoch and Elijah are two examples of people in the Bible who did that. The Greek god Hercules was said to have done this. There are various figures within Hinduism who are said to have ascended into Heaven without dying. These would all be fairly impressive stories if they were true. Unfortunately, there is no real historical evidence for them. But, even if they were true, Jesus does something more. He doesn’t just escape death. He doesn’t sidestep death. He enters into death, and challenges it head on. He has come to deal with death, not just fly away from it.
2.Jesus did not just survive death- he defeated death. There are many reports of people apparently surviving after death. I’m talking about ghost appearances. We hear the word ghosts- and we say, “ Oh that sounds spooky”. We laugh or even mock people who think they saw a ghost, but the reality is, many people claim to see or hear the spirits of their loved ones after they die. No one likes to talk about it though because people may well say you are crazy. A famous study done in Iceland of 900 people found 30% claimed to have had encounters with the spirit of a deceased person. Even Michael Shermer, the famous atheist and skeptic of all things supernatural recently confessed to having had a supernatural experience of a deceased person which he couldn’t explain. So, some people say that Jesus resurrection is not really special- because he was just appearing as a ghost to his disciples.
There are however a number of problems with that theory. Firstly, it is evident that whatever the appearances were, they were real, they weren’t just hallucinations. They were witnessed by groups of people at the same time, and they occurred to all sorts of people, at all sorts of places. Secondly, there is the problem of the empty tomb. There is a very strong case that can be made that Jesus tomb was found empty on that first Easter Sunday morning, and so, if that is the case, what happened to Jesus’ body? Thirdly, if what the disciples saw was just the ghost of Jesus, well, why didn’t they call it that? Why did they call it a resurrection? From day one- we know that the disciples all came out with what was for them in their day a radical claim, the claim of Jesus being resurrected. They could have used the term ghost. Resurrection meant a body coming back to life. Fourthly, we have reports of Jesus being touched and Jesus even eating meals with his disciples in multiple accounts. Only a body can do that.
You see, Jesus didn’t just survive death in a ghostly existence in the afterlife, and make appearances to us. There’s nothing really special about that. Jesus goes into death, and survives death- yes. But he also conquers death and comes back bodily from it. Death has lost its physical power over Jesus.
3. Jesus did not just return from death- he reversed death. Jesus does not just resuscitate from death. Again, there are plenty of stories of people who die in some sense, and come back to life. Lots of people have near death experiences where they have an accident, they are as good as dead, and they have an experience in which their soul goes up to Heaven, and then told they have to go back, and they come back into their body and survive. There are numerous resurrection stories- like Lazarus in the Bible- who die, and by a miraculous act, they are restored to life. Jesus’ resuscitation is more remarkable than all of these resuscitation stories. For him to be executed by crucifixion, remain dead for at least 36 hours, and then to resuscitate without any medical assistance and convince his followers he was the saviour of the world- that is quite a remarkable resuscitation.
But this is even more than just a physical resuscitation. Jesus transcends death. He reverses death. He comes back in a body which is physical, and which still bears the marks of his wounds, but this new body transcends the merely physical. It’s a body which can operate in the physical world, but it’s also a spiritual body which is not subject to the physical. Jesus’ new body, although it is physical, is also a bit like an angelic body which can appear and disappear. This new body of Jesus has authority over time and space, and is not subject to it. It is a body not just for this world, it’s for a new world, a heavenly world. The resurrection of Jesus is the opening of the doorway for us to have access to that heavenly world in a new creation body as well.
Now if you ask me, all this is pretty impressive. It’s unique. Jesus has just not successfully escaped the Grim Reaper as it were- Jesus has got in the boxing ring with the Grim Reaper, and hit him out of the stadium. That is what Jesus has done- that’s why he’s unique. And when you put that on top of all the other factors which show Jesus uniqueness- well, the claim of Jesus’ uniqueness is out of this world. No one else really comes close.
This is the claim of Easter Sunday, and I think you’ll have to agree- that if it is true- it is huge. He has lived an incredible life, he has died an incredible death, and he’s risen from the dead on top of everything else as well. The claim of the Bible is that someone has entered the world who is absoloutely unique- he is a game-changer. The resurrection is the event which demands our attention, both in its uniqueness in the past and its implications for our future life beyond this world.