Theology in 3D

The Intentional Historical Vulnerability of Christianity (Part 2)

Layton Talbert | April 1, 2024

We should expect that the Christian claim to the resurrection of Jesus should meet with skepticism, even scorn. It always has (Acts 17:32). It is, after all, a singular event unique to all human history and experience. Since it is so central to the reality and reliability of everything we believe, it is worth briefly surveying the wide variety of references to the subject.

At least 90 explicit, individual references to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are scattered throughout every genre of the NT (Gospels, History, Epistles, Prophecy) and explicitly mentioned in a majority of the NT books (15 of 27). The other 12 books don’t undercut the doctrine by their silence; they assume it.

Jesus Repeatedly Predicted His Own Resurrection

How many times did Jesus predict his own death and resurrection? Jesus foretold the details of his own death and resurrection on at least seven separate recorded occasions. Jesus never predicted his death without an accompanying reference to his resurrection. And in five of those seven predictions, Jesus specified not only the fact of his resurrection but also the precise timing of his resurrection. These predictions did not come only near the end; they began when Jesus first commenced his public ministry.

  1. *John 2:19–22—at the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry (His public ministry spanned at least three, and probably four, Passovers.)
  1. *Matt 12:39–40—during the second year of Jesus’ ministry (For a discussion of the significance of this passage, see “Three Days and Three Nights, or Not?”)

The rest are during the third year of Jesus’ ministry.

  1. *Matt 16:21 (= Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22)—immediately following Peter’s confession
  1. Matt 17:9 (= Mark 9:9–10)—one week later, just after Jesus’ transfiguration
  1. *Matt 17:23 (= Mark 9:31–32; Luke 9:44–45)—also shortly after the transfiguration, when he healed the demoniac boy that the disciples couldn’t
  1. *Matt 20:19 (= Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33)—on the way to Jerusalem for the last time, more than a week before the crucifixion
  1.   Matt 26:32 (= Mark 14:28)—in the upper room, the night before the crucifixion

*On these five occasions, Jesus specified not only the fact of his coming resurrection, but also the precise timing.

Even Jesus’ enemies heard, understood, and remembered some of these occasions (Matt 27:63).

The Gospels Repeatedly Record the Fact of the Resurrection

Here’s a brief synopsis. Luke 24:5–6 records the angels’ explanation of Jesus’ resurrection to the women who came to the tomb. Matthew 28:7 adds to that statement. John reports that he and Peter ran to the tomb, found it empty except for the undisturbed graveclothes, and that they believed the evidence despite not fully understanding it (John 20:9). Luke adds the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who reported to the risen Jesus himself (unwittingly) the testimony of the women (Luke 24:23) who had come from the tomb. After realizing that it was the Lord walking and talking and eating with them, they returned and heard the report of the other disciples (Luke 24:34). Then while they were all speaking together, the Lord himself appeared to all of them (except Thomas, who was inexplicably absent) that his death and third-day resurrection were a necessary fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures (Luke 24:44). Mark adds that Jesus scolded them for not believing the initial reports of those who had seen him first (Mark 16:14—a disputed segment of Mark, but it’s in keeping with Luke 24). Finally, John even numbers the appearances of the resurrected Christ to the disciples as a group (John 21:14).

The Gospels Record Multiple Post-Resurrection Appearances

A common objection is the allegedly contradictory accounts of the resurrection in the four Gospels which some have said are impossible to harmonize. It’s actually not that difficult to harmonize them. With the help of one passage in 1 Corinthians 15, we can reconstruct a probable order of over ten recorded post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

1st Sunday

(1)  Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:11–18 / Mark 16:9–11). After running to report the empty tomb to the disciples, she followed Peter and John back to the tomb again, lingering there after their departure back to the others.

(2)  Other women (Matt 28:9–10). Apparently, after Mary’s first arrival and departure to tell the disciples (and before Peter and John came), the other women arrived, and also ran to tell the disciples; on their return trip to the tomb, Jesus’ appeared to them.

(3)  Peter (1 Cor 15:5; Luke 24:34). Somewhere in the midst of all this running about, Jesus showed himself to Peter alone. See (4) for the rationale for placing this appearance in this order.

(4)  Two disciples traveling west out of Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35; cf. Mark 16:12–13). That this appearance occurred at this juncture seems clear from their knowledge of the initial reports of the empty tomb from Mary, then from the other women, then from Peter and John (Luke 24:22–24) and the new report upon their return to the other disciples that Peter had actually seen Jesus himself (Luke 24:34). According to the data, these disciples left on their journey after the initial report of the women and the return of Peter and John with their report, but before Mary Magdalene and the other women returned again with the news that they had actually seen the Lord Himself.

(5)  Ten disciples (Thomas absent) assembled in the upper room in Jerusalem that first Sunday evening (John 20:19–25; Luke 24:36–43 / Mark 16:14).

2nd Sunday

(6)  Eleven disciples (including Thomas) assembled in the upper room, one week later (John 20:26–31).

Subsequent Appearances (over next 32 days)

(7)  Seven disciples fishing at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1–25).

(8)  Eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matt 28:16–20 / Mark 16:15–18; 1 Cor 15:6?).

(9)  James, the half-brother of Jesus (1 Cor 15:7a).

(10) Numerous appearances to the apostles over four weeks, culminating in his visible ascension in their presence (Acts 1:3–8; Luke 24:44–49 / 1 Cor 15:7b).

Up next: Part 3

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