The apostles testified to and established the resurrection of Jesus as an irrefutable fact. They all report how some women, early in the morning, made that difficult walk to the burial place of Jesus. It was not a joy-filled walk. They were all deeply depressed by the painful events of Good Friday.
Peter referred to this horrific event in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2). He openly declared: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know, Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (verses 22-25). He also added that God used the evil work of men to bring about His purpose. As close followers of Jesus, the disciples and women all knew about the incomprehensible suffering of Jesus. In great sadness, they would have waited for that Easter morning.
But then a momentous event happened. Peter pursued the visible facts in his sermon. Courageously and with complete assurance of faith, he shouted out to the crowd, “This Jesus, God has raised up…!” The women found the tomb empty! “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay’” (Matthew 28:5-6). They had come to the tomb saddened and deeply troubled, but in reverence and great joy they hurried away.
Referring to this, Paul wrote: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen of over five hundred brethren at once…Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). He traced back to his experience at the gates of Damascus (Acts 9:8).
The expression “according to the Scriptures” points to the writings of the Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 16:10. This stands in full accordance with what the risen Lord explicitly said to the two disciples of Emmaus: “‘O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).
The fact of Jesus’ resurrection is seen as the main message of the gospel. Paul explained this in 1 Corinthians 15: If Christ had not been raised, we would all be false witnesses, our faith would be worthless, we would still be in our sins, and all who had fallen asleep in Christ would be lost. Then our preaching and faith would be in vain, and there would be no hope of eternal life.
If Christ had not risen, faith in the resurrection would not have occurred. The mourning of the women at the tomb would not have been transformed into joy; the disciples would have remained behind closed doors instead of appearing as powerful witnesses. The apostles and many other witnesses would never have gone to their deaths because of their message. And this preaching, this faith, and even the church of our Lord would be long gone! Then we would be, as Paul said, “of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). He could have not proclaimed: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (verse 58).
Nevertheless, the critics opposed all this and claimed that Christ never really died but was in some kind of a trance from which He woke up again. This and other misleading beliefs could never be substantiated. Rather, some who at one time promoted these theories have recanted them.
The theologian Spitta of Göttingen thought he had to refute the resurrection of Jesus. However, through a deep study of the New Testament, he became more and more uncertain in his view and finally realized that the joy of the disciples on Easter morning and the powerful testimony of the early church could not be explained in any other way than by believing the true resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He did not keep this conviction to himself. He confessed his error and then forcefully advocated the exact opposite of what he had previously taught.
Another theology professor was asked by one of his students what the real tenet of his readings was. His answer was, “Jesus lives! I proceed from that fact.” And this fact is more important than anything else.
The joy of the disciples, the silence of the enemies, and the powerful testimony of the biblical witnesses are the strongest proof of Easter. It should not be difficult for us, therefore, to “believe all that the prophets and apostles have spoken.” Let us believe and proclaim, “The Lord has risen indeed!”