The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most attested facts of history, without which there never would have been such a thing as the Christian church.
One of the most amazing stories in the Bible is about a man who was the most bitter and relentless persecutor of the church of Christ who later became the most able defender of the church and the most successful herald of the gospel. This man wrote over half the books in the New Testament. With the apostolic brotherhood, those Galilean peasants who had been disciples of Jesus, the Lord chose to associate a man who had never seen the Lord while He had dwelt among men. In fact, not only had he never seen Him, but he had only heard the name of Jesus spoken in unbelief and contempt. How did this happen? There are in the universe Beings who the Bible says have infinite intelligence and infinite wisdom and were able to discern beneath the blindness and prejudice of this strict Pharisee a heart that was loyal to truth and duty. The result was that the voice from heaven made itself heard above the clamors of his pride and prejudice.
In the promulgation of the gospel, in the first century right after the resurrection of Christ, divine providence decided to unite with the zeal and devotion of the Galilean peasants a man who would bring the fiery vigor and the intellectual power of a rabbi from Jerusalem to lead in the battle against pagan philosophy and Jewish formalism. Saul of Tarsus was chosen to lead in that battle. He himself had witnessed the debasing power of heathenism and had endured the spiritual bondage of Pharisaical exaction. But, before he became a Christian he was the most bitter and relentless persecutor of the church of Christ. He says in Galatians 1:13, 14, concerning his former life, “You have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God, beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
Saul of Tarsus was a Jew, not only by descent, but by the stronger ties of lifelong training and patriotic devotion of religious belief and faith. He was a Roman citizen who was born in a Gentile city, but he had been educated in Jerusalem by the most eminent of the Jewish rabbis; he had been diligently instructed in all the laws and traditions of the Jews. He talks about this to the Jewish leaders in public many years afterward when they were attempting to kill him. “He said, ‘I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem) at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our father’s law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished’ (Acts 22:2–5).”
He shared fully the hopes, the aspirations, the lofty pride, and the unyielding prejudice of the Jewish nation. He claimed “he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” In Philippians 3:4–6, he said, “if anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, he was the leading persecutor of the Christian church. In common with his nation, he had the hope that there would be a Messiah sent to the world who would reign as a temporal prince and who would break the Roman yoke from the neck of the Jews and exalt the Jewish nation to the throne of universal empire.
Paul had no personal knowledge of Jesus’ mission, but readily imbibed the scorn and hatred of the rabbis toward One who was so far from fulfilling their ambitious hopes. So, after the death of Christ, he joined with the priests and rulers in the persecution of His followers as a proscribed and hated sect. He describes it this way: “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all [the rest of the apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9, 10).
The Pharisees thought that Jesus’ disciples would be cowered into submission and fear. After seeing what happened to their leader, they thought that the disciples would never promote the teachings of Christ again. They thought that the work of Christ would end with Him and when the voice of Jesus was no longer heard, the excitement would die down, and the people would return to the doctrines and traditions that they had been taught by the Jewish religion. But instead of that happening, they witnessed the marvelous scenes of the day of Pentecost when the disciples were endowed with power and energy that they had never known before. They preached Christ to the vast multitude that had been assembled there from all parts of the world for the feast.
There were also signs and wonders which confirmed their words, and the result was that in the very stronghold of Judaism, in Jerusalem and in Judea, there were thousands who declared their faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Notice how direct Peter was in his preaching: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32–36).
His audience was the people that were responsible for crucifying Christ, and here he offers them forgiveness for what they have done. Salvation and the hope of eternal life is freely offered to them but first they must face the reality of what they have done. The people were accosted by Peter’s sermon. He told them that they were the ones who had crucified Jesus, but informed them that He is not dead anymore. He is raised up and He has gone to heaven.
“Now when they heard this, they were cut [stabbed, pierced, pricked] to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’ Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (verses 37–41).
Just a few weeks after the crucifixion, about 3,000 people in the very heart of Judaism, the very system and religion that had crucified the Lord Jesus, recognized that they had been mistaken and had crucified the Messiah. Devastated, they said, “What shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent.” The word repent simply means to change your mind – change your mind about Jesus, change your mind about sin, change your mind about being the boss of your own life and yielding to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and His government.
Repent means to be sorry for your sins, be sorry enough to quit. What love was demonstrated to those who were guilty of crucifying the only One who could save them. Repent and you will be forgiven. Three thousand decided to repent that day and be baptized. They declared their faith in this Person whom the Jews said was a malefactor and a deceiver. They believed the evidence, Jesus was the Messiah, He was crucified, and He rose again and offered forgiveness to all who repented.
Have you ever thought about the fact that those people there are not the only people that are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? Notice what the apostle Paul says about this: “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Why did Jesus die on the cross? The apostle Paul said that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Romans 3:23 says that we have all sinned; we have all come short of the glory of God. So, if all have sinned then all are also responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus because He died for the sins of the world. Later in his life, Paul, writing to the Hebrew people who had become Christians, said, “According to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission [no forgiveness]” (Hebrews 9:22).
All are sinners and responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, but through heart-felt repentance and a willingness for the Holy Spirit to create in them a clean heart and renew a right spirit in them (Psalm 51:10), the Holy Spirit will give the gift of repentance and a sorrow for sin enough to turn away from it.
A short time after Pentecost Peter and John went up to the temple. It was at the time of prayer. “A certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, ‘Look at us.’ So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened … ” (Acts 3:2–10).
It says that “all the people ran together.” They wanted to see this mighty miracle that had been worked. And when they came, the apostles declared to everybody that this man whom they all knew was healed in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Everyone was astonished. It was the talk of the whole city. The apostles said that it was in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified and who was now ascended into the heavens, that this man had been made whole. It was Jesus of Nazareth who had imparted this power to His followers to heal the sick and to uplift those who were in trouble. The apostles fearlessly charged the Jews again with the crime of Jesus’ rejection and murder.
In verses 12–16 it says, “When Peter saw it, he responded to the people: ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.’ ”
Then Peter made an appeal: “Now, I know you didn’t understand what you were doing. You did it through ignorance, and so you need to repent” (verses 17, 19, literal translation). There were some who did repent, but there were others who resisted and became more furious than ever. After all, what do you do when a man is healed and made whole in the name of Jesus, whom you say is still dead?
Peter said, “To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (verse 26). The leaders of the Jewish religion were not happy at this and decided to arrest Peter and John. Force is always the last resort of every false religion. If you are searching for the true church, you should examine carefully to see if they persecute other people that do not believe the way they do. The words of the apostles could not be refuted and the only thing left for those who refused to believe the truth was to get rid of those promoting it. If you kill them, or at least cast them into prison, then they will not be able to deliver their message to the people.
Force is something that Jesus never used nor taught His disciples to use. That is not New Testament Christianity. However, it is one of the primary marks that indicates that you are dealing with a false religion. Force is the last resort of every false religion and you can be sure that a religion that uses force is not the religion of Jesus Christ.
“Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:1–4).
The bitterness, the malice of these religious leaders was unchanged, even though the evidence of the resurrection was too great to be denied.
Oh, friend, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus has not diminished since that time. In fact, it is overwhelming. It is one of the most attested facts of history, far more than almost anything that you could read in a history book. Without Christ’s resurrection having happened, there never would have been a Christian church.
There was an attempt to keep the early church from developing, but the evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus was too strong.
One day we are all going to appear at what the apostle Paul calls the judgment seat of Christ. We are all going to give an account of the life we have lived in this world. Accountability is probably the main reason why people do not like to believe that Jesus came into this world. It is going to happen whether we believe it or not, just as in Noah’s day when the warning was given about the coming flood. It came whether the people believed or not. But the question is, What are you going to believe? Are you going to check it out and follow the weight of evidence or put your head in the sand and hope it all goes away?
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)