The Resurrection of the Great King


The Resurrection of the Great King

The Resurrection of the Great King

Mark 16:1-8

Main Idea: Jesus’ resurrection is historically certain and eternally significant. In it He defeated the power of death and guaranteed the future resurrection of His people.

  1. The Witness of Mark’s Gospel (16:1-8)
  2. Resurrection Options
  3. Naturalistic or Alternative Theories That Reject the Resurrection
  4. Evidences for the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
  5. Why the Resurrection Is Important

Ihave a friend who is an atheist or, at least, an agnostic. When he and I were visiting, I asked him, “What is the bottom line when it comes to Christianity?” He responded, “That’s easy. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He then quickly added, “If the resurrection is true, then so are a number of other things: (1) There is a God; (2) Jesus is that God; (3) the Bible is true; (4) heaven and hell are real; and (5) Jesus makes the difference whether you go to one or the other.”

My friend is right on all counts. I have often wished my seminary students and fellow theologians saw the issue as clearly. Christianity stands or falls on the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. No resurrection, no Christianity. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul plainly writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In 16:1-8, Mark will note several evidences for the resurrection. We will quickly examine them and then provide a bird’s-eye view of this most critical issue of the Christian faith. We will examine the different theories that have been set forth and conclude with the massive evidence that leads us to proclaim, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” The witnesses to the resurrection are rock solid!

The Witness of Mark’s Gospel


Mark 16:1-8

Two of the women at the cross (15:40) saw where Jesus was buried (15:47). When the Sabbath was over, these women—Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James—along with Salome “bought spices, so they could go and anoint” the body of Jesus. They knew exactly where He was buried, and they wanted to perfume His body in a final act of devotion.

“Very early ... at sunrise” on Sunday morning “they went to the tomb.” They were concerned about how they would get to His body—the stone in front of the tomb “was very large.” When they arrived at the tomb, they were met with a surprise: “The stone ... had been rolled away.” They entered the tomb to find an even bigger surprise: “They saw a young man dressed in a long white robe” (16:5). There is no doubt he was an angel, and of course “they were amazed and alarmed.” Fear, wonder, amazement, astonishment, and distress gripped their souls. This word “alarmed” is the same word used in Mark 14:33 to describe the agony Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane.

Luke (24:3-4) and John (20:12) inform us that there were actually two angels present, the number required to establish a valid witness (Deut 17:6; 19:15). Matthew (28:5) and Mark focus on the spokesman, the one who conversed with the women.

Aware of their distress, the angel seeks to calm and assure them by revealing the greatest surprise of all (16:6): “Don’t be alarmed.... You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him.” I deeply appreciate the insights of James Edwards at this point:

The Crucified One, says the angel, has been raised! The angel invites the women to see the place where they last saw the body of Jesus (15:47). The references to the place of his burial and to Jesus as the crucified one are of crucial importance. The women are not directed to a mystical or spiritual experience or to a numinous encounter.

They are directed specifically to Jesus, who died by a crucifixion they witnessed, was buried in a place they witnessed, and now has been resurrected. The verbs in verse 6 refer to both sides of the Easter event. The announcement of the divine emissary establishes an inseparable continuity between the historical Jesus and the resurrected Jesus.

The one whom the angel invites them to know is the one whom they have known. The announcement of the gospel is literally, the gospel, good news, and the place from which the gospel is first preached is the empty tomb that both received and gave up the Crucified One.361 A new order of existence is inaugurated.... At this moment and in this place the women are witnessing “the kingdom of God come with power” (9:1). (Edwards, Mark, 494)

The evidence is undeniable. The tomb is empty! Now the women have a new assignment. There is no need to anoint a dead body that is no longer there. It is time to start proclaiming the good news of a risen Lord and Savior who has left the tomb! The angel instructs them to begin with those who had abandoned and denied Him: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there just as He told you’” (v. 7). What a word of grace, forgiveness, hope, and promise. What a pledge for a new beginning. Peter would especially be grateful for this word! Stunned, the women “started running from the tomb” (v. 8). They were overcome with “trembling and astonishment,” and “they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.” Sinclair Ferguson helps us put things in perspective:

Should they not have returned home rejoicing in the news they had heard? Is there not something unexpected about this response? That in itself is a mark of its authenticity (if we were to invent the story we would not end it in this way). But it is more. In Mark’s Gospel, this fear is always man’s response to the breaking in of the power of God. It is the fear the disciples experienced when Jesus stilled the storm; the fear of the Gerasenes when Jesus delivered Legion; the fear of the disciples as they saw Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem to die on the cross. This fear is the response of men and women to Jesus as he shows his power and majesty as the Son of God. (Ferguson, Mark, 271)

And thus Mark’s Gospel comes to an end, and an abrupt one at that. Verses 9-20 are not found in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. Mark’s sudden ending was what he wanted. It makes clear that the disciples of Jesus were stunned by all of this. They did not expect the resurrection. They did not know how to respond. How would they respond to all of this? How will you?

Resurrection Options

On the issue of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, there are three basic options. The first is that Jesus’ resurrection is false. It was a great hoax. Jesus did not rise from the dead and certain persons, probably the disciples, fabricated the story and pulled off perhaps the greatest hoax of all time. The second option is that Jesus’ resurrection is fiction. It is ancient mythology. The early church362 made Jesus into someone He really was not by telling stories they embellished over time. Eventually, believers turned Him into God incarnate who died on a cross for our sins and later rose from the dead. Although none of these events really happened, the stories about Jesus continue to evoke wonder and inspire us to live more noble lives, even today. The third option is that Jesus’ resurrection is fact and is, therefore, the supreme event of history. The New Testament accurately records the historical and supernatural resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. His resurrection was bodily and permanent. These are the viable options. There really are no others.

Naturalistic or Alternative Theories That Reject the Resurrection

Naturalistic theories attempt to explain away the idea that Jesus was bodily resurrected by the supernatural power of God. These theories prefer any naturalistic (or mystical) explanation over a supernatural one. Ten theories are worth noting, and an additional one (10) that I will throw in for comic relief!

1. The swoon theory: Jesus did not really die but fainted because of the enormous physical punishment He suffered. Later regaining consciousness in the cool, damp tomb, He unwrapped Himself from His grave clothes. He then managed to move aside the large stone that sealed the tomb. Jesus emerged bruised and bleeding; then He convinced His followers that He had risen from the dead.

An example of this theory is the best-seller The Passover Plot, in which Hugh Schonfield says Jesus planned the whole thing with help from Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus was drugged while on the cross, making it appear that He had died. Unfortunately, He was seriously injured and actually died a short time later. Barbara Thiering says Jesus was given snake poison to fake His death and later recovered. He would go on to marry Mary Magdalene and later Lydia, and He would father several children!

2. The spirit theory: Jesus was not raised bodily, but He returned in a spirit form. This view is held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult, which teaches that Jesus was created by God as the archangel Michael and that while on earth He was only a man. Following His death on the cross, God restored Jesus in a spiritual form only. The Watchtower Society asserts, “King Christ Jesus was put to death in the flesh and was resurrected an invisible spirit creature.”

3. The hallucination theory: Jesus preconditioned His disciples to hallucinate by means of hypnosis. Ian Wilson says Jesus may have “prepared his disciples363 for his resurrection using the technique that modern hypnotists call posthypnotic suggestion. By this means he could have effectively conditioned them to hallucinate his appearances in response to certain prearranged cues” (Wilson, Jesus, 141).

4. The vision theory: the disciples had experiences they interpreted or understood to be literal appearances of the risen Jesus. The disciples saw visionary appearances of the risen Christ, and He communicated to them a call and a mission. This view is similar to the spirit theory.

5. The legend or myth theory basically agrees with the infamous Jesus Seminar. Over time the Jesus stories were embellished and exaggerated. The resurrection is a “wonder story” indicating the significance the mythical Jesus held for His followers.

6. The stolen-body theory: the soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb were bribed by the Jewish leaders to lie and say, “His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.” It is the earliest naturalistic theory, going back to Matthew 28:11-15. Occasionally, it is alleged that the body could also have been stolen by the Jewish leaders, the Romans, or even Joseph of Arimathea.

7. The wrong-tomb theory: belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection rests on a simple mistake. First the women and later the men went to the wrong tomb by accident. Finding that tomb empty, they erroneously concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead.

8. The lie-for-profit theory: Jesus’ death by crucifixion was a huge disappointment, but His followers saw a way to turn it for financial profit. They proclaimed that Jesus had risen, they built a substantial following, and they fleeced the people who believed their lie. This theory assigns contemptible motives to the disciples, charging them with perhaps the greatest religious hoax ever perpetrated.

9. The mistaken-identity theory: the women mistook someone else for Jesus. They perhaps ran into a gardener or a caretaker. Because it was early in the morning and still dark, they could not clearly see this man. They wrongly thought he was Jesus.

10. The twin theory: Jesus had an identical twin brother. In a 1995 debate with Christian apologist William Lane Craig, philosopher Robert Greg Cavin argued this theory. Separated at birth, the brothers did not see each other again until the crucifixion. Following Jesus’ death, His twin conjured up a messianic identity and mission for Jesus, stole His body, and pretended to be the risen Jesus. All we can say in response is, “Incredible! What an imagination!”

36411. The Muslim theory: the biblical witness of Jesus’ crucifixion is false; God provided a substitute for Jesus, perhaps even making the person look like Jesus. Surah 4:157 in the Qur’an says, “They declared: ‘We have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.” Muslims do not agree on who took Jesus’ place. Candidates include Judas, Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, or even one of the disciples. Muslims do not believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection because they do not believe He died on the cross. Instead, Surah 4:158 declares, “Allah took him up unto Himself.”

Evidences for the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Virtually all scholars acknowledge a number of historical facts surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection: (1) Jesus died on a Roman cross by crucifixion. (2) Jesus was buried in a tomb not far from the crucifixion site. (3) Jesus’ death threw the disciples into a state of despondency, believing their Lord was now dead. (4) Jesus’ tomb was discovered to be empty shortly after His burial. (5) The disciples had real experiences that convinced them that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive. (6) These experiences with the risen Jesus radically transformed the disciples into bold witnesses of His resurrection, which led to martyrdom for many of them. (7) The message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the heart of the gospel from the beginning. (8) This gospel was preached in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus had been crucified and buried. (9) The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection was foundational in the birth of the Christian church. (10) Sunday became the day of worship for the church in celebration of the Lord’s resurrection on that day. (11) James, Jesus’ half brother and an unbeliever, was converted following an appearance of his resurrected brother. (12) Saul, a persecutor of Christians, was converted to Christianity following an appearance of the risen Christ. Because these facts are wellattested and accepted, any theory or explanation of the empty tomb must properly account for them.

No one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus. The proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection is based on the fact that He died, He was buried, the tomb in which He was buried was discovered to be empty, and the disciples had experiences that convinced them that Jesus had supernaturally and bodily risen from the dead. Having established these historical facts, we can build a strong case for Jesus’ bodily resurrection based on 14 evidences.

1. The failure of naturalistic or alternative theories to explain the event. Naturalistic arguments did not stand up to careful analysis. Virtually all of them have365 been abandoned or substantially revised. Proponents were selective in the biblical data they affirmed.

2. The birth of the disciples’ faith and the radical change in their lives. Something happened that caused Jesus’ followers to believe they had genuine encounters with the risen Lord. These encounters with Jesus changed them from fearful cowards in hiding to bold witnesses of the resurrected Christ. In addition, according to church tradition, the 11 apostles, with the possible exception of John, died as martyrs, still proclaiming Jesus as the risen Lord. Although people will die for a lie if they think it is the truth, they will not die for what they know to be a lie.

3. The empty tomb and the discarded grave clothes. Paul’s early testimony in 1 Corinthians 15 supports the truth of the empty tomb, and the account itself is simple and lacks legendary development. The details are not fantastic, including only some discarded clothes.

4. The fact that women saw the empty tomb first. In the Jewish culture of the first century, women were not qualified to be witnesses in a legal proceeding. It is astonishing that the Bible records that women saw the risen Jesus first. If the early church were making up a story to persuade people to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it is inconceivable that they would say women were the first witnesses to the event. The only reason to do so is that women did, in fact, see Him first.

5. The change in the day of worship from the Sabbath to Sunday. For centuries Jewish identity had been connected to the observance of the Sabbath, a day that is honored and kept sacred to the Lord. Yet something extraordinary happened around ad 30 that caused a large group of Jews in Jerusalem to change their day of worship from the Sabbath to Sunday. That event is the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

6. The unlikely nature of mass hallucination. Mass hallucination is actually impossible! Hallucinations are inner, subjective experiences of the mind. They occur personally and individually, not as a group experience.

7. Postresurrection appearances. The New Testament records many occasions when Jesus appeared to His followers after His resurrection (e.g., Matt 28; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 1; 1 Cor 15; Rev 1). The disciples claimed that Jesus appeared at different times and to different people. Some appearances were to groups while others were to individuals. The differing though complementary nature of the resurrection appearances support their authenticity. The appearances lasted for 40 days and then came to an abrupt366 stop after Jesus’ ascension back to heaven. No other compelling alternative explanation exists.

8. The 50-day interval between the resurrection and the bold and public proclamation of the gospel at Pentecost in Jerusalem. Jesus’ disciples did not proclaim the gospel of the risen Lord for 50 days after the event took place. Why? They waited until Jesus had ascended (see Luke 24; Acts 1) and until the Holy Spirit had come to empower them for witness (see Acts 2). Christ had to leave before they would act on their own, and the Spirit had to come to give them boldness for witness.

9. The inability of the Jewish leaders and the Romans to disprove the message of the empty tomb. It is an undeniable fact of history that those who opposed Jesus could not disprove His resurrection. The disciples could not have preached the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty. The Christian movement could have been quickly crushed by producing Jesus’ dead corpse. No one was able to do so because there was no body to produce.

10. The unexpected nature of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The disciples did not anticipate that Jesus would rise from the dead though He had predicted this miracle on several occasions (see Mark 8:31-33; 9:31-32; 10:32-34). In fact, Mark 9:32 tells us they did not understand. When Jesus was crucified, their hopes were dashed. The disciples being fearful and despondent is especially fatal to any type of hallucination or hypnosis theory.

11. The conversion of two skeptics: James and Paul. James, the half brother of Jesus, was an unbeliever in Jesus as Messiah prior to His crucifixion (John 7:5). Yet something transformed James from a doubter to a believer, from a skeptic to a leader in the church at Jerusalem, from one who thought his brother was mad (see Mark 3:21) to one who willingly suffered martyrdom for the gospel. Saul of Tarsus violently persecuted the church (see Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-2). Something changed him from a persecutor of Christ to a missionary and evangelist for Christ. His own testimony affirms that he had not been open to the gospel, but he saw the resurrected Christ (see Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-10; 26:12-19; 1 Cor 15:8; Gal 1:15-16).

12. The moral character of the eyewitnesses. The New Testament provides the greatest teachings found in any literature on love, truth, honesty, hope, faithfulness, kindness, and other virtues. These teachings came from the pens of men like Matthew, John, Paul, James, and Peter, all of whom claimed to be eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. To affirm their teachings yet367 reject their witness of Jesus as a lie or mistake is nonsensical. If we accept their teachings, we must trust their testimony about Jesus.

13. The accepted character and claims of Jesus. On numerous occasions Jesus spoke of His crucifixion and resurrection. He claimed He was God (see John 8:58; 10:30; 14:9), and He said He would come back from the dead (see Matt 16:21). To claim Jesus as a great religious figure and moral teacher while believing that His prediction of His resurrection was wrong would make Him either a liar or a lunatic. The resurrection is essential to the confession that Jesus is Lord. Everything hinges on it.

14. Reliable eyewitness documents recording the events. The New Testament is the most well-authenticated document of antiquity, a fact no textual critic of any theological persuasion would deny. More than 5, 600 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament exist. These are of an earlier date and of a more reliable nature than those of any other work of antiquity. Eyewitness followers of Christ wrote many of them, and the books themselves have the ring of history. No religion has in its sacred writings what Christians have in the New Testament. These 14 arguments form objective, historically verifiable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Combined with a believer’s personal experience of Jesus as living Lord, they provide ample reason to believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead by the mighty hand of God.

Why the Resurrection Is Important

The resurrection verifies the truthfulness of the deity of Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:22-24; Rom 1:3-4) and provides hope for the believer’s resurrection (see Rom 6:8-9; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:20-28; 2 Cor 4:14; 5:10; Phil 3:21; 1 Thess 4:14; 1 John 3:2). The resurrection indicates God’s approval of Jesus—who He is and what He said. God’s approval includes Jesus’ message about the way people can receive eternal life (see John 14:6).

The resurrection tells us that the God who raised Jesus from the dead exists. It establishes Jesus’ lordship. The resurrection promises victory over death (see John 14:1-9; 1 Cor 15:55-57), and it is a pledge of God’s final judgment (see Acts 17:31; Heb 9:26-27).

Jesus said in John 10:18, “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again.” Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection, which all who are in Him will enjoy (1 Cor 15:22). Christ has been raised for our justification (Rom 4:25). The penal substitutionary death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection are both essential for the miracle of salvation.

368The definitive text on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15. It is both apologetic and theological in its treatment of this great doctrine. Both the death of Christ and His resurrection are part of the definition of the gospel. That gospel is that Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He was raised again—all according to the Scriptures.7 The resurrection itself is the crowning moment of the work of atonement provided by our Lord. It is a trinitarian accomplishment with each person of the Godhead participating (Rom 1:1-4).

Jesus is indeed the risen Lord. You can reject Him, but you cannot ignore Him. What Jesus did in rising from the dead demands a response. How will you respond to the risen Lord and King of the universe? It is a question that cannot be avoided. (Most of the content of this message was taken from Akin, Discovering.)

Reflect and Discuss

  1. When you ponder your faith, or when you face doubts, what is the bottom line for you—what is your anchor? How do you give a brief answer to, Why are you a Christian?
  2. If you wanted to make up a story about a man being resurrected from the dead, how would it differ from Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection? Why is the difference actually evidence that Mark’s account is true?
  3. Why do people create alternative explanations for Jesus’ resurrection? Give two or three reasons.
  4. Which of the 14 historical facts do you consider to be the strongest support for the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus?
  5. How does the martyrdom of ten of the apostles provide evidence for the resurrection?
  6. How does the founding of the church in the city of Jerusalem provide evidence for the resurrection?
  7. Hypothetically, what could the Romans or Jews have done that would have disproved the testimonies to the resurrection and stopped the Christian religion before it started? Why did they not do those things?
  8. Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, what were the disciples expecting of Him? When Jesus was crucified, what were they probably thinking? (See Luke 24:19-24.)
  9. How do the conversions of James and Paul testify to the resurrection of Christ?
  10. How does your own heart and personal experience give testimony to the resurrection of Christ?

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By “according to the Scriptures,” Paul has in view the Old Testament Scriptures and texts like Gen 22:1-19; Pss 16:8-11; 22; Isa 52:13-53:12; Jonah 1:17; 2:10; Zech 12:10.