Did Jesus REALLY Rise from the Dead?
Yea, but, what does that mean? I mean imagine someone you know that has died. Now imagine that person paying you a visit several days after their death. It would seem that this is what the Apostles witnessed - their friend Jesus, who was DEFINITELY DEAD, three days later, ALIVE. When we think about it within the context of our own every day experience, especially our experience of DEATH, it doesn't seem likely. It doesn't seem possible.
Well, I think we have to understand, first of all what the Gospel seems to mean by Jesus' RESURRECTION. In the Gospels, Jesus raises three people from the dead: first a little girl, then a young man, and then his four-days-dead (and therefore stinky) buddy Lazarus. But these are not the same kinds of RAISINGS that Jesus himself experienced, because they simply returned to normal every-day life, only to die again many years later, hopefully of old age.
What happened to Jesus seems to be different - at least that's what the Gospels say. Jesus hasn't just come back to life again. He is glorified, exalted, transformed, and yet the same guy. When people he knows well see him, like Mary Magdeline or the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they don't recognize them right away, not until he reveals himself to them in some way. He is able to pass through walls; to appear and disappear. At the same time, he isn't a ghost - he can eat food, he still has holes in his hands and his feet.
The Jesus that they knew has somehow transcended death, and taken on a new form of existence. This included resurrection of his body AND soul - everything that he is is alive again, but in a new, eternal way. Somehow this transformation is beyond the Apostles' ability to grasp or understand, and yet, they can experience it, and through HIS intention, KNOW that it is him. At least this is what the Gospels describe.
So - did it happen? Well, first of all, one thing that is beyond dispute is that he died. All this stuff about Jesus' life and ministry, his trail and execution, couldn't have just emerged out of a vaccuum - somebody didn't just decide to make up a story and base a religion on it, that would be ridiculous, because that religion didn't take hold for several generations, and it is unlikely that people would allow themselves to be martyred for a religion that they made up.
So he died. Upon what basis do we state that he rose? Upon the testimony of witnesses - the Apostles. They didn't write their experiences down, because they didn't think they had to - they expected the end of the world to happen within a few years. The Gospel writers were likely disciples of the Apostles - and so people who knew the Apostles heard the stories that they told, and believed them. And, we also have St. Paul, a first hand eyewitness, who claims to have been literally knocked off his horse by his experience of the risen Christ.
Can we believe the testimony of the Apostles - that they experienced Jesus as alive AFTER his crucifixion? Well, it seems to me that we have three alternative explanations, either a) they were lying, b) they were nuts, or c) somehow, they were telling the truth.
So how about a). Well, some could say that they lied about it all, that they didn't want to go back to fishing, that they wanted political and religious power that comes with running the Christian church - but hold on - the Christian church didn't have any power for about 300 years, well past the lifespan of the Apostles - seems like a dumb thing to lie about. And not only did they stick to their story, tradition has it that 11 of the 12 Apostles gave their lives for this story - as stated above, hard to imagine them doing so for a lie.
Well then, b), they were nuts. They experienced some kind of delusion, perhaps brought on by their grief. To me, this would seem reasonable if the story were based on the testimony of one Apostle - his was nuts. Even two: the story could be dismissed. But twelve? Plus other witnesses as well? This is where the "nuts" possibility fades away - because Jesus' Resurrection was a COLLECTIVE experience, it has credibility.
Within this possibility lies another, that perhaps they couldn't accept the fact that Jesus was dead, and so psychologically grasped on to the idea that he rose - but hold on. If we put ourselves into the context of a Jew living at the time, knowing Deuteronomy 21:23 very well, that "God's curse is upon anyone who hangs on a tree," and believing this without doubt to be the inspired word of God, well, seeing Jesus' death by crucifixion would have been proof-positive that Jesus had been wrong about everything - that God had rejected Jesus. The only way they could have overcome this stumbling block to their faith would have been for SOMETHING to have happened to them.
Well - that leaves us with c), doesn't it?
And while we're at it, here's another interesting piece of evidence to add to the credibility of the Resurrection (although I can't claim ownership of it; I heard it in a theology class). Who were the FIRST witnesses to the Resurrection? Women, according to the Gospels. Women were not considered to be reliable witnesses in that culture. So, if the story of Jesus' Resurrection had been made up, the one's making it up probably would NOT have his first witnesses be women. It's an interesting argument - on its own, not conclusive, but added to what's above, I think its worth adding to the total weight of the evidence.
Bottom line - it is very plausible, even BELIEVEABLE that Jesus rose from the dead, in some way. I think its important not to try to gain too vivid a picture of what this looked like, as has been traditionally done, even as recently as the Resurrection scene at the end of "the Passion of the Christ" which was a little ridiculous.
In the Apostles, we have a group of people who claim to have witnessed Jesus as somehow transcending death - Jesus was alive. They told people about, and they told people about it, and THEY told people about it, and so on, and so on, and so on.... and here we are, the Church. That's what the Church is, what Christianity is - people who believe the story that the Apostles told, that Jesus is Alive.
I believe it.