It was only a matter of time before they were caught. You can’t hide 5,000 people believing in Christ. Peter and John, sore from spending the night in jail, were shoved into the presence of the rulers and scribes. The members of the high-priestly family stood. The crowd hushed.
“By what power or by what name did you do this?”
The question hung in the air. Everyone expects them to say, “Jesus”—but would they do so in the face of beatings, and maybe even death?
Peter rises to his feet, surveying the scene. Then it happens again—the promised Spirit fills him for the task at hand. Unsure of what he’s about to say, he opens his mouth in faith and declares,
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
These words were offensive then—and they’re offensive now.
AN EXCLUSIVE CLAIM
Do you find Peter’s claim of exclusive salvation through Jesus Christ alone offensive? How could he make such a bold claim?
Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), a defected Jew turned court historian for Emperor Vespasian, is quoted in AD 324 by Eusebius, and speaks of “Jesus, a wise man” who was condemned to the cross and then “appeared to them alive again the third day.” Belief in this Jesus turned the Roman empire upside down in just a few years.
But it wasn’t merely belief in Jesus that propelled the movement; it was a belief in his life, death, and—most importantly—his resurrection from the dead that was the chief apologetic of the early church.
We see this exclusive claim of salvation in Christ over and again in the New Testament. In Acts 4:10, Peter made his claim for the exclusivity of Christ largely based on the resurrection of Christ: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” Similarly, Paul on Mars Hill contended that “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
The apostles continually referenced the resurrection as their chief argument for the truth of Jesus’ claims.
A SIGNIFICANT CLAIM
Why is the resurrection of Christ so significant? Because Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-17). The resurrection also reveals that Christ has the power to raise us from the dead (John 11:25-26). Third, it confirms the validity of Christ’s teachings about his own deity.
Because a real man Jesus rose from the dead, he proved his own claim to divinity, sealed the salvation he promised to purchase, and now demands that we trust and submit to him.
Philosopher and broadcaster C.E.M. Joad was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He chose Jesus and said that he wanted to ask him the most important question in the world: “Did you, or did you not, rise from the dead?”
The resurrection, more than any religious claim, is investigable and therefore verifiable because it is a historical—not a philosophical—claim. And if it is true, it has universal implications.
The resurrection is the foundation of Christianity: if Jesus were dead, the church of Jesus would be speechless, powerless, and pointless. Yet we find in history that a handful of devastated Apostles frenzied the first century with the message that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. They gave their lives for this message—a message, we must not forget, they would know to be true or not.
These men—the ones who heard the hammers crush nine-inch nails through Jesus’ bones, saw the spear pierce his lifeless flesh, and watched the corpse of Christ be removed from the cross—were convinced of the resurrection. They weren’t giving their lives for some dogma, but for the man they knew and loved named Jesus, who they saw, touched, and talked with after his horrible and humiliating death.
A SPECIFIC CLAIM
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is recorded in all four gospels—the same divine, multi-faceted, unified truth is presented from different, harmonious perspectives. A summation of these accounts is found in the ancient Christian creed (probably from about 37 A.D.) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
These gospel writers, as representatives of early Christianity, make clear their assertion: the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a predicted, bodily, historical event.
Jesus’ resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In the messianic Psalm 16, David speaks prophetically: “You will not abandon my soul … or let your holy one see corruption” (v. 10). In the New Testament, Jesus explained to his disciples before his death that he would rise from the dead: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21).
Jesus’ predictions were so well known that even his enemies were aware he planned to rise from the dead (see Matt. 27:63). Jesus’ resurrection was prophesied hundreds of years before his birth, and in the days immediately preceding his death.
Jesus’ resurrection was also a bodily resurrection. The New Testament makes it plain that Jesus literally and physically rose from the grave. Thomas was able to put his finger into Jesus’ nail-prints and feel the spear-wound in his side (John 20:27). Luke tells us that, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his frightened disciples in a locked room, he invited them to handle his body, and then ate in front of them to assure them it was him and not just a spirit (24:36-43).
Christ’s resurrection was also historical. This was no April Fools' Day prank. As we’ve already seen, it is referenced by numerous Christian and non-Christian historical sources. Christianity is not based on a myth or fairytale.
AN INVESTIGABLE CLAIM
The evidence for the resurrection is plentiful. First, there is the empty tomb. If the tomb were full, no one would have believed the disciples’ testimony. The Jews would certainly have produced the body if they could have and silenced the apostles. However, they couldn’t, and subsequently, we see Christianity explode around the known world in (historically speaking) no time at all.
Second, the eyewitness testimony of the apostles (John 20:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18-21; Matt. 28:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:3-8) verifies Jesus’ resurrection. Three of these four witnesses died for their testimony, and all of them suffered for it.
Third, the Sabbath was changed to Sunday by devout Jews. The only reason such a ground-shift in a centuries-long tradition would occur is if something tremendous and extraordinary—a sign from God—had taken place.
Finally, consider the remarkable growth of the church. The early church—against great opposition, persecution, and rejection—grew by leaps and bounds in the first century. This can only be explained by some incontrovertible evidence, especially as many of their converts (e.g. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul) came from among their enemies.
Despite all of this, you may still be skeptical of—or indifferent to—the evidence for and implications of the resurrection of Jesus. The gospel writers, as am I, are sympathetic to the doubting or struggling investigator. In fact, the disciples themselves were slow to believe. But once they were convinced, they became irrepressibly inspired.
In the resurrected Christ, even the skeptic may find the confirmation he or she needs in order to turn to Jesus. Truly, there is salvation in no one else; his is the only name under heaven by which we must be saved.
The resurrected Jesus has the power to escape a sealed tomb and enter a locked room. If you are a skeptic, may he enter the locked room of your heart and bring you out of unbelief. And may you find yourself, like the Apostles and millions of others, irrepressibly inspired to tell others about the poor, wandering rabbi from Nazareth who came not to serve, but to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many—including you.
Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over 15 years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app (iTunes/Android) which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He has also written articles for For the Church, Servants of Grace, and Fathom Magazine. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.