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The Apostles record that Jesus performed many miracles. John says that if everything Jesus did was recorded, the world could not contain all the books these would fill (John 21:25). The greatest miracle in Jesus' ministry was His last, and that was His resurrection from the dead. Feeding the 5000 and walking on water would be meaningless if He had not been raised from the dead, His final and triumphal miracle.
In this chapter, I want to describe the details surrounding the greatest event in history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A stone (3-4' circular) lays over a space cut in the side of a mountain where Jesus rests after His suffering and death on the cross. A seal is on the stone so no tampering will take place. The body is wrapped using several layers of bandages. When the process was complete, these bandages would be tightly enfolded with spices placed in between each layer. His head is covered with a napkin.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have laid Him here on Friday afternoon after receiving permission to remove the body from the scene of His death.
Several guards have been set in place to prevent anyone from stealing the body.
On Sunday morning at about 5 AM an earthquake shakes the ground and an angel in bright white appears and rolls away the stone. The Lord, however, has already left the tomb. The angel's action merely announces what has previously taken place. The pagan soldiers guarding the area fall to the ground in fear. Their reaction is due to the appearance of the angel and not the resurrection of Jesus which, as pagans, they were not privileged to see.
Eventually they run to the high priest and report what has taken place. They are then bribed to say that the disciples stole the body while they slept.
Soon after, Mary Magdalene and some other women arrive at the tomb with the hope of finishing the burial process that had begun on the body but had to be stopped because of the approaching Sabbath. The women see the stone rolled away and the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene leaves immediately to tell the Apostles that Jesus' body is no longer in its place. The other women, however, remain at the tomb. Angels then appear to these women and announce that Jesus has in fact risen from the dead. At this point, they also leave to tell the Apostles what they have seen and heard from the angel.
Mary returns with Peter and John and they look inside the tomb. The bandages that had been wrapped around His body are still intact and not cut, loosened or unwrapped suggesting that Jesus simply rose through them. The form is still there but the bandages are empty. Neatly folded in the corner of the tomb they see the napkin that had covered His face.
Peter and John depart from that place and return home leaving Mary Magdalene alone, crying and confused. The angels then appear to Mary asking her why she is crying, and she answers that someone has taken away the body of her Lord.
At this point, the Bible describes the first of Jesus' 12 recorded appearances.
First Appearance: Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)
While still weeping, Mary hears Jesus calling her name. She turns thinking it is one of the gardeners, but recognizing Jesus she cries out, "Rabboni" (teacher) and clings to Him. He gently pushes her away, reassuring her that she will not lose Him. Jesus then tells her to go announce the good news to the others. She responds by quickly returning to where the Apostles are located and reports what she has seen. Unfortunately, they do not believe her.
Second Appearance: The Women (Matthew 28:8-10)
In the meantime, the other women are still on their way to tell the Apostles what the angel has told them when Jesus suddenly appears to them at which point they recognize and worship Him. He instructs them to tell the Apostles that He will meet them in Galilee.
Third Appearance: Peter (Luke 24:34, I Corinthians 15:5)
After the women have reported the news to Peter and he refuses to believe them, Jesus appears to Peter alone. We have no details of this meeting, only that it took place.
Fourth Appearance: Two Men (Mark 16:12, Luke 24:13-17)
Two men leaving Jerusalem and traveling to the town of Emmaus (7 miles) meet a stranger and begin discussing the events of the past week along with the story of female disciples seeing an angel at Jesus' tomb. They are confused and so the stranger explains to them how the resurrection of the Messiah was in accord with Old Testament prophecy. They invite the stranger to their home and as they share a meal together, they recognize that the stranger is actually Jesus, at which point He disappears from their midst. The two men quickly return to Jerusalem that same night and report this amazing encounter with the Lord to the Apostles.
Fifth Appearance: The Apostles (Luke 24:35-49)
While these men are explaining their experience, Jesus appears among them and says, "Peace be with you." They are all afraid thinking they have seen a ghost, but Jesus then shows them His hands and feet. He even asks for some food and they give Him a fish to eat. All of this done to demonstrate that He was physically in their presence and not some ghostly appearance. The Lord then teaches them about the resurrection and how this was happening according to the prophecies about Him in the Old Testament. He opens their minds and gives them understanding of the Scriptures concerning Himself and His work. He also tells the Apostles that they will have to go and proclaim His resurrection, but to wait until they receive power from the Holy Spirit before beginning this task.
These first five appearances happen on the day of His resurrection.
Sixth Appearance: Thomas (John 20:24-29)
The Apostles tell Thomas (who was not present when Jesus first appeared to them) that the Lord is risen and has appeared to them, but he does not believe. One week later Jesus again appears to the Apostles and this time Thomas is among them. He is invited by the Lord to touch the holes in His hands and side. Thomas responds by falling down and worshiping Jesus saying, "My Lord and my God!"
Seventh Appearance: The Apostles by the Shore (John 21:1-24)
The Apostles are restless, still waiting for the Spirit and power. Peter decides to return home and go fishing. They set out in their boat but catch nothing all night. Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to try casting their nets on the other side of the boat which results in a great catch. Once ashore they eat with Him by the fire and the Lord tells Peter to feed His lambs, then asks if the Apostle truly loves Him and repeats the question three times. On the night preceding Jesus' death Peter denied knowing the Lord three times. Now, after Jesus' resurrection, the Apostle is asked to confirm his love for the Lord three times, one confession of love for each previous denial.
Eighth Appearance: The Apostles on the Mountain (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16)
The Apostles were gathered at a designated place in Galilee. Jesus comes to them there and gives them instructions concerning:
- His authority: He possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.
- Their ministry: Preach the gospel, baptize repentant believers, teach the disciples to know and obey all that Jesus commanded.
- Their power: The Holy Spirit will empower them to do miracles in order to confirm their ministry.
Ninth Appearance: 500 Brethren (I Corinthians 15:6)
Jesus appears to over 500 Christians at one time during a special gathering.
Tenth Appearance: James (I Corinthians 15:7)
He appears to James (the writer of the epistle) who was His earthly brother. James did not believe in Him while Jesus was alive and preaching before His crucifixion.
Eleventh Appearance: The Apostles before Jesus' Ascension (Acts 1:9-11)
A final appearance to the Apostles before His return to heaven which they witnessed.
Over 500 people of all kinds (women, men, old, young, educated and not, disciples) saw Jesus in the daytime and at night, indoors as well as outdoors. For over a period of a month He ate and talked with, touched and comforted His disciples in preparation for His return to heaven.
Twelfth Appearance: Jesus appears to Saul (Paul) (Acts 9:1-19)
Saul, the Pharisee sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to arrest and imprison Christians in a bid to destroy the young church, is blinded and called by Jesus to reverse course and devote himself to establishing the church among the Gentiles. After receiving his sight and hearing the gospel message, Saul is baptized and begins his preaching ministry that will eventually send him to a Roman prison and execution for a cause he so violently opposed before Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
I have said that the resurrection of Jesus was His final and greatest miracle. It was also His most necessary miracle because through the resurrection Jesus accomplished three things:
The Purpose of the Resurrection
1. The Resurrection Establishes Jesus as the Divine Messiah
Many say they believe in reincarnation, even that they once were alive in another form - but Jesus claims to have returned as Himself. This accomplishment entitles Him to be considered Lord and Christ. Paul points this out in Romans 1:1-4:
1Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
- Romans 1:1-4
Resurrection matters because it provides Scriptural and historical confirmation of Jesus' true identity.
2. Resurrection is Important Because it Produces Faith
We can demonstrate that the Bible is an inspired book/revelation of God in different ways:
- The accuracy of prophecy (no other book contains fulfilled prophecy as does the Bible).
- The harmony of complex material (the Bible is composed of 66 individual books, written by 40 plus authors, produced over a 1500 year time span and tells a single story without confusion or contradiction). No other book resembles or compares to it.
- The superiority of thought (no other book contains the theological, philosophical, social, ethical, moral and historical information at this level that has survived examination and criticism for nearly 2000 years without destruction or being relegated to irrelevance).
Note, however, that Jesus did not send His Apostles out to convince men according to the accuracy, harmony or superiority of the Scriptures, but rather by their personal eyewitness of His resurrection. You see, doubters and disbelievers are not persuaded by logical arguments about God's word, but by God's power as seen in the resurrection of Jesus.
Prophecy, accuracy of Scripture, superiority of thought may convince you to believe that the Bible is a special book, but that in itself will not save your soul (lots of people believe that the Bible is special). It is faith in Jesus as the Son of God, produced by the witness of the resurrection recorded in the Bible that saves men from hell, not the belief that the Bible comes from God. Without the resurrection, faith is not possible.
3. The Resurrection is Important Because it Eliminates Mankind's Greatest Fear: Death
14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
- Hebrews 2:14-15
From the fall of Adam, death has been man's greatest fear.
People give themselves over to this world, to sin and are discouraged in the doing of good because they believe in death's final power. They think that this life is all there is so they act without considering that they will be judged by a righteous God who has the power of heaven or hell over all souls.
Paul describes the final victory of the Christian, the victory over death made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory.55O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- I Corinthians 15:54-57
Someone may ask, "How does the resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago give us resurrection in the future?" Jesus answers them in John 6:39-40:
39This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.40For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."
- John 6:39-40
- The resurrection is necessary to destroy the fear of death. To show that death is not final, that it can and has been defeated, and the one who defeated it also has the power to give that victory to others.
- The greatest promise of the gospel is that for all who believe in Jesus Christ, personal resurrection from the dead will be a reality for them in the same way that it was a reality for Jesus.
God requires faith, but not blind faith. He promises us that there is life after this life and He has provided the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the "once for all" proof that this is so.
The resurrection was the final miracle and the most important one for us because:
- It is what separates Jesus Christ from every other religious prophet or leader in history. None of them have ever claimed personal resurrection - only Jesus. Through His resurrection God established Jesus as His only divine Son, Lord of all creation and Savior of all the world, according to His Word.
- The resurrection is important because it is the spark by which the flame of our faith is lit. Skeptics and doubters are not convinced by the love of God, but by the power of God as seen in the resurrection. I can believe what Jesus said and obey what He has commanded me to do because of this unmistakable sign.
- The resurrection gives me real hope for my own resurrection. Prophets, astrologers and spiritualists can write all they want about the "tunnel" or "light" they have experienced in near-death situations; only Jesus, however, dies and comes back three days later, and promises me the same experience.
17For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.18No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."
- John 10:17-18
Jesus has the ability to promise me this thing because He has the power over life and death, and His resurrection is the proof.
Before the final miracle of resurrection occurred in Jesus' life, He had to bear the cross. First there was the death and burial, then there was the glorious resurrection.
This sets a pattern for our own lives. The final miracle will be our own glorious resurrection from physical death to be with God forever in heaven. But before this can happen we also must undergo a death, burial and resurrection.
3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.
- Romans 6:3-5
Paul tells us that this re-creation takes place in the waters of baptism: we die to sin in repentance, we are buried in the waters of baptism, and then resurrected by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus' final miracle is available to all who come to Him in this manner.