Every year, at Easter, we hear again the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. By repetition, the truly astonishing nature of this event, as recorded by each of the four evangelists, is largely lost on us.
St Paul, a persecutor of the church until his conversion on the road to Damascus, attests to the very early and uniform belief that Jesus literally rose body and soul from the dead.
He says, in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, believed to have been written about 55AD, just 20 years after the resurrection, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" - from Peter and other Apostles - "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."
Paul concluded, "If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain."
Some modern biblical scholars, along with non-Christian sceptics, have argued Jesus did not die on the cross, others that he did not rise from the dead. Both claims are explicitly refuted by the Gospel writers. Matthew even tells us the Temple authorities spread the story that Jesus' disciples had stolen the body, "and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day."
Even in those days, there were many who could not accept the resurrection, so it is not surprising that many do not accept it today. What strikes the reader about the apostles was their unwillingness to accept the reality of the resurrection, until Jesus proved it, through his appearances, first to Mary, later on the first Easter Sunday to Simon Peter, then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then to apostles who were still in the upper room where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper, and later to many others.
We can take great consolation from Jesus' statement to the apostle Thomas: "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe."
- Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.