THE RESURRECTION: The Greatest Miracle? or the Greatest Lie?
The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest miracle of all history.
But if Jesus had not walked out of His tomb on the third day, the resurrection
story would be the greatest lie of all time.
Jesus’ visit with His disciples to Caesarea Philippi was a red letter event in the Lord’s ministry. There, up in the Golan Heights, Jesus gave the prophecy of the birth of the church (Matthew 16:18). Immediately following that great proclamation, Jesus began to prepare His disciples in another prophecy for His death and resurrection: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31; see also Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22).
A few short months later, the Lord was arrested and tried in the court of Caiaphas, Israel’s high priest. Jesus was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. He was crucified just as He had prophesied. But on the third day He walked out of His tomb. It lives to this day as the greatest miracle of all time.
Some say this gospel story is simply unbelievable, alleging the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest lie of all history. Others say the early church apostles put statements in Jesus’ mouth He never said. But anyone who studies the Gospels with an open mind will recognize Jesus spoke compellingly to His followers. What Jesus said and the apostles taught is not a figment springing from the minds of deluded people. It just is not possible to wave away the authority of Jesus’ testimony to His resurrection. The Lord’s disciples’ witnessed to it for the remainder of their lives, and paid for their testimonies at the cost of their lives.
Jesus faced argument and contention throughout His ministry. But stand if you will with the Lord at His empty tomb where there is no one to dispute Him. The religious establishment, when the soldiers reported Jesus was missing from His tomb, did not go searching for Jesus to check out the news face to face. Their hearts were committed to protecting themselves and the self-righteous value system by which they lived (Matthew 28:11–15; Luke 16:19–31). Instead, the Sanhedrin leaders bribed the soldiers to change their testimony (Matthew 28:11-15).
The members of the Sanhedrin did try to cover their tracks. It should never be forgotten that religion will lie and even kill when its self-interests are at stake. With these first century Jewish leaders, this was true even though the ninth commandment of the Law they were so zealous about upholding forbade bearing false witness. Consider the deception they crafted to explain the resurrection: “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept” (Matthew 28:12–13).
Think about it. Can anyone in his right mind believe the resurrection of Jesus was a lie? The evidence is simply overwhelming. The testimony of Thomas is transparent. Jesus said to him, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). The conclusion is that doubt is a choice and it is made in the face of the evidence that is plentiful.
- The Roman guards risked execution if they slept while on duty; yet, they slept so soundly they did not hear the activity rolling away the stone that sealed the tomb. Now that’s a stretch! And,
- The disciples whisked Jesus’ body away for another secret burial and never disclosed to anybody the new burial site. That’s a stretch too!
If Jesus was not resurrected:
- The soldiers did not go to Caiaphas at all and tell him about the resurrection. That testimony was a lie, and
- The account of the high priests bribing the soldiers to get them to say Jesus’ body was stolen was a lie. Then,
- Knowing all of these lies, the disciples created a series of new lies about the resurrection sightings.
- They also coordinated all of these lies in such detail their testimony never contradicted each other in the books they wrote.
- The disciples went on to craft the story of the Great Commission; another lie.
If Jesus was not resurrected, the string of lies only continues:
- The ascension of Jesus was a lie.
- The disciples went to the Upper Room and prayed together for ten days, along with Jesus’ mother and about 110 others. But not one of the disciples, with a smitten conscience, stood up to say to those earnest, praying people, “I’m sorry, folks, it’s all a lie.”
- Then on the fiftieth day, Pentecost itself was another cruel hoax. If Jesus was not alive, Peter did not stand up at all to preach to the crowd that gathered, telling them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. That highly inspired sermon was built on a lie and Peter knew it was a lie, but he still did it.
- The marvelous miracles in Acts of the Apostles were all based on a lie. For just two examples: the lame man at the temple gate was not healed. And, Peter’s vision of clean and unclean things, followed up by his visit to Cornelius’ home, and the sermon he preached in this Roman military commander’s house was a lie. Neither did the Gentile Pentecost occur that day in the hearts of Cornelius’ family.
If Jesus was not raised from the dead…
- The disciples dedicated the remainder of their lives, amid great persecution, to telling passionately the story of Jesus’ bodily resurrection that they knew was a lie.
- Some thirty years later, Peter was still telling the lie. He wrote in his first epistle, for example: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit…. Jesus Christ… has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”
If Jesus was not resurrected bodily:
- The disciples died the deaths of fools. Each of them, except John the Apostle, became a martyr because of his testimony. But not one of them broke their silence and confessed to their lie to stop the persecution and save his own life! Instead,
- They each took the lie to their graves.The conclusion is obvious: the resurrection of Jesus is indeed the greatest miracle of all time. Jesus was raised from the dead bodily just as the scriptures say, fulfilling the prophets and opening up the new Covenant. In addition, the gift of the Holy Spirit did follow fifty days later to indwell Jesus’ followers. The Spirit comforted and encouraged them, and motivated and empowered them to take the Good News to the ends of the earth, including the remote islands of the seas. Peter preached on Pentecost, “Be assured of this: God has made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ [Messiah].” Peter went on to urge them to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:36-41). Some 3,000 of them heeded Peter’s warning that historic day.Paul added about twenty-five years later, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He was buried, and raised again on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3; see 1 Peter 3:18).
Robert Lowry (1826-1829) captured the miraculous resurrection message in his classic hymn (1874):
Lo, in the grave He lay
Jesus my Savior.
He tore the bars away,
Jesus my Lord.
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.
He arose the victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!