April 10th, 2009
Dr. Phil Fernandes
Pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship
President of the Institute of Biblical Defense
Once again, Easter is just around the corner. It will bring with it spring weather, the Easter bunny, and Easter egg hunts. More importantly, however, Easter is supposed to be a celebration of Christ’s resurrection but did that resurrection really occur? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What occurred on that first Easter?
The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians around 52 to 54AD. In that letter Paul repeats an ancient creed or hymn that was recited or sung in the early church (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). New Testament scholars tell us that this creed or hymn was originally written in Aramaic and it dates back to before 42AD when the church was primarily Jewish. This ancient creed or hymn lists some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. It states that, after His death, Jesus appeared to Cephas (the Apostle Peter), the twelve apostles, over five hundred people (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this letter), James (the half-brother of Jesus), and Paul himself.
There are several reasons why this ancient creed or hymn is historically reliable. First, as a leader in the early church, it was unlikely that Paul would fabricate this account. Since most of the witnesses were still alive, if Paul had lied, his lie could be easily exposed. Second, Paul was himself a reliable eyewitness since he was sincere enough to die for his testimony. He was beheaded in 67AD. Third, the research of historian A. N. Sherwin-White shows that legends take several centuries to form. Legends do not gain a wide following until long after the eyewitnesses are dead. But the creed or hymn of 1 Corinthians 15 can be dated to within 12 years of the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, many of the eyewitnesses were still alive. In fact, some of them were leaders in the early church. Fourth, there was no reason for Paul to fabricate this account since it would not bring him any earthly gain; this testimony would only bring him suffering and persecution on earth.
In short, this ancient creed or hymn gives us historically trustworthy evidence for Christ’s resurrection. Skeptics can deny the resurrection 2,000 years after the fact; but, to do so, they must reject reliable eyewitness testimony. The witness of history proclaims that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.
What does this mean for us as we enter the twenty-first century? It means that when one scans the pages of history, one finds that men and women, even great men and women, die and stay dead. But, there is one exception: Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter who claimed to be God and the only Savior this world will ever know. For Jesus has conquered death and offers salvation to all who trust in Him. Easter is more than the return of spring weather, the Easter Bunny, or egg hunts. Easter is a celebration of the empty tomb, a tomb vacated by the risen Savior. Easter is a celebration because death, man’s greatest enemy, has been defeated. Easter means that there is hope for mankind because Jesus has risen from the dead.