by James M. Flanigan, N. Ireland
As those who walk by faith and not by sight, believers in the Lord Jesus are not much interested in proving matters relating to their faith. Nevertheless, there is one great truth which is attested by many proofs; it is the resurrection of Christ from among the dead, Acts 1.3. Such is the strength of this word "proofs" (Gk. tekmerion; Strong’s Concordance 5039) that the translators of the K.J.V. have sought to indicate and emphasise this strength by use of the word ‘infallible’. The commentator Adam Clarke writes, "by many proofs of such a nature, and connected with such circumstances, as to render them indubitable; for this is the import of the Greek word." Some of these proofs are practical and physical, some are personal and some are experiential, being the witness and testimony of various individuals and companies of people who actually saw the Saviour during those forty days after His death and burial when He showed Himself alive again, risen from the tomb, Acts 1.3.
Of the actual death of Christ there can be not the least shadow of doubt. The idea propounded by certain critics and infidels that He never did really die but swooned, is ludicrous in the extreme and will be considered later. After six hours of pain and suffering, nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus cried "It is finished", commended His spirit to His Father, bowed His head, and died, Jn.19.30; Lk.23.46. The spear in His side provided proof that He had indeed expired and the evidence of the centurion in charge confirmed this to the Roman Governor who had marvelled if He were already dead, Jn.19.34; Mk.15.44. The Scriptures written afterwards leave no room for doubting the reality of the death of Christ. "Christ died for our sins" 1 Cor.15.3; "Christ died for the ungodly" Rom.5.6; "Christ died for us" Rom.5.8. Such declarations of His death abound in both Old and New Testaments and no honest mind can query or doubt the fact that Jesus died.
Late in the evening of the day of His crucifixion two influential Jewish counsellors, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, begged Pontius Pilate the Governor for His body. The Governor granted this and having taken the body down from the cross the counsellors wrapped Him in grave clothes with spices and laid Him in a tomb which had never been used before. It was a virgin, unused sepulchre in the vicinity of Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, Jn.19.41. It was a garden tomb, hewn out of rock.
If the spear that pierced His side had provided proof of the death of Jesus, now the heavy rolling stone which rolled across the entrance to the tomb closed the story of the lovely life which had ended on the cross on that sad afternoon. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and buried. He alone was in that new sepulchre and the weighty stone closed the entrance.
No one now doubted that Jesus was dead and there were witnesses too to His burial in that garden tomb, but the cynical priests and Pharisees were still not satisfied. They remembered that while He was alive Jesus had said, "After three days I will rise again" Matt.27.63. They now feared that somehow His disciples might come stealthily in the night, steal the body and proclaim to the people "He is risen from the dead" Matt.27.64. They brought their fears to Pilate demanding that the sepulchre should be made sure. Pilate, perhaps now impatient with them, said, "Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can." This was his permission for them to use a corps of the Roman Guards who were garrisoned at the Fortress of Antonia on the corner of the Temple Mount and were sometimes employed in temple duties. The guards duly took up their positions outside the sepulchre.
So there was really a three-fold security at the Saviour’s tomb, the stone, the seal, and the soldiers. A great rolling stone closed the entrance. Most likely a cord was stretched across the stone and fastened with a waxen seal at either end to the stone walls at the sides of the door, Matt.27.66. The wax would be impressed with the Governor’s signet ring, token of the authority of the Emperor. And then there were the Roman keepers or guards. With such precautions who could, or would dare, steal the body of the One Who lay there?
For three days there was silence. They were sad lonely days for those who had companied with the Saviour during the years of His ministry. They had walked with Him, talked with Him and dined with Him. They had listened to His ministry, they had witnessed His miracles, they had asked Him many questions and He had been their trusted confidant, companion, and friend. Now He was gone. Two of them who walked to Emmaus together said rather forlornly, "… we trusted …" Lk.24.21. They spoke in the past tense. Their hopes had been dashed. For three days all had been dark for them. Had they ceased trusting now? But something had already happened on that first day of the week, of which as yet that couple was unaware.
Early visitors to the tomb were surprised to find the heavy stone rolled away. The angel of the Lord had descended from heaven. He had rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it as if in defiance of death and the grave. The guards were shaken with terror and fainted with fear, becoming as dead men. And the tomb was empty! There was an angelic message for the women which they were to convey to the waiting disciples, "Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead" Matt.28.5-7.
- Vainly they watch His bed,
- Jesus, my Saviour,
- Vainly they seal the dead,
- Jesus, my Lord
- (Robert Lowry)
These then are the facts. The Saviour died, and was buried in a new tomb. Despite the Roman guard and the official seal the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty on the third morning after the burial. How do we explain the empty tomb? No one has ever denied or doubted that the tomb was indeed empty on that morning, but infidels and cynics have joined forces in vain attempts to deny the resurrection of Christ from among the dead. Several theories have been, and are being, advanced to explain the empty tomb apart from resurrection. These must be considered, if only to show how ludicrous they really are and to establish the believer afresh in the greatness of the truth that Jesus is alive. A risen Man is now ascended into glory and enthroned in the heavens at the right hand of God in the victory of His resurrection.
The first theory was, like all those that followed, a great lie. It was propounded by the frightened guards at the instigation of the chief priests and elders of Jewry, senators of the great Sanhedrin. These men knew the power of bribery! They had already bribed Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus and now they bribed the guards to tell the lie that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body while they, the guards, were asleep. Having given them "large money", they said, "Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept" Matt.28.13.
The chief priests and elders were in a most embarrassing position and Albert Barnes is worth quoting in full on the subject. He writes, "Notwithstanding all their caution, it was plain that the body of Jesus was gone. It was further plain that the disciples would affirm that He was raised. They had been at great pains to procure His death. They had convinced Pilate that He was dead. They had placed a guard for the express purpose of preventing His being taken. It would be in vain, after this, to pretend that He was not dead; that He was in a swoon; that He died in appearance only. They had shut themselves out from this, which would have been the most plausible plea; and whatever course they might now adopt, they were obliged to proceed on the admission that He had been really dead, and that all proper measures had been taken to prevent His being stolen. They concluded, after consultation, that but one way was left – to bribe the soldiers, to induce them to tell a falsehood, and to attempt to convince the world that the body of Jesus, in spite of themselves, and in the face of all probability, had been really stolen."
With the bribe went the promise that if the matter ever came to the ears of Pilate, the elders would cover for them and persuade the Governor as to what had happened. Pilate was accustomed to return to his home in Caesarea after the Feast of the Passover. It was therefore possible that he might not hear the details of what had happened, at least not for some time. But if he did, the soldiers need not worry, they would "persuade" him, very possibly with a bribe. They had bribed Judas, they were bribing the soldiers, and they could bribe Pilate. Compare that other Governor, Felix, "He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him" Acts 24.26.
This then was the first, the earliest theory of infidel men denying the resurrection of the Saviour. "His body was stolen out of the sepulchre while we slept", they said. But the theory needs to be examined and its fallacy laid bare.
This theory is riddled with absurdities. It is almost incredible that anyone could believe such a blatant lie. So many questions must be asked.
- Is it likely that so many men would all fall asleep, in the open air, all at once?
- How ever could a Roman guard have succumbed to sleep, when, according to the Roman military laws, it meant instant death to be found asleep on duty?
- Could they have been so sound asleep as not to be awakened by all the noise which must be made by removing the great stone, and taking away the body?
- How could the disciples, forlorn, dispirited men that they were, have attempted to elude the guard, remove the heavy stone, and steal the body away?
- Could they have had enough time to do all this, without being noticed by anyone?
- What motive would the disciples have had for stealing the body? And would so many of them have risked, and given, their lives afterwards for preaching a resurrection which they knew to be a lie?
- The most obvious absurdity of course is – If these soldiers were asleep, how could they possibly know that it was the disciples who stole the body, or indeed that any other person or persons had stolen it? But their story was repeated among the Jews for years to come, Matt.28.15.
It is scarcely worth considering the theory that the enemies of Jesus stole the body, yet apparently some do believe it. The question must be asked, and answered, if indeed His enemies stole His body, why, when once His disciples began to preach that He was risen from the dead and was alive, why did those who allegedly stole the body not produce it? It has been said that if it had been true that they had stolen the body, and if they had produced it, Christianity would have dissolved in a gale of laughter. It would have been the death of Apostolic preaching. Of course His enemies had no motive whatsoever for stealing His body. They were more intent on keeping it in the tomb.
The theory that the Saviour did not die, but swooned, is believed and taught by many until this day. It is as preposterous as the first theory and again is propounded by those who choose to deny the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ. The empty tomb has been called "a stubborn fact". It is a fact accepted by all and cannot possibly be denied. Both Roman and Jewish authorities knew, that undeniably, the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid was now empty. But how? Or why? It must be explained somehow.
The propagators of the "swoon" theory ask men to believe that six hours of suffering, nailed by hands and feet to the cross, and for three of those hours hanging under a burning Jerusalem sun, had caused a deep fainting condition in Jesus which appeared deceptively like death. It is argued that in this state the Saviour was carried to the tomb, wrapped in the linen grave clothes by Joseph and Nicodemus, and laid in the sepulchre still seeming to be dead. After three days resting in the coolness of the rock-hewn tomb they say that Jesus revived. It was, they teach, resuscitation and not resurrection.
Then follows the really difficult thing to believe! It is not explained how the Saviour should then remove the wrappings of the grave clothes, leaving them in an orderly folded fashion on the floor of the tomb, roll away the heavy stone, elude the guard, and somehow spirit Himself away until He chose to show Himself to Mary in the garden in the early morning, after which He walked for seven miles to Emmaus on wounded feet! To what lengths men will go to deny His Resurrection out from among the dead!
There is yet another theory advanced by unbelieving minds. It is that those earliest visitors to the sepulchre, being distraught women, came to a different tomb and not to the one in which the Saviour had been buried. It is pointed out that when they came it was early in the morning and "it was yet dark" Jn.20.1. Could they not have mistakenly come to the wrong tomb? But Mary Magdalene and her companion knew the tomb well. They had watched as the two men had attended to the Saviour’s burial, Matt.27.61. Then of course it was Joseph’s own sepulchre. Would not he and Nicodemus have immediately corrected any mistake that the women might have made? And would not the authorities have corrected the story too when once the disciples began to preach the resurrection of Jesus? Proponents of this absurd theory must also explain if Peter and John were likewise mistaken about the tomb when they too came and found it empty.
It must surely be agreed that all these theories of infidelity are but fallacies and fancies. They are the product of unbelieving minds that reject the authority of Holy Scripture and prefer their own carnal reasoning. They are harder to believe than the simple but glorious truth that on the third morning after His death the Saviour was alive, triumphantly risen out from among the dead. For forty days afterwards, and before His eventual ascension to the heavens He "showed Himself alive … by many infallible proofs" Acts 1.3, and it is a joy now to examine these proofs and listen to the many witnesses who bear testimony to His resurrection. As has already been noted, there are so many individuals and companies of men and women who actually saw the risen Saviour. They walked with Him and talked with Him and on one occasion at least they dined with Him. They will gladly and willingly give their witness to the fact that His tomb is empty just because He is alive.
It appears that Mary Magdalene and a little band of women came early to the sepulchre on that third morning with the intention of completing the anointing of the Lord’s body. This had been done in haste on the late evening of the day of the Crucifixion. Accordingly they carried with them the necessary spices, Mk.16.1; Lk.24.1. As they approached the tomb however, they immediately saw that the great stone had been rolled away and they assumed that the body of Jesus had been removed by some person or persons unknown. The other women may perhaps have lingered to investigate, but Mary Magdalene hurriedly left to advise Peter and John, saying, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him" Jn.20.2. As might be expected, those two disciples hastened at once to the garden, John the younger outrunning Peter and arriving first. He stooped down, looked in, and saw the linen clothes lying. The word "lying" is important. Why does it not simply say, "He saw the linen clothes"? Was there something important about the position of the clothes that caught the disciple’s attention? Having noticed this fact John did not enter the tomb. Peter then arrived, and, characteristic of this impulsive disciple, he went immediately into the tomb and he too saw the linen clothes "lying", and saw also the napkin which had been about the Saviour’s head in turban fashion, not "lying" with the linen clothes, but in a place by itself. John then entered the sepulchre and saw, and believed. It was all the evidence of a miracle!
Several important facts must be noted here. First, if the body had really been stolen why did the thieves not simply carry it away it as it was, swathed in the grave clothes? Why did they take time to remove the wrappings and leave them in the tomb? That was strange to begin with. But second, the clothes were "lying", the word meaning that they lay outstretched just as they had been when they wrapped the Saviour’s body, except that the weight of the spices which were enfolded in the wrappings would have caused them to fall flat but still retain the folded state, fold upon fold. As Henry Latham writes in his delightful book The Risen Master, "If a Greek had wanted to express the idea of ‘lying flat’, or extended at length, this is the word he would have used." The clothes were not left in a tangled heap on the floor. They were "lying", outstretched in an orderly fashion, but the body was gone.
A third matter to be noted, which is quite frequently pointed out, is that in the verses which record these events, Jn.20.5-8, three different words are used for "seeing." When John first arrived at the tomb he stooped down, looked in, and "saw" (Gk. blepo 991) the linen clothes lying. It is the basic word for sight and seeing. John simply saw the linen clothes lying on the floor of the sepulchre. Peter however, having now entered, "seeth" (Gk. theoro 2334) the linen clothes lie. This word indicates that Peter was perusing, considering what he was seeing, theorising, trying to arrive at some reason for what he saw. To quote Henry Latham again, "John only saw what he could not help seeing through the door, but Peter looked intently, having a purpose in his mind; he wanted to make out how the body could have been removed." Then John entered the tomb. He "saw" (Gk. eido 1492) and believed. John now saw with understanding. It was, as might be said, "I see it now!" He had seen the evidence of a miracle indeed. The grave clothes were lying outstretched, fold over fold as has been noted, just as they had been when they had wrapped the body of Jesus, but fallen flat with the heavy weight of the myrrh and aloes, Jn.19.39, but the Saviour’s body was gone. How? Even apart from any consideration of the Scriptures at that moment, Jn.20.9, John was convinced of the truth of the resurrection of Christ.
Then there was the napkin which had been around the Lord’s head. It was "not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" Jn.20.7. It should be noted that in the tomb there would have been a recess along which the body lay, at the end of which there was a raised ledge, a kind of step, two or three inches high, which served as a pillow for the head. The Eastern manner of preparing a body for interment was that the whole body, except the neck and the head, were swathed in the grave clothes with the spices between the folds. The head was treated separately, wrapped as with a turban with the face showing. This was the customary way of wrapping the body with the head resting on that raised ledge. What the disciples now saw was that the napkin, the kerchief or towel which had wrapped the Lord’s head was not "lying" with the linen clothes. It was not lying flat as they were, for there would not have been a sufficient weight of spices there to cause it to collapse. Nor had it been neatly folded and set aside in some other place. Nor was it with the linen clothes. It was in a distinct place by itself, separated from the linen clothes on that stone pillow, and still wound around in its convolutions as it had been when around the Saviour’s head. As one translation says, it was "not lying with the wrappings, but rolled up in its own place" (Moffatt).
Linen clothes and napkin together joined in testimony to Peter and John that there had been a miracle. The grave clothes had been vacated and left undisturbed as a witness to the Resurrection. Is it surprising that the disciples should go away "wondering" Lk.24.12, at that which had come to pass? This does not imply that they left the tomb doubting. They left the garden with admiration, marvelling at what they had seen, for such is the meaning of "wondering", (Gk. thaumazo 2296).
One may query why the two disciples then went away to their home and left a weeping woman alone in the garden. Perhaps, in all fairness, they did not realise that she was there. She may have been secluded in the shrubbery of the garden, preferring to be left alone in her grief. But as they left, Mary lingered. She had tarried at His cross and now she would linger at His tomb. As recorded in John chapter 20, weeping, she stooped down as John had done, for the door of the sepulchre was not more than four feet (1.2m) high, and looking in through her tears she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain. Mary was not much interested in angels. She could well have used the words of another woman who said, "Saw ye Him whom my soul loveth?" S of S.3.3. But the angels spoke gently to her, asking, "Woman, why weepest thou?" v.13. She answers, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him", and having said that she turned from them. There seems to be a certain abruptness in her turning away from them. Had she observed the angels looking beyond her, as if seeing someone behind her? Or had she heard a quiet footstep? In any case she turned and saw Jesus standing but knew not that it was Jesus. He asks her the same question as the angels had asked, but with a tender addition, "Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" v.15. Of course He knew the meaning of her tears and He knew for whom she was seeking. Poor Mary, she supposed that she was talking to the gardener, but if he knew where the body of her Lord was; then if only he would tell her she would take Him away. How would she ever have done that? But love does not stop to calculate such niceties as that. Mary wanted Him whom she loved and somehow she would carry that sacred form away. Notice that she had now turned away from the supposed gardener, but when she hears that one word "Mary", she at once turns back to Him. Was it the form of her name that He used, "Miriam"? Or was it the familiar tone of His voice? Or was it just a moment of revelation to this devoted soul? Her response was a single word, just like His greeting to her, "Rabboni", "My Master", she says, and then clung to Him. But He said, "Do not cling to me" (Weymouth). "Don’t hold on to me." (International Standard Version). He was not yet ascended to His Father and there would be opportunities to see Him again. Meantime she must go to the disciples and tell them all. What infidel could ever have convinced Mary Magdalene that her Lord had not risen from the dead? She would never forget that garden scene. Mary had seen Him, touched Him, and talked with Him. He Who had been dead was now alive again. He was risen indeed.
It will be remembered that other women had gone to the tomb that morning with Mary, and there may have been others who, apart from these, had also gone to see the sepulchre. At some stage these women, like Mary, saw an angel there who said, "Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead" Matt.28.1-10. They hastened away, with mingled feelings of awe and great joy to bear the news, but on the way Jesus met them, and spoke one word, "Hail." It means "Greetings; Rejoice" (Gk. chairo 5463). They held Him by the feet in an act of homage and reverence and worshipped Him and He bade them go and tell the brethren that soon He would see them. They had had the assurance from an angelic messenger that the Saviour was alive, but now, better still, they had both seen Him and heard Him, and touched Him. Of His resurrection there could be no doubt whatsoever. No one could ever have persuaded these women that their Lord was not risen from the dead.
It was after this, on that same day, that two disciples walked together on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about seven miles, see Lk.24.13-35. It is easy to believe, as many do, that they were husband and wife. This cannot be proven, and neither does it really matter. They walked together and talked together, and reasoned about all the happenings of the previous days. They were sad. It showed in their countenances. And then the Stranger joined them. He engaged them in conversation about the recent events as though He were indeed but a lone sojourner Who was not aware of it all. Jesus of Nazareth Whom they had believed to be the promised Redeemer, had been delivered up by their rulers and crucified, they told Him. They talked, after which He talked, and opened to them those Scriptures which predicted the very sufferings and death of Messiah which they had witnessed. So, ought not the Christ to have suffered what was prophesied, and then enter into His glory. They must believe everything that the prophets had spoken. So it continued until they arrived at their home in Emmaus. With great courtesy Jesus, as yet unknown to them, would have made to go further but they constrained Him to stay with them and, graciously, He joined them at their table. Almost imperceptibly He seemed to change places with them. He became the host. They were the guests now as He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. At that moment their eyes were opened and they knew Him but He vanished from their sight. It was enough! The Saviour was alive! They had seen Him; heard Him; talked with Him; and He had sat at their table. They hurried back to Jerusalem the same hour, with burning heart to rehearse the story to the eleven who would be gathered together with others. What clever infidel orator could ever persuade this couple that Jesus was not alive, risen from the dead?
When the village couple reached the company however, the great news had preceded them. The eleven said, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon" Lk.24.34. Little else is known of this appearing of the risen Saviour but such is its importance that Paul quotes it in evidence of Christ’s resurrection, 1 Cor.15.5. Somewhere, at some time, for some reason, about which we can only conjecture, there was a special appearance of the risen Lord to Peter, also called Cephas. Who would dare to confront such a man as Peter and try to tell him that Jesus was not really risen from the dead? He would simply say, "But I saw Him!"
This meeting of "the Eleven" in Luke ch.24 is doubtless the same as that in Jn.20.19 where Thomas, for some unknown reason, was absent. Judas having gone, the little band of apostles formerly known as "the Twelve", are now called "the Eleven", this although one of their number was temporarily absent. It had become, like "the Twelve", a term used to describe that Apostolic company as distinct from the larger body of disciples. They met in a great measure of privacy, behind shut doors for fear of the Jews. Suddenly the Saviour stood in their midst, bade them not to be afraid, and showed them His hands and feet as evidence that He was indeed the One Whom they had known. He invited them to handle Him to show that it was not an apparition that they were seeing. It was indeed their Lord, risen from the dead. These men afterward preached boldly the resurrection of Christ. They had seen Him!
As has been mentioned, Thomas was, for some unknown reason, absent on that occasion. When the disciples told him "We have seen the Lord", Jn.20.25, Thomas was sceptical. He had after all seen the Saviour nailed to a cross, and he knew that a spear had pierced His side. If Thomas was to believe that this was really his Lord he must see and touch the print of the nails and put his hand into that riven side. If not, he says, "I will not believe" Jn.20.25. Eight days later the little company was together again and Thomas with them. The Lord appeared in their midst as He had done before and, knowing exactly what Thomas had said He graciously invited him to reach out his finger to the nail prints and his hand to the side which had been pierced. Thomas bowed in worship exclaiming, "My Lord and my God." In a sense the fact of Thomas’s absence at that earlier meeting has proved to be a blessing! A sceptic has been converted! The man who said "I will not believe" is now a convinced believer. Is not a sceptical position of any others therefore now untenable? "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed" Jn.20.29.
This story is told in John chapter 21. Peter and Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, and two other unnamed disciples were together by the Sea of Galilee. They decided, at Peter’s suggestion, to go fishing but it was a fruitless expedition. They toiled all night and caught nothing. At morning light they approached the land and saw the Stranger on the lake shore. But as with Mary in the garden, they "knew not that it was Jesus." He called out to them that they should cast their net on the right side of the ship and on so doing they netted a large catch, a multitude of fish. It was John who said, "It is the Lord." Afterward they stood with Him on the shore. He had kindled a fire and cooked bread and fish for them, and when they had dined He conversed tenderly with them. These seven disciples had seen the risen Lord. They would later, in their Pentecostal preaching, bear testimony to His resurrection.
Of this appearing of the risen Saviour we know nothing except that it happened, which is enough! It was most likely in Galilee, in a place of His appointing, Matt.28.16. Paul, writing perhaps some twenty-five years later could say to the Corinthians "He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep" 1 Cor.15.6. Five hundred all at once! Some had died but the majority were still alive when Paul wrote, to confirm that they had indeed seen the Saviour risen. Who could doubt them?
As there had been with Peter, so there was also with James, a personal private meeting with the Lord, somewhere, at some time, for some reason, the details of which are not revealed. But it happened! 1Cor.15.7. The remark of the commentator Albert Barnes is interesting. Observing that this was James the Lord’s brother, he writes, "This James, the author of the epistle that bears his name, was stationed in Jerusalem. When Paul went there, after his return from Arabia, he had an interview with James, (Gal.1.19, "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother") and it is highly probable that Paul would state to him the vision which he had of the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus, and that James also would state to Paul the fact that he had seen Him after He rose. This may be the reason why Paul here mentions the fact, because he had it from the lips of James himself." It becomes increasingly difficult to know why, or how, men could yet deny that Christ is risen, when so many witnesses can rise to say, "We saw Him".
The touching story of the martyr Stephen is told in full in Acts 6.8–7.58. Certain men from one of the Jerusalem synagogues had disputed with Stephen but were unable to resist the wisdom with which he spoke. As they had done with his Lord before him, "they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, and set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us." The blasphemy was theirs of course and when those in the Council looked on Stephen his face shone like the face of an angel! There follows what has been called "Stephen’s defence" and for some time they gave him attention as he addressed them. But when he boldly charged them with refusing the message of the prophets concerning the Just One, and their rejection of that Just One, of Whom they were the betrayers and murderers, they gnashed on him with their teeth in anger. But he, full of the Holy Ghost, looked up into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. His testimony to them was, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." They cast him out of the city and stoned him to death but Stephen’s great legacy to us is his vision of the risen Christ, a Man in glory at the right hand of God.
Paul’s story is well known. He was Saul of Tarsus, blasphemer and persecutor of the Christians. He had been present, acquiescing at the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7.58. But travelling to Damascus for the purpose of bringing Christians to prison in Jerusalem he met the risen Christ, Acts 9.3-6. He tells his own story in Acts chapter 22. "As I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest." It was a momentous conversion of a man who says of himself that he had been "a blasphemer and persecutor, and an insolent overbearing man:" 1 Tim.1.13 (J.N.D.), but who later writes, "To me to live is Christ" Phil.1.21. What had so radically changed such a man as Saul of Tarsus? It was the sight of a risen Christ, the same Man in the glory whom Stephen had seen. Who could ever have persuaded Paul that there was no resurrection?
Although it is much too extensive for the confines of this short paper, John’s visions of Christ in the book of the Revelation must be added to the line of witnesses to the risen Lord. Again and again throughout this closing book of the New Testament and of all Holy Scripture John writes of Him Whom he had seen. He was there, in glory, the Man who had been to Calvary. He was exalted in the heavens where throngs worshipped and adored Him and where they sang of One Who had loved them and washed them from their sins in His own blood. The memories of His cross and of His cruel death would never die but He says of Himself, "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen" Rev.1.18. He lives in the power of an endless life and in the victory of His resurrection.