by Brandon Vallorani

(Part Four of Four. Click here to read Part One.)

The tomb of Jesus Christ stands empty to this very day. Its vacancy haunts the skeptic who cannot explain it away with rational arguments. Even though the Jews and the Romans could not produce the body of Christ or explain what happened to it, they refused to accept the truth. Modern men reject the resurrection of Christ because they have presupposed that it is impossible and do not like the implications of its reality upon their personal lives.

The final and perhaps most convincing evidence that Jesus rose from the grave is history itself. Since the resurrection in AD 33, the Gospel has been spread around the world changing countless lives. Christianity built Western civilization and led to the scientific and industrial revolutions. Without the Gospel, the world would be steeped in dark paganism. Let’s explore this powerful concept beginning with Christ’s own disciples.

The Transformed Lives of the Disciples

John R. W. Stott states, “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection…” [1] The following excerpt from an article written by J. N. D. Anderson beautifully illustrates Mr. Stott’s point:

On the day of the crucifixion they were filled with sadness; on the first day of the week with gladness; At the crucifixion they were hopeless; on the first day of the week their hearts glowed with certainty and hope. When the message of the resurrection first came they were incredulous and hard to be convinced, but once they became assured they never doubted again. What could account for the astonishing change in these men in so short a time? The mere removal of the body from the grave could never have transformed their spirits, and characters. Three days are not enough for a legend to spring up which would so affect them. Time is needed for a process of legendary growth. It is a fact that demands a full explanation.

Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense. [2]

We can trust the testimony of the disciples because they were transformed from cowards to martyrs because of the resurrection. Peter went from publicly denying Christ during the night of his trial to preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. Thomas was a doubter until he touched the risen Lord. James, the brother of Christ, despised all his brother stood for until Christ appeared to him (James 1:1, 1 Corinthians 15:7). Eventually, 11 of the 12 men died for their faith in Christ:

1. Peter: crucified
2. Andrew: crucified
3. Matthew: the sword
4. John: natural
5. James, the son of Alphaeus: crucified
6. Philip: crucified
7. Simon: crucified
8. Thaddaeus: killed by arrows
9. James, brother of Jesus: stoned
10. Thomas: spear thrust
11. Bartholomew: crucified
12. James, son of Zebedee: the sword

The Transformation of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul

Of all the lives changed by Christ’s resurrection, I believe the greatest of all was Saul of Tarsus. What could possibly transform a high-ranking pharisee and Hebrew zealot from a persecutor of Christians to the world’s greatest missionary for Christ? Only the resurrection.

Saul was born a Roman citizen in the university city of Tarsus—known to be a great center of education and philosophy. At fourteen years of age he was sent to train under Gamaliel—one of the leading Rabbis of the first century. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul states, “[I] profited in the Jewish religion above many of my companions of mine own nation, and was much more zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” You can see why the rapid spread of Christianity, which undermined Saul’s life training, infuriated him so. In Acts chapter 8 we see that Saul set out on a mission to arrest and kill Christians. But something radical happened. In chapter 9, the resurrected Christ appeared to Saul and completely transformed his life. He went from hating gentiles and Christians to becoming a Christian missionary to the gentiles! Would Saul have ever been transformed without this divine encounter with Christ? No. Subsequently, his missionary journeys altered the course of the Roman empire and of world history.

The Establishment and Existence of the Christian Church

In Acts 17 verse 6 we learn that the Christians in Antioch were turning the world upside down. Over the next 2,000 years an institution known as The Christian Church exploded from a handful of ordinary men to include literally millions worldwide. It is true that major world religions have been founded by ordinary men. The difference, however, was that Jesus claimed to be God and have power over death. If he had remained in the grave, all of his teachings would have been considered false. As C. S. Lewis once said,

I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.

You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [3]

The resurrection of Christ is the only historical event that can explain the establishment and existence of the Christian Church.

The Transition from Saturday to Sunday Worship

The first Christians were Jews and we all know that Jews worshipped on Saturday. What could possibly cause them to overturn centuries of tradition and begin to worship on Sunday? Only the resurrection of Christ, which occurred on the first day of the week—Sunday!

The World Will Never be the Same

You don’t need a Ph.D. in history to see that behind every major advancement in civilization is a Christian worldview. England became the world’s greatest empire as a result of the Protestant Reformation. William Tyndale gave us the English language. Christian men who believed that God was the creator of all things gave us the scientific revolution. It was Christian men like Sir William Blackstone who gave us a biblical basis for law, which led to unprecedented liberty and the most advanced legal and political system the world has known. America, the most powerful and prosperous nation in all of world history was founded as a Christian nation. Many books have been written on this subject. A good place to start is Alvin J. Schmidt’s book, How Christianity Changed the World.

It is true that the world is still a sinful place and there is a lot of work to do. That’s why the Gospel, authenticated by the resurrection, is the only solution. What exciting developments does the future hold? Only God knows. In the meantime, may His resurrection inspire all of us to obey the Great Commission of our risen Lord,

And Jesus came, and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me, in heaven, and in earth. Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the holy Ghost, Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, until the end of the world, Amen. [4]

[1] Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971.
[2] Anderson, J. N. D. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (copyright). Christianity Today. March 29, 1968.
[3] Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1960. pp. 40-41.
[4] Matthew 28:18-20

Recommended further reading:

The Resurrection of Christ: Hoax or History? (DVD)
Mark Marinella: Died He for Me
John Stott: Basic Christianity