Christians accept the resurrection accounts on faith, but it is a faith sealed by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not blind, unintelligent trust. Theology has been defined as “faith seeking understanding.” Christians worship God with their minds as well as their hearts.
The four Gospels record an event hard to explain away in face of the most obvious evidence – the existence of the Christian church. Something unprecedented happened in Jerusalem in the first century. This forces the question: What kind of history do we encounter in Scripture?
Arthur Glasser calls the Bible “interpreted history.” He said, “Its great truths [come] enfleshed in historical events, human experience, and prophetic exposition” (Kingdom and Mission, pages 18, 16). Hugh Anderson sheds more light:
We expect the historian today to be as scientifically accurate as possible in his reporting of facts…. By contrast the historians of Israel viewed history as the sphere of God’s activity. Their purpose in telling the story of Israel was to confront men with the sovereign authority of a high and holy God, calling upon them to surrender their lives to Him. (Historians of Israel, Vol. 2, pages 26, 28)
The Gospel writers were in that tradition: They were concerned with spiritual meaning and eternal life. Their writings give us history plus interpretation. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were preachers before they were historians. Nevertheless, the resurrection accounts provide a compelling example of faith meeting understanding. They make sense once the Holy Spirit enables us to believe.
1. First, there is the almost embarrassing honesty of the resurrection accounts. The doubts of Thomas, Peter and the other apostles are freely admitted (Mark 16:9-14). The New Testament is hard on its heroes. Who in the early church could have written such things about prominent church leaders still alive unless those things were true? The transformed lives of the apostles are exactly what we would expect if Christ was resurrected (Acts 4:13).
2. Who among the disciples could invent such a story as that of Jesus of Nazareth? The disciples were often chided for their slowness to believe and their lack of spiritual imagination (Matthew 16:5-12). Could they invent such challenging phrases as: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?
British Bible scholar C.H. Dodd recorded that as a young man he fretted about the time interval between the events mentioned in the Gospels and when those events were written several decades later. He later changed his mind:
When Mark was writing…there must have been many people [alive] who were in their prime under Pontius Pilate, and they must have remembered the stirring and tragic events of that time…. If anyone had tried to put over an entirely imaginary or fictitious account of them, there would have been middle-aged or elderly people who would have said… “You are wasting your breath: I remember it as if it were yesterday” (Tradition: Old and New, page 41)
Those are wise words. The complexity of the Gospels is part of their fascination.
3. It is hard to account for the Christian faith’s sweep across the Roman Empire without a spectacular primary cause. The resurrection was that catalyst.
One of the compelling proofs of the resurrection is that the crucifixion left the disciples in despair and that, hopeless, they were transformed by their experience of the risen Jesus…. Even more important was the conviction nourished in Christians that by the resurrection Jesus had been vindicated and had been shown to be the Son of God with power. (Kenneth Latourette, A History of Christianity, volume 1, pages 58-59)
That power proved invincible. It still is.