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Don Stewart :: What Is the Indirect Evidence That Jesus Came Back from the Dead?

Don Stewart

Apart from the direct evidence, there is also circumstantial testimony that Jesus has risen.

1. The Changed Lives Of The Disciples

The changed lives of the disciples give indirect testimony to Christ's resurrection. Something changed the disciples of Jesus from cowards to martyrs, from frightened individuals to bold proclaimers of the resurrection. It had to be something more powerful than a delusion or lie. They said their lives were changed because they had seen the risen Christ.

The Order Of The Resurrection Events

We find the New Testament chronicling the events that led to the changed lives of Jesus' disciples. When Jesus was betrayed, the Bible says His disciples scattered.

Then all the disciples forsook him and fled (Matthew 26:56).

Simon Peter, who had promised to die for Jesus, denied that he ever knew Him.

Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, 'You were also with Jesus of Galilee.' But he denied it before them all saying, 'I do not know what you are saying.' . . . And after a while those who stood by came to him and said to Peter, 'Surely you also are one of them, because your speech betrays you.' Then he began to curse and swear saying, 'I do not know the Man!' (Matthew 26:69-74).

At Jesus' crucifixion, His disciples were nowhere to be found.

But all his acquaintances, and the women who followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things (Luke 23:39).

The picture we get of the disciples at the time of Jesus' trial and death is of a frightened band of individuals who denied their Lord and went into hiding.

The Day Of Pentecost

Some fifty days later, however, we find these same disciples standing up bravely proclaiming, in the city of Jerusalem, that Christ has risen from the dead. On that day Peter said.

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know this man delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death. "But God raised him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24).

Something changed these cowards into bold preachers of Christ's resurrection.

The Disciples Were Arrested For Jesus

Soon thereafter the boldness of the disciples caused the religious leaders to arrest them.

Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day (Acts 4:1-3).

The religious leaders then resorted to threats. They said to one another.

But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.' And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.' So when they had furthered threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them (Acts 4:17-21).

The former cowards were now fearlessly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. Obviously, something happened to change the lives of these men. The disciples attributed their bravery to having seen Christ risen. If Christ had not risen, then some other explanation for their changed lives must be in order.

2. The Conversion Of Saul Of Tarsus

A second line of indirect evidence that can be offered for the resurrection of Christ is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus, the greatest antagonist of the Christian faith, was converted and became the Apostle Paul - the greatest proclaimer of the faith. According to his own testimony, Saul persecuted the believers in Christ.

Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11).

Saul had believers jailed and consented to their death sentence. In doing all this, he believed he was serving God. However, something happened to Saul to change his way of thinking.

As I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the ground I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' . . So I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which I will yet reveal to you' (Acts 26:12-16).

Saul obeyed the heavenly vision and became the Apostle Paul- the mighty defender of the faith. Twelve of the books of the New Testament were written by him. The greatest antagonist to the faith became its greatest champion. What was it that changed this man's life? He said it was meeting the risen Christ.

Saul Went From Unbeliever To Believer

Here we have an example of a man who was not a believer during Jesus' earthly life, who became a believer after Christ had risen. This is in contrast to Jesus' disciples - who believed in Him during His earthly ministry. Saul's testimony is another in the line of circumstantial evidence that Christ rose from the dead.

Eighteenth century author George Lyttleton wrote the following concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus;

I thought the conversion and the Apostleship of St. Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity as a Divine Revelation (George Lord Lyttleton, Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul in a letter to Gilbert West, London, 1814).

3. The Rise Of The Christian Church

The New Testament church came into existence as a result of the resurrection faith of the believers. In every sermon, the substance of the preaching of the apostles was that Christ had risen from the dead. Multitudes soon believed their message

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:41).

It also says.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).

It is a historical fact that Christianity spread faster than any other religion or philosophy in the ancient world. By the early part of the fourth century, the Roman Empire became "Christianized." Something had to account for this unprecedented growth - something at least as compelling as a resurrected Christ.

The fact of Christianity's rapid expansion gives a further witness to the truth of its resurrection message. People embraced Christianity because they were convinced that Jesus Christ has conquered death and could offer them eternal life.

4. The Change In The Day Of Worship

A further line of circumstantial evidence for the resurrection concerns the changing of the day of worship. The Jewish worship was on the Sabbath (from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown). However the early Christians observed Sunday as their day of worship to commemorate Jesus' resurrection. This was no small thing to the first believers who were Jews. The day of worship, the Sabbath, was something that no Jew would dare break or change. Yet Jesus' disciples preferred to worship on the first day of the week - ­the day He came back from the dead (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1,2; Revelation 1:10). Something monumental had to happen to make them change the day of worship - something like a resurrection. The Letter of Barnabas, an early Christian document, stated:

Therefore we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.

5. Women Testifying First Shows The Credibility Of The Account

According to the New Testament, the first person who saw the resurrected Christ was Mary Magdalene. She thought Jesus was the gardener. Jesus then appeared to another group of women. If one were to make up the story of Christ's resurrection, they certainly would not have Him first appearing to women. In that culture, at the time of Christ, the witness of a woman was not as readily accepted as a man's. Their testimony would not have been admissible as legal proof except in a few specific situations.

If the story had been made up, then Jesus would have first appeared to a man - either one of His disciples or perhaps one of His enemies such as Herod, Pilate, or Caiaphas the High Priest. Yet the New Testament says that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then to other women. This is not what one would expect in a made up story. The special privilege of seeing the risen Christ would not have been given to women. Again, this is another indication the story is reliable.

6. The Christians Buried Their Dead

Another indirect line of evidence concerns Christians burying their dead. Unbelievers cremated their dead. However, from the beginning, the Christians buried theirs in underground cemeteries and catacombs. Six hundred miles of catacombs stretch around Rome. In these catacombs about four million Christians from the first three centuries are buried. Each one of these buried believers testifies to their faith in the resurrection of Jesus and faith in their own ultimate resurrection.

7. The Events On The Day Of Pentecost

On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit supernaturally fell upon the disciples of Jesus. They were able to speak in languages they had not previously learned causing amazement to those who heard.

And they were amazed and marveled, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? (Acts 2:7,8).

What caused the supernatural ability of Jesus' disciples to speak in languages they had not previously learned? Peter stood up and told them the reason for this miracle - the resurrection of Christ. Three thousand people converted to Christ on that day. The reason for their conversion, according to the Scripture, was the truth of the resurrection.

8. The Miracles In The Book Of Acts

The miracles in the Book of Acts gives further circumstantial testimony to Jesus' resurrection. The fact that the disciples of Jesus were able to perform similar miracles as He performed demonstrated that Jesus' power was still working after His death, resurrection and ascension.

Acts 3

Peter and John performed a miracle - healing a lame man at the temple. They testified that the ability to perform this miracle was granted to them by the risen Christ. They emphasized again that they were eyewitnesses of His resurrection.

But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses (Acts 3:14,15).

Acts 4

When Peter spoke before the council he testified that it was the power of the risen Christ that healed this sick man.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by this name this man stands here before you in good health (Acts 4:8-10).

The enemies could not deny this healing. They had to admit something special had occurred.

What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (Acts 4:16).

Summary

The miracles of the apostles, as recorded in the Book of Acts, were all based on the power of the resurrection. The message of the early church was that Christ had risen from the dead and His disciples were witnesses to that event. This testimony was evidenced by these miracles.

9. The Grave Clothes Were Undisturbed

Another bit of circumstantial evidence is the undisturbed and folded grave clothes. If the body of Jesus had been taken from the tomb by Jesus' disciples, they would not have taken the time to remove and unwind the grave clothes and then fold them again

And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on his head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself (John 20:6,7).

Thus the position of the grave clothes at Jesus' tomb is another circumstantial indication of His resurrection.

10. The Nazareth Decree

In 1930, a Frenchman named Franz Cumont published an inscription of a text from the city of Nazareth. Though the inscription is in Greek, it is probably a translation of a Latin original. The inscription records the decree of the Emperor Claudius, who ruled from A.D. 41 to 54. This decree ordered the death penalty for anyone disturbing tombs. The inscription reads as follows:

It is my pleasure that sepulchers and tombs, which have been erected as solemn memorial of ancestors or children or relatives, shall remain undisturbed in perpetuity. If it be shown that anyone has either destroyed them or otherwise thrown out bodies which have been buried there or removed them with malicious intent to another place, thus committing a crime against those buried there, or removed the headstones or other stones, I command that against such person the same sentence be passed in respect to solemn memorials of men as is laid down in respect of the gods. Much rather one must pay respect to those who are buried. Let no one disturb them on any account. Otherwise it is my will that capital sentence be passed upon such person for the crime of tomb-spoilation.

Obviously something led to this decree. Why would the Roman Emperor give his attention to body snatching in this remote part of the Roman Empire? Why did Claudius institute the death penalty for robbing tombs only in this one particular geographic area - the area where Jesus came from? The decree of Claudius seems to support the early Jewish contention that the body of Jesus was stolen - which is an admission that the tomb was empty.

11. Jesus Christ Can Still Change Lives

The final testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that He is still in the business of changing lives. Millions of people throughout history, as well as millions today, personally testify to a changed life. This power to live a new life is based on the belief in the resurrected Christ.

Summary On Circumstantial Evidence

Apart from the direct testimony of the eyewitnesses to Christ's resurrection, we also have much circumstantial evidence that it actually occurred. We have noted eleven different lines of circumstantial evidence. They are as follows:the risen Christ can only explain the changed lives of the disciples. Nothing else could have changed them from cowards to martyrs. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul makes no sense without the resurrection. Some power had to have given rise to the Christian church. Women were the first to see the risen Jesus. This is not to be expected in a made up story. The change of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday had to have been occasioned by some great event. The Christians buried their dead expecting them to eventually rise. The miraculous events on the Day of Pentecost have to have some explanation. The miracles in the Book of Acts testify to the resurrection power of Jesus. The grave clothes were undisturbed in Jesus' tomb. The Nazareth Decree testifies that the first century Jews were concerned about empty tombs. Jesus Christ has changed lives and can still change lives today. The evidence, both direct and circumstantial testifies to the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead three days after He was crucified on Calvary's cross.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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