The Necessity of the Resurrection:
Proving Jesus' Resurrection from the Jeffersonian Bible
On Resurrection Day (for Easter is far too pagan) it is common to hear a plethora of sermons proclaiming and defending the historicity of Christ's resurrection. Pastors dust off their books on apologetics once a year and proceed with their scholarly defenses against the swoon theory and others, as though they were Christ's attorneys instead of His witnesses. The strength of their cases usually rests in the eye-witnesses to the event and the existence of the church explainable in no other way than that Jesus rose from the dead. While it is critically important that there were over five hundred witnesses to the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:6), including all but one of the purveyors of the New Testament documents, there is an alternative way of verifying Jesus resurrection that is commonly overlooked. Once we have seen this approach and understood it, then it becomes a simple matter to prove Jesus' resurrection even from the Jeffersonian Bible.
The Road to Emmaus
Have we not, however, overlooked a very important biblical argument though it has been staring us in the eyes--the argument the Savior Himself impressed on two of His disciples whom he had encountered on the road to Emmaus that first day of the week? They could not seem to get beyond their starting point "concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man mighty in word and deed before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him" (Luke 24:19). They were spinning their wheels in a mire of unbelief since it was "now the third day since it had happened" (24:21). They essentially were capable of acknowledging that Jesus was a great prophet, but could not get beyond that. They were overlooking the necessity of the resurrection! Jesus would explain.
And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:25-26 ESV).
These two disciples needed to think things through to a logical conclusion. Jesus introduced them to the principle of logical necessity. There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was a prophet. Up to this point, they were convinced that everything he had said was true--that is to say, he was a true prophet, as distinct from a false prophet. They knew he had accurately foretold Peter's threefold denial. They knew that he had read Nathaniel's character like a book before he had ever met him. They knew he had precisely foretold them where they would find a donkey to make the ride into Jerusalem on Psalm Sunday. They had seen him perform many great miracles. As Blaise Paschal would one day reflect, "Had it not been for the miracles, there would have been no sin in not believing in Jesus Christ."
Further, they knew his character was impeccable. Like many people in the modern world, including Gandhi who taught it to his followers, surely they would not have had a problem with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps they had forgotten, however, that among the things that Jesus had spoken during his Sermon on the Mount was the following:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18 ESV).
"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets," therefore, Jesus " interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). What was the gist of those things "concerning himself" that established the matter of necessity "that the Christ should suffer and enter into his glory"? Whatever those things were, Jesus was speaking as though an awareness of them, in and of themselves, should have been sufficient for them to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, i.e., they should have believed in Jesus' resurrection even without his personally appearing to them after the event.
In Luke's description of Jesus' further exposition of the Scriptures later in the day we find the precise nature of those things that he was highlighting in the Old Testament for the benefit of his unbelieving disciples. The subject of these Scriptures which Jesus underscored was summed up in the words "that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:46).
An awareness of many Old Testament passages that pointed to these central messianic events, coupled with their own personal knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, should have been sufficient to produce faith in their hearts that the resurrection was already an accomplished fact! The resurrection, like the crucifixion, was not only a logical necessity--it was a divine necessity! Jesus had not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but rather to fulfill them! The Scripture could not be broken. The one whom they knew to be a prophet "mighty in word and deed before God and all the people" could not lie. The very nature of Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17-18, if they accepted it as true, could only mean that he himself was the Messiah to whom these Old Testament Scriptures pertained!
On the basis of the Sermon on the Mount alone, therefore, the resurrection of Jesus was a necessity! "For truly, I say to you," Jesus said, "until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt. 5:18) Here is the heart of the argument from necessity for Jesus' resurrection. If we say that what follows in verse 19 indicates that what was to be accomplished was only of an ethical nature, and not the resurrection, since Jesus refers to "commandments," we need only to turn to John 10:18 where we learn that the authority "to take it up again," like the authority "to lay it down," was a "charge" or a "commandment" which Jesus had received from the Father. All that was to be accomplished, therefore, clearly included the command to take up his life from the dead.
If we allow that Jesus was a prophet, and even the Koran has made such an allowance, and if we consider the nature of the things Jesus prophesied and taught, the Nazarene could be none other than the Prophet to whom Moses referred in Deuteronomy 18:17-19-the one who would upstage all other prophets:
And the Lord said to me, "They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him" (ESV).
Peter's Pentecost Sermon
This argument from necessity was employed by Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the 120 disciples in the upper room. Addressing the crowd of thousands who had gathered for the Jewish festival and who were witnessing this miraculous event, Peter persuasively argued that Jesus had been raised from the dead:
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
"I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence."
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
"The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool."
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:24-36 ESV).
Peter's argument for the necessity of the resurrection–i.e., that it was impossible for it not to have occurred--is based on a couple of passages from David's Psalms. In Psalm 16, David had specifically stated that God would not allow his holy one to see corruption. Logically, this had to apply to Jesus--David's Greater Son. First of all, it was a universally recognized fact that David himself was still in the tomb; consequently, David did experience corruption. This Scripture, therefore could not apply to David. Second, Jesus was "the Holy One of God"--a fact so obvious by the sheer glory of his personage, teaching, and miracles, that even demons had been forced to acknowledge it (Mark 1:24). Because Jesus was the Holy One of God, David's reference to "your holy one" had to point to Jesus, and since it clearly did, it was impossible that Jesus' flesh would experience corruption! The resurrection of Jesus was therefore a necessity!
Obviously, Peter's quotation from Psalm 110 which spoke of David's Lord sitting at God's right hand could not refer to David himself, since David did not rise from the dead, and therefore could not sit at God's right hand. Psalm 110, therefore, like Psalm 16, had to refer to the Messiah. Messiah's exaltation to God's right hand implied nothing short of resurrection. The Jews, therefore, who had witnessed the ministry of Jesus, and who had observed the messianic character of it, should not have been taken by surprise with respect to his resurrection. It was a matter of necessity!
For the disciples, as well as the Jewish crowds who had sat under Jesus' ministry, not to have quickly concluded this, proved how "slow of heart" they were. There was a theological necessity that made the resurrection obvious. The testimony of eyewitnesses to the event (Acts 2:32; 10:39; 1 Cor. 15:5-8) did not stand alone--it simply corroborated what should have been obvious to anyone who was knowledgeable concerning the Scriptures and who had observed Jesus' ministry.
The Modern Jewish Condition
There is an even less conventional way of proving the resurrection to the modern world, however, and that is the plight of the modern Jewish community. The biblical testimony concerning the Jewish people's rejection of Jesus, and their final claim to have no king but Caesar (John 19:15), is born out by the present secularized condition of the Jewish nation--whether we consider the modern state of Israel or those Jews still dispersed throughout the nations of the world. The fact that several Jewish leaders are signatories of the modern Humanist Manifesto and that those of orthodox belief are presently being marginalized in the political process within their own Jewish state provides modern demonstration of the ancient declaration "We have no king but Caesar."
The stark reality of this one declaration alone is practically enough to prove the resurrection of Jesus. For what could result in such a religious demise of a people, as a nation, the pioneers of monotheistic worship and revealed religion, unless it be their rejection of their own King, as the New Testament attests, and as Pontius Pilate himself concluded and publicly announced in the placard which he attached to Jesus' cross with the inscription in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." The fact that he is their King, or the historical probability that he might be, is a horrible thought that they have never been able to face.
If Jesus was not their true King, what difference would their rejection of him make? They would be able to get on with their program as they did in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah following 70 years of Babylonian captivity. The problem is that there are no more prophets left--they have persecuted, if not killed, them all (1 Kings 19:10; Luke 13:34)! And though they have rejected Jesus as their Messianic King, the One to whom the prophets all pointed (John 1:45), and continue in a state of denial to this present day, this has not resolved their issue. It has not enabled them to rise above the tragedy of their present spiritual condition and worship the Living God. On the contrary, it seems to be keeping them from doing exactly that. So desperate is their plight that they dare not even pronounce His name aloud lest they blaspheme. Their rejection of Jesus as their King seems to shout to those who have ears to hear that Jesus has risen from the dead. Had they been able to disprove this historic fact, when all the means were available to them to do precisely that, and when their motivation was to do precisely that, they would not be in their present condition. Their present dilemma, therefore, effectively substantiates the resurrection of Jesus.
The Jeffersonian Bible
But there is another commanding argument for the necessity of Jesus' resurrection which can be extracted from the most unlikely source--the Jeffersonian Bible, or more precisely, Thomas Jefferson's Abridgment of the Words of Jesus of Nazareth. Based on some of his correspondence, Jefferson appears to have become a Unitarian in his latter years, though some still dispute that fact. In his abridgment of Jesus' words designed to be used in efforts to civilize the native Americans, Jefferson did his level best to remove all traces of what Unitarians regard as those superstitions which only served as embellishments to Jesus' memory. Jefferson, in effect, stripped the Nazarene, of the supernatural--or did he?
To be sure, he omitted Matthew 5:17-18 from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount leaving only the moral injunctions which immediately followed and the Beatitudes which preceded. But like so many others who have resorted to the scissors and paste approach to try to get to the real Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson's efforts, if that was their intent, were doomed from the start. The unity of Jesus' personhood belies every attempt to strip Him of His Deity. Jefferson's abridgment, therefore, proves too much for a modern Unitarian. Consider, for example, Jefferson's inclusion of Matthew 11:2-9 (p. 29), the account of John the Baptizer's sending his disciples from the Masada prison (where Herod had John incarcerated) to Jesus in order to verify whether the Baptizer’s own pronouncements about Jesus were in fact true: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered the envoys in the following way:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." Matthew 11:4-6 (ESV)
Jesus simply instructed John's envoys to report first-hand what they had observed in Jesus' ministry, helping them to identify the aspects of it, and underscoring the blessing that comes to those who are not offended by Jesus. This Scripture presupposes a general understanding on John's part that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Old Testament. But it indicates that John now needed some reinforcement that this understanding was correct. Jesus understood John's concern and addressed that concern in such a way that anyone familiar with the Old Testament would not miss the message. The healing of the blind, the lame, the lepers, and the deaf were all Old Testament associations with the messianic era (Isaiah 35:5-6; Psalm 146:8). In the case of lepers, the Law of Moses had prescribed the method of their ceremonial cleansing foreshadowing their healing under Messiah. Death itself was a negative force which the prophets claimed would be overcome by the prophetic word of the Son of Man during the time of Israel's restoration (Ezek. 37:1-14). The presence of the tree of life in Eden certainly implied the overcoming of death when Eden's blessings were restored (Isa. 51:3). As for the preaching of good news to the poor, the Scripture from the prophet Isaiah which Jesus had read at his ministry inaugural at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-22) could refer to none other than the Messiah (lit. Anointed):
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
(Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV).
Jefferson's Bible, therefore, proves too much. It does not give the Unitarian the ground he needs to deny Jesus' bodily resurrection. Failing to erase the implication that Jesus of Nazareth is Israel's Messiah, it cannot escape the implication of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection follows by sheer logical necessity. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, as both he and John the Baptizer attested, then it would be expected that this Holy One would not see corruption, that this Redeemer would conquer death. Job had affirmed such to be the case (19:25), and Isaiah prophesied that the Suffering Servant, after his death, would be exalted to the point of dumbfounding earthly kings (Isa. 52:13-15; 53:12). Hosea had even pinpointed the exact day of Jesus’ resurrection:
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him
(Hosea 6:2 ESV).
Jesus' statement, "Blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Matt. 11:6) is a clear reference to Isaiah 8:14: "And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel . . . " The apostle Peter later identified Jesus as this "stone"--speaking of "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" (1 Pet. 2:8). It is clear from the verse immediately preceding Isaiah 8:14, that the identity of the "stone of offense," is none other than the "LORD of hosts" or Yahweh of hosts--Israel's covenant God! Jefferson's attempts to deny the Deity of Jesus, therefore, did not succeed. By failing to purge Matthew 11:4-6 from his abbreviated version of the Bible, Jefferson, despite his efforts to the contrary, unwittingly identified Jesus as the God of Israel.
Finally, Jefferson's Bible lends support to the argument from necessity as it relates to the modern Jewish dilemma. He does this by including the words of the Jewish people who clamored for Jesus' crucifixion over against Pilate's efforts to have him released: "His blood be on us and our children" (p. 71, Matthew 27:25). These words represent a chilling Jewish acceptance of culpability. They suggest to the modern observer that the King whom the Jews rejected 2000 years ago may somehow be related to their current religious dilemma and to their ongoing reluctance even to speak aloud the name of their God. The thoughtful observer must pose the obvious question: Having stumbling over the "stone of offense," described in their own Sacred Scriptures, could they have forfeited the spiritual blessing of the very God whom they have professed?