by Ervin Herbert
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
(1 Corinthians 15:55, NIV.)
Some people belonging to a sceptical class frequently and emphatically assert that the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ didn’t occur. They go so far as to state that there is no evidence Jesus Christ, or anyone else for that matter, once dead, can live again. So confident in their assertions are they that the trusting, believing Christian is eagerly challenged with the enquiry: ‘How can you believe; how do you know Jesus Christ rose from the dead?’
To this the trusting, believing Christian need only state simply, ‘He was seen!’
‘He was seen!’ – a maxim, of course, well documented in the Bible. Let us enumerate some of the occasions on which the risen Christ was seen.
He was seen by the Roman guards (Matt. 28:2-4, 11-15); Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14-17); other ‘devout’ women (Matt. 28:9, 10); Peter the apostle (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); two disciples on the country road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32); ten of the disciples during Jesus’ first appearance in the upper room (Luke 24:33-48; John 20:24, 25); the eleven disciples, including doubting Thomas, a week later during Jesus’ second appearance in the upper room (Mark 16:14; John 20:26-29); seven of the disciples while they were on an early Monday morning fishing trip (John 21:1-23); five hundred witnesses (1 Cor. 15:6); James the apostle (1 Cor. 15:7); the eleven disciples once again on Ascension Thursday when ‘he was taken up’ (Mark 16:19, 20, NIVUK; see also Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-11); and, lastly, Paul the apostle: ‘He was seen by me also’ (1 Cor. 15:8, NKJV).
The above sketch – what a powerful sketch! It confirms that, up to 40 days between the resurrection and ascension, Christ was seen alive, not dead, by real flesh-and-blood people. And this runs contrary to the cynical views of modern opponents to the doctrine of the resurrection.
As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, our faith in the resurrection is based, may I suggest, not on the possibility that Christ was not seen, but on the truth that He was seen! I believe what I know, and know what I believe, because ‘He was seen’ after His bodily resurrection – ‘seen’, I repeat (for it’s worth repeating), alive and not dead.
Now, if Christ were never seen fishing, walking, talking, eating and drinking after His resurrection from the grave, yet His followers engagingly put it about that He had risen, there would be serious cause for concern. But the fact that there were eyewitnesses who heard directly from Christ makes their testimony on the resurrection of particular value. I stress this point, for we who are Christ-followers today are not witnesses as were His followers during His lifetime. Now this dictum, ‘Seeing is believing,’ is correct only up to a point. Christ’s contemporaries saw Him and heard Him speak, and that experience caused them to believe. We, on the other hand, believe without seeing His resurrected form or hearing His heavenly voice.
Our belief in that event is based on faith rather than on sight: faith, I might add, in the word of others, others who had no need of faith. What need had they of faith when they were actual eyewitnesses? Once more, the Christian faith in the resurrection is not built solely on the word of those who actually had seen and heard from Christ, but on Jesus Christ, the Restored One, who urged: ‘You study the Scriptures diligently. . . . These are the very Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39, NIVUK). Yes, our Lord’s resurrection was validated by many witnesses, recorded in a trustworthy and inspired book. Thus the inspired Scriptures are another line of evidence confirming our faith.
I must say – although we are correct in believing from the Holy Scriptures that all those who have died in Christ will live again – that I find it strangely ironic that those who sneer at the Bible and laugh bitterly at Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead are firm believers in the theory that life arose spontaneously from non-living matter, yet they still cannot believe either in Christ’s resurrection or the future general resurrection of the dead, because, according to their scientific dogma, it’s ‘incredible’ and ‘contrary’ to science.
The agnostic who was once called ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, Thomas Huxley, admitted that the alleged event of non-life producing life had no witnesses, but stated that ‘analogical reasoning’ led him to believe it, saying, ‘Recollect that I have no right to call my opinion anything but an act of philosophical faith’ (cited by Francis David Nichol, Answers to Objections [Review and Herald], p. 467). Anti-supernaturalism and pro-evolutionary critics who see themselves as believers in science, not faith, are not being consistent. Their origins dogma is based on faith. Why will they not permit themselves to admit to what Huxley acknowledged?
Now, in the book of Saint John’s gospel it’s recorded that Thomas refused to believe that his fellow disciples had ‘seen the Lord’. I suggest, however, that it was not the report of Christ’s resurrection that he didn’t believe, but the word of his fellow disciples. It appears that Thomas was saying, ‘I hear what you guys say, loud and clear, but I am sorry: unless I see Jesus for myself, I will not believe that you guys saw Him.’ I have wondered why on earth Thomas could have doubted the word of his fellow disciples. Had their word been proven unreliable in the past? Had there been a history of mischief making among them?
Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about why Thomas failed to believe his fellow disciples, other than the fact that he wanted to see Jesus for himself. No faith on this occasion for him, then!
Thomas only finally believed that Jesus had risen when he literally saw Him and heard Him speak. To Thomas Jesus said: ‘Stop doubting and believe’ (John 20:27, NIVUK). And Thomas did, causing him to exclaim: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28.) Thomas finally joined that long roll call of witnesses. But notice that Jesus was not done with Thomas; Jesus had a word of mild reproof for him, and words of encouraging praise for future potential followers of God. ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29, NIVUK). Believers in Jesus . . . that’s you! That’s me! Believing without having seen Him for ourselves makes us, according to Jesus Himself, blessed of God. Thomas believed when he saw Christ. There is no blessing for that. We believe without seeing Christ. There is a blessing for that! At that we should be pleased and not be dumfounded!
There are people in this world today who say, however, that they cannot believe in Jesus the Son or God the Father, since they have neither seen nor can see either of Them; and to accept the words of others, who claim to have either heard Their voice or seen Their form, would, to these non-believers, be illogical, absurd. But can such doubters imagine what the world would be like if everybody was a doubting Thomas, just doubting everything until they experienced or witnessed it for themselves? It would be chaotic! Nobody would be able to trust the word of anybody. And how scary would that be?
I am reminded in this instance of a black slave named Jethro who, during the 1676 American Indian wars, saved Plymouth from being massacred. Here is a good example of a situation that could have ended up pretty scary if the people had remained headstrong on the grounds that Jethro was black, and a slave – why on earth should his word be trusted? Secondly, they themselves couldn’t see any Indians on the horizon, and until they did they had no definite reason to believe. But, fortuitously, none of the above came into play; that is why the report of his valour reads: ‘I do not find anywhere else an adequate acknowledgement. The Englishmen of Plymouth Colony were (indebted) to this Negro for saving Taunton from destruction.’ E. E. Cleveland, Living Soul – ‘We Shall Overcome’, p. 22. A postscript to this story: Jethro’s reward for his vigilance was to remain in bondage two more years. What ingratitude!
As Christians, however, we need not despair. Remember, we have a loving Saviour who died and rose again and is coming back again for a people who believe – not because they were actual eyewitnesses to His first coming, His death, His resurrection and His ascension, but because they believe with every fibre of their being that ‘He was seen,’ alive and not dead. And will be seen again when He comes the second time. This time ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7, NIVUK), be they foe or friend. To this the friends of God will say: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Revelation 22:20, NIVUK). Come. So ‘Stop doubting and believe’ – ‘He was seen!’ The evidence is in the witnesses who did the seeing back then, making it possible for us today to have believing, living, evidence-based faith.
Additional reading: see Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, chapter entitled ‘The Lord Is Risen’, pp. 779-787.