« Prev Section I. Too Good News to Be True Next »


Matt. 28:17; Mark 16:11-15; Luke 24:11; 13-22; 36-42; John 20:20; 24-29.

The black day of the crucifixion is past; the succeeding day, the Jewish Sabbath, when the Weary One slept in His rock-hewn tomb, is also past; the first day of a new week and of a new era has dawned, and the Lord is risen from the dead. The Shepherd has returned to gather His scattered sheep. Surely a happy day for hapless disciples! What rapturous joy must have thrilled their hearts at the thought of a reunion with their beloved Lord! with what ardent hope must they have looked forward to that resurrection morn!

So one might think; but the real state of the case was not so. Such ardent expectations had no place in the minds of the disciples. The actual state of their minds at the resurrection of Christ rather resembled that of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, when they heard that they were to be restored to their native land. The first effect of the good news was that they were as men that dreamed. The news seemed too good to be true. The captives who had sat by the rivers of Babylon, and wept when they remembered Zion, had ceased to hope for a return to their own country, and indeed to be capable of hoping for any thing. “Grief was calm and hope was dead” within them. Then, when the exiles had recovered from the stupor of surprise, the next effect of the good tidings was a fit of over-joy. They burst into hysteric laughter and irrepressible song.640640   Ps. cxxxvii. The experience of the exiles and of the apostles recalls the lines of the Greek poet Euripides —    “πολλαὶ μορφαἰ τῶν δαιμονίων
   πολλὰ δ᾽ ἀελπτως κραινουσι θεοί

   καὶ τὰ δοκηθεντ᾽ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη

   τῶν δ᾽ ἀδοκήτων πόρον εὗρε θεός.

Very similar was the experience of the disciples in connection with the rising of Jesus from the dead. Their grief was not indeed calm, but their hope was dead. The resurrection of their Master was utterly unexpected by them, and they received the tidings with surprise and incredulity. This appears from the statements of all the four evangelists. Matthew states that on the occasion of Christ’s meeting with His followers in Galilee after He was risen, some doubted, while others worshipped.641641Matt. xxviii. 17. Mark relates that when the disciples heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive, and had been seen of her, “they believed not;.”642642Mark xvi. 11. and that when the two disciples who journeyed toward Emmaus told their brethren of their meeting with Jesus on the way, “neither believed they them.”643643Mark xvi. 13. He further relates how, on a subsequent occasion, when Jesus Himself met with the whole eleven at once, He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen.”644644Mark xvi. 14.

In full accordance with these statements of the two first evangelists are those of Luke, whose representation of the mental attitude of the disciples towards the resurrection of Jesus is very graphic and animated. According to him, the reports of the women seemed to them “as idle tales, and they believed them not.”645645Luke xxiv. 11. The two brethren vaguely alluded to by Mark as walking into the country when Jesus appeared to them, are represented by Luke as sad in countenance, though aware of the rumors concerning the resurrection; yea, as so depressed in spirits, that they did not recognize Jesus when He joined their company and entered into conversation with them.646646Luke xxiv. 16. The resurrection was not a fact for them: all they knew was that their Master was dead, and that they had vainly trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel. The same evangelist also Informs us that on the first occasion when Jesus presented Himself in the midst of His disciples, they did recognize the resemblance of the apparition to their deceased Lord, but thought it was only His ghost, and accordingly were terrified and affrighted; insomuch that, in order to charm away their fear, Jesus showed them His hands and feet, and besought them to handle His body, and so satisfy themselves that He was no ghost, but a substantial human being, with flesh and bones like another man.647647Luke xxiv. 36, 37.

Instead of general statements, John gives an example of the incredulity of the disciples concerning the resurrection, as exhibited in its extreme form by Thomas. This disciple he represents as so incredulous, that he refused to believe until he should have put his finger into the prints of the nails, and thrust his hand into the wound made by the spear in the Saviour’s side. That the other disciples shared the incredulity of Thomas, though in a less degree, is implied in the statement made by John in a previous part of his narrative, that when Jesus met His disciples on the evening of the day on which He rose, “He showed unto them His hands and His side.”648648John xx. 20.

The women who had believed in Christ had no more expectation of His resurrection than the eleven. They set forth towards the sepulchre on the morning of the first day of the week, with the intention of embalming the dead body of Him whom they loved. They sought the living among the dead. When the Magdalene, who was at the tomb before the rest, found the grave empty, her idea was that some one had carried away the dead body of her Lord.649649John xx. 2.

When the incredulity of the disciples did at length give place to faith, they passed, like the Hebrew exiles, from extreme depression to extravagant joy. When the doubt of Thomas was removed, he exclaimed in rapture, “My Lord and my God!”650650John xx. 28. Luke relates that when they recognized their risen Lord, the disciples “believed not for joy,”651651Luke xxiv. 41. as if toying with doubt as a stimulus to joy. The two disciples with whom Jesus conversed on the way to Emmaus, said to each other when He left them, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?”652652Luke xxiv. 32.

In yet another most important respect did the eleven resemble the ancient Hebrew exiles at the time of their recall. While their faith and hope were palsied during the interval between the death and the resurrection of Jesus, their love remained in unabated vitality. The expatriated Jew did not forget Jerusalem in the land of strangers. Absence only made his heart grow fonder. As he sat by the rivers of Babylon, listless, motionless, in abstracted dreamy mood, gazing with glassy eyes on the sluggish waters, the big round tears stole quietly down his cheeks, because he had been thinking of Zion. The exile of poetic soul did not forget what was due to Jerusalem’s honor. He was incapable of singing the Lord’s songs in the hearing of a heathen audience, who cared nothing for their meaning, but only for the style of execution. He disdained to prostitute his talents for the entertainment of the voluptuous oppressors of Israel, even though thereby he might procure his restoration to the beloved country of his birth, as the Athenian captives in Sicily are said to have done by reciting the strains of their favorite poet Euripides in the hearing of their Sicilian masters.653653The story is told by Plutarch in his Παράλληλα (Nikias), and quoted and commented on by Gillies, History of Greece, cap. xx.

The disciples were not less true to the memory of their Lord. They were like a “widow indeed,” who remains faithful to her deceased husband, and dotes on his virtues, though his reputation be at zero in the general esteem of the world. Call Him a deceiver who might, they could not believe that Jesus had been a deceiver. Mistaken He as well as they might have been, but an impostor — never! Therefore, though He is dead and their hope gone, they still act as men who cherish the fondest attachment to their Master whom they have lost. They keep together like a bereaved family, with blinds down, so to speak, shutting and barring their doors for fear of the Jews, identifying themselves with the Crucified, and as His friends dreading the ill-will of the unbelieving world. Admirable example to all Christians how to behave themselves in a day of trouble, rebuke, and blasphemy, when the cause of Christ seems lost, and the powers of darkness for the moment have all things their own way. Though faith be eclipsed and hope extinguished, let the heart ever be loyal to its true Lord!

The state of mind in which the disciples were at the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is of great moment in an apologetic point of view. Their despair after their Lord’s crucifixion gives great weight to the testimony borne by them to the fact of His resurrection. Men in such a mood were not likely to believe in the latter event except because it could not reasonably be disbelieved. They would not be lightly satisfied of its truth, as men are apt to be in the case of events both desired and expected: they would skeptically exact superabundant evidence, as men do in the case of events desirable but not expected. They would be slow to believe on the testimony of others, and might even hesitate to believe their own eyes. They would not be able, as M. Renan supposes, to get up a belief in the resurrection of Jesus, from the simple fact that His grave was found empty on the third day after His death, by the women who went to embalm His body. That circumstance, on being reported, might make a Peter and a John run to the sepulchre to see how matters stood; but, after they had found the report of the women confirmed, it would still remain a question how the fact was to be explained; and Mary Magdalene’s theory, that some one had carried off the corpse, would not appear at all improbable.

These inferences of ours, from what we know concerning the mental condition of the disciples, are fully borne out by the Gospel accounts of the reception they gave to the risen Jesus at His first appearances to them. One and all of them regarded these appearances skeptically, and took pains to satisfy themselves, or made it necessary that Jesus should take pains to satisfy them, that the visible object was no ghostly apparition, but a living man, and that man none other than He who had died on the cross. The disciples doubted now the substantiality, now the identity, of the person who appeared to them. They were therefore not content with seeing Jesus, but at His own request handled Him. One of their number not only handled the body to ascertain that it possessed the incompressibility of matter, but insisted on examining with skeptical curiosity those parts which had been injured by the nails and the spear. All perceived the resemblance between the object in view and Jesus, but they could not be persuaded of the identity, so utterly unprepared were they for seeing the Dead One alive again; and their theory at first was just that of Strauss, that what they saw was a ghost or spectra. And the very fact that they entertained that theory makes it impossible for us to entertain it. We cannot, in the face of that fact, accept the Straussian dogma, that “the faith in Jesus as the Messiah, which by His violent death had received an apparently fatal shock, was subjectively restored by the instrumentality of the mind, the power of imagination and nervous excitement.” The power of imagination and nervous excitement we know can do much. It has often happened to men in an abnormal, excited state to see projected into outward space the creations of a heated brain. but persons in a crazy state like that — subject to hallucination — are not usually cool and rational enough to doubt the reality of what they see; nor is it necessary in their case to take pains to overcome such doubts. What they need rather, is to be made aware that what they think they see is not a reality: the very reverse of what Christ had to do for the disciples, and did, by solemn assertion that He was no spirit, by inviting them to handle Him, and so satisfy themselves of His material substantiality, and by partaking of food in their presence.

When we keep steadily before our eyes the mental condition of the eleven at the time of Christ’s resurrection, we see the transparent falsehood and absurdity of the theft theory invented by the Jewish priests. The disciples, according to this theory, came by night, while the guards were asleep, and stole the dead body of Jesus, that they might be able to circulate the belief that He was risen again. Matthew tells that even before the resurrection the murderers of our Lord were afraid this might be done; and then, to prevent any fraud of this kind, they applied to Pilate to have a guard put upon the grave, who accordingly contemptuously granted them permission to take what steps they pleased to prevent all resurrectionary proceedings on the part either of the dead or of the living, scornfully replying, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.” This accordingly they did, sealing the stone and setting a watch. Alas! their precautions prevented neither the resurrection nor belief in it, but only supplied an illustration of the folly of those who attempt to manage providence, and to control the course of

the world’s history. They gave themselves much to do, and it all came to nothing. Not that we are disposed to deny the astuteness of these ecclesiastical politicians. Their scheme for preventing the resurrection was very prudent, and their mode of explaining it away after hand very plausible. The story they invented was really a very respectable fabrication, and was certain to satisfy all who wanted a decent theory to justify a foregone conclusion, as in fact it seems to have done; for, according to Matthew, it was commonly reported in after years.654654Matt. xxviii. 15. It was not improbable that soldiers should fall asleep by night on the watch, especially when guarding a dead body, which was not likely to give them any trouble; and in the eyes of the unbelieving world, the followers of the Nazarene were capable of using any means for promoting their ends.

But granting all this, and even granting that the Sanhedrists had been right in their opinion of the character of the disciples, their theft theory is ridiculous. The disciples, even if capable of such a theft, so far as scruples of conscience were concerned, were not in a state of mind to think of it, or to attempt it. They had not spirit left for such a daring action. Sorrow lay like a weight of lead on their hearts, and made them almost as inanimate as the corpse they are supposed to have stolen. Then the motive for the theft is one which could not have influenced them then. Steal the body to propagate a belief in the resurrection! What interest had they in propagating a belief which they did not entertain themselves? “As yet they knew not the Scriptures, that He must rise again from the dead;.”655655John xx. 9. nor did they remember aught that their Master had said on this subject before His decease. To some this latter statement has appeared hard to believe; and to get over the difficulty, it has been suggested that the predictions of our Lord respecting His resurrection may not have been so definite as they appear in the Gospels, but may have assumed this definite form after the event, when their meaning was clearly understood.656656See Neander, Life of Jesus. We see no occasion for such a supposition. There can be no doubt that Jesus spoke plainly enough about His death at least; and yet His death, when it happened, took the disciples as much by surprise as did the resurrection.657657Colani (Jésus Christ et les Croyances messianiques de son Temps, 2ième ed. p. 164) endeavors to weaken the force of this argument by the remark that the death of Jesus, being an unwelcome event, was a thing the disciples did not wish to remember or believe in, as involving the ruin of their Messianic hopes; whereas, the resurrection being a joyful event, would most gladly have been believed in had it really been preannounced. The author forgets that the resurrection implied death as its antecedent, and that if believed in, it would have made death appear in an altogether different light, and that if it failed to do that, it would beforehand share the same fate as the death, that, viz., of being disregarded; and afterhand would seem “too good news to be true.” One explanation suffices in both cases. The disciples were not clever, quick-witted, sentimental men such as Renan makes them. They were stupid, slow-minded persons; very honest, but very unapt to take in new ideas. They were like horses with blinders on, and could see only in one direction, — that, namely, of their prejudices. It required the surgery of events to insert a new truth into their minds. Nothing would change the current of their thoughts but a damwork of undeniable fact. They could be convinced that Christ must die only by His dying, that He would rise only by His rising, that His kingdom was not to be of this world, only by the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and the vocation of the Gentiles. Let us be thankful for the honest stupidity of these men. It gives great value to their testimony. We know that nothing but facts could make such men believe that which nowadays they get credit for inventing.

The apologetic use which we have made of the doubts of the disciples concerning the resurrection of Christ is not only legitimate, but manifestly that which was intended by their being recorded. The evangelists have carefully chronicled these doubts that we might have no doubt. These things were written that we might believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead; for the apostles attached supreme importance to that fact, which they had doubted in the days of their disciple hood. It was the foundation of their doctrinal edifice, an essential part of their gospel. The Apostle Paul correctly summed up the gospel preached by the men who had been with Jesus, as well as by himself, in these three items: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried; and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” All the eleven thoroughly agreed with Paul’s sentiment, that if Christ were not risen, their preaching was vain, and the faith of Christians was also vain. There was no gospel at all, unless He who died for men’s sins rose again for their justification. With this conviction in their minds, they constantly bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus wherever they went. So important a part of their work did this witness-bearing seem to them, that when Peter proposed the election of one to fill the place of Judas he singled it out as the characteristic function of the apostolic office. “Of these men,” he said, “which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, . . . must one become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

With this supreme value attached to the fact of Christ’s rising again in apostolic preaching, it is our duty most heartily to sympathize. Modern unbelievers, like some in the Corinthian church, would persuade us that it does not matter whether Jesus rose or not, all that is valuable in Christianity being quite independent of mere historical truth. With these practically agree many believers addicted to an airy spiritualism, who treat mere supernatural facts with contemptuous neglect, deeming the high doctrines of the faith as alone worthy of their regard. To persons of this temper such studies as those which have occupied us in this chapter seem a mere waste of time; and if they spoke as they feel, they would say, “Let these trifles alone, and give us the pure and simple gospel.” Intelligent, sober, and earnest Christians differ toto caelo from both these classes of people. In their view Christianity is in the first place a religion of supernatural facts. These facts occupy the principal place in their creed. They know that if these facts are honestly believed, all the great doctrines of the faith must sooner or later be accepted; and, on the other hand, they clearly understand that a religion which despises, not to say disbelieves, these facts, is but a cloudland which must soon be dissipated, or a house built on sand which the storm will sweep away. Therefore, while acknowledging the importance of all revealed truth, they lay very special stress on revealed facts. Believing with the heart the precious truth that Christ died for our sins, they are careful with the apostles to include in their gospel these items of fact, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.658658   Baur, denying, or tacitly ignoring the fact of the resurrection, admits that the belief in it by the apostles was the necessary presupposition of the whole historical development of Christianity. How that belief arose in their minds he does not attempt to explain, but rather declares to be inexplicable by psychological analysis (vide Kirchen geschichte der Drei Ersten Jahrhunderte, 3te Ausg., p. 40). Keim’s view is peculiar. Holding with Baur and Strauss the impossibility of a resurrection in the ordinary sense, he yet differs from Strauss in regarding the appearances of Jesus after His death as something more than hallucinations, as objective occurrences, “telegraphic” communications from the spirit-world to let the dispirited disciples know that all was well (Jesu von Nazara, Band iii. p. 605). This hypothesis, which seems to have been suggested by the phenomena of modern spiritualism, adds a fourth to the list of the naturalistic attempts to dispose of the great cardinal fact considered in this chapter. For the reader’s benefit we may here give the list: —
   1. Jesus never was dead: resurrection was merely reanimation after a swoon.

   2. The dead body was stolen, and the lie circulated that Jesus had risen.

   3. The disciples honestly believed that Jesus had risen, but their belief was a pure hallucination bred by a heated brain.

   4. Jesus after death made spiritualistic communications to His disciples, which naturally led to the belief that He was risen.

« Prev Section I. Too Good News to Be True Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection