Explaining the Empty Tomb
The sheer number of witnesses to the risen Christ is overwhelming. Peter had himself seen the risen Christ. The other apostles had seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion. The apostle Paul gives us a witness list: “[Jesus] was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:5–8). Having presented irrefutable and insurmountable evidence, Peter pulls it all together with a closing argument.
The third day He rose again from the dead – The Apostles’ Creed
I enjoy mystery novels. One of my favorite genres is the legal thriller that combines mystery with courtroom drama. In legal thrillers the verdict is based on evidence brought forth. That evidence needs to be unearthed and presented in such a way that the narrative makes sense and adequately accounts for all the facts.
We can take this approach to verifying Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. In fact, that is the approach Peter takes in his sermon to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection. People had traveled from all over for the occasion. They were abuzz with recent events, events that made that Pentecost like no other. In his sermon in Acts 2 Peter brings to bear four strands of evidence that lead to an inescapable conclusion.
Peter begins by pointing to Jesus, particularly as one distinguished by God. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22). Peter highlights two things in particular. He identifies Him as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is His given name. Nazareth refers to His hometown, where He was raised. This is a common manner of identification in the Bible, narrowing it down from all those who bear a common name. For example, Saul is called Saul of Tarsus. Sometimes people are identified by their lineage, such as Simon bar Jonah, Simon son of Jonah. But for reasons we’ve already touched on, identifying Jesus as the Son of Joseph would be inappropriate. Associating Jesus with Nazareth makes Him a known quantity and gives Him roots just like anyone else would have, roots that have significance for prophetic anticipation and validation (see Matt. 2:23).
The second thing Peter highlights about Jesus distinguishes Him from everyone else, providing definitive identification. Peter could have referenced the proclamation from God that he had heard with James and John at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-6), but that was private knowledge not public. What was public were all the miracles, signs and wonders Jesus did. Many in the multitude had seen personally or heard through the grapevine the stupendous acts of Jesus in healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and even raising the dead. Peter explained these mighty acts as pointing not to the deity of Christ but to the “Man attested by God,” the Man Jesus, with a known hometown, credentialed by God. It was as if Peter brought God Himself to the witness stand to authenticate Jesus as the Son of Man sent by God.
In presenting a case, attorneys will construct a narrative that fits the facts of the case. A prosecuting attorney will frame an account that shows the defendant to be guilty. The defense attorney will take the same facts and paint a much different picture, one that exonerates his or her client. Peter constructs a narrative that aligns with the plan and purpose of God, putting the events surrounding the Man Jesus in biblical context. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:23–24).
Peter puts the events in the context of the plan of God, which we might think of as a metanarrative or redemptive narrative. This bigger picture governs the events of the day and the actions of men, including the sinful actions of betraying an innocent man. The people were responsible and culpable for their actions, yet God’s plan superintended and enfolded those actions.
We see a similar scene in the book of Genesis when Joseph addressed his brothers who had sold him into slavery. “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?