“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
II Corinthians 15.3-7, 18+19.
Many believe that unstable religious people who can’t cope with the difficulties of life created the concept of the afterlife. They suggest that heaven was invented to motivate people to good behavior, and hell was invented to scare people into moral sobriety. This view, however, is patently shortsighted and false. Not only is the afterlife not a whimsical fairy tale its reality is eminently provable.
The greatest evidence of the afterlife is not going to be found in the latest tabloid magazine or a sci-fi “documentary” on TV. The greatest evidence that life for humans continues after the flesh expires is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus proved that life continues after death, first by teaching it then by doing it.
It’s important to note that Jesus mentioned something about the afterlife over 75 times in the gospel of Matthew alone! In Luke he tells a parable in which a wicked character experiences actual torment in hell and a righteous character experiences actual bliss in heaven (Luke 16.20-25). Clearly, given the vast amount of times he makes reference to heaven and hell, it is incontrovertible that Jesus believed in the afterlife. Therefore, to propose that there is no life after physical death is to call Jesus Christ a liar.
As mentioned above, Jesus didn’t just teach that life continues after the body dies, he proved it. Jesus’ resurrection is as foundational to Christianity as karma is to Buddhism. If you lose the idea of karma, you lose Buddhism. Likewise, if you disregard the Bible’s claim of Christ’s resurrection you ignore the central message of the Christian faith. In short, there is no Christianity without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This is the point that the apostle Paul is laboring in the passage quoted above.
Christians believe that through faith in Jesus’ sinless life, atoning death and resurrection from the dead we can be forgiven our sins and have eternal life in a sinless, deathless, blissful state. The whole deal falls apart if Jesus is still dead, however. So what proof is there that faith in Christ isn’t in vain?
It’s interesting that Paul mentions the two men he does when appealing to the eyewitness testimony of Christ’s resurrection. Cephas—the Apostle Peter’s Aramaic name—was one of the first of Jesus’ disciples to confess that he was the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 16.16). Just after Peter made his confession, he rebuked Jesus for predicting his death and resurrection. In fact, every time Jesus mentioned his death and resurrection to his disciples they reacted negatively, which suggests that they believed he was going to die but not live again. Despite their reaction before the cross, Peter and the other apostles preached vehemently that they had seen Jesus after the cross, which begs the question, “why?"
The James that Paul mentions was Jesus’ half-brother, one of 4 born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus’ birth. The Gospels tell us that none of his brothers believed in Jesus, and even mocked him (John 7.5). After the cross, however, James isn’t mocking Jesus but calling him “the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1.1).” Clearly these men were convinced that Jesus wasn’t a mere man because they saw him, talked with him and ate with him after he died, which would’ve been impossible if he remained dead. None of them believed that he would actually rise from the dead—until it happened. Jesus proves that life after death is real. Heaven and hell are real places, and Jesus conquered death and hell to give heaven to those who trust in him.
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