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Circumstantial Evidence of the Resurrection
What Happened on Pentecost
The events at Pentecost are an oft forgotten component of evidence regarding the resurrection of Christ. Similarly, they are also the most misunderstood. Much of the information available regarding the finality of scripture will be helpful here. Remember that Jesus told the apostles at His final Passover feast that it was necessary for Him to leave, but that the Holy Spirit would come to help them,
"But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you... And I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you." (John 16:5-15)
Jesus gives a sure sign of His ascent back to heaven - the Holy Spirit will come. As with most of the important events surrounding Jesus, this event was foretold through the prophets in the Old Testament,
"I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10)
"It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days." (Joel 2:28-29)
The prophecy of Zechariah gives me chills, as he points to not only the pouring out of the Spirit, but the death, and even the manner of death, of Jesus. Peter references Joel's prophecy on the day of Pentecost as he recounts what has just happened. Prior to Peter's bold address, however, it is worth noting the cowardice that plagued the apostles, even after the resurrection of Christ. The apostles had previously spent much time behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19,26). Matthew records an interesting attitude just prior to the ascension of Christ,
"But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful." (Matthew 28:16-17)
I find this peculiar. The eleven disciples, those closest to Christ, are all witnesses of His bodily resurrection. They are all convicted enough to worship Him as Lord; but some were doubtful. It's worth noting that this is not a reference to Thomas, the doubter. Thomas simply wanted to see the evidence that the others had already seen. Matthew is noting the doubt of those that had already seen, and had worshipped Jesus.
What were they doubtful about? It couldn't have been the resurrection; they were standing in front of Him. It seems safe to conclude, especially given the faint-heartedness exposed by John, that they were doubtful about what would happen next. Perhaps about their ability to carry on, knowing that Jesus would be gone. This is perfectly in character and calls for the reassuring word that Jesus responds with as He commissions them to go,
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
The great historian Luke records the final words of Jesus on this subject for us,
"The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said," you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:1-8)
Notice, as in John, Jesus speaks specifically to the apostles whom He had chosen. He repeats the promise that He gave prior to His death, that the Holy Spirit would come not many days from now. Additionally, He describes the specific purpose for which the power of the Holy Spirit is intended--to be witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. Shortly after the ascension of Jesus, Luke records the fulfillment of the words of Christ,
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:1-12)
On the day of Pentecost, just as Jesus described, the Spirit was poured forth. The apostles begin to speak to people from many different regions each in his own language. The amazement and great perplexity of the listeners gives credence to the miracle that was occurring. From that day on the apostles would never again be found in fear of the Jews, nor would they be found doubtful. Instead, they would go about the region and the world, making disciples and confirming their testimony with the powerful works of the Holy Spirit.
On this day a change took place in the apostles that defies explanation. They went from cowardly men who would hide and deny Christ, to men who would die for their Lord. The works that they performed were further testimony of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. At this great event, Peter preaches the first gospel sermon and underscores this very point in his explanation of what was happening.
"This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this, which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.' Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:32-36)
Peter's logic is expected. If the Spirit has been poured forth, then Christ must have been raised. He ascended to heaven and sent forth the Spirit just as promised. The power of the Holy Spirit, poured forth on Pentecost and demonstrated throughout the ministry of the apostles, was concrete proof that Jesus was raised and ascended back to heaven.