Jesus died. It is an historical fact. He was betrayed by a friend, rejected by his countrymen, and brutalized and murdered by the Romans who ruled over the land. His limp and battered body was taken down from the cross on which he had breathed his last, wrapped in burial cloth and placed inside a cave-like tomb, his story to be added to the list of those who failed in their opposition to power. He was dead.
Death can change the course of history. We can only wonder how different the world might have been if Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King had lived longer. World War I erupted after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The Greek Empire split soon after the passing of Alexander the Great. The death of leaders has a profound impact on those who follow.
From the Gospel accounts, the death of Jesus Christ was devastating to his followers. His closest friends fled the scene when he was arrested, leaving him to face his execution alone. While a few of them showed up to watch his final hours on the cross, most of them are not mentioned in the story. A few days later the friends were together but seemingly in hiding.
Reading through Scripture we can guess at their thoughts. From the recorded conversations we see that they had a typical Jewish understanding of Messiah. They expected Jesus to lead a military revolt against Rome and restore Israel to prominence in the world. While Jesus is described as making multiple references to his coming death it seems that his words were lost on his disciples. They clearly did not get it. The death of Jesus shattered all of their dreams and illusions.
And then Sunday came. The tomb was empty. Some of Jesus' female followers came back to the group with a preposterous tale of an empty tomb and Jesus alive. Two of the male leaders, Peter and John, ran to the tomb to see for themselves the massive stone moved and the revealed tomb empty. Later that night, Jesus appeared to them all. He was not dead. He was alive.
History changed in dramatic fashion. Within just a few years the message of this resurrection had spread throughout the Roman empire. Churches sprouted up in cities that were dominated by the worship of Roman and Greek gods, churches that continued to exist in spite of severe prosecution. 2000 years later the message continues to spread into areas where it is unwelcome, into cultures in which the prevailing ideology is opposed to it.
While deaths can change the course of history, nothing has change history as much as resurrection. Jesus the Christ through His resurrection declared to the world that He is not just another man. His resurrection allows no room for those who desire to simply add Him to history's list of great moral teachers and prophets, does not allow him to be classified as just another great man and leader. The resurrection declares that He is far more. The apostle Paul states it clearly in his letter to the fledgling church at Rome, saying that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead.”
Indeed He was.