The Resurrection is the Defining Moment
It is the resurrection that separates Jesus from all other good teachers, intelligent gurus and world leaders in history! The resurrection proved that Jesus was and is God, and demonstrated the fact that all of us will have a life after this one. Jesus is the one man who died and then came back to life to tell us about the other side. Even Paul was careful to tell us that without the truth of the resurrection, there is nothing special or powerful about Christianity:
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
But why should I believe anything in the scripture about the resurrection? Why should I even consider these claims to be true? Over the centuries, many doubters have argued that the resurrection did NOT occur and they have taken one of two positions. They have either claimed that Jesus never died on the cross, or that Jesus never came back to life. Let’s look at the claims of the doubters and see if they hold up to careful scrutiny and reason.
Argument ONE – Jesus Didn’t Die
The first claim we are going top examine is the assertion that Jesus never died on the cross in the first place. These folks claim that Jesus was only injured up there on the cross. Later when He was taken down, He was in a swooning state of semi-consciousness, and only appeared to be dead. He came back to his senses later and appeared to the world, not as a man who had come back to life, but as a man who had recovered from His injuries! OK, this is the claim; now let’s take a look at whether or not this claim holds up to scrutiny.
The Roman Soldiers Would Not Have Allowed It
There was a tremendous penalty to be paid by Roman soldiers if they allowed a capital criminal to either escape or avoid the penalty to which they were sentenced. The soldier himself would have to take the punishment. It would be a death sentence for the soldier to bungle the execution. For this reason, Roman soldiers were brutal and meticulous, executing their orders with precision to make sure that they did not find themselves on the cross. Roman soldiers NEVER bungled executions of this nature, and history verifies this truth. Look at how the Bible describes the death of Jesus:
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
The Soldiers Didn’t Break Jesus’ Legs
The soldiers always confirmed that the executions were complete by assuring that each man on the cross was dead before taking them off. If they were not, the soldier would use a club to break their legs so that their own body weight would suffocate them. Unable to push themselves up with their legs to take a breath, and unable in weakness to continue to pull themselves up with their arms, the victims would simply suffocate under their own weight, unable to breath. The Gospels tell us that the soldiers came to break Jesus’ legs, but saw that he was already dead.
John Saw Water Come from Jesus’ Side
Not only that, but the gospels also tell us that one of the soldiers stabbed Jesus in the heart area with a spear and that water and blood rushed from the opening. That’s not uncommon for someone who has been dead for a while. The body cavity begins to fill with clear liquid, water drawn from the body itself. Blood in this situation appears watery and this is consistent with someone who is already dead. Coroners know this is true today, but to see this described in an ancient document is remarkable.
And Where Did He Go?
But if this wasn’t enough, we still have the issue of where Jesus went after the recovery. If he didn’t rise from the dead and then ascend into heaven, where did he go? There is no historical document that even attempts to account for a recovered Jesus, who lived after the recovery in some far away land. All things considered, the notion that Jesus did not die is preposterous.
The Bible Offered an Eyewitness to Verify the Death
Take a look at the description of the burial of Jesus offered in the Gospel of Mark. Notice the description of Joseph of Arimathea:
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.
You may wonder why there is such an accurate description of Joseph in this passage. Is Mark just trying to validate Jesus’ death by using a prominent Jew (even one on the council!) to verify the burial? Is Mark trying to impress his Jewish readers? Not likely, since he apparently felt the need to describe the meaning of “Preparation Day’ to the reader. It is apparent that non-Jews are Marks audience here! Joseph is not going to impress a non-Jew. So why mention him in so much detail? Here’s why: Mark wants the reader to be able to ask Joseph for himself! Mark is supplying the reader with a living eyewitness who not only saw the crucifixion, but also touch and wrapped the dead body of Jesus Christ! It’s ridiculous to think that somehow all the disciples of Jesus who took his grotesquely beaten body off the cross, wrapped it in linen, scented it with spices and prepared it for burial would not have noticed that he was still alive. You have to think this through. It makes no sense.
Argument TWO – The Disciples Imagined It
Once we have examined the issue and recognize that Jesus did, in fact, die on the cross, the next doubt you will encounter is whether or not Jesus actually rose form the dead after the crucifixion. Those who deny this fall into three camps, the first of which proposes that the disciples imagined the entire resurrection. This is commonly referred to as the Hallucination theory. The disciples, in their incredible grief and wishful thinking, imagine the entire resurrection as a sort of hallucination. The resurrection is not a scientific truth, therefore, but simply something that the disciples honestly believed they saw, based on their despair and grief.
But There is no Such Thing as a Group Hallucination
Imagine yourself having a hallucination and then snapping out of it only to discover that your best friend had the exact same hallucination, down to every detail! That’s just not going to happen. Hallucinations are personal. There is no such thing as a group hallucination. And that would have to be the case here with the disciples. When two people are questioned separately and tell you the exact same story, you know you are dealing with eyewitness accounts, not vivid imaginations! Not only that, but imagine a hallucination that lasts for days and weeks on end. That’s also never happened before and would have been the case here if you are to believe that the resurrection was just a hallucination. Jesus appeared to his followers for 40 days.
And What About the Corpse?
Are we to believe also that after having experienced this hallucination that the disciples would not have checked the tomb? Eventually they would have discovered the corpse, and realized that the hallucination was just that. But, of course, the corpse was not to be found…
They Claimed to Be More Than Sincere!
The biggest problem with the hallucination theory is that it does not account for the group sightings of Jesus in which everyone, including doubters like Thomas, got the chance to eat with, speak to, touch and be touched by Jesus himself. These experiences move the resurrection from hallucination to reality. Is it possible to be sincere in one’s belief, yet be sincerely wrong? Sure! But the disciples claimed to be more than sincere, they claimed to be eyewitnesses:
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
2 Peter 1:16
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Argument THREE – It’s All Just a Legend!
Many of those who deny the truth of the resurrection will try to tell you that it was a legend that was developed over time by people other than the disciples, people who heard stories and twisted them or misinterpreted them or invented them in order to create the faith system that we have today. They would argue that all of it is a myth, a legend created over time.
But There’s Not Enough Time!
But here is the problem: there is not nearly enough time for this type of legend to develop. This myth theory requires several generations to pass so that there or no remaining eyewitnesses of the real events left to dispute the mythology. But the first Christian documents recording the life of Christ appear on the scene within the first generation of the eyewitnesses. They were able to review the stories and testify to their validity. No one could have started the mythology without their knowing it. But that’s not all! There are also non-Christian historical records of Jesus that date back to within the lives of the eyewitnesses! These historians had no reason to perpetuate the mythology and attest to the fact that something did in fact happen here on planet earth 2000 years ago. Check out these early historical records:
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and he is so ancient that his writings don’t even exist anymore. But Julius Africanus, writing around 221AD does quote Thallus who had previously tried to explain away the darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion: “Thallus in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun…” This record of Thallus, confirms that Jesus lived, and was crucified and that something spectacular and unexplainable happened on that terrible day. If only more of Thallus’ record could be found, we would see that every aspect of Jesus’ life could be verified with a non-biblical source.
Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
Sometime after 70AD, a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compares the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. The fact that Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. As a matter of fact, Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King”.
In more detail than any other non-biblical historian, Josephus writes about Jesus in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93AD. Josephus was a consultant for Jewish rabbis at age thirteen, was a Galilean military commander by the age of sixteen, and under the rule of roman emperor Vespasian, was allowed to write a history of the Jews. This history includes three passages about Christians, one in which he describes the death of John the Baptist, one in which he mentions the execution of James and describes him as the brother of Jesus the Christ, and a final passage which describes Jesus as a wise man and the messiah, retelling the resurrection story!
Pliny the Younger (112AD)
Early Christians are also described in secular history. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan, describes the lifestyles of early Christians. They are said to have unmovable faith in Christ, meeting once a week before the sun rises, sang hymns to Christ, vowed to do good deeds, and ate together in fellowship.
Cornelius Tacitus (116AD)
Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians. He was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and was also proconsul of Asia. In his “Annals’ of 116AD, he describes Emoperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame. In the process, he describes the persecution and execution of Jesus under Pontius Pilate and the persecution of early Christians.
In a manner similar to Thallus, Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronicle of history around 140AD. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it, but even more interestingly, he mentions Jesus’ ability to foresee the future in describing the life of our Savior.
Here’s the point with all of this. Non-Biblical records confirm that the story of the resurrection appears very EARLY and within the lifetime of the first witnesses. There can be no doubt that these eyewitnesses would have been able to testify AGAINST the resurrection if it were only a legend that was developing. The idea that the resurrection is a legend simply does not hold up to critical thinking.
And the First Witnesses Were Women!
This ‘small’ fact is overlooked when people want to think that the reality of Jesus’ resurrection is just a myth. The first witnesses to the resurrection were women. That is recorded clearly in all the Gospels. And remember that women at this time in history and in this culture had very low social status. They were not even allowed to testify in court. They were not considered to have status that would make them trustworthy witnesses. Yet these stories are brutally frank in the way that they describe women as the first witnesses:
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
If someone was trying to establish the validity of a legend and give it credence and credibility, they would never have chosen women as the first witnesses. As a matter of fact, they would have made the first witness a man of considerable status. But that is simply not how it happened, and the truth was recorded in scripture regardless of the impact that it might have on early readers. This little detail is incredibly important and testifies to the reality of what happened.
Argument FOUR – They Just Lied About It!
So this brings us to the final obstacle we will encounter with people who deny the resurrection! After examining the impossibility that the resurrection is a hallucination or a legend, many will simply argue that the disciples made it all up. They’ll say it’s all fiction and the disciples conspired to fool the world. They were consummate liars. This theory has become known as the conspiracy theory!
But They Could Not Have Removed the Body!
The biggest problem with this theory is the fact that there would be no way for the disciples to get the body out of the tomb without alerting the guards. They Jews knew that they would have to guard the body in order to prevent its theft. They wanted to hang on to the body to show that Jesus was just a man. And they convinced authorities to place a Roman Attachment at the tomb. They guarded the tomb with the same intensity with which they confirmed Jesus’ death.
And the Locals Would Have Known It!
But keep in mind that it would also be impossible for the disciples to perpetuate a lie in the relatively small environment in which Jesus was said to have walked and appeared to more than 500 people according to Paul:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
These readers could have talked to the original witnesses and they would have seen the lie coming! They would have written a lot about the fact that all of it was untrue. Yet nothing exists to expose the resurrection as a lie.
And They Had No Motive!
But most of all, the disciples had no motive and, in fact, they put their very lives in danger by holding to the truth of the resurrection. Today, many of us who believe will risk our lives to defend our faith. That’s because we truly believe and we have no evidence that what we believe is untrue. But that was not the case for the first disciples. If the resurrection was untrue, they would have known it was a lie. Would they all have carried the conspiracy to their death, knowing full well that it was all a lie? Wouldn’t at least one of them have cracked under the torture and beatings and told the truth? How did this group of misfits become able to endure all this? They were transformed not by a lie but by the truth. And knowing that death was not something to fear, they boldly stood their ground. Tell me that these men were conspiring to perpetuate the biggest lie ever told in the history of man. It simply does not make any sense. The disciples would ALL have to be crazy to hold to a lie that eventually killed them all.
Once you have dispelled the arguments for the swoon theory, you are going to have to conclude that Jesus did actually die, and after you dispel the hallucination, conspiracy and myth theories, you are going to have to conclude that Jesus did in fact rise again. Now you are in yet another position of theory and understanding. You’re now in a position that we know as traditional Christianity. Jesus did die on that cross. After three days, Jesus did come back to life. How can that be? It can be true because Jesus is God Himself, able to break the laws of nature that He established from the beginning of time.