by Wayne Wells
The Greatest Hoax or the Greatest Event?
The resurrection of Jesus was either the greatest hoax of history or the greatest event ever. How can we, living nearly two thousand years later, ever really know whether such an event took place? The importance of finding the answer can be found in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul said the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian religion. If there was no resurrection, the Christian religion is false and an empty deception. However, if the resurrection did occur, then Jesus is who He claimed to be, the only source of eternal life, and everyone must obey Him in order to receive that life.
Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?
If the cross was the last thing we knew about Jesus we would judge Him to be a failure. The Jews would have been right in putting Him to death for blasphemy according to their law because He claimed to be equal with God. If His claims were not true, He would be either a liar or insane. On the other hand, if Jesus rose from the dead, this would be the greatest proof that He is truly Lord of all (Romans 1:4). We must still face the same problem the Jews had in the first century. Is the resurrection a hoax? Are Jesus and the apostles all liars or crazy men? Or did Jesus rise from the dead and make a way for all of mankind to live forever? There is no middle ground with Jesus. We must decide if He is Lord, a liar, or a lunatic.
Christianity Is Based on a Historical Fact
Most religions are based on a system of thought someone developed to begin his own brand of morality. Christianity is different in that it is based on a historical event. If this historical foundation can be removed, then the complete system will immediately collapse. No other religion places its truthfulness on the fact that its founder died and then rose again, having completely conquered death as He promised He would. The Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintos or any other religious group can make this claim. Only Christians teach this. One question that must be faced is "Is this claim true?". This paper is designed to look at the evidence available to determine whether the resurrection of Jesus ever took place. It needs to be examined just as any other historical event should be to determine the accuracy of the story that has been handed down through the years. This is not to try to justify nor defend the many perversions and abuses that men have brought about in the name of the Christian religion, but to look at the claim that Jesus has conquered death and only through Him we, too, might live forever. If this claim is false, any honest person would want to immediately reject it. If this claim is true, then every honest person would be willing to do whatever it takes to receive the eternal life that is promised.
Some Facts To Be Considered
Some of the facts that must be considered are: Jesus of Nazareth, a religious teacher among the Jews, claimed to be the Messiah that was prophesied of in the Jewish scriptures hundreds of years earlier. He was arrested, condemned as a criminal, and crucified. Three days after His death some women went to the tomb but found his body was gone. Later, some of his followers began teaching publicly that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them several times before ascending to heaven. From this small beginning, the Christian religion spread quickly throughout the known world, going against some of the bitterest persecution known in history. The theme of their teaching was that Jesus was alive after being killed. The apostle Paul was willing to risk everything for the historical accuracy of the resurrection. In I Corinthians 15:13-19, he wrote that if the resurrection did not take place:
- Their preaching was in vain.
- The Apostles were false witnesses of God.
- The Christian faith is worthless.
- Everyone is still in sin.
- All that have died are perished and are gone forever.
- Christians are of all men to be most pitied.
Was this claim true? Did this man really conquer death in the days of the Roman Empire? This controversy still continues even in our time.
If Jesus Did Not Rise from the Dead, All of the Apostles Are Liars
One good place to begin our search is with the men who started the teaching. Were they telling the truth or were they lying? If they were lying there are two possibilities: either they knew they were lying or they were sincerely deceived. Whether they were deceived or not, we need to first see if they themselves believed what they were teaching. Peter claimed:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (II Peter 1:16).
If these men were liars, they would not be the first deceivers in religion neither would they be the last. If they were deceivers, what could be their motive? Some claim that they wanted to honor their master by teaching that he rose from the dead, but why would they honor a man who taught honesty, at any price, with a lie? Deceivers today have motives that haven't changed since the first century. Past and present history is full of examples of religious teachers who have gotten rich off those that listened to them. Peter warned of false teachers who: "through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you" (II Peter 2:2).
Power and fame are other motives. Anytime special attention is given to different positions in life there will be those who will do anything to get that attention. They will say anything or do anything they must to get the attention and power they desire. One example in III John is Diotrephes, a wicked man who loved to have first place in the church and would reject anyone who stood in his way (III John 9-11).
Money and Power, Still the Two Great Motivators Today
Money and power are probably the two greatest motives behind religious deceivers today. As we look at the early Christians, can this be said about them? What they taught made them enemies of many of those in positions of power. The Jewish leaders hated them, the Roman authorities thought they were a menace to the Empire, and many of the educated philosophers thought of them as foolish, yet they never compromised their teachings to make friends. What they taught put them at odds with every class of people that might be able to give them special favor in the world. They were hated, persecuted, run out of town, and even killed, yet they never tried to change their story that Jesus rose from the dead and that all mankind must bow before Him, and that only through Him can eternal life be found. If it was fame or power they were after, why didn't they try to be friends with the rich, the politicians, and the leaders of the other religions as many do today? Was it the money they were after? In Acts 3:1-10 there is the record of Peter and John going to the Temple in Jerusalem. When a beggar asked them for money, Peter answered: "I do not possess silver and gold but what I do have, I give to you..." (Acts 3:6).
By many religious teachers' standards today, Peter would be a failure because of his lack of diamonds, gold, fancy suits, and fat billfold. These teachers would claim this was proof that God had not blessed Peter and so God must not be working through him. How many times have you seen or heard of someone pointing to wealth, large buildings, and other physical possessions as proof of God being with someone? This is not to minimize the fact that God does bless His people, but when we examine claims made in religion we are told to be "as wise as serpents". According to history, these early Christians never did accumulate fortunes because of their religion. Instead, many of them lost everything they had. Just what did these early Christians receive for their teaching of the resurrection? Thomas was killed by an arrow. Simon, brother to Jude, was crucified. Mark was burned to death. Bartholomew was beaten and crucified. Andrew was crucified. Matthew was killed by a spear. Philip was crucified and stoned to death. James (not the James that was beheaded in Acts 12) was thrown from a wall, stoned, and finally killed when someone bashed his head in with a club. Peter was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded. (from Foxe's Book of Martyrs) Many more could be added but we can see that these suffered to an extent we can hardly even imagine. What would cause so many to face death as these did and never waver? The only explanation can be their sincere belief in the words they dedicated their lives to teaching everywhere, i.e. they saw Jesus alive after He was dead, and through Him, they too could live again after death. Men will teach a lie, but they will not willingly die for what they know is a lie. The lives and deaths of these men cannot prove the resurrection alone, but it demonstrates they believed, with all their heart, that they saw Jesus alive after death. Mark 14:50 tells us "they all left him and fled." Peter, out of fear, denied three times that he even knew Jesus. John 20:19 shows that after the crucifixion the disciples were hiding because of fear. Yet just a short time later they were willing to face ridicule, imprisonment, torture, and death because they refused to stop teaching that Jesus rose from the dead. How can this drastic change in their lives be explained? If it was not the resurrection, what was it? To deny the resurrection, one would have to find a reason for the joy of the early Christians in face of intense suffering, seeing their families killed, their property destroyed or stolen, being cast into prison and put to death. What gave them the courage to stand with such fearlessness and boldness that even many of their enemies began to admire them? To deny the resurrection, you would have to explain how the greatest system of morality, the highest ethics known to man, and the story of the only perfect person to live could be based on such deception. How could the apostles accomplish what they did, teaching all men to be honest and all liars will be lost in hell and at the same time basing their whole teaching on a lie? When a historical event is studied, in attempting to find out what really happened, eyewitness testimony is always considered to be of the greatest value. We need to be fair and consistent when we study the resurrection and apply the same tests in the same manner we would for any other historical event. If we are going to be consistent and fair, we must seriously consider the fact that there is no other event in history causing so many men to willingly give their lives to teach others. These men saw something that they wanted everyone else to know about. The reason they gave themselves is:
"What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3).
The Historical Events
The previous arguments alone do not prove that the resurrection actually took place, but we can, at least, know the sincerity of the ones teaching it. If we take a close look at their lives, we can see, beyond any reasonable doubt, they had absolute confidence their teaching was the truth. Men do not willingly die for a known lie. It goes contrary to human nature. The willingness to die for a belief, when one is deceived, is possible; but no one dies for a known lie. In this article, the physical conditions of the death and burial of Jesus will be examined.
The Facts of History
During the reign of Tiberius Caesar, in the region of Judea, a Jew, named Jesus, was arrested by His own people and accused of treason against Rome. After being tried by the Jewish and Roman legal systems, including the governor, Pilate, Jesus was sentenced to die by crucifixion. During the 1800s it was popular for many "scholars" to deny the existence of the men who played an active part in Jesus' death sentence, intending to cast as much doubt on the Bible as possible. Even though there were literary references to Pilate, for example, his existence was questioned, anyway, because there was no archeological evidence to confirm him. Philo, a Jewish philosopher of the first century, wrote about Pilate. He claimed Pilate was responsible "for countless atrocities and numerous executions without any previous trial". In 1961, an inscription was found in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine, dating to the days of Jesus. It read "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberium to the Caesareans". Since this discovery, Pilate's existence is no longer in doubt. If the "scholars" that are still attacking the Bible would just keep themselves informed of the continuous archeological findings, their objections would quickly disappear. Let us consider the events of and following the execution of Jesus which changed the course of mankind's history. The effect was so great, all of history is now dated around this time period as B.C. and A.D.
Some Facts About the Death of Jesus
Some facts need to be considered as we examine the death of Jesus. The first one is that Jesus was dead. This may seem simple enough, but it is important. There cannot be a resurrection without first having a death. Because of this, some of the arguments used to deny the resurrection deny that He died on the cross. As we examine the account of His arrest we can see that He was arrested at night. During the night there was no time for any rest. After He was delivered to be crucified, He was first scourged according to the custom of the day. According to witnesses of other Roman scourgings, they were so severe that, at times, the intestines were exposed. At the very least, His back would be completely torn apart. The Jews had a limit of forty lashes that could be given to a man, but the Romans had no limit. They could whip a man until He died if they wanted to. When the emotional excitement of the events of His arrest and the hatred the Romans had for the Jews are considered, it is highly probable that Jesus was scourged worse than usual. After the scourging, the soldiers brought Him before the entire cohort (600 men) where they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him (Matthew 27:26-31). By putting the records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together, we can see that the soldiers blindfolded Him, beat Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and beat it into His scalp, which would produce more bleeding. When they were through, they took the robe off Him, which would reopen the wounds He had received from the scourging and cause more bleeding. This could be compared to taking a bandage off a fresh wound soon after the blood had begun to clot. From the combination of exhaustion, scourging, loss of blood, and beating, it is easy to understand why He collapsed when He tried to carry His cross to the execution sight. Jesus was nailed to the cross with spikes through His hands and feet. It used to be popular among skeptics to deny the fact that people were actually nailed to crosses. It was argued that instead of nailing people to crosses, they were tied by ropes, therefore the accounts given in the Gospel records must be wrong. This thought lasted until June 1968. Just north of Jerusalem, the body of a crucified man was found, dating back to the same time period as Jesus. A large seven-inch spike was still in his feet, proving that people were actually nailed to crosses. After Jesus and the two thieves crucified with Him hung on their crosses for six hours, the Roman soldiers were told to break the legs of all three to hasten their deaths. While on the cross, a man's body weight was supported by his outstretched arms. The only way he could breathe would be to push up with his legs so his lungs could fill with air. Once his legs were broken, death quickly followed from suffocation. It is interesting that the body that was found in 1968 had both legs broken just below the knees. Carrying out their order, the soldiers inspected their prisoners and broke the thieves' legs. Seeing Jesus was already dead, they did not break His legs, but, rather, thrust a spear into His side. This wound produced blood and water which indicates the spear pierced the pericardial sac, a thin membrane surrounding the heart. If Jesus had not died by this time, the spear piercing His heart would have finished Him off. Even if there was the slight possibility of Him surviving all of this, surely those that pulled Him off the cross would have noticed any life left in Him. Had He survived to this point, He would not have been able to breathe once He was prepared for burial. His body was wrapped (including His face) like a mummy with spices and strips of linen cloth. He was left in a tomb with no food, water, or medical treatment. Surviving all of this would take a miracle as great as the resurrection.
Next, Jesus was buried in a tomb cut out of rock. This is important because there would be only one entrance. There would be no back door to sneak in or out of (Matthew 27:60). It was also a new tomb that had never been used. Therefore, there was no chance of getting bodies mixed up.
A large stone was rolled against the entrance of the tomb. No one knows exactly how large the stone was, but, since it was intended to prevent possible theft, it would probably be larger than usual. The Codex Bezae, an early Greek manuscript dating back to 450 A.D. and housed in England's Cambridge Library, contains an interesting phrase in parenthesis in the text of Mark 16:4. It states the rock was so large that 20 men could not move it. The importance of this is realized when the rules for copying manuscripts during this time are understood. It was the practice that if a copier was adding his own thoughts or interpretation, he would include it in the margin and not in the text. The fact that this phrase was included in the text instead of out in the margin would indicate the phrase was in an earlier text closer to the time of Jesus. The phrase could have been inserted by an eyewitness that was so impressed by the size of the stone that he wanted everyone to understand just how big it was.
After the burial, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate for permission to place a guard unit at the tomb because they remembered that Jesus claimed He would rise from the dead after three days (Matthew 27:63). Some say this guard unit was the Temple police. If it was, it would have consisted of 10 men of strict discipline. If one was found sleeping while on guard duty, he was beaten and then burned to death. They were not even allowed to sit or lean against anything while on duty. If they were Temple police, the Jews would not have had to ask Pilate first and would not have had to bribe their own men concerning the missing body of Jesus. This indicates the guard was probably Roman. A normal Roman guard unit would have 16 men. Four would stay awake while the other 12 slept. Every four hours another four would get up and the others could sleep. They would alternate in this manner around the clock. Consequently, there was always an alert guard and refreshed reinforcements. These men were from one of the most disciplined military forces known in history. They, just like the Temple police, would face death if they were negligent in their duties.
Matthew records that a seal was put on the stone (27:66). The seal would probably be a cord that was stretched across the stone and attached at the ends with wax. This would be a public testimony that the Roman authorities believed the body of Jesus was actually in the tomb and if any dared break it, they would be in violation of Roman law.
The Disciples Fled
Mark 14:50 says: "And they all left Him and fled". At the arrest of Jesus, none of the disciples were brave enough to stand by His side. When it came down to taking a stand, they were all looking out for themselves. Peter followed at a distance, but when asked by a young girl if he had been with Jesus, he denied it three times, the last time by cursing. John 20:19 tells us that three days after Jesus' death, the disciples were still hiding behind closed doors in fear.
This Was an Unlikely Beginning for a New Religion
This setting seems to be an unlikely place to start a new religion that no amount of enemies or persecution could stop. The leader of this new movement was dead. His enemies had been so successful in persuading the general population to turn against this teacher that they shouted for His death. The government had authorized His death, putting all those who wanted to follow Him in danger also. His body was buried in a tomb behind a huge rock and sealed by the authority of Rome. There was a well-armed guard standing outside the tomb, needlessly, since the few friends of Jesus left in the city were running scared. What happened during those few days? What explanation can account for the transformed lives of the disciples? What can account for the fact that out of this setting a new religion rose so quickly that it spread over the known world in one generation? Whatever we accept to explain all of the events, it must be remembered that the explanation needs to fit the facts and not just fit our wishful thinking. This is all that is expected from the study of any historical event.
The Empty Tomb
The empty tomb is an essential element in the evidence of the resurrection. To suggest that it was not empty would be absurd in light of the historical events. Soon after Jesus' death, the disciples began to fill Jerusalem with the teaching that Jesus rose from the dead. The Jewish leaders were willing to do anything to stop this teaching. If the tomb had not been empty, all they would have had to do was to go there, remove the body of Jesus, and publicly display it. If this had been done, Christianity would not have lasted another day. The apostles did not go to a distant land to begin teaching about the resurrection. All of history shows that Christianity began in Jerusalem where all the events surrounding the death of Jesus took place and where it would be the easiest to investigate the claims being made. It is recorded that in a short time, 5,000 men believed this teaching along with a great number of priests. Of all the writings from ancient times concerning the controversy of whether Jesus rose or not, none of them ever tried to claim that the tomb was not empty. Matthew 28:11-15 records the fact of the Jewish authorities claiming that the disciples had stolen the body, a claim still being made by some. One thing this proves is even the enemies admitted that the tomb was empty and all they could do was try to explain it away. In any trial, when your enemies agree with you on a particular fact, you have a stronger case for its truthfulness. One of the many areas that make Christianity unique from all other religions in the world is that it is the only religion basing its claims on the historical fact that three days after the death of its founder, His tomb was empty. No matter what we end up believing concerning the resurrection of Jesus, one thing must be admitted: a short time after His death, His tomb was empty. If it had not been empty, there never would have been a Christian religion, to begin with.
Christianity, A Unique Religion
Of all the religions in the world, there is only one that points to an empty tomb of its founder as a historical fact. The Jews have never claimed Abraham was raised from the dead. Mohammed died June 6, 632 A.D. at the age of 61. His tomb in Medina is still visited by thousands every year. When Buddha died there was no claim made for him to have been raised from the dead. There is no claim of a bodily resurrection of Lao-tzu, the founder of the Tao religion, or of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism. Neither the Shinto, Hindu, nor Zoroastrian religions can point to the empty tomb of a historical founder. The closest claim similar to Christianity's claim, to this writer's knowledge, is the one made by those of the Bahai faith. There is a story that their founder, Baha' Ullah, faced a firing squad in the 1800s. After the smoke from all the guns cleared, his body was missing. He was later found in his room working on some writings he had not yet finished. After he finished his writings, he was placed before another firing squad and was shot again. After the second firing squad, there was no more talk of him living again. Of all the religious teachers that have come and gone, why is it that it was only a Jew from the poor region of Galilee who had disciples going throughout the world teaching that they had seen Him after being dead for three days? What caused the disciples of Jesus to be willing to give up everything, including, their own lives, in their effort to tell the world that Jesus rose from the dead? If it was not the resurrection, then some explanation will have to answer for the events. Besides the empty tomb, these facts must be considered.
Who Broke The Seal?
Who would dare to break the Roman seal on the tomb? According to Josh Mcdowell in his book The Resurrection Factor, the penalty for breaking a Roman seal was automatic crucifixion upside down. There would have to be some strong motivation to cause a person to risk this, but who would have dared it? Would the disciples? They were hiding for their lives. They already showed their lack of courage by running when Jesus was arrested. Three times, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. The records indicate that they were not expecting a resurrection. All their hopes had been shattered by the death of their leader. How would this group of scared men that earlier indicated they had only two swords among them (Luke 22:38), rise up and face the Roman guard in order to get into the tomb? Would the Jews break the seal? Why, when they are the ones that had it put there? Would the Romans break the seal? Again, what motive would there be? The guards' lives depended on how well they did their job in keeping anyone from breaking the seal. What could cause them to want to break it themselves? Who broke the seal?
Who Moved The Stone?
The same questions concerning the seal can also be applied to the stone. In each of the written records a different aspect of the stone's position is mentioned. In Matthew 27:60 we are told a large stone was rolled against the tomb. The Greek word used here is "kulio", which simply means 'to roll'. In Mark 16:4 we are told that the stone was rolled away from the tomb. Here "ana" which means up or upward is added to kulio to make the word "anakulio" - to roll something up an incline. This would indicate that there was a slope going down to the entrance of the tomb and that the stone was rolled up the slope. Luke 24:2 uses the word "apokulio". "Apo" means a 'separation from' which added with kulio would indicate that the stone was rolled completely away from the tomb. John 20:1 gives an indication of just how far the stone was rolled away. Here the word "airo" is used. This word is defined as "to pick something up and carry it away." When all of the information is put together we need to see who would have rolled this large stone a long distance up a hill from the tomb? The Jews passed the story around that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. How did the guard know who did it if they were sleeping? If the disciples did try to steal the body, they would have tried to sneak in and move the stone just enough to get in and out with the body. Why would they roll the stone that according to some calculations would weigh 1-1/2 to 2 tons and risk waking the guards? The guards would have to be some deep sleepers to not be awakened by this. If the disciples did not move the stone, then who did? The Jews? If so, for what reason? Remember, they wanted the body to stay buried. What about the Romans? What motive would they have in moving a stone they were guarding so that no one else would move it? Frank Morrison clearly saw the problem with the position of the stone. At one time in his life, he set out with the goal to write a book proving that the resurrection was false and to show what 'really' happened during the last week of the life of Jesus. After ten years of studying, instead of writing what he had originally planned, he wrote a book called Who Moved the Stone? -- a book devoted to defending the resurrection of Jesus.
Who Left the Grave Clothes?
John 20:3-9 records that the grave clothes that Jesus was wrapped in were left in the tomb. The text indicates that they were laying folded where the body was instead of being scattered about in the tomb. When Peter and John entered the tomb they saw the grave clothes still there, but now they were empty. This sight affected them so much that it was sufficient to cause John to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. If someone had come to steal the body, why would they take the time to unwrap it first? Any grave robber would have wanted to get in and out as fast as possible and even if they unwrapped the body first, why would they take the time to neatly roll them up before leaving? Who would have done this? The disciples? They were too scared. Was it the Romans or the Jews? What motive would they have? Who left the grave clothes?
What Happened to the Roman Guards?
What caused the Roman guards to flee? This must be explained because of the exceptional discipline of the Roman army at this time. There were at least 18 offenses that carried the death penalty for the Roman soldier. One of them was falling asleep while on watch. If it was not known which of the guards was negligent in his duties, lots were drawn and one was picked at random to be killed for the guard unit's failure. One way they were killed was to be stripped of their clothes and burned to death. Would you fall asleep if you knew this could happen to you? Why did these guards go to the Jewish authorities? What could motivate them to leave their post? There would have to be a reason for the Jews to bribe the guards. If there was any way it could be shown that they had been negligent in their duties, instead of being bribed, they would have been punished. Yet, there is no indication in all of history that these guards were ever punished. Who caused the guards to flee? The disciples? Remember, they couldn't be found, they were hiding out of fear. The Jews? They are the ones that had them put there, to begin with. What happened to the Roman guards?
Anytime the accuracy of an event is in question, the most valuable evidence is eyewitness testimony. When history is studied, anytime documents are available from those that claim to have seen the events, they are considered to be the most reliable evidence unless there is strong evidence to suggest otherwise. What about the eyewitness testimony of the resurrection? How are we going to take this? One of the reasons Paul wrote to the church at Corinth was that some among them were denying the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12). In this letter, written 33 years after the event, he claims that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at one time and that most of them were still alive. How could Paul get away with this claim if it was not true? The world was full of people anxious to show that Paul was a false teacher at this time. Why didn't anyone challenge this statement? Were all of the witnesses lying? How could all of these people withstand so much persecution while teaching the greatest code of morality and ethics ever known and basing it all on a lie? What changed this defeated band of cowards into such a fearless group that even their enemies accused them of "turning the world upside down" with their teaching? If we will just listen to their own words we can find out. They were anxious for the whole world to know what changed them and their story was always consistent. It was "we saw Him alive after being dead". What changed Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul? Saul was doing his best to destroy the church, causing both men and women to be put to death for their beliefs. He didn't believe in the resurrection, yet he suddenly changed his beliefs and became one of the greatest teachers Christianity has ever seen. In 58 A.D. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem by the Jews because they considered him to be a traitor to the Jewish faith. In his defense, he reminds them of his past that they themselves knew, and then tells them the reason for his change in Acts 22:4-8:
"And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify... as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noon time, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me... and He said to me, 'I am Jesus, the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.'"
What caused such a drastic change in this man's life if it was not what he said himself, that he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus? How could Paul point to the drastic change in his life if it wasn't true? He is claiming that even the rulers knew about it and if it wasn't so, he would quickly be exposed as a liar. This is the man that wrote more of the epistles in the New Testament than anyone else. Could he write about the greatest ethical teaching known to man while knowing the whole time it was based on a lie? This runs contrary to human nature. What caused the change in James, the brother of Jesus? Mark 3:21 and John 7:5 shows that the family of Jesus did not believe in Him yet James became a leader in the early church. What caused such a change in his life? What would it take for you to worship your brother as the creator of the universe? The answer can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:7: "then He appeared to James"... The disciples were not gullible men. After Thomas missed Jesus' first appearance to the apostles, the others tried to tell him that Jesus was alive. His answer was:
"Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).
Later, when Thomas saw Jesus, he, a Jew that had been taught all his life that there was only one God, cried out: "My Lord and my God!" What would cause Thomas, a man not easily convinced, to spend the rest of his life teaching that he saw Jesus raised from the dead? He was so convinced that he willingly faced death before he would change his story. If the resurrection did not happen, what changed the lives of these men?
Appeal Was Made to the Listeners’ Knowledge
When the apostles began teaching the resurrection, they didn't run to some far-off land to begin teaching. They started in Jerusalem where the hearers would be the most acquainted with the facts. When they taught, they said, "You know it yourselves"! Christianity would never have grown so quickly if it did not stick to the facts. There were many hostile enemies willing to do anything to destroy this new teaching. Think carefully about the words of the apostles. On the day of Pentecost Peter said in Acts 2:22:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know."
Peter would not have lasted a minute if they didn't know these things as he said they did. Instead of rejecting Peter, literally, thousands obeyed the words that he spoke. When Peter taught the first Gentiles he said in Acts 10:37-38:
"You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea,... You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit..."
When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem by the Jews, even the Roman rulers understood the problem the Jews had with Paul. In explaining the charges made against Paul to King Agrippa, Festus, the governor, said:
"but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive" (Acts 25:19).
When Paul spoke before King Agrippa concerning how he once persecuted the church but had seen Jesus while traveling to Damascus, Festus accused him of being insane. Paul's answer in Acts 26:25-26 was:
"I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner."
How could Paul make this statement before government officials of Rome unless it was true? Instead of rebuking Paul for stretching the truth, King Agrippa said:
"In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian" (Acts 26:28 ).
When the claim of the resurrection is examined, the events of the first century must be explained. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, why were the early Christians willing to die teaching it? Who broke the seal? Who moved the stone? Who left the grave clothes? Who frightened the guards? What caused the apostles to change from being scared men running for their lives to bold and fearless preachers that no amount of torture and death could stop? Are the greatest ethical teachings known to man based on a lie? In the next article, the efforts of men to explain away the resurrection will be examined.
Arguments Against the Resurrection
Even with this evidence and others that have not yet been mentioned, there are many who do not believe the resurrection ever happened. The ones who do not believe have their arguments for not accepting it just as those who believe have their arguments for believing. Now, the arguments against the resurrection will be examined to see how reasonable they are. As with any historical problem, we cannot go into the past and repeat the event, but we can examine the evidence we have to see if it is more reasonable to believe or not to believe. Anytime the truth of a matter is sought, one should not be afraid of examining all aspects of a problem, no matter what the controversy is about. It is only when we refuse to look at evidence that we have no hope for ever improving our understanding. There is a principle found in John 3:20-21 that is applicable here. It says: "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." The principle is that those who do wrong try to hide what they are doing and those who are doing right don't care if the whole world sees what they are doing because they have nothing of which to be ashamed. No matter what subject we study, whether the evolution vs. creation question, the inspiration, and accuracy of the Bible, or the question of the resurrection, when one resorts to ridicule and slander, this shows the admitted weakness of their position and their refusal to accept facts that go against what they want to believe. Any explanation proposed to deny the resurrection must fit the facts. If it does not, it must be rejected. This is a simple rule to follow when studying any historical event that is in question. After the death of Jesus, His tomb was either occupied or empty. The theories that claim it was occupied will be examined first.
The Unknown Tomb Theory
This theory teaches that Jesus was buried in a common pit for executed criminals instead of a private tomb and later no one knew where the body was dumped. The problem with this is, it totally ignores the record of history that Jesus was buried in the private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and that the women prepared His body according to their current customs. Even the enemies of the Christians admitted that there was a guard at the tomb at the Jews' request. Is it possible that even the Jews and the Romans didn't know where the tomb was located they were supposed to be protecting from thieves? Surely, with all the enemies the apostles had, when they started teaching about the resurrection, one of them could come up with the location of the tomb and publicly display the body of Jesus.
The Wrong Tomb Theory
This theory teaches that when the women went to the tomb early Sunday morning, they went to the wrong tomb by mistake. A young man tried to show them where the right tomb was, but in their excitement and fear, they ran off and told the other disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead. The problem with this is that less than 72 hours earlier, these women saw where He was buried (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47). Do you think they would forget where their beloved Master was buried so quickly? To believe this theory, you would also have to believe that Peter and John also ran to the wrong tomb, the Jews and the Romans went to the wrong tomb, Joseph, the owner went to the wrong tomb and the whole Christian faith began in Jerusalem where no one in the city could remember the right location of the burial of Jesus.
The Legend Theory
This theory teaches that this is all only a legend that gradually rose over the years. The problem with this is that legends take time to develop, especially ones that would be of this magnitude. If it were possible to show that the gospels were written 200-300 A.D. this theory would be more believable. This was popular with the scholarship of the 1800s but now with the many discoveries made in archeology, this dating is impossible. One example is the John Ryland Manuscript. It is a portion of the gospel of John that is dated 125-130 A.D. John is accepted to be the last gospel written and there were copies being made already in the early 100's A.D., proving that the original must be from an earlier time. In 56 A.D. Paul wrote that there were over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrection at that time and most of them were still alive (I Corinthians 15:6). When there are eyewitnesses available, it is too early to be talking about legends.
The Spiritual Resurrection Theory
This teaches that the body of Jesus was still in the grave and that the resurrection was only spiritual. This ignores the words of Jesus to His disciples when they thought He was a spirit.
"See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). John 21 records the time Jesus ate with his disciples and Matthew 28:9 records that the women held to His feet when they saw Him. This is not the action of a spirit. This theory also ignores the fact of the empty tomb, the grave clothes, and the Jews bribing the guards to say the body was stolen. If you can believe in a spiritual resurrection, why should there be a problem with a physical one?
The Hallucination Theory
A hallucination is seeing or hearing something that is not there. Is it possible that the disciples were wanting to see Jesus again so much that they hallucinated? The problem with this idea is that hallucinations generally happen to only certain kinds of people and when they do, they are individual hallucinations. If you hallucinate, you are the only one experiencing it. Even with drugs that cause hallucinations, each "trip" is an individual experience. How could several women hallucinate Jesus and all fall to his feet? Two men walked and talked with Jesus for several miles on the way to Emmaus. How could the disciples sit and eat with a hallucination? Would a hallucination invite several people to examine it carefully so they could see that it was really there? How reasonable would it be to believe that the appearance of Jesus to over 500 people was all dreamed up out of their imaginations? One principle of hallucinations is that one must be desiring to see something. The disciples were not expecting to see anything. The women were coming to the tomb to anoint a dead body. The men were hiding out of fear because their leader was now gone. When they did see Him they were frightened. It was totally unexpected. This theory still doesn't match some other facts. How can it explain the empty tomb, the broken seal, and the actions of the Jews in bribing the guards to say the body had been stolen? A theory is good only when it can explain the facts. The theories above try to explain away the resurrection while leaving the body of Jesus in the tomb. Many have recognized the difficulty of the historical evidence indicating that the body really was missing, so several theories have been proposed to explain the disappearance of the body. The Romans and the Jews were the last ones with possession of the body, yet in a short time, they were powerless to produce it. The Jews were angry with the apostles for teaching the resurrection. If their teaching was true, then the Jews were guilty of murdering the Son of God and they did not want to face that fact. The second time the apostles were arrested, the Jews said:
"We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us" (Acts 5:28).
The only thing they had to do was to produce the body of Jesus and the whole controversy about the resurrection would have ceased immediately. This shows the body was missing at that time and the following theories attempt to explain what happened to it.
Was the Body Stolen by the Disciples?
This is the earliest theory and one of the most used. Matthew records it in his gospel but doesn't even bother to answer it. He just says the guards were bribed to say it. The first problem with this theory is that if the guards were sleeping, how would they know who stole the body? Sleeping would have been very improbable for this guard unit because of their strict discipline. How careless would you be in falling asleep on watch if you knew you would be stripped and then burned to death? Even if they had fallen asleep, anyone who tried to move that stone would have quickly awakened them and would have a serious fight on their hands. Another problem is that the apostles were too scared to steal the body. When Jesus was arrested they all took off running. After Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, he wasn't in the right mood to become a hero by facing that Roman guard unit. Another serious problem is that the early Christians were too honest to base their teachings on deception. They would have been going against everything their Master taught and lived and died for. To believe this theory you would have to accept that these men abandoned their cowardice, stole the body, and spent the rest of their lives teaching what they knew was a great deception and at the same time teaching that liars will be condemned to hell for eternity. Also, they would have had to face terrible persecution and painful deaths, knowing the whole time it was all a lie. Yet, not one of them ever changed their teaching. This runs against human nature too much to believe.
Did The Authorities Steal The Body?
This theory states the Jews or Romans took the body so no one else could take it and thereby claim a resurrection. There is a major problem with this. Why would they want to do the very thing that caused all their problems? Once the rumor got out concerning the resurrection, why didn't they take the body and display it for all to see? If they had done this, Christianity could not have continued, but they didn't. Why? Because they had no idea where the body was. If they did, they would have found a way to get it.
The Swoon Theory
This was popular in the 1800s and many university professors and liberal theologians still teach it. This teaches that Jesus was nailed to the cross, and suffered a loss of blood from the thorns and scourging, but instead of dying, He merely passed out. Without the medical technology of today, He was mistaken to be dead and was buried alive. After laying in the tomb, He regained consciousness, appeared to the disciples, and as a result, they thought He was raised from the dead and started a new religion. To believe this you would have to accept that Jesus was scourged, beaten, became so weak He couldn't carry His own cross, was nailed to a cross for six hours, had a spear thrust into His side, was taken off the cross, and wrapped up tightly like a mummy without food, water, or medicine, buried in a tomb, and then regained His strength so that He could escape the wrappings, push the stone aside, escape from the guards and walk to the disciples on feet that had nails through them and convince them He was the conqueror of death. He would have been so near death that the Romans were fooled, the women who wrapped his body didn't notice any life, and yet in a short time, He was able to move about so quickly His own followers couldn't keep up with Him. Even if all this could have happened, why didn't Jesus tell the disciples the truth? If He didn't, that would make Him part of a great deception. Think about it all and believe it if you can. It's easier to believe in a resurrection.
The Passover Plot
This one comes from a book by Hugh Schoenfield called The Passover Plot. This has become accepted by some religious leaders who still claim to be Christians. If this theory is true then no honest person should want to be a Christian. This theory teaches that Jesus knew of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and purposefully set everything up so He would fulfill them and manipulate the minds of the people. He arranged His own pretended death with Joseph of Arimathea and another young man as accomplices. He was given a drug to make Him lose consciousness when He was given the vinegar while on the cross. The plan was for Joseph to take His "dead" body to a tomb and when the effects of the drug wore off, He would reappear as the Messiah. The plan was foiled when a Roman guard stuck the spear in His side and killed Him. Joseph then took the body out of the tomb and hid it so the tomb would be empty anyway. Then the young man that was working with Him was mistaken as Jesus by Mary because she was so emotionally distraught. In some later appearances, the other disciples also mistook the young man for Jesus and this motivated them to go out and begin the fastest-growing religion ever known. To come up with this theory, Schoenfield had to completely ignore facts that didn't fit his theory and twist those he thought he could use. He ignores the Roman guard, the seal, and the size of the stone, but worse, this would make Jesus a scheming deceiver involved in a wicked lie. This goes completely against everything known about Him. He also ignores the changed lives of the apostles. What about the 500 witnesses of the resurrection that Paul mentions in I Corinthians 15? If they could not be verified, then Paul would have been laughed out of town, but instead, he started more churches than anyone recorded. A short time after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, men began teaching in Jerusalem that He rose from the dead and, from there, went throughout the world. Something completely convinced these men that it was the truth. In their time and in all times since, there have been some that believed their story and some that have not. If what they taught was not true, then what other explanation fits the facts of history?
The resurrection either makes or breaks Christianity. If it happened, then Christianity has the greatest message known to mankind, but if it did not happen, Christianity is the greatest hoax in history.
As with any historical event, the resurrection cannot be examined by the scientific method because it can never be repeated for observation, but if we will fairly and consistently apply the same tests given to all other historical events, we can determine the reasonableness of believing whether such an event took place.
If we try to deny the resurrection, then we must explain why the tomb was empty. What happened to the body of Jesus? With all the controversy, why was the body never produced by anyone? When we look at those that first taught that Jesus had risen from the dead we need to answer why they were so willing to die for their teaching. An interesting contrast in history is the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Originally, eight men claimed they could verify the story of Joseph Smith receiving some gold plates from an angel to translate into what is known today as the Book of Mormon. All eight claimed to be witnesses of this, yet, all eight later denied the story was ever true. If they really were witnesses to something as important as what they claimed, what could have caused them to change their story?
When you look at the twelve men that claimed to see Jesus after His death, not one of them ever changed his story and all but one suffered a violent death because of their refusal to change. Why is it that in one group all men changed their story and in the other group no one changed? Human nature being the way it is, this is a good indication of which group was absolutely convinced of the truthfulness of their witness to others. If the apostles just made the story up, why did they write that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection? This is important when it is remembered that in the first century, the Jews felt women were such unreliable witnesses they could not give testimony in a court of law. Yet we find that it was women who first gave testimony of the resurrection of Jesus. If the early writers just made the story up, it would be just as likely for them to include this in their account as it would be for a member of the Ku Klux Klan to write about the superiority of the white race and use the testimony of a black man to prove it. There is some circumstantial evidence that must be considered that has not yet been mentioned. None of them standing alone will absolutely prove the resurrection but together they are a good indication. One brick does not make a wall, but many bricks together will.
The origin and success of the early Church must be explained. Its origin can be traced to Jerusalem in 33 A.D. It spread so quickly throughout the Roman empire that Paul could write to the Colossians by 64 A.D. that the whole world had heard of Jesus (Colossians 1:6,23). How could the church have begun and prospered in Jerusalem, in the very city where Jesus was crucified if there was no resurrection? Those in Jerusalem were able to examine the evidence closer than any other people in all of history and this is where the church grew faster than any other place recorded.
On the first day of the church in Jerusalem, 3,000 were converted to the belief that Jesus had risen. In a short time, the number had grown to 5,000 men not counting the women and children (Acts 2:41, 4:1). From this beginning, the church quickly spread to include Christians within the household of the Roman emperors. How could this be explained if there was no resurrection? Would the apostles really have been able to convince thousands of people of the resurrection so quickly if it was all a hoax? Many of their converts were so convinced of the resurrection that they too were willing to lose everything they had, including their lives, to teach others.
What caused many of the Jews of the first century to change their day of worship from the seventh day to the first day of the week? The early Christian converts were devout Jews who strongly believed in keeping the Sabbath. Their Old Testament scriptures clearly warned them of destruction if they failed in this and they were convinced from past experience that these warnings were true. What could explain the reason for these people to change their day of worship after observing it from the days of Moses? If the resurrection did not occur, what else could have caused these devout men and women to turn their back on so many years of religious training and tradition if it was not to honor the day their Savior rose from the dead?
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord's Supper is a memorial to the death of Jesus. When the death of a person that was loved is remembered, it is usually a time of sadness and sorrow but the Lord's Supper is a time of joy and thankfulness. How could joy ever be developed by the early Christians at the remembrance of their Master's horrible death if the resurrection never took place? This joy indicates they knew He died and rose from the dead and brought salvation to all that would follow Him.
Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:12 say that we are buried with Him in baptism and then raised up to walk a new life. How did this meaning ever get attached to baptism if there was no resurrection? Fifty days after the death of Jesus, 3,000 people were willing to be baptized with many more people quickly following. Why were they all baptized if there was no resurrection?
Results of the Resurrection
What caused these first-century Jews to accept a crucified man as their Lord and Savior when their own scriptures plainly said that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed? What caused them to call this man "Lord", a term used in the Old Testament for Jehovah? What caused these Jews to expand their thinking to accept the truth of not just God the Father, but also God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? How can these questions be answered without the resurrection?
The resurrection causes us to see justice in life. As we look about us we see all seeming to go well for the wicked while others, doing the best they can, are treated unfairly. The resurrection shows that there will be a day of reckoning for all whether for good or evil. It makes no difference what life has to offer or what the courts of men decide. We can try our best in this life but there will still be mistakes and things that happen which are not fair, the resurrection demonstrates that someday all will be made right and all will receive what is due.
With the resurrection, we have an answer to man's troubled condition in this world. Many attempts have been made to improve mankind's situation but they all fail. Arm's Talks, Peace treaties, and various organizations have never brought the world true and lasting peace. Whether on an international or personal level, men and women search for peace yet it is so rarely found. Within man the goal is impossible, but God provides a way whereby man can be free from the selfishness, hatred, and jealousy that make up sin.
It is possible to have the happiness that we all are searching for and need. With the resurrection, we can know that there is hope in life, and that man is not just an accident that evolved out of nothing and is going nowhere. We have a purpose beyond the short time we have on earth. We have an answer for man's greatest enemy, death. All the medical advances, exercise, safety precautions, and healthy foods in the world will not prevent death. At best, they only delay it. After death, then what? What value will a man's possessions have? What good will it do to be famous then? When death is seriously considered, what is the real purpose behind anything in life? Are we here just for a short time and then it is all over? The resurrection gives us what we need to continue in life - hope. Without the resurrection, there is no hope, only a vicious jungle where only the strong survive.
There becomes no real motive to be good if you do not want to be. There is no motive to do anything at all except what you want right now regardless of what it may do to others. Why care about anything at all except the immediate fulfillment of any desire you have if there is no life after death? The Hindus believe in reincarnation to explain what happens after death. Many in this country are beginning to accept this idea. They are rejecting a God who loves and cares for them so much that He was willing to become a man and die in their place so that they could have true happiness and eternal life with Him. He is the God who provided a way that we may have a glorious body as Jesus does and live forever in joy and fellowship with one another and with the angels and with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Meditate on the words of Philippians 3:20-21: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." In place of this, those that wish to accept the thought of the Hindus (a belief with no historical basis), follow the belief that there is no personal God and that we must pass through this life of pain and suffering many times until we finally reach the state where we blend into one consciousness and personally cease to exist.
Where is the hope in this? To accept this over the resurrection would be like choosing 100 lbs. of dung instead of 100 lbs. of gold. To understand the logical result of this type of thinking, all that is needed is to look at the poverty, the disease, the violence, the ignorance, and the unconcern for human life that permeates the society of India where this belief has been strong for thousands of years. The resurrection gives meaning to the many prophecies of the Old Testament that were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. We now have the completion of the communication of God to man in history (Hebrews 1:1-4). If the resurrection is true then it is the greatest proof of all of the validity of the Bible. This would prove that Jesus is the Son of God revealed from Genesis to Revelation.
Through the resurrection, he confirmed the Old Testament to be true and not just a collection of myths and legends. Through the resurrection, the New Testament is confirmed as the standard for all of mankind to live by today. Through the resurrection, life makes sense, the world makes sense, and the universe makes sense. We can finally see the purpose of everything. Many have searched for the purpose of life without finding it but when we understand the resurrection of Jesus, it becomes simple. If we reject the resurrection, we will continue to search for answers as man has done for centuries and will never find them. In the end, no one can decide whether to believe or not to believe but you. You must make the final decision yourself.
These points have not answered every question that can be brought up, but the time must come when you decide what you are going to believe. If the resurrection of Jesus is all a deception brought about by wicked and perverse men, then it must be rejected. If it truly is a historical event, then this proves that Jesus is the Christ and is Lord of all. It is not enough to believe it. He asks us to live it. Jesus said in Luke 6:46: "And why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord', and do not do what I say?" He cannot be our Lord until we obey Him as our Lord. Until we do this, His life, death, and resurrection are all meaningless to us. This is either the greatest knowledge available or the greatest lie there is.
The teaching of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. There are people who react in the same manner today. What will you choose to do with Jesus? Will you accept Him as Lord or reject Him as a liar or a lunatic? There is no in-between. It does not matter what others have done or are doing. Many false and wicked things have been and are being done by hypocrites in the name of Jesus. Many lies have been and are being taught by false teachers in the name of Jesus. No matter what the rest of the world does, what will you choose to do with the resurrection of Jesus?