The following is basically a repost from March 2005 on the topic of the resurrection of Jesus with a few additions and touch-ups. I thought it appropriate as Christians prepare to observe Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Seeing how Christians just celebrated Easter and the empty tomb of Christ, I thought I would look at the evidences for the resurrection. I use the word “evidences” because I believe it is impossible to use the word “proof.” What I intend to present is not rock solid, no-other-choice-left-proof. We cannot have that kind of proof almost 2,000 years later. I want to present the possibilities or circumstances that have been used to explain the resurrection and examine the viability of each one.
We know from sources both Christian and non-Christian that Jesus Christ was crucified around 30 A.D. and that after his death his followers began to claim he was risen. How can we explain such a fact?
1) Jesus did not actually die on the cross.
It is safe to say that if Jesus went up on that cross, he didn’t come down alive. No where in history do we have any kind of support for this position. In fact, all we have is support for the opposite – Roman guards were trained killers. They would know how to kill someone. What type of evidence is there that Jesus was not dead when he came down from the cross?
The Romans took great pride in their ability to bring about a torturous death. (In fact, death by the cross was so intense and painful a new word had to be made up just to describe it – excruciating literally means out of the cross.) Did they just happen to mess up with Jesus of all people?
If there was any doubt that Jesus died from the crucifixion, the spear to the side should have done the trick. In John’s Gospel, he describes “blood and water” flowing out of Jesus’ side after the spear was thrust through his side and was removed. This is consistent with what we know today about what would happen if a spear goes through the lung and into the heart. The pericardial effusion and pleural effusion would appear as a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large amount of blood.
If somehow Jesus’ escaped the cross with his life, please explain to me how lying him on a cold rock in a damp tomb is going to revive him. If he was still alive, it would probably kill him through an infection. Nothing about that situation would allow a man who had been beaten extensively, crucified, had a spear stuck through his side to simply get up as if nothing ever happened, somehow roll the stone away without the guards noticing and appear to his disciples strong enough to inspire confidence that He had risen from the dead. It is all too improbable and illogical to believe.
2) The women went to the wrong tomb on the first Easter Sunday.
Even if somehow they did go to the wrong tomb on the first Easter, what was to prevent the authorities from pointing to the right tomb when the disciples start claiming that Jesus was alive. Christianity would have been destroyed from the beginning. The pharisees could have simply brought people to the correct place and it’s over. Again, this is not very likely.
3) The disciples (or others) came and stole the body from the tomb.
Motivation is the key for this possibility. What motivation would the disciples (or anyone) have for stealing the body? Sure, the disciples wanted Jesus to be the Messiah, but would that motivate them to stop cowering in a locked room, sneak past the guards, roll away the stone without waking them up, grab the dead body and run away with it. Not to mention they would be violating Jewish law by doing that on Saturday and touching the dead body.
Then if they did steal the body, why whould they die for that lie. They would have known He was not alive. Why would they give up their lives for something that wouldn’t give them anything? It seems improbable that they would die to simply to keep a lie alive.
If they stole the body why go on and be put to death because of their belief in him. Why would they discard the thousands of years of Jewish tradition to try to prop up a new religion following a man they knew to be dead? It makes absolutely no sense.
4) Jesus was resurrected in spirit, but not in body.
This “solution” tries to ride the fence and satisfy both sides, but it ends up satisfying nothing. This does not answer the question of the empty tomb, since the body would still be there if it was only a spirit resurrection. It would still be a miracle and a supernatural event, but would not be what the New Testament writers say they saw. Jesus told Thomas to place his hands in the scars. Jesus ate bread and fish with his disciples.
He purposefully set out to prove that He was not simply a spirit, but He was alive with a glorified body. If you believe in a miracle, why not believe what the authors wrote? And what do you do with the empty tomb? This solution is too politically correct and not supported by any evidence.
4) Nothing extraordinary happened immediately after his death, but years later a resurrection legend was added the accounts of Jesus.
This is also a very popular explanation today, probably the most popular because it allows a person to seemingly avoid any of the pitfalls of the other explanations. But the questions still remain – what about the empty tomb and what changed the disciples.
Even if the resurrection developed as a legend, there would still be people who would know that despite what these Christians are saying Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. The Jewish and Roman leaders of the day would have established the fact that Jesus did indeed die.
Look at the time frame we are dealing with in this case. Even the most liberal scholars place the Gospels being written sometime in the first century. Placing the oldest Gospel (John) within 70 years of Jesus’ death. Paul’s writings all have to be dated within 30 years of Jesus’ death. I will grant that it could be plausible for some type of legendary material to find its way into John after 70 years (although I don’t think it is probable or accurate to say so, but just for arguments sake I am allowing it here).
70 years later everyone will have totally forgotten about Jesus and if they actually had a body or not? You could attribute some things, if you had to, to legend, but it is impossible to say that everyone forget about the body of Jesus still being in the tomb 70 years later. If you look at the other three Gospels you are talking about a even smaller period of time – at the most 40 years with Mark.
Some how in 40 years a myth developed that Jesus rose from the dead and no one bothered to refute it or challenge it? The Jewish and Roman leaders would have simply walked down to the tomb and showed everyone the body – Christianity over.
No other historical document from the time period is subject to the legend claim so soon after the facts, generally the first 100 years are accepted as factual. After that, stories tend to become more fanciful and farther removed from the truth.
Legend could explain why we today believe Jesus was resurrected, but it can’t explain why people who were alive during that time believed it. It can’t explain why the Roman government or the Jewish religious leaders didn’t crush the fledgling movement by parading the body through the streets. The empty tomb and the actions of the disciples must be explained.
5) Jesus died on the cross, but was resurrected and is alive today. The Biblical accounts are true.
If you have a better solution to the problems that are presented by the other possibilities, I am listening. But it has been two thousand years and the excuses I have shown above are the best explanations that anyone has given – except to simply believe the Gospels.
I hope and pray that this Easter weekend you will examine the events of the Passion and you will seek the Truth.