Christianity is about one thing: The Resurrection. Dr. Gene Scott studied the resurrection in detail and preached frequently on the evidence of the resurrection. “You don’t have to cut your head off to be a Christian,” he would say. His research parallels the book “Who Moved the Stone?” by Frank Morrison. Having studied the evidence myself, I find it difficult to deny that something miraculous happened and Jesus rose from the dead. Most people that argue against the resurrection, argue in a circle. They say, “A resurrection can’t occur. Therefore it didn’t occur. Anyone saying a resurrection did occur can’t be trusted because we know that a resurrection can’t occur.” And on and on, ad infinitum. What is it that makes Christianity different than all religions? The Resurrection.
Founders of Religion
Many people lump Jesus into the same category as other founders of religion. Jesus is a “good and wise” teacher, they say. Many would say that Jesus is no different than a Muhammad, Confucius, or Buddha. The problem with this is that Jesus did not give a lifestyle or a way to God. He claimed to be God. He didn’t claim a way of living; He claimed to be ‘the Way’. He makes statements such as “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18). And He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He didn’t claim a “path.” He put Himself as the center. Muhammad never claimed to be God. To Islam, there is one God “Allah” and Muhammad is his prophet. Buddha was a prince in India. He lived the life of excess and lived the life of poverty and determined “the middle way.” He said, here is the eightfold path and in a trance-like state he achieved “Nirvana.” Essentially he said, ‘it worked for me, maybe it will work for you.’ He said that he wasn’t God. However, a small sect of buddhism claims that he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did had he not been God. His followers grafted divinity onto him after the fact. Jesus is the only one that comes out and claims divinity from the start.
4 things we must agree on before we can talk about whether the resurrection happened:
- Jesus was a real person.
- Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion.
- No one has survived a Roman Crucifixion.
- Jesus was buried in a known and accessible tomb.
These four facts are much easier to prove than the resurrection. Scholars agree that these things are true. So before we go any further, we need to understand that these things should be taken as the foundation for the proof of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Empty Tomb
Moving forward from these facts, we come to the empty tomb. The empty tomb is the main focal point of the entire resurrection. There have been multiple theories that have been propounded with regards to how the tomb became empty. Ultimately, all of these theories boil down to two options: The disciples lied or told the truth about what they saw. First, we will discuss each theory and then discuss whether the disciples lied or told the truth.
Theories for Empty Tomb:
- Disciples stole the body
- Jews stole the body
- Romans stole the body
- The women went to the wrong tomb
- Disciples were hallucinating
- Jesus didn’t actually die.
- The disciples made the whole story up.
- The disciples told the truth about what they observed.
The disciples stole the body. If the disciples stole the body, then they lied about their story. They made up all of the testimony.
The Jewish leaders stole the body. First of all, the Jewish leaders stealing the body makes no sense. The disciples were going around making “ridiculous” claims that Jesus had raised from the dead. All that it would have taken to silence them would be to present the body. The Jewish leaders really had no reason to steal the body. If the disciples continued to tell their story, then the disciples lied.
The Romans stole the body. This goes along the same lines as Jewish leaders stealing the body. Here you have disciples telling a story that the Roman leaders would know to not be true. All they would need to do is produce the body. The Roman leaders would have not wanted any of the political uprising that a wrongful death would have produced and the stories of a leader that was still alive. They would have produced the body to quash the stories and stop the testimony. Again, if the disciples persisted in their story, they would be lying.
The women went to the wrong tomb. If they went to the wrong tomb, then they could be pointed to the right tomb. This was a known tomb. This would not explain the testimony that Jesus was seen among the disciples in the flesh and that he also appeared to several hundred disciples after the resurrection. Again, the body would be produced in the right tomb and the stories could be stopped. If the disciples persisted, they would be lying. (An interesting side note is that “women” were the first to report the resurrection. Women at this time were not even considered a reliable witness. This testimony from the disciples would have weakened their story. Personally, I think this also shows God’s emphasis on women’s importance that they were the first to see the resurrected Christ and to testify of His throwing off of death.)
The disciples were hallucinating. This again leads us back to an incoherent story by the disciples. Being a medical professional, I understand that typically when people are hallucinating they rarely go from disorganized to organized. In this case, all the disciples were telling the exact story. There is no evidence that any one of them reneged on their story or changed their story at the end. If hallucinating, we would find vastly different stories or these stories could again be quashed by production of the body. One would go the tomb, show the disciples the dead body and this would be the end of the hallucinations. Multiple disciples “hallucinating” the same story is highly unlikely. If after their “hallucinations” ended, they would still be lying about the truth if they persisted and the body could be produced.
Jesus didn’t actually die. No one in the history of Roman crucifixion has ever survived. This was one of the most tortuous deaths one could imagine. The Romans designed crucifixion to humiliate their victims. Crucifixion guaranteed death. There would be no “resuscitation” in the “coolness” of the tomb. Crucifixion started with flogging. Flesh was literally ripped from his back using a flail. If you didn’t die from the flogging, they nailed you to a cross. The victim of crucifixion would eventually suffocate from not being able to breathe. Inhalation requires expansion of the chest wall. With the arms over the head dangling, taking in a breath becomes very difficult if one is unable to push yourself up to help expand the chest. Most victims would get tired and suffocate from pushing themselves up by the legs each time to take a breath. In order to expedite crucifixion, Roman soldiers would break the legs of the victim rendering the victim unable to push themselves up to breathe. If each of these still failed to bring about death quickly, a sword in the side would pierce the heart or cause a pneumothorax to bring about certain death. Jesus not dying as the reason for the empty tomb (a.k.a. A crucifixion hoax.); essentially impossible. If perhaps he had “resuscitated”, it would not explain the story the disciples told of a man in strong health walking around. The disciples again would be lying.
The disciples made the whole story up. “The disciples were scared after their leader died. They spent 50 days in hiding to come up with a story and on Pentecost they put their story out to gain power.” Again, this boils down to the disciples lying. If the disciples were lying, it would be as easy as taking the lying disciples to the tomb to see the dead body. There would be no social uprising. No pillar of Western Civilization that describes most of European, American, and World history for the last 2000 years. The stories would stop and we wouldn’t be talking about Jesus raising from the dead.
It is psychologically impossible that the disciples lied. The evidence points to them telling the truth. The Bible has internal evidence for the veracity of scripture. If the disciples made the story up, they would want their story to be perfect. Mark is considered Peter’s gospel. In Mark, we find Peter the most poorly represented of all the gospels. Peter at one point says, “Far be it from you Lord to wash my feet.” Jesus replies, “If I don’t wash your feet, you can’t have any part with me.” Peter says, “Wash my entire body!” Peter is acting before he is thinking. Peter doubts Jesus when walking on the water. Peter says that he’ll never deny his Lord and yet, Peter is the one who is denying him 3 times before dawn. The disciples include evidence in the gospels even though it hurts their story. Peter looked like a fool so who would believe him after the resurrection. He’s all over the place mentally. He nearly cut a Roman soldier’s head off. This hurts the disciples story so why would they included it?
We then find Jesus asking Philip when they come to Bethsaida, where to buy bread. Why would he ask Philip specifically? You go to a different gospel and find that Philip was from Bethsaida. The story is told from several different perspectives with emphasis on different portions. This is what we would expect rather than a story that was repeated verbatim from a script.
Evidence for Truth
The disciples after the resurrection stand as the greatest evidence for the truth of the resurrection. Before the resurrection, we find an incoherent, scared, and inexperienced group of disciples. After the resurrection, we find all of them telling the same story and dying for telling it. Now, the disciples lived in an age without cell phones, fax machines, cars, airplanes, Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps they did come up with the story together and made the whole thing up. Remember, every one of the disciples died horrible deaths in farflung corners of the known world. They died as martyrs for their story. Knowing the whole time that all they would have to do is say, “we made the whole thing up,” they could have saved face and gone about their way. Now, I could believe that maybe if you kept them all together a small area and they were being persecuted together that none of them would want to break ranks and be the first to lie. However, they didn’t die together. They would not be able to get in contact with each other. For all they knew, they had seen each other for the last time when they departed from Jerusalem. Perhaps they did renege and met up though. (Andrew, “You keeping up the story Peter.” Peter: “Yep, strong as always. I’m telling it how we came up with it.”) But there is no source that says that they ever reneged. However, we do find each of them dying telling the story to the death. Thomas takes the gospel to India and is run through with a Brahman sword. Andrew is crucified on the cross that bears his name (St. Andrew’s cross). Some were skinned alive. Peter was crucified upside down. All of disciples, except for John (who was exiled to Patmos), died horrible deaths alone. All they had to do was change their story and say, “we made it all up.” My challenge to you is to find any source that shows even one disciple changing their story. They don’t exist.
The disciples told the truth about what they observed. So what, if Jesus did resurrect from the dead? If He did, they were telling the truth. They were telling about the Way, the Truth and the Life. If the man claiming to be God really did come out of that tomb, He’s not just another founder of religion. He’s not just a “good and wise teacher.” He’s the Son of God. If he did conquer death, perhaps it’s time to take another look at Him.