Did Jesus rise from death?
Discover the Evidence, Decide for yourself.
Can you discount the resurrection of Jesus? I can’t. The trouble is, if the resurrection did not happen, one has to answer the following questions regarding Jesus death and the subsequent founding of Christianity with a better explanation than the resurrection:
1. Who was Jesus? – All historical sources of the time agree that Jesus really lived and died. Christian sources affirm his identity in the gospels; the Jewish historian Josephus affirms his existence and those of his followers; Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman Historian, affirms that Jesus really lived and died under the reign of Pontius Pilate. Several other later historians, writers, and philosophers assume Jesus’ existence.
Tacitus writes regarding the persecution of Christians by Nero: “But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was putto death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.” (Annals XV.44)
Tacitus is in complete agreement with the gospels on the time period of the existence and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
“Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15)
“They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, Jesus the Nazarene, The King of the Jews.” (John 19:17-19)
“Pilate summoned the chief priests and rulers of the people, and said to them, ‘You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him…But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail. And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted.” (Luke 25:13-14, 23-24).
2. Why was the tomb empty? – all parties (the disciples and those opposed to Jesus) agreed that Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter Morning. The disciples claimed Jesus resurrected, the Jews that opposed Jesus claimed that the body was stolen.
3. Why did the church start in Jerusalem? – The church began in Jerusalem based on the fact of the resurrection. This is recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, and is corroborated by Tacitus in the quote above. Since Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, why would people believe in the resurrection if the location of His dead body was readily known? Why would the disciples of Jesus start a religion based on false information in the same location where that information could readily be falsified? If there was no resurrection, it would have been smarter, obvious rather, to start a new religion based on false information in a different location.
4. Why did all the disciples suffer persecution and ultimately death for their proclamation of the resurrection? – People often lie for some type of personal benefit for themselves; money, power, fame, etc. People even die for lies which they believe to be true. However, people do not often lie in order to lose material possessions and have their lives threatened, when they made up the lie and know it to be false. In the face of opposition, the truth will come out. Why did all 12 disciples never change their story in the midst of opposition? Why were all of them willing to die for their message?
5. Why did the resurrection accounts rely heavily on the testimony of women? – Women in that culture had little authority as courtroom witnesses. If the early Christians wanted to create a fabrication, they would not have used the voice of women to help propagate the story.
6. Why did devout Jews abandon their beliefs in order to follow Jesus? – To follow Jesus as God was considered blasphemy by the religious authorities that were not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.
Several alternate theories have been proposed in order to evade the conclusion of the resurrection. My conviction is that all of these explanations fail to account for all the facts surrounding the resurrection, and none of them carries the explanatory power that the resurrection itself holds.
Some alternate explanations that have been proposed are (the following is an adaptation from Duane Morris’ “On Reasonable Ground” lecture notes – www.onreasonableground.org).
1. They went to the wrong tomb – this explanation fails to account that the Jews confirmed that the tomb was empty (Matthew 28:11-15). It also fails to recognize that Jesus body was buried in the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-55), a well-known Jew and member of the Sanhedrin. It would be easy to recognize if the disciples wentto the wrong tomb because Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb would have been relatively easy to locate based on his public position. It also fails to account for the belief held by the early disciples, thatthey had seen the resurrected Jesus, a belief thatthey promoted to their death. Furthermore, who would have believed the disciples that Jesus had resurrected, when they easily could have back checked the story and found that Jesus was lying dead in Joseph’s tomb? Instead we find that thousands of devout Jews in Jerusalem converted and became the first Christians.
2. Jesus was really buried in a mass graveyard for executed criminals. Again, this position fails to account for the only historical story that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb and that all parties agreed that the tomb was empty on Easter morning. It fails to account for the appearances of Jesus to the disciples that convinced them to begin preaching the gospel in Jerusalem; fails to account for the conversion of Jews to Christianity in the only city where the central facts in favor of Christianity could be easily refuted.
William Lane Craig points out that since we find no other burial story, in denying the burial story, “One is reduced to denying the historicity of one of the most straight forward and unadorned narratives about Jesus and giving credence to imaginary alternative stories that don’t exist.” (Craig William Lane. The Son Rises. 1981. p63.)
3. The disciples were Hallucinating. This explanation accounts for the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, but does not have an explanation for the empty tomb, which is part of the equation that one is trying to explain. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely, nay I say impossible, that all of the disciples would have had the same hallucination at the same time. Hallucinations are generally private experiences, and certainly not where everyone has the same hallucination at the same time.
4. He never truly died. Known as Swoon Theory, this is the belief that Jesus merely passed out and was revived in the cool tomb. But come on people! – He was flogged, bleeding out, crucified by trained executioners, stopped breathing, double checked with a spear thrustto the heart sac, yet wasn’t dead? The idea that he would have recuperated in the tomb (had he even been alive before that point) without medical supplies, water, or food, is absurd. Crucifixion involves an excruciating, painful process either resulting in death by asphyxiation or cardiac arrest. You can only fake a death by crucifixion for as long as you can hold your breath; which isn’t very long. Jesus never would have made it pastthe roman executioners.
5. Graverobbers stole the Body. Ancient graverobbers don’t steal bodies, they steal jewels, clothes, or anything of value attached to bodies. This account also fails to address how the graverobbers would have made it past the roman guard (several trained soldiers); does not account for the martyrdom of the disciples or mass conversion of Jews.
6. The Disciples stole the body. The original counter explanation, which claims thatthe disciples lied in order to start a new religion. What would they have to gain? Money, Power, recognition? There certainly would have been an incentive. But what did they actually gain? Poverty, persecution, and ultimately death. So this explanation does account for the empty tomb, but does not explain why the disciples would die for a lie thatthey initially created. Furthermore, it fails to account for the unlikelihood thatthe disciples could get pastthe roman army to access the body.
Which explanation accounts for all the facts the best? Apologist Duane Morris explains, “If an explanation fails to account for some of the facts, then its ‘Explanatory Power’ is deficient relative to an explanation which accounts for all the facts. If no other explanation accounts for all the surrounding facts, the one which does necessarily possesses the most ‘Explanatory Power.’” Which theory explains the empty tomb, the transformation/martyrdom of the disciples, the church starting in Jerusalem, and the conversion of a large number of devout Jews? Only the resurrection explains all the facts which follow the crucifixion of Jesus.
All of this begs the question, why did Jesus have to die and rise from the dead? Perhaps there has been no greater amount of writing done on this subject than any other in human history. I’ll give the short answer: For you. Christ died for your sins, and rose again, so that you wouldn’t have to pay the penalty for your own sins, so you wouldn’t have to face the consequences of falling short of God’s perfect standard, which is an eternal spiritual death. He rose again so that we might rise again to newness of life and eternal life. This is a free gift given to anyone who relies in Jesus for it. Salvation, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life is something that is unearned and unearnable. It is impossible to earn God’s favor, it must be accepted as a free gift through the work of Jesus on your behalf.
“Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the presen ttime, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:20-28)
What can man bring to the table, in order to be in right standing with God? Nothing? All he brings to the table is sin! Although we deserve death, what does God provide and offer for man? Love, mercy, and grace, accomplished through His Son who died and rose on our behalf.
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