I would like to offer a few blog posts examining some of the arguments that defend and support the Christian worldview/faith as legitimate and truthful. There are obviously arguments many present in opposition to Christian faith (reasons I believe are not convincing), but there are also strong reasons for one to embrace Christianity. I begin this series with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Even for one who claims that the Bible does not offer us a historically accurate picture of history, but was reshaped by the biblical authors as it relates to the life and story of Jesus of Nazareth, the resurrection presents serious historical problems. This can be seen by examining the alternatives to a real bodily resurrection. Let us examine them.
First is what has been commonly referred to as the swoon theory. The swoon theory proposes that Jesus never actually died, but entered a state of unconsciousness, eventually came to, and was able to get up and walk away. Let’s begin with what the Bible tells us, even if one is reluctant to value the biblical account. Reality is, it is the only telling of the story, and does carry some weight. First, the Bible tells us that Jesus was violently and brutally whipped before His crucifixion. This is consistent with a quick death. Typically crucifixions would last hours, even days. The idea was to suffocate the one being crucified. Eventually they would tire of pushing themselves up off of the stake in their feet/legs. It was an especially brutal way of killing people. However, Jesus was removed from the cross fairly quickly. A beating of that nature in addition to the crucifixion would have been hard to overcome. This justifies His uncommonly speedy removal from the cross. The Bible also tells us that when Jesus’ side was pierced by a Roman soldier, that water spilled out. This is evidence that Jesus’ heart would have exploded. This would have been convincing to the Roman soldiers that the man was dead. Even if one disregards these biblical facts, one can hardly argue against Roman soldiers knowing when a man was dead and not. As N.T. Wright states, “Roman soldiers knew how to kill people, especially rebel kings.” Far too many people had to examine the body or be aware of the state of the body for an error of this sort to occur. Roman soldiers, Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, along with who knows who else, all would have seen or handled the body. In addition, once buried in His tomb, Jesus would have had to have come to, without any assistance, and that after a horrific execution (or attempted execution), rolled away a massive stone enclosing the tomb, snuck past Roman guards, and walked seven miles to Emmaus on pierced feet and a broken and ravaged body. Plus, Jewish custom was for a body to be wrapped in grave clothes and the body to be covered in spices. It is estimated that about 70 pounds of spices would have been used in the wrapping of the body, cementing each wrap of the grave clothes to the body. The Bible actually tells us that the grave clothes were still intact when the disciples arrived three days later to the tomb. In addition, a Jesus who, broken and bleeding, stumbled into the disciples’ presence several days later would have done little to inspire them into believing that He had actually risen from the dead. This seems a hard sell, whether one accepts the biblical account as historically reliable or not.
Let it also be noted that this was not the first time someone’s resurrection had been spoken of or predicted of sorts. The most notable example is Judas Maccabeus, a savior like figure that lived in the mid 2nd century B.C. and led a Jewish revolt against Rome. His success and notoriety led many to think He was possibly the predicted Messiah and his resurrection was predicted by some at the time of His death. This obviously did not happen. The point is that if Jesus had not truly risen from the dead, whether He still lies in a grave today, or something else happened to the body, the idea of His resurrection would have been stamped out. No one else ever provoked this kind of attention from such a claim.
Second is the stolen body theory. This seems more realistic than the swoon theory. However, it also faces many challenges. First, the attention Jesus had provoked, whether in support of, or in opposition toward, there was a great deal of commotion concerning Him. Pilate knew this. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew it as well. Matthew 27:62-66 tells us that the chief priests and religious leaders went to Pilate and requested security for the gravesite. There is little reason to question that this bit of information is false either. Understanding who Jesus was and the attention that He had generated would have provoked anyone to ensure that something fraudulent didn’t happen. The religious leaders would have also ensured sufficient security to put their minds at ease. These were undoubtedly Roman guards as evidenced by their request to Pilate himself, as well as Rome’s involvement in the execution. They would have been well-trained soldiers, not local businessmen or farmers. There is little reason to think that anyone other than the disciples would attempt to steal the body, and so they would have had to confront the guards in a fight, or remove the body without anyone knowing about it. This would involve distracting guards, rolling a way a massive stone covering the entrance, removing the body, and then putting the stone back. Unlikely from fishermen and locals, who were also devastated after the death of their leader. What is also interesting regarding the biblical account of the aftermath of the disappearance of the body is that when the guards inform the chief priests and religious leaders of the body being gone, their response is to pay the guards to say the body was stolen. In so doing they actually are admitting that the body is gone. This is a huge confession, because the reality of the body being missing has just been acknowledged. This removes the possibility of ever bringing a body forward and proving that Jesus was still dead. This admission is huge. The strength of the security, the unlikelihood of the disciples being able to either confront the guards or sneak in past the guards make this theory an extremely poor one as well. In my own personal opinion, as unlikely as it is, this theory is probably the most likely of all of them, which isn’t saying much.
Third is the hallucination theory. This may seem absurd to some, yet it has been proposed. This theory suggests that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were only supposed appearances. Everyone was just hallucinating. First, this theory has no weight simply on the basis that all that would have had to have been done to put an end to this “Jesus is back from the dead” stuff was to bring the body forth. However, psychologists also acknowledge that the idea that 2 people, much less groups as large as 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6), having the same hallucination at the same time is suspect. Hallucinations are based upon an individual’s own personal mental state and conditions. This theory clearly has little going for it either.
Fourth is the wrong tomb theory. This theory proposes that Peter and Mary and the others went to the wrong tomb the morning they found the tomb empty. Again, let one be objective in their evaluation of an idea, but this seems to go against all common sense. These dear friends of Jesus would have most certainly known where his tomb was. Secondly, as with the previous theory, all that would have had to have been done to quell the idea that Jesus had come back to life was to bring the body forward. At the very least, Joseph of Arimathea, one of their own, could have taken them to the correct tomb after they had returned and said He wasn’t there. It was his tomb. Losing the tomb was a very weak possibility. This theory too, has little going for it.
When the alternatives are examined, it seems difficult to justify a theory other than the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If we are resolved to reject this truth, we would have to side with the Pharisees and Sadducees and propose that the body was stolen. There is no body to bring forth and the thought that maybe he wasn’t dead is highly suggestive. So if the body is gone, what happened to Him? The disciples were convinced it was Jesus they saw back from the dead, and they all were willing to die for the great truth that had been revealed to them through Christ’s resurrection. All but John did indeed die for their belief in the resurrected Jesus. Only John didn’t and he was boiled in oil and exiled. Hard to imagine men dying for something they are not convinced of, much less something they are certain of.
Did Jesus rise from the dead (as he claimed He would)? You decide. However, your answer could have eternal consequences. If He did, it changes everything.