Introduction and Scriptural Account
The Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:14, that "…if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." He continues this thought in verse 19 stating, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable." (1599 Geneva Bible)
The person and deity of Christ have been under intense scrutiny in the last few years. There was Brian Fleming’s DVD documentary, The God Who Wasn’t There, which denied that Christ ever existed. Then there was Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, presenting Christ to be a mere man who married Mary of Magdalene and had children. Most recently there was James Cameron’s book and documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which claimed the discovery of the tomb that held the remains of Jesus.
Ironically, most "enlightened" and skeptical scholars disagree with the conclusions of Brian Fleming, Dan Brown, and James Cameron. That’s because they are convinced that Christ never rose from the dead—and in their minds that’s enough to bury Christianity. If the skeptic can prove that Jesus’ life ended in the cold dark tomb, then Christianity is truly dead. The Gospel has no real power and there is no hope of eternal life. Have the skeptics been successful in proving that the resurrection is a hoax? Or, is Jesus’ triumph over the grave a confirmed fact of history?
In his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell states:
Jesus has three basic credentials: (1) The impact of His life upon history; (2) Fulfilled prophecy in His life; and (3) His resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christianity stand or fall together. A student at the University of Uruguay said to me: "Professor McDowell, why can’t you refute Christianity?" I answered: "For a very simple reason: I am not able to explain away an event in history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Beginning today and ending on Good Friday, I will be presenting the Scriptural and historical support for the most important event in history—the resurrection of Christ. Together, we will analyze and refute the major arguments against the resurrection. We will also consider that, in light of all the evidence, the Resurrection is the most reasonable explanation of all of the facts.
Before I go much further, however, it is important to clarify that we believe in the Resurrection of Christ because the Bible says it happened. Facts do not interpret themselves. With the presuppositional truth of Scripture, we can look at the facts and draw rational and compelling conclusions. The inspiration and material for this 4-part series is drawn greatly from the work of Josh McDowell. Here’s the outline we will follow:
- Part 1 (March 14): Introduction and Scriptural account
- Part 2 (March 19): Refuting poorly constructed theories concocted to explain away the resurrection
- The Theft Theory (The Jews or Romans stole the body)
- The Wrong Tomb Theory
- The Legend Theory
- Part 3 (March 20): Refuting poorly constructed theories concocted to explain away the resurrection continued…
- The Swoon Theory (Jesus never actually died and was simply resuscitated.)
- The Hallucination Theory (The people who claimed to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection simply had hallucinations.)
- The "Contradictory Gospel Accounts" Theory
- Part 4 (March 21): How the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Changed the World
As we conclude part 1, I encourage you to read the Scriptural account below from Matthew 28:1-11 (1599 Geneva Bible). See also Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21):
Now in the end of the Sabbath, when the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, came to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the Angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. And his countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him, the keepers were astonied, and became as dead men. But the Angel answered, and said to the women, Fear ye not: for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified: He is not here, for he is risen, as he said: come, see the place where the Lord was laid, And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead: and behold, he goeth before you into Galilee: there ye shall see him: lo, I have told you. So they departed quickly from the sepulcher, with fear and great joy, and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus also met them, saying, God save you. And they came, and took him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid. Go, and tell my brethren, that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. Now when they were gone, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the high Priests all the things that were done.
Refuting the "Body-Snatcher" Theory
Like the liberal Sadducees and the "enlightened" Greeks of Jesus’ day, modern skeptics believe that it is impossible to come back from the dead. When starting with the presupposition that miracles are impossible, skeptics are limited by their worldview and are required to look for a naturalistic cause for "miracles." Such is the case with the Resurrection of Christ. When an empty tomb stares back at the skeptic, they are forced to concoct the most unbelievable theories to explain what really happened to Jesus.
The most radical theory claims that Christ’s disciples deliberately lied about the resurrection and actually stole the body of Christ to save their reputation. At first glance this theory may seem plausible. But let’s stop and think about this for just a moment. Where were the disciples just after Jesus’ death? They were in hiding—dejected over the loss of their master and fearful for their lives (John 20:19). If you were among the disciples who feared the authorities for following Christ when He was alive, would deliberately lying give you the courage to face persecution and death? It’s hard to imagine these frightened and dejected men would decide to make up a story and then be willing to die for it.
It is true that many people have died for a lie. From Jim Jones to the Heaven’s Gate cult, people who are deceived by a cult leader can be quite willing to die. It would be extremely rare, however, if anyone would deliberately construct a false story and then die for it with a martyr’s zeal. It is even more difficult to believe that 11 men would go to their deaths for this lie without one of them squealing under pressure. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that these men could base the world’s highest and most ethical teaching–Christianity–on a deliberate lie.
For the sake of the skeptics argument, however, let’s assume they did muster up enough courage to steal the body of Christ. If so, could they have overtaken the Roman Guard? The religious leaders feared that Christ’s disciples would steal his body (Matt. 27:64). In Matthew 27:65, we learn that Pilate alleviated their fears and ordered a guard to secure and seal tomb. A.T. Robertson, noted Greek scholar, says this phrase is in the present imperative and can refer only to a Roman Guard and not the temple police. This Guard was known as the custodian, which represented the guard unit of the Roman Legion. This unit was probably one of the greatest offensive and defensive fighting machines ever conceived. The punishment for a soldier who failed to follow orders in this unit was to be stripped of his clothes and burned alive. It seems highly unlikely that the disciples could overpower this elite military unit even if they had the courage.
For the sake of the skeptics argument once again, however, let’s assume they did overpower the guard and steal the body. After whipping the toughest men in Rome, their next step would be to roll away a stone weighing several tons. Next, they would have to carry away the body of Christ, hide it from the world, and secure it more closely than the Roman Guard was able to do. And they did all of this only to live out the rest of their days spreading lies about His resurrection and going to their martyr’s death. Believable? Hardly.
But wait! There’s a clever twist on this theory. Some skeptics believe the body of Christ was stolen not by his disciples. Rather, it was stolen but by the Roman and Jewish leaders, who left an empty tomb to be discovered by Mary Magdalene. This is a good theory unless you think. If the authorities had taken the body, they could have simply produced the body and paraded it down main street on the Day of Pentecost! Christianity would have been dead in an instant. What really happened? Instead they had to bribe the soldiers to say the disciples stole the body and convince the governor to spare the lives of the soldiers (Matt. 28:11-15).
Refuting The "Wrong Tomb" Theory
Maybe in the fog of the early morning, the women went to an empty tomb… but it was the wrong tomb! Then Peter and John went to the wrong tomb, and then the other disciples, and then the Jews and the Romans, and even the angel went to the wrong tomb! Once again, this theory does not hold water. The authorities could have pointed out which tomb was the correct burial site for Jesus, and stopped all of the excitement in an instant.
Refuting The "Legend" Theory
Another theory claims that the resurrection is simply a legend that developed over time and was recorded later in the Bible as fact. There’s a couple of major problems with this naive theory. The first problem is that Biblical account reveals embarrassing details about the disciples. While they were hiding in fear of their lives after the crucifixion, women (one of which was a former prostitute) discover the empty tomb! A truly legendary story would paint Christ’s followers to be heroes and would certainly not give credit to women. The second problem is that proponents of this theory must still account for the fact that the disciples suffered persecution and a martyr’s death for their faith. Would they die for a myth they themselves fabricated? Not a chance.
We’ll look at three more theories in part 3 of this series. In the meantime, may your faith be strengthened as we discover that our faith is a real and reasonable faith. Christ intersected time and space when he came to this earth to die for us and rise from the grave. Doctor Luke writes in Acts 1:3, that Christ
…presented himself alive after that he had suffered, by many infallible tokens, being seen of them by the space of forty days, and speaking of those things which appertained to the kingdom of God.
Professor Thomas Arnold, the holder of the chair of modern history at Oxford University, wrote:
I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
Refuting the "Swoon" Theory
Perhaps the most absurd of all theories created to explain away the empty tomb is the "swoon" theory. Those who hold to this view believe that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross. Rather, he almost died. Mistaking him for dead, the soldiers placed the bloody and fainted body of Christ in the tomb. After three days, he "swooned" back to strength and convinced his disciples that he was truly alive.
The first challenge to this theory is the vivid account of the details surrounding the death of Christ recorded in the Gospels. The Scripture indicates that before he was crucified, Jesus nearly died from scourging. Dr. Truman Davis describes the effects of the Roman flagrum used in whipping:
The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across [a person’s] shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped. 
He was so weak and bloody from the beating that couldn’t even carry the cross bar (Luke 23:26). After Jesus had hung on the cross for several hours and gave up his spirit, the guards pierced his side with a spear and a mixture of blood and water poured out (John 19:34). Medical experts have concluded that this is a sign of heart failure. Lastly, the Romans often broke the legs of those who hung on the cross to hasten their death. But Jesus was already dead and his legs didn’t need broken. There are simply too many historical details that indicate Christ was truly dead before he was buried.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that Jesus did not die. How feasible would it be that he could proceed from the tomb as a victor over death? Imagine the scenario. Three days after his near death experience, a man bound in mummy-like burial cloth, laden with pounds and pounds of spices and laid in a cold tomb suddenly jumped up and rolled back a gigantic stone. Hobbling on scarred feet he walked past the guard and into the city to convince his disciples that he had conquered death. This is hardly a scene of victory. The most obvious flaw with this theory is that Jesus would eventually die a natural death in the future, which would simply cancel out his earlier claim of victory over the grave!
Refuting the "Hallucination" Theory
Another theory claims that all of Christ’s followers simply experienced a hallucination and imagined that they saw the resurrected Christ. Of course, Jesus was seen by hundreds of people. From the women who found the empty tomb and the disciples to the men on the road to Emmaus and the 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6). It is impossible that so many people at different times could all hallucinate a risen Lord. Thomas J. Thorburn states,
It is absolutely inconceivable that as many as (say) five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind and temperament, in various numbers, at all sorts of times, and in diverse situations, should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions—visual, auditory, tactual—and that all these manifold experiences should rest entirely upon subjective hallucination. We say that this is incredible, because if such a theory were applied to any other than a ‘supernatural’ event in history, it would be dismissed forthwith as a ridiculously insufficient explanation. 
Refuting the "Contradictory Gospel Accounts" Theory
Sometimes skeptics will avoid the difficulty of explaining away the empty tomb and simply attempt to discredit the Scriptures altogether. One popular approach is to say that Gospel accounts are contradictory and are therefore false testimony. It is true that there are four somewhat differing accounts of the Resurrection of Christ given in the Gospels. But believe it or not these slightly different accounts actually confirm the reliability of the Gospels! Imagine that you witnessed a car accident. The police interviewed you and three other witnesses who were all at slightly different vantage points when the accident occurred. Would your accounts be identical? No. The main points would be the same but the details may be recorded with slight variation. In fact, if the accounts were absolutely identical then one could assume that there was a conspiracy. Dr. Sayers states,
One is often surprised to find how many apparent contradictions [in the Gospel Resurrection accounts] turn out not to be contradictory at all, but merely supplementary… Divergences appear very great on first sight… But the fact remains that all of [the Resurrection accounts], without exception, can be made to fall into a place in a single orderly and coherent narrative, without the smallest contradiction or difficulty and without any suppression, invention, or manipulation, beyond a trifling effort to imagine the natural behavior of a bunch of startled people running about in the dawn-light between Jerusalem and the garden. 
In conclusion, we must remember that Christ and His disciples gave the world the highest ethical standards. Would they build their entire lives on a lie and be willing to die for it? No. That’s why the Gospel has changed countless individual lives and the course of history for the last 2,000 years.In the final part of this series we will consider how the Resurrection of Jesus Christ changed the world.
The tomb of Jesus Christ stands empty to this very day. Its vacancy haunts the skeptic who cannot explain it away with rational arguments. Even though the Jews and the Romans could not produce the body of Christ or explain what happened to it, they refused to accept the truth. Modern men reject the resurrection of Christ because they have presupposed that it is impossible and do not like the implications of its reality upon their personal lives.
The final and perhaps most convincing evidence that Jesus rose from the grave is history itself. Since the resurrection in AD 33, the Gospel has been spread around the world changing countless lives. Christianity built Western civilization and led to the scientific and industrial revolutions. Without the Gospel, the world would be steeped in dark paganism. Let’s explore this powerful concept beginning with Christ’s own disciples.
The Transformed Lives of the Disciples
John R. W. Stott states, "Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection…" . The following excerpt from an article written by J. N. D. Anderson beautifully illustrates Mr. Stott’s point:
On the day of the crucifixion they were filled with sadness; on the first day of the week with gladness; At the crucifixion they were hopeless; on the first day of the week their hearts glowed with certainty and hope. When the message of the resurrection first came they were incredulous and hard to be convinced, but once they became assured they never doubted again. What could account for the astonishing change in these men in so short a time? The mere removal of the body from the grave could never have transformed their spirits, and characters. Three days are not enough for a legend to spring up which would so affect them. Time is needed for a process of legendary growth. It is a fact that demands a full explanation.
Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense. 
We can trust the testimony of the disciples because they were transformed from cowards to martyrs because of the resurrection. Peter went from publicly denying Christ during the night of his trial to preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. Thomas was a doubter until he touched the risen Lord. James, the brother of Christ, despised all his brother stood for until Christ appeared to him (James 1:1, 1 Corinthians 15:7). Eventually, 11 of the 12 men died for their faith in Christ:
- Peter: crucified
- Andrew: crucified
- Matthew: the sword
- John: natural
- James, the son of Alphaeus: crucified
- Philip: crucified
- Simon: crucified
- Thaddaeus: killed by arrows
- James, brother of Jesus: stoned
- Thomas: spear thrust
- Bartholomew: crucified
- James, son of Zebedee: the sword
The Transformation of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul
Of all the lives changed by Christ’s resurrection, I believe the greatest of all was Saul of Tarsus. What could possibly transform a high-ranking pharisee and Hebrew zealot from a persecutor of Christians to the world’s greatest missionary for Christ? Only the resurrection.
Saul was born a Roman citizen in the university city of Tarsus—known to be a great center of education and philosophy. At fourteen years of age he was sent to train under Gamaliel—one of the leading Rabbis of the first century. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul states, "[I] profited in the Jewish religion above many of my companions of mine own nation, and was much more zealous of the traditions of my fathers." You can see why the rapid spread of Christianity, which undermined Saul’s life training, infuriated him so. In Acts chapter 8 we see that Saul set out on a mission to arrest and kill Christians. But something radical happened. In chapter 9, the resurrected Christ appeared to Saul and completely transformed his life. He went from hating gentiles and Christians to becoming a Christian missionary to the gentiles! Would Saul have ever been transformed without this divine encounter with Christ? No. Subsequently, his missionary journeys altered the course of the Roman empire and of world history.
The Establishment and Existence of the Christian Church
In Acts 17 verse 6 we learn that the Christians in Antioch were turning the world upside down. Over the next 2,000 years an institution known as The Christian Church exploded from a handful of ordinary men to include literally millions worldwide. It is true that major world religions have been founded by ordinary men. The difference, however, was that Jesus claimed to be God and have power over death. If he had remained in the grave, all of his teachings would have been considered false. As C. S. Lewis once said,
I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 
The resurrection of Christ is the only historical event that can explain the establishment and existence of the Christian Church.
The Transition from Saturday to Sunday Worship.
The first Christians were Jews and we all know that Jews worshipped on Saturday. What could possibly cause them to overturn centuries of tradition and begin to worship on Sunday? Only the resurrection of Christ, which occurred on the first day of the week—Sunday!
The World Will Never be the Same.
You don’t need a Ph.D. in history to see that behind every major advancement in civilization is a Christian worldview. England became the world’s greatest empire as a result of the Protestant Reformation. William Tyndale gave us the English language. Christian men who believed that God was the creator of all things gave us the scientific revolution. It was Christian men like Sir William Blackstone who gave us a biblical basis for law, which led to unprecedented liberty and the most advanced legal and political system the world has known. America, the most powerful and prosperous nation in all of world history was founded as a Christian nation. Many books have been written on this subject. I recommend How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt.
It is true that the world is still a sinful place and there is a lot of work to do. That’s why the Gospel, authenticated by the resurrection, is the only solution. What exciting developments does the future hold? Only God knows. In the meantime, may His resurrection inspire all of us to obey the Great Commission of our risen Lord,
And Jesus came, and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me, in heaven, and in earth. Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the holy Ghost, Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, until the end of the world, Amen. 
 Thomas Arnold, Sermons on Christian Life, Its Fears and Its Close , (6th ed., London, 1854), p. 324.
 Davis, C. Truman. "The Crucifixion of Jesus." Arizona Medicine. March 1965
 Thorburn, Thomas James. The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1910.
 Sayers, Dorothy. The Man Born to be King (Harper and Brothers, 1943), p. 19f. Her comments are in her introduction to the radio plays on the life of Christ she prepared for BBC Radio. Also see: G.E. Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1975), p. 79f. John Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992). He says NO!
 Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971.
 Anderson, J. N. D. "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ" (copyright). Christianity Today. March 29, 1968.
 Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1960. pp. 40-41.
 Matthew 28:18-