Tomorrow is Good Friday – the day over 2000 years ago when Jesus – falsely accused – was sentenced to the most cruel death ever invented – death by crucifixion on a cross! That day Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of every woman and man who had or would ever live. After he died he was taken down from that cross and laid in a borrowed grave through the generosity of a friend. The day after the Sabbath – on the first day of the week – 3 women came to his tomb to anoint his body and they found the stone that had covered his tomb rolled away and the tomb was empty. An angel appeared to them and said, “He is not here – He is Risen!” That was of course the first Easter – the day that over 2 billion followers of Jesus will celebrate this coming Sunday.
The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians, Chapter 15 wrote:
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and …. your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Christianity rests on the resurrection of Christ. If it is true then it changes everything! If it is not true then over 2 billion believers around the globe, including me, have bet their lives on a lie! And as the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised…we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Josh McDowell, my colleague of 24 years and his son Sean McDowell have given me their kind permission to “Excerpt” from Chapter 10 of their book “More Than a Carpenter” which has been translated into 128 languages with over 27 million books printed:
Chapter 10 – Can You Keep a Good Man Down?
A student at the University of Uruguay asked me, “Professor McDowell, why couldn’t you find some way to refute Christianity?”
I answered, “For a very simple reason. I was unable to explain away the fact that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real event in history.”
After spending more than seven hundred hours studying this subject and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I came to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on humanity, or it is the most important fact in history.
The Resurrection takes the question “Is Christianity valid?” out of the realm of philosophy and makes it a question of history.
Here are some of the issues and claims relevant to the question: Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Christ prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures, was arrested, judged to be a political criminal, and crucified. Three days after his death and burial, some women who went to his tomb found the body to be missing. Christ’s disciples claimed that God had raised him from the dead and that he had appeared to them many times before ascending to heaven.
From this foundation, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and has continued to exert great influence throughout the world through all subsequent centuries.
The Death and Burial of Jesus
After Jesus was condemned to death, he was stripped of his clothing and was whipped, according to Roman custom, before crucifixion.
Alexander Metherell, who holds a medical degree from the University of Miami and a doctorate in engineering from the University of Bristol in England, made a detailed examination of Christ’s whipping at the hands of the Romans. He explains the process:
The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely.
The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs. It was just terrible.
One physician who has studied Roman beatings said, “As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” A third-century historian by the name of Eusebius described flogging by saying, “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”
We know that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified. At the least, the victim would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock.
Given the brutality of the whipping, as well as his subsequent crucifixion, it is historically certain that Jesus was dead. Even the members of the radical Jesus Seminar, which was popular in the 1990s, accepted the death of Jesus. This is why John Dominic Crossan said that the death of Jesus by crucifixion “is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
In accordance with Jewish burial customs, the body of Jesus was then wrapped in a linen cloth. About seventy-five pounds of aromatic spices, mixed together to form a gummy substance, were applied to the wrappings around the body (see John 19:39-40). After the body was placed in a solid rock tomb, an extremely large stone, weighing approximately two tons, was rolled by means of levers against the entrance (see Matthew 27:60).
What Do You Think?
A Roman guard of strictly disciplined men was stationed to watch the tomb. Fear of punishment among these men “produced flawless attention to duty, especially in the night watches.” This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal, a stamp of Roman power and authority. The seal was meant to prevent vandalizing. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb’s entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.
Yet in spite of the guard and the seal, the tomb was empty.
The Empty Tomb
The followers of Jesus claimed he had risen from the dead. They reported that he appeared to them over a period of forty days, showing himself to them by many convincing proofs (some versions of the Bible say “infallible proofs”; see, for example, ACTS 1:3, NKJV). The apostle Paul said that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at one time, the majority of whom were still alive and could confirm what he wrote (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Arthur Michael Ramsey, former archbishop of Canterbury, writes: “I believe in the Resurrection, partly because a series of facts are unaccountable without it.” The empty tomb was “too notorious to be denied.” German theologian Paul Althaus states that the claim of the Resurrection “could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.”
Paul L. Maier concludes:
If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that [Jesus’ tomb] was actually empty. . . . And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology that would disprove this statement.
How can we explain the empty tomb?
Based on overwhelming historical evidence, Christians believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected in real time and space by the supernatural power of God. The difficulties in belief may be great, but the problems inherent in disbelief are even greater.
The situation at the tomb after the Resurrection is significant. The Roman seal was broken, which meant automatic crucifixion upside down for whoever broke it. The massive stone was moved not just from the entrance but from the entire sepulcher, looking as if it had been picked up and carried away. The guard unit had fled. Byzantine Roman emperor Justinian in his Digest 49:16 lists eighteen offenses for which a Roman guard unit could be put to death. These included falling asleep or leaving one’s position unguarded.
What Do You Think?
The women came and found the tomb empty. They panicked and went back to tell the men. Peter and John ran to the tomb. John arrived first, but he didn’t enter. He looked inside and saw the graveclothes, caved in a little, but empty. The body of Christ had passed right through them into a new existence. Let’s face it; a sight like that would make anyone a believer.
Alternative Theories to the Resurrection
Many people have advanced alternate theories to explain the Resurrection, but the theories are so contrived and illogical when compared with the claims of Christianity that their very weakness actually helps build confidence in the truth of the Resurrection.
The Wrong-Tomb Theory
A theory propounded by British biblical scholar Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who reported the body missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb that morning. If so, then the disciples who went to check the women’s story must have gone to the wrong tomb as well. We can be certain, however, that the Jewish authorities, who had asked for that Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent the body from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location. The Roman guards would also not have been mistaken, for they were there. If a wrong tomb were involved, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor of a resurrection.
The Hallucination Theory
Another attempted explanation claims that the appearances of Jesus after the Resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations. This theory runs counter to psychological principles governing the occurrence of hallucinations. It is not credible to think that five hundred people could have seen the same hallucination for forty days. Also the hallucination theory does not coincide with the historical situation or the mental state of the apostles.
So, where was the actual body of Jesus, and why didn’t those who opposed him produce it?
The Swoon Theory
Nineteenth-century German rationalist Karl Venturini popularized the swoon theory several centuries ago, and it is often suggested even today. It claims that Jesus didn’t really die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought he was dead, but later he was resuscitated, and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection.
German theologian David Friedrich Strauss, himself no believer in the Resurrection, deals a deathblow to any thought that Jesus could have revived from a swoon:
It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.
The Stolen-Body Theory
Another theory maintains that the disciples stole the body of Jesus while the guards slept. The depression and cowardice of the disciples make a hard-hitting argument against it. Can we imagine that they suddenly became so brave and daring as to face a detachment of select soldiers at the tomb and steal the body? They were in no mood to attempt anything like that.
Commenting on the proposition that the disciples stole Christ’s body, J. N. D. Anderson says:
This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.
The Moved-Body Theory
Another theory says that the Roman or Jewish authorities moved Christ’s body from the tomb. This explanation is no more reasonable than the stolen-body theory. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why didn’t they explain that they had taken it, thus putting to an effective end the disciples’ preaching of the Resurrection in Jerusalem? If the authorities had taken the body, why didn’t they explain exactly where they had put it? Why didn’t they recover the corpse, display it on a cart, and wheel it through the center of Jerusalem? Such an action would have utterly destroyed Christianity.
John Warwick Montgomery comments:
It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.
The Relocated-Body Theory
In The Empty Tomb, Jeffrey Jay Lowder describes an interesting hypothesis, namely, that the body of Jesus was temporarily stored in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on Friday night before being relocated to a criminal’s tomb. The tomb of Jesus was empty not because he resurrected, but because the body was simply relocated. Thus, the disciples mistakenly believed he was resurrected. This hypothesis has gained a considerable following on the Internet.
The “relocation hypothesis” gains support from the fact that reburial was common in ancient Palestine. But it’s important to note that the reburial procedures of the Jews differed significantly from the theory proposed here. The Jewish tradition was to bury a body for one year, and then after the flesh deteriorated and only bones remained, they would remove the bones and place them in an ossuary.
The problem for the relocation of the body of Jesus is the complete lack of historical support, either in biblical or non-biblical sources. None of the New Testament Gospel accounts suggest that the body of Jesus was reburied. Mark 16:6, where the young man at the tomb says, “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” undermines this view.
The relocation hypothesis actually faces a more significant problem. Dr. Michael Licona observes
At best, even if the reburial hypothesis were true, all it accounts for is the empty tomb. And interestingly, the empty tomb didn’t convince any of the disciples—possibly with the exception of John—that Jesus had returned from the dead. It was the appearances of Jesus that convinced them, and the reburial theory can’t account for these.
If the body of Jesus was simply relocated, why didn’t a relative uncover the body when the disciples began proclaiming the resurrection? Why wouldn’t an authority produce the body and stop Christianity in its tracks? Some have suggested that by this time the body of Jesus would be unrecognizable, but given the climate of Palestine, the body would have been recognizable for a considerable amount of time.
What Do You Think?
The Copycat Theory
“Nothing in Christianity is original” is one of the most commonly used lines of many critics today. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many scholars believed that the central claims of Christianity were plagiarized from Greco-Roman mystery religions. Jesus was considered another “dying and rising” god in the tradition of Osiris, Mithras, Adonis, and Dionysus. While this theory has experienced a surprising resurgence on the Internet and in popular books, it faces near universal rejection by contemporary scholars. Here’s why.
While parallels between Jesus and the mystery religions may appear striking on the surface, they collapse under scrutiny. Osiris, for instance, is considered by many to be a dying and rising god from ancient Egypt. According to the myth, Osiris was killed by Seth and resuscitated by Isis. But rather than returning to the world in a resurrected body, Osiris became king of the underworld—hardly a parallel to the historical resurrection of Jesus. This is why Paul Rhodes Eddy and Greg Boyd, authors of The Jesus Legend, conclude that “the differences between Christianity and the mystery religions are far more profound than any similarities. While there certainly are parallel terms used in early Christianity and the mystery religions, there is little evidence for parallel concepts.”
Unlike the historical Jesus, there is no evidence for the reliability of any of the alleged parallel stories in the mystery religions. Jesus of Nazareth ate, slept, performed miracles, died, and returned to life. These accounts are supported by a reliable historical record. In contrast, the dying and rising gods of the mystery religions were timeless myths repeated annually with the changing seasons.
The most recent scholarly treatise on dying and rising gods was written by T. N. D. Mettinger, professor at Lund University. In The Riddle of Resurrection, Mettinger grants the existence of the myths of dying and rising gods in the ancient world, which, he admits, is a minority view. Yet his conclusion puts the nail in the coffin of the copycat theory:
There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.
Evidence for the Resurrection
Professor Thomas Arnold, author of a famous three-volume History of Rome and the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. He says:
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 has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.
British scholar Brooke Foss Westcott, who was a divinity professor at Cambridge University, says:
Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.
Dr. William Lane Craig concludes that “when you . . . [use] the ordinary canons of historical assessment, the best explanation for the facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.”
Simon Greenleaf was one of the greatest legal minds America has produced. He was the famous Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University and succeeded Justice Joseph Story as the Dane Professor of Law in the same university. While at Harvard, Greenleaf wrote a volume in which he examines the legal value of the apostles’ testimony to the resurrection of Christ. He observes that it is impossible that the apostles “could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.” Greenleaf concludes that the resurrection of Christ is one of the best-supported events in history according to the laws of legal evidence administered in courts of justice.
Sir Lionel Luckhoo is considered by many to be the world’s most successful attorney after 245 consecutive murder acquittals. This brilliant lawyer rigorously analyzed the historical facts of Christ’s resurrection and finally declares, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”
Frank Morison, another British lawyer, set out to refute the evidence for the Resurrection. He thought the life of Jesus was one of the most beautiful ever lived, but when it came to the Resurrection, Morison assumed someone had come along and tacked a myth onto the story. He planned to write an account of the last few days of Jesus, disregarding the Resurrection. The lawyer figured that an intelligent, rational approach to the story would completely discount such an event. However, when he applied his legal training to the facts, he had to change his mind. Instead of a refutation of the Resurrection, he eventually wrote the best seller Who Moved the Stone? He titled the first chapter “The Book That Refused to Be Written.” The rest of the book confirms decisively the validity of the evidence for Christ’s resurrection.
George Eldon Ladd concludes: “The only rational explanation for these historical facts is that God raised Jesus in bodily form.” Believers in Jesus Christ today can have complete confidence, as did the first Christians, that their faith is based not on myth or legend but on the solid historical fact of the risen Christ and the empty tomb.
Gary Habermas, a distinguished professor and chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University, debated former atheist and leading scholar Antony Flew on the issue “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” A professional debate judge who was asked to evaluate the debate concludes,
The historical evidence, though flawed, is strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. . . . Habermas does end up providing “highly probably evidence” for the historicity of the resurrection “with no plausible naturalistic evidence against it.”
Most important of all, individual believers can experience the power of the risen Christ in their lives today. First of all, they can know that their sins are forgiven (see Luke 24:46-47; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Second, they can be assured of eternal life and their own resurrection from the grave (see 1 Corinthians 15:19-26). Third, they can be released from a meaningless and empty life and be transformed into new creatures in Jesus Christ (see John 10:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
What Do You Think?
After examining the evidence from a judicial perspective, Lord Darling, former chief justice of England, concludes that “there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”
If after reading reading the Evidence for the Resurrection you have come to the conclusion that: “Yes! It is True!” And if you have never placed your faith in Christ, but would like to now – I am delighted to share with you that you can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. (Prayer is talking with God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart.)
The following is a suggested prayer: Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Amen!
Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? If “Yes” you can pray this prayer right now, and Christ will come into your life, as He promised.
If you just prayed to ask Jesus to come into your heart – Welcome to God’s Eternal Family! This is the beginning of a new relationship with the God of all creation. You will want to find out how you can now grow in your relationship with Jesus by clicking this link: Yes, I just asked Jesus into my life…
If you are still giving careful thought as to what you will do with Jesus and need to ask some questions before proceeding then you will want to click this link: I may want to ask Jesus into my life, but I have a question I would like answered first
This story did not touch my life until the fall of 1967 when I was a freshman at the University of South Dakota – home of the Coyotes! You can read my story “3 Questions That Changed My Life” by clicking “HERE”
Recommendation: This Easter Weekend might be the perfect time for you and your family to view The Jesus Film – the most translated movie in history – available in over 2,000 languages. Click “HERE” to download/view in English. (Once there – near the bottom you will find a link that will lead you to all 2,000 plus languages)
Offer: If you are not sure who Jesus really is or would like to know more about him, I would also be delighted to send you, as my gift, one of my favorite books, More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell, my former colleague of 24 years and his son Sean.
Josh, a former skeptic, is joined by Sean as they examine the evidence about Jesus. Is He really the Lord He claimed to be? How can we know for sure? More than a Carpenter investigates hard questions about the reliability of biblical records, the resurrection and the relationship between faith and science. They also address questions raised by today’s popular atheistic writers. You have already read chapter 10 above.
Please email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and your complimentary book will soon be on its way. (offer available for U.S.A. addresses only). If you live outside the U.S.A the “Kindle Edition” is available on Amazon for $5.99 by clicking “HERE.”
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