Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
I know, I know. Loaded question, right? You might be thinking I’m crazy to tackle this head-on. Or, you might think that there is no way to know for sure. I mean, this event took place almost 2,000 years ago.
I understand your fears. If Jesus rose from the dead, it will have many implications for your life. Some may be good, others bad.
But a search for the truth is worthwhile.
Think about it. Would you rather believe a lie?
I know I wouldn’t.
Well, I’m here to tell you the truth.
And the truth is that there is evidence to build a case for the resurrection.
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What does resurrection mean?
First, what does resurrection mean? Simply put, it means life after death. And no, that doesn’t mean Jesus was walking around with a dismembered body zombie-style. What it does mean, is that somehow, Jesus was able to reverse death.
Five Facts that Support the Resurrection
Here are five facts that support the case for the resurrection.
1. Women were the first to discover the empty tomb
Why is this important? Well, back then, the testimony of women was deemed worthless.
The Jewish historian Josephus confirms this perspective: “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Antiquities IV.8.15).
With this in mind, it is hard to fathom why the disciples would make up this detail of the story. It would be counterintuitive to their mission.
2. There are multiple people who testify to an empty tomb.
The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all attest to the empty tomb.
These are not the only sources that attest to an empty tomb; Paul also attests to the empty tomb.
This means there are at least five attestations, which is actually seen as more than enough for historians to work with. Scholars who have studied these attestations confirm that they are independent in nature.
3. A resurrection is at the center of the Christian faith.
If there wasn’t an empty tomb, it would have been very difficult for the Christian message to spread.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he expresses the importance of the resurrection. So much so, that he writes everything would have been in vain if there had not been a resurrection. “And if Christ had not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
That’s how much Christianity hinges on the fact of Christ being raised. If the tomb wasn’t empty, it wouldn’t have been difficult for the Jewish people to present the body.
In other words, if the Christians were proclaiming Christ risen, it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to counter with, “What do you mean? His body is right here!”
4. The empty tomb was common knowledge among those of the first century.
The debate was not over whether the tomb was empty or not. The empty tomb is a fact. The Jewish people did not dispute this matter.
Instead, they came up with explanations for why it was empty. One of these explanations being that the disciples had stolen the body.
5. The early Christians were persecuted for their faith.
The persecutions of early followers suggest that they were sincere in their faith. No sane person would die for a lie, but the disciples endured hard trials and tribulations for their faith.
For instance, Paul, a convert after Christ’s crucifixion, experienced terrible suffering for the name of Jesus. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he writes, “You know all about my persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 2:10–12).
From this, we can gather that persecutions are promised to those who follow Jesus. It was definitely a reality for the early followers. All of the disciples died as martyrs except John. This question follows then: Who would die for a lie?
Three Major Arguments
There are three major arguments skeptics have brought to the table.
1. Apparent Death Theory
This theory asserts that Jesus was alive but unconscious when taken off the cross and placed in his tomb.
This means when he woke up, he freed himself from the wrappings and tomb, then proclaimed himself to be the Lord. This theory fails to hold up when considering the medical evidence.
In the gospels, it documents that Jesus’ side was pierced before taken off the cross, which resulted in “blood and water” spilling out. The soldiers did this to ensure his death. Not only this, but his body was wrapped up with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight” (John 19:39).
If Jesus had not died previously, he would have died in his tomb from lack of food, water, and medical attention.
2. Theft Theory
This theory claims that either grave robbers or the disciples stole the body from the tomb.
There are a few problems with this theory.
The first issue is the weight of the stone. It weighed more than 400 pounds! It would have been extraordinarily difficult for the disciples, or anyone for that matter, to have moved this stone.
The second issue is the sealing of the stone. If anyone had tampered with this sealing, the Roman government would have known. It was used as a measure to prevent anyone from stealing the body.
Lastly, the third and final issue is the guards. It is in debate on whether these guards were Roman or Jewish, but either way, it still serves as an issue in regards to the theft theory.
The guards posted at the grave would not have allowed anyone to come through without resistance and wouldn’t have been sleeping on the job, their very lives depended on the matter.
3. Hallucination Theory
This theory claims that the disciples hallucinated and thought they saw Jesus. Hallucinations are perceptions that feel real but are not; they are produced. There are five reasons why the disciples couldn’t have been hallucinating.
First, many people saw Jesus after his resurrection.
Second, they saw Jesus collectively as a group.
Third, Jesus appeared to people multiple times.
Fourth, they did not just see Jesus but interacted with him through talking and eating.
Fifth, the body could never be produced.
With all this in mind, it is highly unlikely that the disciples had experienced group hallucinations in which there is no scientific backing. It is much more probable that Jesus had appeared to them.
So, what really happened?
The facts surrounding the empty tomb build a strong case for the resurrection of Christ. The alternate theories that skeptics have posited hold no merit when taking a closer look into the details of the narrative.
First of all, the narrative told in the gospels tells us that the women were first to discover the empty tomb. This is incredible considering the culture — a time that held women as second-class citizens and deemed them worthless witnesses.
Secondly, there are multiple testaments to the empty tomb. We have five accounts — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and 1 Corinthians.
Thirdly, the Christian message hinges on the resurrection. If Christ was not raised, the Christian message would not have spread.
Fourthly, the empty tomb was common knowledge to those in the first century. It was not in debate that the tomb was empty, but rather, on why the tomb was empty. Many officials had tried to pin the empty tomb on the disciples, claiming that they had stolen the body. However, as read previously, this theory does not hold up.
Last but not least, early followers of Christ were persecuted for their message of Christ crucified and being risen. They were sincere and many of the disciples died for their faith.
Because of these facts surrounding the empty tomb and many more, we can have full confidence of Christ being risen. It is the most plausible explanation for the empty tomb; no alternate theory comes close.
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