Jesus! He’s our focus in this blog series based on Josh’s best-selling apologetics classic: More Than a Carpenter. His resurrection takes the question, “Is Christianity valid?” out of the realm of philosophy and makes it a question of history. Why? Because there is sufficient evidence to warrant our belief in the resurrection as a real event in history.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ either happened or it didn’t. Let’s look at what just a small bit of history research shows us, so you can make an educated decision on answering this question for yourself!
Jesus’ Death and Burial
After Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, He was stripped of His clothing and whipped, per Roman custom, before His crucifixion. Eusebius, a third-century historian, provides us with descriptive details of just how much damage flogging did to a victim: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” Flogging was no slap on the hand. It served, in part, to quicken the death of those about to be crucified. The Romans weren’t messing around.
Given the brutality of the whipping, as well as the confirmation of Jesus’ death by Roman soldiers before His body was removed from the cross, scholars are certain that Jesus was dead. Therefore, we can disregard any theories put forth by skeptics that suggest He merely fainted. Rome had no reason to allow Jesus to live. Crucifixion served one purpose: a humiliating, excruciating death of those whom Rome considered criminals. History confirms this.
Have you seen movies depicting the torture and crucifixion of Jesus? One, The Passion of the Christ, showcases the horrific events in detail. Do you think Jesus deserved this barbaric treatment? What’s your reaction as you watch His suffering on your behalf?
To meet Jewish burial customs, Jesus’ body was quickly prepared for burial and placed in a solid rock tomb. A large stone, weighing approximately two tons, was then rolled against the entrance with the help of levers, sealing it closed (Matthew 27:60). Roman guards were then stationed outside the entrance, to ensure that Jesus’ disciples didn’t steal His body.
Three days later, when the tomb was discovered open and empty, the Roman guards abandoned their post, terrified. This was a huge deal. Byzantine Roman emperor Justinian, in his Digest 49:16, lists 18 offenses for which a Roman guard could be put to death — including falling asleep or leaving one’s post.
The Empty Tomb
Is it possible that Jesus’ disciples stole His body? If you think it’s a possibility, please explain how you think they got past the highly trained and weaponized Roman guards. Or, if you believe, as some skeptics assert, that Jesus escaped from the tomb on His own, because He wasn’t really dead when placed there, please explain how He would have had the strength to remove the heavy stone sealing the tomb, given the condition of His body. We have to remember that the beatings and whipping would have shredded His flesh and done considerable damage to what lay beneath. His blood loss would have been significant. He would have been in shock. And His hands and feet would have been rendered useless, from the long metal stakes driven through them to hold Him to the cross.
The difficulties in belief of the resurrection may be great, but the problems inherent in disbelief are even greater. The Roman seal on the tomb was broken, which would have meant crucifixion upside down for whoever broke it. The massive stone was not just partially rolled back, but looked as if it had been picked up and carried away. And the guards abandoned their post — punishable by their own deaths.
Skeptic theories — from the Wrong-Tomb Theory, to the Stolen-Body Theory, to the Moved-Body Theory — attempt to come up with plausible explanations, but they all fail, as they ignore fact. The Jewish leaders were unable to squelch rumors of Jesus being alive because they couldn’t produce His body. They continued to reject the truth of the resurrection. But just because we ignore an event doesn’t remove it as being factual history.
History Confirmed by Evidence
The Jewish leaders show us, clearly, how blind we can be to the truth when we refuse to see. Though they fabricated a story to dispute the resurrection, they — and those who saw and interacted with Jesus after He rose — knew they were lying. German theologian Paul Althaus reminds us 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.” All the Jewish authorities had to do was produce Jesus’ dead body — but they couldn’t. Because He was alive!
While a professor at Harvard, Simon Greenleaf, one of the greatest legal minds America has produced, wrote a volume in which he examined the legal value of the apostles’ testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. He observed that it is impossible that the apostles “could have persisted in affirming the truths they narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.”
The cowering disciples, who hid when Jesus was arrested and stayed in hiding even after His crucifixion, were emboldened by seeing the Risen Jesus. The early Church grew and spread because these believers were now thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God! And all but one of the disciples died a martyr’s death for this assertion.
Don’t shrug off the resurrection as no big deal OR impossible. Jesus had accomplished what He repeatedly told His disciples He would do: die and resurrect, to reconcile us with God when we accept Jesus as Lord. Jesus willingly served as our proxy, so that we could stand forgiven before God.
It’s not only the past that speaks to the resurrection power of Jesus. It’s the present. Every committed Christ-follower today can testify to the power of the risen Christ in their own lives. They live with the gift of forgiveness (1 Corinthians 15:3), and the daily indwelling of God’s power, as He helps them journey through life (Galatians 5:22-23).
As Josh had to do, after his own attempt to discredit Christianity failed, we have to be willing to surrender our personal biases to be able to see the truth staring us in the face. Josh once thought Christians were really dumb for believing in God and Jesus. But when convinced of the resurrection, by facts, He surrendered to Jesus to remain “intellectually honest.” Where are you in accepting Jesus as legit?
The resurrection matters because it changes everything. For you. For me. For all eternity.