Posted on / by Ben Jones

Jesus Christ, Part 2: Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ

(continued from Jesus Christ, Part 1)

Jesus’ Credentials that He was and is the Messiah, the Son of God:

  1. Impact of life, through miracles & teaching
  2. Fulfilled prophecy in life
  3. Resurrection
    • How does the resurrection prove that Jesus was the Son of God? (i.e. Lazarus, little girl rose from the dead) Difference is He rose by His own power. He had power to lay down His life and power to take it up again.
    • If resurrection is not a historic fact, the power of death remains unbroken, and we are still in our sins.

Importance of the Resurrection:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-22 (hangs Christianity by a thread, a titanium thread)
  • Jesus referred to rising again 16 times in the NT. When He told His disciples that He would be crucified and on the third day rise again… he said something only a fool would say if He expected longer the devotion of the disciples—unless He was sure He was going to rise. Moreover, Jesus’ critics asked Him for a sign, and He said that He would give them one- His resurrection. It was a test by which they could know if He was telling the Truth. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then He was a false prophet and a charlatan, and no rational person should follow Him. If He did rise, however, that’s a different story…
  • quote, Craig: “Without belief in the resurrection the Christian faith would not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, his crucifixion would have forever silenced any hope of his being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of his career. The origin of Christianity therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God raised Jesus from the dead.”
  • quote, Green: “Christianity does not hold the resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief. Without faith in the resurrection there would be no Christianity at all. The Christian church would have never begun; the Jesus-movement would have fizzled out with His execution. Christianity stands or falls with the truth of the resurrection. Once disprove it, and you have disposed of Christianity. Christianity is a historical religion. It claims that God has taken the risk of involving Himself in human history, and the facts are there for you to examine with the utmost rigor. They will stand any amount of critical investigation.”

Minimal Facts Approach

Only data that is so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the very skeptical ones. 1) strongly evidenced 2) nearly every scholar accepts it, even skeptical ones.

Acts 1:3 – “To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God (“tekmerion” = “demonstrable proof”)

Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion

Reported in all four Gospel accounts

Christian and Jewish writers with major references to the historicity/death of Jesus Christ:

  • Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Quadratus, Epistle of Barnabus, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Polycarp, Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen (E), Dionysius of Corinth (E)

Non-Christian or Anti-Christian Sources

Flavius Josephus (37- 100AD)

Jewish Historian, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified…”

Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD)

Roman Historian, lived through 7-8 emperors; Highly respected, wrote “Annals” and “Histories;” Refers to death of Christ and existence of Christians

Lucian of Samosata (150 AD)

Greek Satirist, spoke scornfully about Christ/followers, “The Christian, you know, worship a man to this day- the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”

Suetonius (70 AD)

Roman Historian, annalist of Imperial House under Emperor Hadrian; Talked about Christ in “Life of Claudius” and “Lives of the Caesars”

Pliny the Younger (112 AD)

Gov. of Bithynia in Asia Minor; He wrote Emperor Trajan- the problem was that he had been killing so many men, women and children who proclaimed Christ, should he continue to kill all of them or only some?

Thallus (52 AD)

In “3rd Book of Histories” makes reference to an odd darkness that enveloped the land during the late afternoon when Jesus died on the cross. He did not doubt Christ crucified or that a strange occurrence happened. He needed to find a reason. Said it was possibly an eclipse of the sun (but is not possible at full moon).

Phlegon (2nd Century)

Referred to darkness on the day of Christ’s death. (“Chronicles”)

Mara Bar-Serapion

Non-Christian polytheist, Syrian Philosopher who wrote soon after 70AD to his son from prison about Jesus, and compared him to philosophers such as Socrates and Pythagoras… referring to the Jew’s murder of their ‘Wise King.’

Only the beginning- Trajan (punishment of Christians), Macrobius (slaughter of babies in Bethlehem), Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Juvenal, Seneca, Hierocles

We know more specifics about the death of Jesus and the nature of his burial than any man in the ancient world.

Fact 2: Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose from the dead

Across the board, there is almost complete consensus among scholars that subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, the disciples both claimed and believed themselves that Jesus had risen.

Two Parts: 1) The disciples CLAIMED that He had risen from the dead. 2) The disciples actually BELIEVED that He had risen from the dead.

They Claimed It:

  • Origin of Christianity: We all know that Christianity sprang into being sometime midway through the 1st century AD. Why did it start? What caused the movement to begin? Even skeptics believe that it Christianity had its origin in the disciples claim that Jesus had risen from the dead.
  • Testimony of Paul: Paul claims in multiple letters that the disciples had passed on to him the claim that Jesus had risen. (Bible proving Bible? No! We are only regarding the NT as 27 separate books and letters that weren’t compiled into the NT until later.)
  • Oral Tradition: There weren’t recorders back then, so disciples and early church fathers had creeds and sermon summaries that were memorized and we know that these were orally passed down in the early first century.
  • Written Tradition: All four gospels testify to the resurrection of Christ. Now, that doesn’t mean it actually happened, but it does show us that the authors claimed it happened. Lots of works by the early Christian fathers that either portrayed, assumed, or outright stated the disciples claims

They Believed It:

  • Change in the Disciples: Disciples were running scared, hiding in upper room, disheartened, all of them deserted their savior when He was arrested, Peter denied Him three times confident saints, world-changing missionaries, traveling ambassadors for Christ, courageous martyrs
  • The disciples had nothing to gain by lying and starting a new religion. Why would these defeated men suddenly decide to perform this massive hoax? By doing it, they faced hardship, ridicule, hostility, and torture, ending in gruesome martyr’s deaths for most of them. In light of this, they could have never sustained such unwavering motivation if they KNEW what they were preaching was a lie…
  • Now, you could say, well, people die for their faith all the time. We see that when the terrorists flew into the Twin Towers. Suicide bombers, etc. No, this is different. Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true on faith. The disciples of Jesus would have been tortured and killed for something they knew to be true or false. In other words, if the resurrection hadn’t happened, they would have died for something they KNEW to be a lie they had made up!
  • Not only this, but the disciples took convincing that the resurrection had even taken place. In Luke 24:21, a couple of disciples are talking and they say “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” Some didn’t believe the women at first, so they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. Thomas wouldn’t believe until he saw Jesus for himself. We see Jesus going out of His way to convince the disciples that He was the real risen Jesus.

Fact 3: The postmortem appearances of Jesus

We have witness statements and documentation of His appearance to Peter, James, the disciples, the apostles, and Paul!

Let’s break it up:

  • Appearance to Peter: Paul personally spent time with Peter and this was part of the creed passed on to him which he relates in 1 Cor 15. Luke also verifies this tradition in 24:34, “The Lord has risen indeed, and He has appeared to Simon!” Very few critics deny that Peter believed He saw the risen Christ and it is well-founded historically.
  • Appearance to the Twelve: This is undoubtedly the twelve main disciples minus Judas. This is the most well-attested appearance in the old Christian tradition and is independently reported by Paul, Luke and John. This is where Jesus shows his wounds and eats in front of the disciples to prove that he is not only physically raised, but is also the same Jesus who was crucified
  • Appearance to 500 brethren: Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians that over 500 people personally witnessed Jesus alive after the resurrection, and before the ascension. (1 Cor. 15:6). Paul could never had said this if it had not been true. In fact, Paul was basically saying… “if you don’t believe me, ask one of the 500 other people who saw Him over a 40-day period.”
  • Appearance to James: Jesus appeared to His younger brother, James, who had not believed in Him as the Messiah, a prophet, or anything special at all! Suddenly, after this, James is one of the main apostles. In fact, Paul calls James one of the pillars of the Christian church along with Peter and John. (Gal. 2:9) He is also the sole head of the Jerusalem church and council of elders. Then we learn from Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria, that James was stoned to death illegally by the Jewish leaders for his faith. I mean, what would it take for you to believe that your brother was the Lord and die for that belief??
  • Appearance to Saul of Tarsus: Remember Saul was one of the main persecutors of the Christian church- in fact, he was hired to do just that! He was known everywhere for that. Then suddenly everything changed. After what he said was an appearance of the risen Jesus, his name is changed and Paul becomes one of the greatest promotors and evangelists of the faith to ever live. This is all documented by Paul himself, Luke, early Christian tradition in Judea, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen for starters.

Fact 4: The empty tomb

There is extremely strong evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty a few days after His death, and the majority of critical scholars will agree on this.

  • Jews silence concerning the empty tomb:
    • Disciples belief in resurrection would have been easily discredited since the location of tomb was close and well-known. Jerusalem was the starting place of Christianity. The Jews would have easily produced the body to suppress Christianity and stop its spread before it even started.
    • In fact, they never once argued against the empty tomb. They actually acknowledged it by trying to give reasons why the body was not there. In other words, we have enemy attestation that the tomb was empty.
    • Many hostiles believed in Jerusalem after resurrection, who didn’t believe before it. (Paul, James, others)
  • Women’s Testimonies: If this was made up, would not have used women’s testimonies. At this time, a woman’s testimony was virtually worthless. A woman was not allowed to give testimony in a court of law. No one would have invented a story and made women the first witnesses to the empty tomb. In fact, the presence of the women was more of an embarrassment (that’s why Paul didn’t mention the women in 1 Corinthians), but the gospels wanted to tell it like it actually happened. No other explanation for this fact.
  • Reports: Early church tradition, along with the four gospels, and Paul, indicate the empty tomb. Attested to by multiple early and independent sources.
  • Joseph of Arimathea: Joseph would not have been an invention, as he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and would have been the last person that Christians would have stated would have taken proper care of Jesus’ body, especially giving Him his own new tomb. There was already hostility between the Jewish leaders and Christians since Christians outright blamed them for the judicial murder of Jesus, even if they had an understanding of why Jesus had to die.

Other Evidences

A better understanding of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ burial will help us investigate whether the resurrection was a hoax or actual history. We need an explanation which best fits the evidence stated above.

Matt. 27:62-66

The lengths to which people went to make sure a resurrection story was not spread serves to help prove the resurrection.

The Stone (Golel):

Large, heavy disc of rock; used for protection against men and beasts (this one probably larger). Takes many men to move it.

Codex Bezae in Cambridge Library- addition in margin of Mark 16:4 (20 men could not roll stone away)

All gospels refer to greatness of stone

The Seal:

Cord stretched across stone, sealed on each end and had Roman Stamp/Seal.

Seal made in the presence of 10-30 Roman Guard.

This was an Imperial Seal of Rome, it affixed in wax the official stamp of the procurator himself.

A Roman seal must be broken before writing could be inspected- same with tomb. To open tomb, one must break seal, incurring the wrath of Roman Law

The Roman Guard:

  • Power of Rome was built upon strict discipline of soldiers.
  • 4 People in a Roman Guard
  • Punishment for quitting post was death. Roman Antiquities, Polybius VI (prestigious author of time). This makes for faultless attention to duty.
  • 18 individual offenses punishable by death leaving night watch was one, or falling asleep on duty. (Dig. Justinian Digest)
  • They would have guarded the tomb just as strictly and faithfully as they had executed the crucifixion. Their sole purpose was to rigidly perform their duties as soldiers of the empire of Rome. The Roman seal affixed to the tomb was the most sacred thing in the world to them.

Grave Clothes: Bound, cemented together with myrrh- would have been very difficult for someone to have unwrapped Him

Non-biblical Sources: Many refer to a ‘curious mystery/rumor’

Alternative Theories

The Swoon Theory- Christ never died, only swooned. When placed in the tomb, he was actually alive. After several hours, he was revived by the cool air, arose, and departed.

Does it FIT:

Death by Crucifixion? NO

Belief of Disciples? YES (barely)

Postmortem Appearances? YES (barely)

Empty Tomb? YES

  • Witness of everyone that He was dead, including soldiers whose life depended on it. Pilate required certification of Christ’s death before giving body to Joseph of Arimethea (Mark 15:42-45). The punishment for the Roman soldiers being mistaken in thinking Christ was dead would be execution. Roman soldiers had lots of experience in knowing whether someone was dead or not- this was their job.
  • All corresponding contemporary documents tell of Christ’s death (Christian and secular)
  • Spear in the side instead of breaking bones because He was already dead
  • Blood and water could not have flowed (medical condition in only dead people)
  • With no medical attention, he revived? And survived for three days in that condition with no food or warmth?
  • He had to unwrap Himself from the tightly-bound grave clothes which were cemented around Him
  • He had to roll away the huge stone covering the tomb, and in His condition
  • He had to roll away the stone without disturbing the guards. OR He had to fight off the whole Roman guard in His state (and naked.)
  • No one saw Him dragging out of the tomb, there were no signs of physical weakness, then walk seven miles to Emmaus.
  • Jesus would have to be a liar

The Theft Theory- The disciples came during the night and stole body (Matt. 28:11-15). Most popular of the time. Actually helps because it asserts the empty tomb.

Death by Crucifixion? YES

Belief of Disciples? NO

Postmortem Appearances? NO

Empty Tomb? YES

  • Matt. 28:13- See a problem?
    • The guards would not have risked execution by sleeping at their posts
    • If they were asleep, how did they know it was the disciples?
    • The disciples had to have rolled the massive stone away without waking up the guards
    • Guards would have never admitted this unless given protection/impunity by the chief priests
  • Every measure was taken so disciples couldn’t steal the body guard, seal, and stone
  • Grave clothes still there. Disciples would have had to take the time to unwrap the body which would have been difficult and steal the body naked? Why would they do that?
  • Disciples’ depression and cowardice! 3 days earlier they fled from Jesus and were running scared. Now they are going against a Roman Guard? These cold-blooded soldiers with full armor and weapons are not ones to be taken down by a few timid disciples from Galilee.
  • Disciples took convincing that Christ was alive
  • Disciples willing to face arrest, prison, beatings, and death for something they knew to be a lie- hypocrites and martyrs are not made of the same stuff
  • The Roman guards story was never questioned, it was accepted as being entirely true, they knew the guard had no reason to lie
  • Could someone else have taken the body?
    • Disciples- no power!
    • Jews- What motive?? And when the resurrection started to spread, why didn’t they produce the body?
    • Romans- The whole reason Pilate allowed Jesus to be crucified was to create peace! The guard certainly had no motive. They would had to break their own Roman seal which went against everything they stood for.
    • What is left? It was a divine work. Simply the most logical.

Hallucination Theory- Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were only supposed, they were actually hallucinations

Death by Crucifixion? YES

Belief of Disciples? NO

Postmortem Appearances? YES

Empty Tomb? NO

  • The entire church is built upon the credentials of the apostles having seen Jesus and been eyewitnesses to the fact. This would mean that the entire Christian church is founded on a hallucination experience of a few people in the 1st century!
  • 500 people of average soundness of mind, at all times, in different places should experience audio, visual, and even physical interaction with a hallucination
    • Groups of people saw Him at once- Visions or hallucinations are very individualistic and subjective. Even 2 at a time is unlikely.
    • Certain mental/psychological states must be present in every person, which is not so
  • Experiences were prolonged- road to Emmaus. Hallucinations are short or at least in one sitting.
  • Disciples took convincing. It was forced upon their minds from without rather than from within
  • The hallucination, on 3 separate occasions, wasn’t recognized as Jesus
  • Reaction of women and disciples because unexpected
  • Vision suddenly came to an end for everyone

The Wrong Tomb Theory- There were lots of rock tombs, and they went to the wrong tomb. A young man guessed what they were doing and pointed them to the correct tomb. Embarrassed at their mistake, they fled. In the actual story, an angel tells the women, Mark 16:6- “He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.”

Death by Crucifixion? YES

Belief of Disciples? NO

Postmortem Appearances? NO

Empty Tomb? YES

  • Visit to the tomb is well-documented.
    • Matt. 27:61- “sitting opposite tomb”
    • Mark 15:47- “observed where He was laid”
    • Luke 23:55- “observed tomb and how He was laid”
  • Would they forget where they laid their son and loved one only 72 hours before?
  • Peter and John made the same mistake?
  • If young man, what was he doing? Suggest a gardener, but it would have been too dark for a gardener.
  • No one suggested that it was a gardener instead of an angel until the 20th century
  • Jews would have gone to the correct tomb to produce the body
  • Joseph of Arimethea would have cleared up the misunderstanding- it was his tomb!

The theory that the women were approaching the wrong tomb has no evidence, it only arises from a disbelief in the possibility of the supernatural emptying of the Lord’s tomb.

Most logical conclusion which fits with all evidence is that this was a supernatural act of God Himself!

“People don’t reject the resurrection because of the lack of evidence; they deny it in spite of the evidence!”

-Quote, Thomas Arnold, “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”