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The Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus


Introduction

Jesus said that He would provide one ultimate proof that He is the Son of God, and the proof was that He would resurrect Himself three days after His death:
"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."" (Matthew 12:38-40)

"Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body." (John 2:18-21)

"In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [Jesus]. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one key event upon which Christianity stands or falls. If we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Resurrection actually happened, then the only conclusion a person can make is that Jesus was telling the truth. This would show that Jesus is the Son of God, just as He claimed to be.


Jesus' Crucifixion and Burial

Before we examine the evidence for the Resurrection, let's first take a look at the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

In the first century, before a criminal was crucified he was often tied to a post and flogged (see Matthew 27:26) with a "flagrum," which was a handle with leather thongs that had jagged shards of bone or iron woven into them. As this flagrum was whipped and dragged across the victim's shoulder, back, and legs it would rip open the flesh, leaving the skin hanging in bloody shreds. By Jewish law, Jewish authorities could only administer 40 lashes to a criminal, but the Romans had no such limitation. The beating would often go on until the centurion in charge decided that the victim was near death. In Jesus' case, they also made a "crown" out of sharp, spiny thorns and crushed it onto His head (John 19:2), and He was hit, slapped, stripped, mocked, spit on, humiliated, and beaten repeatedly on the head with a staff (Matthew 26:67-68, 27:28-31). A criminal also had to carry the crossbar of his own cross to the crucifixion site (see John 19:16-17), and historians say that this type of crossbar usually weighed over 100 pounds and was strapped to the prisoner's shoulders so that he couldn't put it down.

At the crucifixion site, the criminal's hands were nailed to the crossbar just below the wrist (not in the palms of his hands) with large metal spikes (similar to modern railroad spikes), and both of his feet were often nailed to the upright beam with a single spike through both heels. Skeletal remains have been found in a Jewish tomb which include a pair of heel bones with this type of large metal spike through both heels. As the victim hung on the cross, his arms and legs would become cramped from exhaustion. He would be unable to push himself up enough to breathe properly, and his brain and heart would be unable to get enough blood and oxygen. Death was usually from suffocation or from a ruptured heart, and if the Romans wanted to hasten the criminal's death they would simply break both of his legs with a club so that he could not lift himself to fill his lungs (see John 19:31-32). The Romans were cruelly and brutally efficient in their executions, so much so that the ancient Jewish historian Josephus (37-97 A.D.) over and over referred to crucifixion as a "horror" and "so horrible a death" and a "terrible warning" to others. The two thieves who were crucified with Jesus had their legs broken to hasten their deaths (John 19:31-32), but Jesus was already dead. To confirm this, the Roman centurion thrust a spear into His heart, spilling His "blood and water" (John 19:33-34). If Jesus were still alive at that point then there would have been spurts of bright red blood with every heartbeat until his heart stopped. Medical experts have written that when death is due to a rupture of the heart, the clotted blood separates from the watery pericardial serum, so the fact that John witnessed the "blood and water" pouring out from the spear wound in His heart is exceptionally strong evidence that Jesus died from a ruptured heart rather than from suffocation.

At Jesus' burial, 75 pounds of spices mixed with a gummy substance made from myrrh and aloes were used in between the folds of the linen cloths which were wrapped around His body (John 19:39-40). According to Jewish custom, the body was washed and straightened, then wrapped tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. The gummy aromatic spices were placed between the wrappings or folds of the linen partly as a preservative and partly as a cement to glue the linen cloths into a solid covering which adhered so closely to the body that it would not easily be removed. The aloes were a fragrant wood which was pounded to a dry dust, and the myrrh was an aromatic gum which was mixed in with the dry aloes. The powder immediately around the myrrh would become sticky and would cement the linen cloths to each other and to the body, but the bulk of the aloe powder would most likely remain dry. The face was covered with a cloth napkin or handkerchief which was sometimes wrapped fully around the head.

At Jesus' burial, a one- to two-ton circular stone was wedged in a groove or trench uphill from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (in which Jesus was laid), and when the wedge was removed the large heavy stone rolled into position to block the entrance to the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). A guard unit made up of highly disciplined Roman soldiers was stationed at the tomb because the Jewish Pharisees were afraid that Jesus' disciples would try to steal the body and then claim that Jesus had risen from the dead (Matthew 27:62-66). There is a debate over whether this guard unit was from the Roman guard or the Jewish Temple guard, but in either case this unit was composed of fighting men with strong military discipline who would have been beaten and even killed (often by being stripped and burned alive with a fire started from their own clothes) for leaning on something or sitting down or falling asleep on duty or for deserting their posts. Finally, an official seal was placed on the stone so that nobody could tamper with the grave without breaking the seal and incurring the wrath of the Roman authorities (Matthew 27:66. See Daniel 6:17 for a similar sealing.).

The Sunday after Jesus' burial, three women visited the tomb and found that the seal had been broken, the heavy stone had been rolled away from the tomb, and Jesus' body was gone (Luke 24:1-3). Two angels told them that Jesus was resurrected, just as He had promised (Luke 24:4-8).

Sources:
  • The Resurrection Factor by Josh McDowell
  • Who Moved The Stone? by Frank Morison
  • Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection by John Ankerberg and John Weldon
  • Evidence That Demands A Verdict - Vol. I by Josh McDowell (chapter 10)
  • He Walked Among Us by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson (chapter 14)
  • More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell (chapters 5, 6, 7, 8)
  • Who Is This Jesus? by Michael Green (chapter 8)
  • Josephus: The Essential Writings by Paul L. Maier

Theories Presented by Skeptics to Explain Away the Resurrection of Jesus

  1. The "Wrong Tomb" Theory

    According to this theory, the three women who discovered that Jesus' body was missing had actually gone to the wrong tomb. In other words, Jesus was not resurrected, His body was simply in a different tomb.

    The flaw in this theory is that even if the three women initially went to the wrong tomb, someone in Jerusalem knew where the tomb was, it was never "lost" or forgotten. For example, Joseph of Arimathea owned the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60), so he knew where it was. The Roman and Jewish authorities sealed the entrance to the tomb and posted a guard unit there (Matthew 27:66), so the authorities and the guards knew where the tomb was, and so on. When the disciples started preaching that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, all the Jewish leaders had to do was to go get Jesus' body out of the right tomb and parade it through the streets of Jerusalem for all to see. That would have killed Christianity immediately because it would have proven that Jesus was not resurrected and therefore He was not God as He had claimed to be! It is significant that the authorities knew where Jesus' tomb was, yet they could not produce His body.

    Another problem with this theory is that nobody has ever made pilgrimages to revere the tomb where Jesus' bones lay. People tend to flock to the graves of celebrities and religious leaders, and people tend to revere the bones and relics of dead religious leaders, but this was never the case with Jesus' grave. Why? Because on the third day after His burial the tomb was empty for all to see, and it was a well-known fact which nobody disputed. People have been visiting the empty tomb for 1900 years, but (except for a period of three days) it has always been empty.

  2. The "Legend" Theory

    According to this theory, Jesus' resurrection is simply a legend.

    The flaw in this theory is that the apostle Paul said in 55 or 56 A.D. that there were hundreds of actual eyewitnesses of the risen Christ who were still alive and could confirm the accounts of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). The apostle Paul and the other disciples had to be accurate in what they reported because these living eyewitnesses would have been the first to dispute anything untrue that Paul or the disciples may have said.

    Another problem with this theory is that first-century historians and other writers of that time period have provided us with further information about the Resurrection, whether directly or indirectly. Here are some examples:

    • Flavius Josephus (Jewish historian), The Antiquities of the Jews (93 A.D.), book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3.
    • Pliny the Younger (Plinius Secundus), Epistles (112 A.D.), volume 10, p.96, in a letter written to emperor Trajan concerning the Christians in Pliny's province (he was the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor at the time).
    • Emperor Trajan's reply to Pliny's letter, recorded in Pliny's Epistles, volume 10, p. 97
    • Cornelius Tacitus (senator under the reign of Vespasian and governor of Asia from 112-113 A.D.), Annals (116 A.D.), volume 15, p.44.
    • Eusebius recorded in The History of the Church, volume 4, p.9, a letter from emperor Hadrian (who reigned from 117-138 A.D.) to Minucius Fundanus (governor of Asia) giving advice on handling charges against Christians.
    • Suetonius (Roman historian), Life of Claudius (120 A.D.), volume 25, p.4.
    • Suetonius, Life of Nero, p.16.
    • Lucian of Samosata (Greek satirist), The Death of Peregrine (170 A.D.), p.11-13.
    • Lucian of Samosata, Alexander the False Prophet, sections 25 and 29.
    These writings are significant because none of these people were Christians. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and they did not believe in the Resurrection, they were simply recording the facts. Many of these references give historical proof that Christians in the first and second centuries were willing to suffer persecution, torture, and execution because of their certainty that Jesus rose from the dead. For more on these ancient non-Christian sources, see:

    • He Walked Among Us by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson (chapter 2)
    • Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus: Historical Records of His Death and Resurrection by Gary Habermas.
    • Who Is This Jesus? by Michael Green (chapter 8)
    • Josephus: The Essential Writings by Paul L. Maier
    A further problem with this theory is the fact that the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the first eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus were women (Mark 16:1, 9). This would have been highly embarrassing to first-century Jews because the testimony of women was considered so insignificant that it was practically worthless in a court of law. If the Resurrection story had been invented by early Christians then they would not have used women as the first eyewitnesses if they wanted the story to have any credibility! Even to this day, devout Jewish men thank God daily that they were not born as women.

    But what if the disciples invented the Resurrection story in order to prove that they were not foolish for following Jesus in His "rebellion"? In that case, it would be natural for them to immediately start proclaiming "Jesus is alive!" throughout the countryside in order to prove that they were right all along. However, the Bible tells us that there was a seven-week period between the time the tomb was discovered empty and the time that the disciples began boldly preaching the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was executed at the time of the Passover Feast (John 13:1), but the disciples did not begin preaching about the Resurrection until they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), 50 days after Passover. During this seven-week period the disciples displayed an embarrassing reluctance to believe that Jesus was alive, and in fact Jesus rebuked them several times for being so slow to believe that He had risen from the dead! (Matthew 28:17, Mark 16:11-14, Luke 24:11, 25-26, 36-41, John 20:9, 13-15, 27).

    These embarrassing facts were included in the Bible because the authors were accurately reporting the events as they actually happened.

    Finally, if the Resurrection was merely a story that grew to legendary proportions, the Jewish leaders could have squashed this story simply by putting Jesus' body on display. That would have killed Christianity instantly. But that never happened. There was no body to put on display because Jesus had been resurrected!

  3. The "Hallucination" Theory

    According to this theory, the disciples believed so strongly that Jesus would rise from the dead that they simply hallucinated seeing Him.

    The flaw in this theory is that the disciples were not expecting Jesus to come back to life! (John 20:9). For example, "Doubting Thomas" refused to believe that Jesus was alive unless he could touch the wounds on Jesus' body (John 20:24-25). In fact, some of the people who saw Jesus after His resurrection were actually hostile witnesses who did not believe that He was the Messiah, and who had no reason at all to hallucinate seeing Him. For example, Jesus visited His half-brother James, who earlier had scoffed at Jesus and didn't believe that He was the Messiah (Mark 3:20-21, John 7:3-5). Saul of Tarsus (later to be known as the apostle Paul) was one of the biggest threats to the early church, persecuting and rounding up and killing Christians, yet he became one of the greatest evangelists after Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:1-22). These people did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and they did not expect Him to rise from the dead, so they had no reason to hallucinate Him. Yet they saw Him alive after His resurrection.

    Another big problem with this theory is that although several people might experience hallucinations at the same time, they would not experience the exact same hallucination. A hallucination occurs in the mind of a person, and therefore it is a very individual and personal experience. A person's hallucination does not occur simultaneously and identically in the minds of other people. Jesus appeared to many different people in different places and at different times of the day, and many of them spoke with Him, physically touched Him, put their fingers in the nail and spear holes in His body, and even ate with Him and watched Him eat (Matthew 28:8-10, 16-20, Mark 16:9-14, Luke 24:13-53, John 20:13-25, Acts 1:3-9, 1 Corinthians 15:6).

    Notice that people touched Jesus. He was physically alive after His resurrection, He was not a hallucination.

  4. The "Disciples Stole the Body" Theory

    According to this theory, the disciples stole the body so that they could claim that Jesus had risen from the dead.

    Again, the main flaw in this theory is that the disciples were not expecting Jesus to come back to life (John 20:9). Why would they steal Jesus' body to make people think He rose from the dead when they didn't even know He was supposed to do that in the first place? (Matthew 28:17, Mark 16:11-14, Luke 24:11, 25-26, 36-41, John 20:9, 13-15, 27).

    Here's another flaw in this theory: When Jesus was arrested, all of His followers fled for their lives in fear, and in fact the apostle Peter later denied ever knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:55-56, 69-75). Yet now, according to this theory, these same timid, fearful disciples snuck past all of the highly disciplined, highly trained Roman soldiers who were stationed right there at the entrance to the tomb (any one of whom could have fought off all of the disciples by himself!), broke the Roman seal (bringing the full wrath of Rome down on their heads), somehow rolled the massive stone up and away from the tomb (because the stone had been "rolled away from the tomb" - Luke 24:2), removed the body of Jesus from the linens and the 75 pounds of spices which were practically glued to His body by the gummy myrrh and aloes (because the graveclothes were still in the tomb when the body was discovered missing - John 20:3-8), and then carried the body away, all without being noticed and without waking any of the allegedly "sleeping" Roman soldiers, soldiers who would have been burned alive if they were caught sleeping at their posts! This would almost be more of a miracle than the Resurrection itself.

    After Pentecost (approximately seven weeks after Jesus' resurrection) these same fearful disciples were suddenly transformed into great, fearless evangelists, first preaching the resurrection of Jesus right there in Jerusalem where anybody could go see the proof of the empty tomb whenever they wanted, then preaching the Gospel throughout the known world. These disciples were imprisoned and beaten over and over and had every opportunity and every reason to admit their hoax, yet not a single one of them "cracked" and admitted that they stole the body of Jesus. Every single one of them suffered brutal beatings and (with one possible exception) suffered cruel deaths because of their certainty about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To say that they stole the body themselves or had it stolen for them is to say that they all allowed themselves to be tortured and executed for something which they knew was a lie.

  5. The "Authorities Stole the Body" Theory

    According to this theory, the Jewish or Roman authorities removed the body themselves for some unknown reason.

    The flaw in this theory is that if the authorities knew where the body of Jesus was, then they simply had to parade it up and down the streets of Jerusalem for all to see. Christianity wouldn't have lasted a second beyond that!

    When the Roman soldiers discovered that the body was missing, they deserted their posts and went to the Jewish religious leaders to describe the supernatural event that had just happened (Matthew 28:11). The Jewish chief priests and elders told the Roman soldiers to claim that the disciples had stolen the body while the soldiers slept (Matthew 28:12-13). Then the chief priests bribed the soldiers and said that they would use their influence to protect the soldiers if Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor) heard about the situation (Matthew 28:14-15). What this means is that the authorities themselves didn't know where the body of Jesus was, so they had to start a false rumor that the disciples had stolen it! In other words, the authorities, the opponents of Christianity, knew that the tomb was empty! This false story that the soldiers were asleep was ridiculous for at least two reasons: First, the Roman soldiers could have been executed for sleeping at their post. Second, if the soldiers were asleep, how would they know that it was the disciples who stole the body? This story clearly shows how desperate the Jewish authorities were. Incidentally, notice that the Jewish chief priests offered to protect the soldiers from the Roman governor, which indicates that these were probably Roman soldiers and not the Jewish Temple guard (because the Jewish chief priests would not need to bribe their own Temple guard, they would simply order the Temple guard to remain silent).

    Another problem with this theory is that the chief priests and Pharisees wanted Pontius Pilate to secure the tomb in order to prevent the body from being removed (Matthew 27:62-66). This makes it highly unlikely that they would then turn around and remove the body themselves, then bribe the Roman soldiers to spread a ridiculous and desperate rumor. If the Jewish authorities had taken the body, then all they had to do was go to the right tomb and produce the body in order to silence the hated Christians. If they had stolen the body and kept it hidden, then they helped this hated Christian religion to spread and grow!

    Also, if the authorities had stolen the body of Jesus, why would they take the time and go to the effort of removing Jesus' graveclothes (which were practically glued to His body by the gummy myrrh and aloes) and then leave them in an orderly arrangement on the slab? The graveclothes which were left behind when Jesus was resurrected were arranged in such a way that as soon as the apostle John saw them he believed that Jesus was resurrected, even though he didn't understand that Jesus was supposed to rise from the dead (John 20:3-8).

  6. The "Swoon" Theory

    According to this theory, Jesus did not actually die on the cross, He simply fainted and then revived sometime later in the tomb and claimed to have risen from the dead.

    The flaw here is that this theory is unrealistic and betrays a lack of understanding of the situation. Could Jesus, after being flogged until His flesh was in bloody ribbons, after being beaten repeatedly on the head with a staff, after having a crown made of heavy spiked thorns crushed onto His head, after carrying the 100 pound crossbar of His cross most of the way to the crucifixion site, after having heavy metal spikes pounded through His wrists and heels, after hanging on the cross by the nails in His wrists and heels for hours in the hot sun, bleeding profusely and struggling to breathe, after having a Roman spear thrust deep into His heart, after being in the cold, dark, airless tomb for the better part of three days without food or drink, encased practically from head to foot in burial linens and 75 pounds of gummy spices, without having His many horrible wounds tended and treated, could Jesus have survived that, much less freed Himself from inside the heavy burial shroud, broken the Roman seal from inside the tomb, rolled the heavy stone up the hill all by Himself, and then snuck past the Roman soldiers without them noticing or hearing anything or being able to stop Him? This would almost be more of a miracle than the Resurrection itself!

    If Jesus had managed to do all that and to get past the soldiers (on feet that were brutally damaged with huge spike wounds!), could He then have convinced His followers in His bloody, near-death condition that He was alive and well and had "destroyed death and...brought life and immortality"? (2 Timothy 1:10). After all, with all the terrible wounds He had received He would have died soon anyway, so how would the disciples have been convinced that He was the Messiah and that He had defeated death? The Gospels tell us that Jesus spoke with several people soon after His resurrection, and although none of these people recognized Him at first (after all, He was dead and they weren't expecting Him to suddenly come back to life), not a single one of them expressed any concern that He was horribly wounded, starving, and near death. For example, Cleopas and his companion walked with Jesus to a village seven miles from Jerusalem, then invited Him to stay the night with them. They "were kept from recognizing Him," so they assumed that He was just another traveler. Notice that they weren't horrified at the condition of this nearly-dead traveler hobbling along beside them, and they didn't try to tend His wounds in any way. Why? Because Jesus was alive and well! After they recognized Him, he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:13-31). This is consistent with the fact of Jesus being God and resurrecting Himself, it is not consistent with the theory that He simply fainted on the cross and then revived in the tomb.

Evidence to Support the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

  1. Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly predicted that He would be killed and that He would rise from the dead three days later:
    "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)

    "When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life." And the disciples were filled with grief." (Matthew 17:22-23)

    "Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!"" (Matthew 20:17-19)

    ""Sir," they [the Jewish chief priests and Pharisees] said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver [Jesus] said, 'After three days I will rise again.'"" (Matthew 27:63)
    Not only did Jesus predict that He would be killed, He predicted the exact manner of His death (crucifixion):
    "When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, "As you know, the Passover is two days away--and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."" (Matthew 26:1-2)
    Jesus predicted the exact amount of time He would be dead and the exact manner of His death, and He predicted in detail the exact events that would lead up to and follow His death. He predicted that He would be betrayed, that it would happen in Jerusalem, that He would first be handed to the Jewish chief priests, that they would reject Him, that they would condemn Him to death, that He would be turned over to the Gentiles (the Romans), that He would be mocked, insulted, spit on and flogged, that the disciples would desert Him and deny knowing Him, that He would meet them in Galilee after He rose from the dead, and that everything that had been written by the prophets about the Messiah would be fulfilled in Him:
    "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:31)

    ""We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."" (Mark 10:33-34)

    "Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same." (Matthew 26:31-35)

    "Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again."" (Luke 18:31-33)
    Not only did Jesus predict the exact manner of His death and the exact events which would lead up to and follow His death, He also predicted the exact day on which He would be crucified (Passover) and the exact day on which He would rise from the dead (the third day):
    "When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, "As you know, the Passover is two days away--and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."" (Matthew 26:1-2)

    "When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life." And the disciples were filled with grief." (Matthew 17:22-23)
    We have now seen that Jesus predicted in advance that He would be killed and that He would raise Himself back to life on the third day after His death. He predicted the exact day of His death, the exact manner of His death, the exact events which would lead up to and follow His death, and the exact day on which He would return to life. If a friend of yours predicted about himself all of the things that Jesus predicted, what are the chances your friend would be right? Obviously there were many ways in which Jesus might have died and there were many people who hated Him and wanted to kill Him, yet everything happened exactly as He had predicted.

  2. After His crucifixion, Jesus was unquestionably dead.

    As the description (at the beginning of this article) of Jesus' torture and crucifixion shows, Jesus suffered terrible wounds that He had little hope of surviving. The Romans were cruelly and brutally efficient at tortures and executions, and they were familiar with death. They knew when a person was dead.

    After Jesus was crucified, the executioner did not need to break Jesus' legs to hasten His death because Jesus was already dead (John 19:33). Instead, the Roman centurion thrust a spear deep into Jesus' heart to prove that He was dead, and in fact we know the actual cause of Jesus' death (a ruptured heart, based on the eyewitness description of the blood and water - John 19:33-34).

    Pontius Pilate turned Jesus' body over to Joseph of Arimathea, but only after double-checking that Jesus was in fact dead (Mark 15:42-45). The Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities did not want Jesus to have any chance of being resuscitated and healed, so before releasing the body they made absolutely certain that He was dead.

    Another group of people who would have made absolutely certain that Jesus was dead was His band of followers. The disciples would not have laid Jesus' body in the tomb if there had been the slightest possibility of reviving Him!

    Notice that Joseph of Arimathea waited until almost eveningtime, then he had to gain an audience with Pontius Pilate in order to get permission to take possession of Jesus' body (Mark 15:42-46), then the body was carried to the tomb (Mark 15:46), then it was cleaned and washed, then it was tightly wrapped in burial linens with 75 pounds of aromatic spices placed in the folds of the linens according to Jewish burial customs (John 19:40), and during all this time Jesus never stirred or gave any hint that He was still alive.

    The ancient Jewish historian Josephus (37-97 A.D.) recorded a time when he noticed three of his friends being crucified. He immediately asked Titus, the Roman commander, for a reprieve for his friends. The reprieve was granted and the three men were taken down and given medical care by the best experts available, yet two of the three men died (Vita, Josephus, p.75). This is one of the only known instances where someone survived crucifixion, but this man's survival was only possible because he was immediately removed from the cross and was given immediate medical care. Yet even with immediate medical care the other two men died. People simply did not survive crucifixion! Crucifixion was a "horror" and "so horrible a death" and a "terrible warning" to others, according to Josephus.

    The weight of evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus was dead.

  3. The body of Jesus was not stolen or moved.

    The Jewish chief priests were concerned that the disciples would try to steal Jesus' body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead, so they persuaded Pontius Pilate to seal the tomb with the official Roman seal so that nobody would tamper with the grave or try to steal the body (Matthew 27:62-66). A guard unit made up of highly disciplined Roman soldiers was stationed at the tomb to prevent any tampering (Matthew 27:66), which was highly unusual. If any member of a Roman guard unit deserted his post, fell asleep on duty, or even leaned against something while on duty then he would usually be executed, often by being burned alive in a fire started with his own clothing. Now that Jesus was dead, the Jewish and Roman authorities wanted this rebellion (later to be called "Christianity") to die a quiet death, so they had no reason to move the body and they had every reason not to move the body.

    If any of the authorities had moved the body then they would have known where the body was moved to, and they simply needed to put Jesus' body on display for all to see. This would have killed Christianity immediately!

    Anyone else who wanted to steal the body would have had to go through the highly trained soldiers and then break the official seal on the tomb, which would have brought the wrath of Rome down on their heads.

    Also see The "Disciples Stole the Body" Theory and The "Authorities Stole the Body" Theory above.

    The weight of evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the body was not stolen or moved.

  4. Jesus' followers were not expecting Him to rise from the dead, but the tomb was empty.

    Around dawn on Sunday morning, three women went to the tomb to complete the job of anointing Jesus' body (Mark 16:1-2). Jesus was buried before sundown the previous Friday so that the holy Sabbath day would not be desecrated (John 19:31), and apparently the women did not have time to anoint the body in accordance with Jewish burial customs. The fact that the women planned to complete the job of anointing the body for burial indicates that they were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. They knew that a large, heavy stone had been rolled across the entrance to the tomb, but when they arrived at the gravesite they discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and that Jesus' body was gone (Luke 24:1-3). An angel informed them that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as He had said He would (Matthew 28:5-7). The women went and "told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others" (Luke 24:9), but "they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11). Notice that the disciples and all the others did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead! Although Peter and John "still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead" (John 20:9, Luke 18:34, John 2:22), when they entered the tomb and saw the burial linens lying on the slab with no body in them, they immediately believed (John 20:3-8).

    Notice in the following passages that the disciples did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead:
    "Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about." (Luke 18:31-34)

    "After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken." (John 2:22)

    "[After the Resurrection] Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Matthew 28:16-17)

    "[After the Resurrection] When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen." (Mark 16:9-14)

    "[After the Resurrection] When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." (Luke 24:9-11)

    "[After the Resurrection] Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)" (John 20:8-9)

    "[After the Resurrection, Jesus is walking with two men who are describing the recent events] "...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." He [Jesus] said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!"" (Luke 24:21-25)

    "They [the two men who were walking with Jesus] got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence." (Luke 24:33-43)

    "Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"" (John 20:24-28)
    The weight of evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus' followers were not expecting Him to rise from the dead, and that the tomb was empty except for the graveclothes and two angels. Remember, the tomb was sealed in the presence of the Roman soldiers so that there would be no foul play by Jesus' followers. There was no foul play by anyone, and yet the grave was empty.

  5. Jesus' body and the two-ton stone were moved by supernatural means, and the Jewish chief priests knew it!

    Who moved the stone? Matthew 28:2-4 explains it for us:
    "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." (Matthew 28:2-4)
    The Roman soldiers knew that they could be executed for failing in their duty, so instead of reporting directly to Pontius Pilate they went to the Jewish religious leaders to describe the supernatural event that had just happened (Matthew 28:11). The Jewish chief priests met with the elders to devise a plan, then they bribed the soldiers with a large sum of money and told the soldiers to say that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep (Matthew 28:12-13). The chief priests also assured the soldiers that if the news got back to the Roman governor (Pontius Pilate) then the chief priests would satisfy him and keep the soldiers out of trouble (Matthew 28:14). There are several important things to notice here:

    1. The Jewish chief priests and the elders believed the soldiers' report about the angel moving the stone! These were not simple-minded men, they would have questioned the soldiers closely and examined the evidence for themselves. Their response was to devise a plan and bribe the guards to spread a false rumor that the disciples had taken the body. Notice that if they doubted the soldiers' story, all they had to do was report the soldiers' failure to Pontius Pilate to be dealt with appropriately. Instead, they promised to protect the soldiers from Pilate's wrath. The evidence was so convincing that the Jewish chief priests did not doubt the supernatural explanation!
    2. The fact that the Jewish chief priests bribed the soldiers and gave them a story to spread around, and the fact that the chief priests promised to satisfy the Roman governor and keep the soldiers out of trouble, indicates that the guards were Roman soldiers. If the guard unit had been made up of members of the Jewish Temple guard, as some people believe, then the Jewish chief priests would have simply ordered them to keep quiet. The Jewish authorities would not have had to bribe the Temple guard and promise to protect them from the Roman governor.
    3. The story that the soldiers were bribed to tell was quite ridiculous, and it shows how desperately the Jewish chief priests wanted to keep their power and authority (by discrediting the Resurrection so that nobody would believe it). They knew that the body was missing and they knew that they didn't take it, they knew that the Roman authorities didn't take it, they knew that the disciples didn't take it, and they obviously believed the supernatural explanation that the guards described. The Jewish chief priests knew the Holy Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament) backwards and forwards, so they would have recognized immediately that the soldiers' story corresponded with other Scriptural accounts of supernatural visitations (see for example Daniel 7:9 and 10:4-6). Since the Roman soldiers would not have been familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, the story had the ring of truth to it and the Jewish chief priests believed it. However, the priests also knew that this story would give strength to the followers of Jesus and would demonstrate that there was Someone who had greater authority from God than the Jewish chief priests had. Therefore, they tried to discredit the story with a false rumor because they did not want to give up their power and authority.

      This false rumor was ridiculous and desperate because the soldiers had to claim that they were all asleep on duty, an offense punishable by death!

      This false rumor was ridiculous and desperate for another reason as well. If the soldiers were all asleep, how would they know that it was the disciples who stole the body?
    The weight of evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the Jewish chief priests believed the supernatural explanation for the disappearance of Jesus' body.

  6. The condition of the grave linens that had been wrapped around Jesus' body was convincing evidence for all who saw them.

    The grave linens had been tightly wound around Jesus' body and had been applied with a gummy mixture of myrrh and aloes, which served as a "glue" to make the cloths adhere to each other and to the body. When the three women reached the tomb on Sunday morning they could see that Jesus was gone, and they thought that someone had moved the body. An angel told them that Jesus was not there and that He had risen from the dead (Matthew 28:5). Then the angel told them to examine the place where His body had been (Matthew 28:6). Think about that for a moment. If the three women already knew that the body was gone, what would have been the purpose for them to examine the empty slab? The reason is because the stone slab was not empty. It still contained the graveclothes which Jesus' body had passed through during the Resurrection, and which may have still retained the shape of His body (because of the gummy myrrh and aloe mixture that was used).

    Recall that Peter and John did not believe the women when they said that Jesus' body was gone (Luke 24:11), yet when they entered the tomb and saw the grave linens lying there, as well as the cloth that had been around Jesus' head (which was lying next to the body linens), they immediately believed that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:3-8). It is significant that John not only tells us that the body of Jesus was gone, but he makes a special point of emphasizing that both he and Peter saw (and most likely closely examined) the strips of linen lying there, and he goes on to describe that the cloth that had been wound around Jesus' head was folded and was separate from the body linens. The implication is that Jesus' body somehow disappeared from the graveclothes without disturbing them, and the facial cloth simply collapsed naturally. The grave linens were cemented to each other and to Jesus' body, so if someone had tried to remove His body in a hurry then the linens would have been torn up and scattered about as they were removed and cast aside, and the dried aloe powder would have been strewn all over the place. This would not be convincing evidence that Jesus' body had passed straight through the graveclothes, yet Peter and John (who were skeptical of the report that Jesus' body was missing) immediately believed in the Resurrection when they saw that the grave linens were still intact. John said that Peter "saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen." (John 20:6-7). The fact that the head cloth was "separate from the linen" indicates that the body linens were all together in one place and were not scattered around by being thrown hastily aside.

    In addition, the Jewish chief priests and elders believed the Roman guards without question, and the evidence was so overwhelming that the guards were never punished for failing in their sworn duty to protect the gravesite from tampering (Matthew 28:11-15). The empty shell of the grave linens would have been a major factor in convincing the chief priests and the elders that something supernatural had happened.

    If someone had hurriedly removed the body of Jesus, it never would have occurred to them to go to the time and effort of removing the gummy, glued-together grave linens. They would simply have grabbed the body and run. Notice that if the authorities had moved the body then they would have had to do it quickly and secretly in order to prevent Jesus' followers from finding out. After all, Jesus' loved ones would have raised a huge uproar over the desecration of the tomb of their Messiah. If the disciples had somehow stolen the body, they too would have had to do it quickly and secretly, for obvious reasons. Nobody would have stopped and removed the graveclothes and then rearranged them back in an orderly fashion!

    We have now seen that the tomb was not entirely empty, it contained the empty grave linens which Jesus' body passed through as He was being resurrected. This was such a convincing proof of the Resurrection that everyone who saw it immediately believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

  7. The first people to witness the empty tomb were women, and the first people to see the risen Jesus were women (Mark 16:1, 9).

    To first-century Jews, the testimony of women was not normally allowed in a court of law. If this story was invented by the disciples to validate their faith, they would never have said that women were the first eyewitnesses!

    In fact, confidence in the Resurrection report would have been further eroded by the specific mention of Mary Magdalene as one of the first people to see the risen Jesus, since she was possibly a prostitute and had been severely demonized (Mark 16:9).

  8. Jesus appeared to many different people in many different places and under many different circumstances and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive, and He did this over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3).

    When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (what we call the book of 1 Corinthians), he pointed out that hundreds of eyewitnesses were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). Anyone could have gone to any of these eyewitnesses to hear the facts from someone who actually saw the risen Jesus. If any of the New Testament writers wrote something that was untrue, there were plenty of people who knew the facts firsthand who would have been able to dispute the false stories.

    Here are the recorded appearances of Jesus after His resurrection:

    1. To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9)
    2. To several other women (Matthew 28:1-10)
    3. To Simon Peter (Luke 24:34)
    4. To Cleopas and another person (Luke 24:13-35)
    5. To ten of the eleven apostles (Thomas was not there) and others who were present (Luke 24:33-40)
    6. To all eleven apostles (John 20:26-28)
    7. To some of the disciples (John 21:1-23)
    8. To the eleven apostles (Matthew 28:16-20)
    9. To His half-brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
    10. To the apostles (Luke 24:50-52)
    11. To more than 500 witnesses at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
    12. At the Ascension (Acts 1:3-12)
    13. To the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9)
    14. To Stephen (Acts 7:55)
    15. To Paul (Acts 22:17-18)
    16. To Paul (Acts 23:11)
    17. To John (Revelation 1:12-18)
    Consider that if these eyewitnesses testified in a court of law for just 10 minutes each, the jury would hear 80 to 90 hours worth of eyewitness testimony, which is over 3 full days of non-stop eyewitness testimony, 24 hours a day!

    John Ankerberg and John Weldon point out that "In criminal trials today, most juries are convinced on the basis of two eyewitnesses to an event and sometimes by only one. But any modern trial lawyer is simply ecstatic when he has three eyewitnesses; his chances for a conviction rise to 99 percent." (Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, p.20). In the case of eyewitness testimony of the resurrected Jesus we have more than three witnesses, we have over 500 eyewitnesses!

    Christianity might easily have flourished in any other city of the known world of the time, but it could not easily flourish right there in Jerusalem where anybody could go inspect the empty tomb, interview every witness, test every incident, question every fact, and expose any fraud. Yet it was right there in Jerusalem where the apostles began boldly proclaiming the risen Jesus, and it was right there in Jerusalem where Christianity began to flourish.

  9. The disciples were transformed into fearless witnesses of the risen Jesus.

    When Jesus was arrested, all of the disciples fled in fear and deserted Him (Mark 14:46-52). Peter then followed Jesus and the soldiers to the house of the high priest, but only at a safe distance so that he would not be seen. Peter was recognized by three different people, but fearing for his life he adamantly denied knowing Jesus (Luke 22:54-62). The disciples then hid together "with the doors locked for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19, 26).

    Now that Jesus, their leader, had been captured and was going to be executed by crucifixion, the disciples were terrified for their lives. They denied knowing Him and hid behind locked doors out of fear of the Jews. Yet seven weeks later they suddenly began boldly preaching right there in Jerusalem that Jesus had returned from the dead. Their paralyzing fear had been replaced by a fearless faith which was put to the extreme tests of imprisonment, tortures, and execution. Something radically changed these fearful men into bold evangelists who were willing to risk their lives out of a certainty that Jesus had been resurrected.

    All but one of these men died horribly because of their belief in the risen Jesus, whom they saw with their own eyes and touched with their own hands:

    • Andrew: Crucified.
    • Bartholomew: Crucified.
    • James, the half-brother of Jesus: Stoned to death
    • James, son of Alphaeus: Crucified.
    • James, son of Zebedee: Death by the sword.
    • John: Apparently died a natural death while in prison for his beliefs.
    • Matthew: Death by the sword.
    • Peter: Crucified upside down at his own request (he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as the Lord).
    • Philip: Crucified.
    • Simon the Zealot: Crucified.
    • Thaddaeus: Death by arrows.
    • Thomas: Death by a spear thrust.
    What caused such a dramatic change in these men? For a period of 40 days they were eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus (Acts 1:1-3), and most of them were there at the Mount of Olives when Jesus ascended before their eyes into heaven (Mark 16:14-19). Then on the day of Pentecost they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8, 2:1-4). Many scholars say that this transformation into fearless evangelists, willing to die for their certainty that Jesus rose from the dead, is one of the greatest proofs of the Resurrection.

    Even the Jewish rulers, elders, and teachers of the law (the strongest enemies of Christianity) were astonished at the dramatic change in Jesus' followers:
    "The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. ... When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:5, 13)

  10. There has never been a single tomb or shrine in which Jesus' bones were believed to be buried.

    Frank Morison, a former skeptic who researched the minutest details of the Resurrection in order to prove that it never happened, wrote:
    "Finally, and this to my mind carried conclusive weight, we cannot find in the contemporary records any trace of a tomb or shrine becoming the center of veneration or worship on the ground that it contained the relics of Jesus. This is inconceivable if it was ever seriously stated at the time that Jesus was really buried elsewhere than in the vacant tomb. Rumor would have asserted a hundred suppositious places where the remains really lay, and pilgrimages innumerable would have been made to them." (Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison, p.94).
    All throughout Acts and the rest of the New Testament there are numerous references to the Resurrection in the apostles' public preaching, but we never see them trying to defend the empty tomb. There was no reason to try to prove that Jesus' tomb was empty because everybody knew it was empty. Even the enemies of Christianity knew it!




As Jesus said:

"I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!" (Revelation 1:18)



Sources:
  • The Resurrection Factor by Josh McDowell
  • Who Moved The Stone? by Frank Morison
  • Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection by John Ankerberg and John Weldon
  • Evidence That Demands A Verdict - Vol. I by Josh McDowell (chapter 10)
  • He Walked Among Us by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson (chapter 14)
  • More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell (chapters 5, 6, 7, 8)
  • Who Is This Jesus? by Michael Green (chapter 8)
  • Josephus: The Essential Writings by Paul L. Maier
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 05/29/2001 - Modified some of the wording.