Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
(Where you see (SN) this designates comments by the site editor, Dr. Stephen Newdell)
We all wonder what will happen to us after we die. When a loved one dies, we long to see him or her again after our turn comes. Will we have a glorious reunion with those we love or is death the end of all consciousness?
Jesus taught that life does not end after our bodies die. He made this startling claim: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again.” According to the eyewitnesses closest to him, Jesus then demonstrated his power over death by rising from the dead after being crucified and buried for three days. It is this belief that has given hope to Christians for nearly 2000 years.
But some people have no hope of life after death. The atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.” Russell obviously didn’t believe Jesus’ words.
Jesus’ followers wrote that he appeared alive to them after his crucifixion and burial. They claim not only to have seen him but also to have eaten with him, touched him, and spent 40 days with him.
So could this have been simply a story that grew over time, or is it based upon solid evidence? The answer to this question is foundational to Christianity. For if Jesus did rise from the dead, it would validate everything he said about himself, about the meaning of life, and about our destiny after death.
If Jesus did rise from the dead then he alone would have the answers to what life is about and what is facing us after we die. On the other hand, if the resurrection account of Jesus is not true, then Christianity would be founded upon a lie. Theologian R. C. Sproul puts it this way:
The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses.
All other religious leaders are dead, but, according to Christianity, Christ is alive.
Many skeptics have attempted to disprove the resurrection. Josh McDowell was one such skeptic who spent more than seven hundred hours researching the evidence for the resurrection. McDowell stated this regarding the importance of the resurrection:
I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, OR it is the most fantastic fact of history. McDowell later wrote his classic work, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, documenting what he discovered.
So, is Jesus’ resurrection a fantastic fact or a vicious myth? To find out, we need to look at the evidence of history and draw our own conclusions. Let’s see what skeptics who investigated the resurrection discovered for themselves.
Post #2 September 6, 2017
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Cynics and Skeptics
(SN) Several books were published attempting to prove Jesus did not die on the cross and also claiming that the gospels were more folk tales than truth. However, my personal discoveries are that all of the gospel information is predicted in the Old Testament. Everything Jesus is said to have done was prophesied hundreds of years before he appeared.
Sadly, not everyone is willing to fairly examine the evidence. Bertrand Russell admits his take on Jesus was “not concerned” with historical facts. Historian Joseph Campbell, without citing evidence, calmly told his PBS television audience that the resurrection of Jesus is not a factual event. Other scholars, such as John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, agree with him. None of these skeptics present any evidence for their views.
(SN) This is no small matter. It’s absolutely necessary to present evidence to support an argument about something so socially important. Is all Western society based upon a lie or on truth?
Bible stories make it clear that followers of God’s Philosophy of Life have healthy and successful societies. Those that ignore God eventually disappear, usually by tragic events.
If Biblical Laws given to us by Moses, are from a true and living God, and were later represented by an itinerant preacher who was willing to die for this truth then we have a society that, if following these laws, will work peacefully even in modern times. We do not have a peaceful world now because we have rejected God and rejected his wisdom and laws.
True skeptics, as opposed to cynics, are interested in evidence. In a Skeptic magazine editorial entitled “What Is a Skeptic?” the following definition is given: “Skepticism is … the application of reason to any and all ideas – no sacred cows allowed. In other words … skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are “skeptical,” we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.”
Unlike Russell and Crossan, many true skeptics have investigated the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. We will hear from some of them and see how they analyzed the evidence for what is perhaps the most important question in the history of the human race: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Post #3 for September 7, 2017
In advance of his death, Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified and that he would come back to life three days later. That’s a strange plan! What was behind it? Jesus was no entertainer willing to perform for others on demand; instead, he promised that his death and resurrection would prove to people (if their minds and hearts were open) that he was indeed the Messiah.
(SN) Crucifixion is science applied to self-torture. It is one of the cruelest ways to torture a person to death. By tradition, if one dies “hanging from a tree” or from a wooden cross, it is a shameful death, horrific, the nearly naked body bloated, hanging dead, its eyes pecked out by birds, was a sight intended to terrify viewers so they would not conflict with the Roman army. No one would willingly say he intended to die hanging on a cross – a death for the worst sort of shamed criminals! Jesus told this because it was the truth and it was so horrible and shocking that no one could ever forget the prediction. I will remind you I am a doctor with specialized study in orthopedics and nervous system physiology. I will have at this site more about the physiology of crucifixion. It is ghastly!
Bible scholar Wilbur Smith wrote:
When he said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say, if He expected longer the devotion of any disciples – unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that.
In other words, since Jesus had clearly told his disciples that he would rise again after his death, failure to keep that promise would expose him as a fraud. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How did Jesus die before he (if he really did die) rose again?
A Horrific Death And Then . . . ?
You know what Jesus’ last hours of earthly life were like if you watched the movie by road warrior/braveheart Mel Gibson. If you missed parts of The Passion of the Christ because you were shielding your eyes (it would have been easier to simply shoot the movie with a red filter on the camera), just flip to the back pages of any Gospel in your New Testament to find out what you missed.
|◄ Isaiah 52:14 ►|
|New International Version
Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness– New Living Translation
But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. English Standard Version
As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
As Jesus predicted, he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot, and was arrested. In a mock trial under the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, he was convicted of treason and condemned to die on a wooden cross. Prior to being nailed to the cross, Jesus was brutally beaten with a Roman cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip with bits of bone and metal that would rip flesh. He was punched repeatedly, kicked, and spat upon.
Then, using mallets, the Roman executioners pounded the heavy wrought-iron nails into Jesus’ wrists and feet. Finally they dropped the cross in a hole in the ground between two other crosses bearing convicted thieves.
Jesus hung there for approximately six hours. Then, at 3:00 in the afternoon – that is, at exactly the same time the Passover lamb was being sacrificed as a sin offering indicating this man who had been imbued with God’s Spirit was the Forever Final Sacrificial Lamb of God. Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (in Aramaic), and died. Suddenly the sky went dark and an earthquake shook the land.
An even greater darkness cometh…..TOMORROW
Post 4 September 8, 2017
An even greater darkness of depression annihilated the dreams of those who had become infatuated with his charisma and joyful vitality. Former Lord High Chancellor of Britain, Lord Hailsham, notes, “The tragedy of the Cross was not that they crucified a melancholy figure, full of moral precepts, ascetic and gloomy … What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself … someone so utterly attractive that people followed him for the sheer fun of it.”
Pilate wanted verification that Jesus was dead before allowing his crucified body to be buried. So a Roman guard thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. The mixture of blood and water that flowed out was a clear indication that Jesus was dead. “The dead do not bleed, ordinarily, but the right auricle of the human heart holds liquid blood after death, and the outer sac hold a serum called hydropericardium.” Once his death was certified by the guards, Jesus’ body was then taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Roman guards next sealed the tomb, and secured it with a 24-hour watch.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples were in shock. Dr. J. P. Moreland explains how devastated and confused they were after Jesus’ death on the cross. “They no longer had confidence that Jesus had been sent by God. They also had been taught that God would not let his Messiah suffer death. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks.”
All hope was vanquished. Rome and eleven of the twelve Jewish leaders had prevailed – or so it seemed…..
But it wasn’t the end. The Jesus movement did not disappear (obviously), and in fact Christianity exists today as the world’s largest religion. Therefore, we’ve got to know what happened after Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb.
In a New York Times article, Peter Steinfels cites the miraculous events that occurred three days after Jesus’ death: “Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened … But exactly what?” That’s the question we have to answer with an investigation into the facts.
There are only five plausible explanations for Jesus’ alleged resurrection, as portrayed in the New Testament:
- Jesus didn’t really die on the cross.
- The “resurrection” was a conspiracy.
- The disciples were hallucinating.
- The account is legendary.
- It really happened.
Let’s work our way through these options and see which one best fits the facts.
Was Jesus Dead?
“Marley was deader than a doornail, of that there was no doubt.” So begins Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the author not wanting anyone to be mistaken as to the supernatural character of what is soon to take place. In the same way, before we piece together evidence for a resurrection, we must first establish that there was, in fact, a corpse. After all, occasionally the newspapers will report on some “corpse” in a morgue who was found stirring and recovered. Could something like that have happened with Jesus?
Some have proposed that Jesus lived through the crucifixion and was revived by the cool, damp air in the tomb. But that theory doesn’t square with the medical evidence. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association explains why this so-called “swoon theory” is untenable: Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicated that Jesus was dead.
The spear, thrust between His right ribs, certainly ran through the right lung, but also the pericardium and heart, probably also part of the liver, ensured His death.
(SN:)The “spear” tip in those days was approximately 8 to 10 inches long and 4 inches across, like a short sword. The Centurion was trained to drive it up through the aorta, lungs and heart. No one survived that and the guard that went to finish Jesus off knew what he was doing.
 But skepticism of this verdict may be in order, as this case has been cold for 2,000 years. At the very least, we need a second opinion.
One place to find that is in the reports of non-Christian historians from around the time when Jesus lived. Three of these historians mentioned the death of Jesus.
Lucian (c.120 – after c.180 ) referred to Jesus as a crucified sophist (philosopher).
Josephus (c.37 – c.100 ) wrote, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of amazing deeds. When Pilate condemned him to the cross, the leading men among us, having accused him, those who loved him did not cease to do so.”
Tacitus (c. 56 – c.120) wrote, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty … at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.”
This research into ancient historical literature is reasonably conclusive detective work.
In fact, there is no historical account from Christians, Romans, or Jews that disputes either Jesus’ death or his burial. Even skeptical scholars who deny the resurrection agree Jesus was dead. Noted skeptic James Tabor stated, “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion he was truly dead.” John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the notoriously skeptical Jesus Seminar, agrees that Jesus really lived and died. He states, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
In light of such historical and medical evidence, we seem to be on good grounds for dismissing the first of our five options. Jesus was clearly dead, “of that there was no doubt.”
There is yet this issue: It is
The Matter Of An Empty Tomb
Habeas Corpus = Produce The Body.
No serious historian really doubts Jesus was dead when he was taken down from the cross. However, many have questioned how Jesus’ body disappeared from the tomb. English journalist Dr. Frank Morison initially thought the resurrection was either a myth or a hoax, and he began research to write a book refuting it. The book became famous but for reasons other than its original intent.
Morison began by attempting to solve the case of the empty tomb. The tomb belonged to a member of the Sanhedrin Council, Joseph of Arimathea. In Israel at that time, to be on the council was to be a rock star. Everyone knew who was on the council. Joseph must have been a real person. Otherwise, the Jewish leaders would have exposed the story as a fraud in their attempt to disprove the resurrection. Also, Joseph’s tomb would have been at a well-known location and easily identifiable, so any thoughts of Jesus being “lost in the graveyard” would need to be dismissed.
Morison wondered why Jesus’ enemies would have allowed the “empty tomb myth” to persist if it weren’t true. The discovery of Jesus’ body would have instantly killed the entire plot.
And what is known historically of Jesus’ enemies is that they accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body, an accusation clearly predicated on a shared belief that the tomb was empty.
Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, similarly stated, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable … to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered … that would disprove this statement.”
The Jewish leaders were stunned. They accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body. But the Romans had assigned a 24-hour watch at the tomb with a trained guard unit (from four to 16 soldiers). Josh McDowell notes that these were not ordinary soldiers. “When that guard unit failed in its duty – if they fell asleep, left their position, or failed in any way – there are a number of historical sources that go back and describe what happens. Many of them are stripped of their own clothes, they are burned alive in a fire started with their own garments or they are crucified upside down. The Roman Guard unit was committed to discipline and they feared failure in any way.”
It would have been impossible for anyone to have slipped by the Roman guards and to have moved a two-ton stone. Yet the stone was moved away and the body of Jesus was missing.
If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument:
With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? … The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.
So, with no body of evidence, and with a known tomb clearly empty, Morison accepted the evidence as solid that Jesus’ body had somehow disappeared from the tomb.
As Morison continued his investigation, he began to examine the motives of Jesus’ followers. Maybe the supposed resurrection was actually a stolen body. But if so, how does one account for all the reported appearances of a resurrected Jesus? Historian Paul Johnson, in A History of the Jews, wrote, “What mattered was not the circumstances of his death but the fact that he was widely and obstinately believed, by an expanding circle of people, to have risen again.”
The tomb was indeed empty. But it wasn’t the mere absence of a body that could have galvanized Jesus’ followers (especially if they had been the ones who had stolen it). Something extraordinary must have happened, for the followers of Jesus ceased mourning, ceased hiding, and began fearlessly proclaiming that they had seen Jesus alive.
Each eyewitness account reports that Jesus suddenly appeared bodily to his followers, the women first. Morison wondered why conspirators would make women central to its plot. In the first century, women had virtually no rights, personhood, or status. If the plot were to succeed, Morison reasoned, the conspirators would have portrayed men, not women, as the first to see Jesus alive. And yet we hear that women touched him, spoke with him, and were the first to find the empty tomb.
Later, according to the eyewitness accounts, all the disciples saw Jesus on more than ten separate occasions. They wrote that he showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him. And he reportedly ate with them and later appeared alive to more than 500 followers on one occasion.
Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery stated, “In 56 A.D. [the Apostle Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive. (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.) It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
Bible scholars Geisler and Turek agree. “If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would the Apostle Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would immediately lose all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly.”
Consistent To Their End September 12, 2017
As if the eyewitness reports were not enough to challenge Morison’s skepticism, he was also baffled by the disciples’ behavior. A fact of history that has stumped historians, psychologists, and skeptics alike is that these eleven former cowards were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and death. All but one of Jesus’ disciples were slain as martyrs. Would they have done so much for a lie, knowing they had taken the body?
The terrorists on September 11 proved that some will die for a false cause they believe in. Yet to be a willing martyr for a known lie is insanity. As Paul Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.” Jesus’ disciples behaved in a manner consistent with a genuine belief that their leader was alive.
No one has adequately explained why the disciples would have been willing to die for a known lie. But even if they all conspired to lie about Jesus’ resurrection, how could they have kept the conspiracy going for decades without at least one of them selling out for money or position? Moreland wrote, “Those who lie for personal gain do not stick together very long, especially when hardship decreases the benefits.”
Chuck Colson, implicated in the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s administration, pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time.
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
Something happened that changed everything for these men and women. Morison acknowledged, “Whoever comes to this problem has sooner or later to confront a fact that cannot be explained away … This fact is that … a profound conviction came to the little group of people – a change that attests to the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave.”
Were The Disciples Hallucinating?
September 13, 2017
People still think they see a fat, gray-haired Elvis darting into Dunkin Donuts. And then there are those who believe they spent last night with aliens in the mother ship being subjected to unspeakable testing. Sometimes certain people can “see” things they want to, things that aren’t really there. And that’s why some have claimed that the disciples were so distraught over the crucifixion that their desire to see Jesus alive caused mass hallucination. Plausible?
Psychologist Gary Collins, former president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behavior. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”
Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that … five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind … should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions – visual, auditory, tactile – and that all these … experiences should rest entirely upon … hallucination.”
Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, the person would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both state forcefully that they encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting, or hoping for the pleasure. The apostle Paul, in fact, led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected.
The hallucination theory, then, appears to be another dead end. What else could explain away the resurrection?
From Lie To Legend
Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around.
On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory.
- First, legends simply don’t develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. One historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend.
- Second, legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection.
- Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.
Therefore, the legend theory doesn’t seem to hold up any better than other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. Furthermore, the resurrection account of Jesus Christ actually altered history, beginning with the Roman Empire. How could a legend make such an enormous historical impact within such a short time period?
Why Did Christianity Win? Posted 9/15/17
Morison was bewildered because apparently “a tiny insignificant movement was able to prevail over the cunning grip of the Jewish establishment, as well as the might of Rome.” Why did it win, in the face of all those odds against it?
He wrote, “Within twenty years, the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish church … In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire. When we have said everything that can be said … we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all. Why did it win?”
By all rights, if there were no resurrection, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.
- N. D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence – and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication … That simply wouldn’t make sense.”