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The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most important historical events. The truth of Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. So, is there any good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Can we really know what happened 2,000 years ago? I believe that there is evidence and that we can know what happened.

I thought it would be appropriate to repost my blog series on the resurrection since we are approaching Easter Sunday. In this seven-part blog series you will see that there are very good reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But it shouldn’t stop there. We shouldn’t only believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but we also need to put our trust in Jesus. It is Jesus that gives us life!

I hope you enjoy this series on the resurrection and happy Easter!

  1. The Case for the Resurrection: How do students respond?
  2. The Case for the Resurrection: Was Jesus crucified?
  3. The Case for the Resurrection: Did Jesus die on the cross?
  4. The Case for the Resurrection: Was the tomb empty?
  5. The Case for the Resurrection: Naturalistic Explanations for the Empty Tomb
  6. The Case for the Resurrection: Did the disciples claim to see the risen Jesus?
  7. The Case for the Resurrection: Did the disciples die as martyrs?
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Discussing The Story of Reality with Greg Koukl

Today, I had the great privilege of spending an hour talking to Greg Koukl, the President and Founder of Stand to Reason, about his new book. The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between was released yesterday and it is a must read! This incredible new book will introduce you to the most important topics of the Christian story (God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection), explain them in a way that is clear and accessible, and then put the pieces together so you can see the complete picture. You will learn something from this book no matter if you have been a Christian your whole life, you’re new to the faith, or you don’t even believe in Christianity. This book will help you see Christianity in a new way and help you make sense of reality.

“If you are a Christian, this is your story. If you are not a Christian, this is also your story, because this isn’t a religious fairytale. This is the Story of the way things really are.” – Greg Koukl

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Get your copy at STR.org

Enjoy my two part discussion with Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

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The Case for the Resurrection: Did the disciples die as martyrs?

The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed.

The final piece of evidence for the resurrection is the fact that the disciples’ lives were transformed, they suffered for their testimony, and some of them were killed. Before the resurrection, the disciples were fearful and cowards at times. Peter denied Christ in order to not be identified with Him. “After Jesus’ death, the lives of the disciples were transformed to the point that they endured persecution and even martyrdom. Such strength of conviction indicates that they were not just claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them in order to receive some personal benefit. They really believed it. Compare this courage to their character at Jesus’ arrest and execution.”[1] Their courage grew and their lives were transformed.

I talked about a conversation I had on the resurrection in one of my recent podcasts. A man sitting by me on the plane told me that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. When I asked him what their motive was he responded by saying that they were treated like royalty and fed all day, and all they had to do was tell their story. But this is not what happened. Yes, their lives were transformed. No, they were not treated like royalty. Can we know what really happened to the disciples after the resurrection appearances?

After the resurrection their courage grew the disciples began to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. This proclamation caused the disciples to be persecuted and some were even killed. I once heard a presentation where the speaker said that all of the disciples were martyred except for John. This can be nice to claim for apologetic purposes, but it is difficult to support with evidence. We can know that Paul was beheaded under Nero and even Peter, who denied Christ, was crucified.[2] Many would claim that Peter was crucified upside down, but Dr. Sean McDowell claims that the evidence for this is inconclusive. The fact that Peter was crucified is verified historically. We can also be confident that James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred in AD 62 in Jerusalem.  Lastly, Dr. McDowell says that it is more probable that not that Thomas died as a martyr in India. It is difficult to know what exactly happened to the other disciples. Even if we don’t know exactly how they died, it is not difficult to see the things that the disciples went through. The book of Acts is filled with stories. We may not be able to say that all the disciples died for the faith, but we are able to say that they were all willing to die. We have no historical record of any of them recanting.

Lastly, how are the deaths of the disciples any different from current day martyrs? The major difference is that the disciples were really there and knew if it was the truth or a lie. It is unlikely that the disciples would suffer and some be killed for a belief that they all knew was a lie. Their suffering and persecution combined with the fact that they were really there shows that they really believed it. Some may die for a lie they believe is the truth, and this is what we see with present-day martyrs. They weren’t there in the beginning to know if their beliefs are really true. However, it is not reasonable for someone to die for a lie they know is a lie. This is why the suffering and fate of the apostles is so important for the truth of the resurrection.

 

Conclusion

I have shown that there is strong historical evidence that Jesus was crucified, he died, was buried, the tomb was found empty, the disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus, and that the disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed. There are many different naturalistic theories that attempt to explain one or more of these historical facts like the swoon theory, stolen body, moved body, wrong tomb, and the hallucination theory. Each of these naturalistic theories fails to account for all of the historical evidence. For these reasons, I conclude that the best explanation given the historical evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

[1] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 56.

[2] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 58.

The Case for the Resurrection: Did the disciples claim to see the risen Jesus?

In order to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus, we need to confirm that: 1) Jesus was crucified. 2) Jesus died. 3) Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty. 4) The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus. 5) The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed. This blog series is working through each one of these historical facts and responding to common naturalistic objections.

The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus.

Shortly after the tomb was discovered to be empty the disciples claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them. We are told that Jesus appeared to Cephas, the twelve, more than five hundred brothers, James, all the apostles, and also to Paul.[1] Paul, who wrote this list of appearances, was not with the disciples when this happened but received it shortly after. “In fact, many critical scholars hold that Paul received it from the disciples Peter and James while visiting them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion. If so, Paul learned it within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”[2] It is for this reason that many skeptics hold to the belief that the disciples claimed they had experienced the risen Jesus.

Atheist historian, Gerd Ludemann admits that the creed from 1 Corinthians is early. “We can assume that all the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also likely for 1 Cor. 15:6a-7 since the conversion of Paul lies at the chronological end of the appearances cited and is probably to be thought of as not later than three years after the death of Jesus.”[3] Three years doesn’t provide time for embellishment or myth. Even one of the most famous skeptical New Testament historians, Bart Ehrman agrees. He said,

Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death.[4]

Based on the multiple attestation, early writings, and skeptics in agreement, it is reasonable to conclude that the disciples believed to have had experienced the risen Jesus.

Did the disciples experience hallucinations of the resurrected Christ?

So why don’t these skeptics believe Jesus rose from the dead if they agree that the disciples believed to have had experienced the risen Jesus? They believe it is possible that the disciples hallucinated the resurrection appearances. Carrier, who holds to the hallucination theory states, “I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence (particular to Christianity and the general cultural milieu in which it rose), is that the first Christians experienced hallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another.”[5] Carrier isn’t alone in his belief in the hallucination theory. Ludemann claims, “But not long after the Friday on which Jesus died, Cephas saw Jesus alive in a vision which also had auditory features, and this event led to an incomparable chain reaction.”[6] This chain reaction is the beginning of the belief that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to all the different witnesses.

The first problem with the hallucination theory is that hallucinations are individual experiences that cannot be shared. Dr. Gary A. Sibcy, a licensed clinical psychologist, has taken a great interest in group hallucinations and come to the following conclusion:

I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.[7]

After more than a decade of research, professionals have been unable to find a single case when a group hallucination happened. The reason group hallucinations can’t occur is because hallucinations are much like dreams in that they are subjective personal experiences. “Hallucinations are linked to an individual’s subconscious and to his particular past experiences, making it very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination at the same time.”[8]  This understanding that hallucinations are subjective personal experiences also creates a problem for the skeptic when Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at the same time.

The hallucination theory also has the problem of too many people in very different moods. Along with Paul’s mention of “the 500” in 1 Corinthians, we have statements from other Gospel writers that they too saw the risen Jesus. It was not just one story told by a single source who experienced a hallucination. “Likewise, individuals and groups, friends as well as foes saw Jesus not once but many times over a period of forty days. We are told that these numbers included both men and women, hardheaded Peter and softhearted Mary Magdalene, indoors and outdoors, and so on. Not all these persons would be in the same state of mind.”[9] Here, Habermas shows that in addition to multiple sources, there were many different moods in which the witnesses experienced Jesus’ appearances. Along with the examples listed by Habermas, we have the vision witnessed by Paul, who was a leader in Judaism and on his way to Damascus in order to arrest Christians. He was most likely not in a state of mind to experience a vision of the risen Jesus and change the course of his life. He already had the life for which he had worked. Paul would be the last person to grieve the death of Jesus.

Furthermore, there is the account of Jesus’ skeptical brother James, who witnessed his brother’s ministry without becoming his follower. But it seems something changed after the resurrection event. Again, 1 Corinthians 15:7 states that Jesus appeared to James, convincing him of the fact that Jesus had risen to life. Therefore, there are too many witnesses reacting in different moods for the hallucination theory to be plausible. The hallucination theory also fails to account for the empty tomb. For these reasons, the belief that the disciples hallucinated Jesus’ resurrection appearances does not account for the evidence.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:5-9 ESV

[2] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 52-53.

[3] Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 1994), 38.

[4] Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford: OUP, 2001) 231.

[5] Lowder, The Empty Tomb, 184.

[6] Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, 174.

[7] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 484.

Gary Habermas obtained this statement from Gary Sibcy and then forwarded it to Michael Licona the same day in an email dated March 10, 2009.

[8] Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, INC, 1981), 84.

[9] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 109.

The Case for the Resurrection: Naturalistic Explanations for the Empty Tomb

In order to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus, we need to confirm that: 1) Jesus was crucified. 2) Jesus died. 3) Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty. 4) The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus. 5) The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed. This blog series is working through each one of these historical facts and responding to common naturalistic objections.

Was the body stolen?

One of the points for the fact of the empty tomb was that the enemies of Jesus said that the disciples stole the body. Is it possible that this really happened rather than being a cover-up? Richard Carrier, a world-renown atheist speaker and author, thinks the theft of the bod is a plausible hypothesis. He wrote, “So even if the empty tomb story is not a legend, it is not necessary to conclude that only a genuine resurrection would explain it. One prominent natural explanation is theft of the body.”[1] It is possible that the disciples stole the body in order to continue their movement.

However, there are a few problems with the belief that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. First, “the disciples of Jesus claimed to have seen the risen Jesus because they really believed that they had seen him.”[2] As we will see in the next two sections, the disciples truly believed that they saw the risen Jesus and they were willing to die for that belief. It doesn’t seem likely that the disciples would steal the body, lie about it, and then die for a lie. When they claimed to have seen the risen Jesus it was because they really believed it. Second, if the disciples stole Jesus’ body, how do you explain the conversion of Paul? Paul was an enemy of the church that became a believer after seeing the risen Jesus. If they disciples stole Jesus body then it seems unlikely that Paul would have converted to Christianity.

Was the body moved?

Since the disciples seemed genuine in their belief that the tomb was empty, maybe it is possible that the body was moved and the disciples were unaware. Carrier defended this idea as well as the stolen body theory. He said, “One prominent natural explanation is theft of the body. Another, which I developed in a preceding chapter, is that the body was legally moved without the knowledge of the disciples.”[3] Even Mary Magdalene thought that the body was moved. In John 20:2 we see that “she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’” This explanation fits what Mary believed and makes sense of the genuine belief of the disciples, but it too has its flaws.

There is no mention of Jesus’ body being moved in the text, only Mary’s thought that it might have happened. It is easy to come up with a theory to explain one piece of evidence, but the theory has to be based on evidence or else there is no reason to trust it. “This is the Fraud 2 option, which is flawed because it cannot account for the vast majority of the known historical facts. Virtually all critics recognize this. That is why very few scholars held it during the twentieth century.”[4] The moved body theory doesn’t explain the appearances which we will cover next, and it even admits that the tomb was empty. If it wasn’t for the appearances of Jesus, it is likely that the disciples wouldn’t have been transformed into bold proclaimers of the faith. That wasn’t done by the empty tomb.

Wrong tomb?

The last objection to the empty tomb is called the wrong tomb theory. Carrier defends this theory as well by saying, “The surviving evidence, legal and historical, suggests the body of Jesus was not formally buried Friday night when it was placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, that instead it had to have been placed Saturday night in a special public graveyard reserved for convicts. On this theory the women who visited the tomb Sunday morning mistook its vacancy.”[5] Again, like the other theories, this theory ignores contrary evidence and commits the fallacy of special pleading. First, as mentioned before, we know where Jesus was buried. There is no reason to doubt the Joseph of Arimathea burial story. Habermas states that, “No sources support the wrong tomb theory. If the women and disciples had gone to the wrong tomb, all that the Roman and Jewish authorities would have had to do would have been to go to the right tomb, exhume the body, publicly display it, and clear up the misunderstanding.”[6] This theory is complete conjecture and cannot hold up to scrutiny.

With the naturalistic explanations failing to answer the evidence it is reasonable to conclude that the tomb was empty. “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it out to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”[7] The stolen body, moved body, and wrong tomb theories fail to ground themselves in historical evidence. It is for that reason that it is more reasonable to conclude that the tomb of Jesus was discovered empty.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Plausibility of Theft” in Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005), 349.

[2] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 93.

[3] Lowder, The Empty Tomb, 349.

[4] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 95.

[5] Lowder, The Empty Tomb, 369.

[6] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 98.

[7] Ibid. 73.

The Case for the Resurrection: Was the tomb empty?

In order to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus, we need to confirm that: 1) Jesus was crucified. 2) Jesus died. 3) Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty. 4) The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus. 5) The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed. This blog series is working through each one of these historical facts and responding to common naturalistic objections.

Jesus was buried

After Jesus was killed by crucifixion he was buried. The burial story is multiply attested in early sources and four even mention the man who buried Jesus.[1] Luke 23:50-52 tells us that “a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” It is important to note that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, and there were only seventy members in the Sanhedrin. If the disciples were making up Joseph, or claiming he did something that he didn’t do, it would be very easy to falsify their story. Someone would simply have to ask the Sanhedrin for Joseph and ask him what happened. New Testament scholar, J. D. G. Dunn said, “Joseph of Arimathea is a very plausible historical character.”[2] It is very unlikely that the writers of the Gospels made this up, so we are able to reasonably conclude that Jesus was buried in a tomb after his crucifixion.

The tomb was found empty

From what we know about everyday life, once someone dies, they stay dead. Since Jesus died by crucifixion and was buried in the tomb, we would expect that body to remain there unless it was moved. Instead, we have reports of the tomb being found empty. The synoptic Gospels each mention the tomb being found empty. The gospel of John, which is independent from the synoptics, also affirms the empty tomb.

There are four important factors to consider when discussing the empty tomb. The first is that Jesus was killed and buried in Jerusalem. It was also Jerusalem where the disciples began to preach about the empty tomb and the resurrection shortly after. If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, Christianity would have never gotten off the ground. Habermas states that, “His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax to be shattered.”[3] It was no secret where Jesus was buried because it was Joseph, one of the Sanhedrin, who buried Jesus. They knew right where his body was and could have easily kept Christianity from getting started by producing a body.

Well, maybe the body wasn’t produced because it was unrecognizable. Would it be worthless to produce a body which couldn’t be confirmed or denied as being Jesus? Habermas responds to this by saying,

First, in the arid climate of Jerusalem, a corpse’s hair, stature, and distinctive wounds would have been identifiable, even after fifty days. Second, regardless of the condition of his body, the enemies of Jesus would still have found benefit in producing the corpse. Even a barely recognizable corpse could have dissuaded some believers, possibly weakening and ultimately toppling the entire movement.[4]

If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, it would have been easy to take it out and have people identify it. In fact, anything would have been better than nothing. There is no report that the enemies of Jesus ever produced a body.

Matthew tells us that even the enemies of Jesus admitted to the tomb being empty. Matt. 28:12-13 says, “And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” This lie would have been completely unnecessary if Jesus’ body remained in the tomb. It’s like a student in school lying about his dog eating his homework. If the student has the homework in class then there is no need to lie about it. The fact that the student makes up a lie means he doesn’t have it. The same is true for Jesus’ body. “There would have been no need for an attempt to account for a missing body, if the body had still been in the tomb.”[5] This is very powerful considering it is coming from the enemies of Jesus. The question also needs to be asked, how would the soldiers know it was the disciples who stole the body if they were asleep? Either they saw the disciples and therefore weren’t sleeping, or they were sleeping and would have no idea it was the disciples. Even the lie that was created to cover up the missing tomb doesn’t make sense.

The last important factor in the empty tomb is the fact that it was discovered by women. Mark 16:1 says, “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.” Why it is important women discovered the empty tomb? “This would be an odd invention, since in both Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable, certainly not as credible as a man’s.”[6] Licona adds to this and says, “Why fabricate a report of Jesus’ resurrection that already would have been difficult for many to believe and compound that difficulty by adding women as the first witnesses?”[7] It simply doesn’t make sense for the disciples to create a story and have the women discover the empty tomb. The most reasonable explanation is that it is included because it is what really happened.

These points make a very strong case for the empty tomb. Next week I will respond to three different naturalistic explanations. Was the body stolen? Was the body moved? Did the disciples go to the wrong tomb?

[1] Matt. 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50, John 19:38, and 1 Cor. 4.

[2] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 782.

[3] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 70.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. 71.

[6] Ibid. 72.

[7] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 350-351.

The Case for the Resurrection: Did Jesus die on the cross?

In order to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus, we need to confirm that: 1) Jesus was crucified. 2) Jesus died. 3) Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty. 4) The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus. 5) The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed.

After looking at the fact that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, we then need to make sure Jesus died by crucifixion. Michael Licona, a New Testament scholar, gives four reasons why we can know that Jesus died by crucifixion. The first reason Licona gives is that “Jesus’ death by crucifixion is multiply attested by a fair number of ancient sources, Christian and non-Christian alike.”[1] These Christian and non-Christian sources show that many people were talking about Jesus’ death and that gives it historical credibility. Second, the reports are early. “Paul mentions Jesus’ death by crucifixion no later than A.D. 55 (1 Corinthians, Galatians) and said he preached the same to those in Corinth in A.D. 51, or within twenty-one years of Jesus’ crucifixion.”[2] Early sources are great for historians because it allows for less time for the story to be changed. If the sources were written while the eyewitnesses were still alive then they become that much more reliable.

The third evidence Licona states for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is that the “Passion Narratives appear largely credible given their satisfying of the criterion of embarrassment and the plausibility of certain peripheral details.”[3] The Gospels list a few details that would be embarrassing. They mention things like the women finding the tomb first and that the men were hiding in fear. These are things people generally don’t make up and the only reason they would be included is if they are true. The last piece of evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “the very low probability of surviving crucifixion.” Licona says that, “Even if Jesus had been removed from his cross prematurely and medically assisted, his chances of survival were quite bleak. In addition, no evidence exists that Jesus was removed while alive or that he was provided any medical care whatsoever, much less Rome’s best.”[4] These four reasons leaves Licona concluding that “the historical evidence is very strong that Jesus died by crucifixion.”[5] Even the atheist New Testament scholar, Gerd Ludemann, who rejects the resurrection, agrees on this point. Ludemann wrote, “The fact of Jesus’ death as the consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”[6]

However, there are some who are not convinced by the evidence that Jesus died by crucifixion. One group that holds to this belief is Ahmadi Muslims. They believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion, recovered from his injuries, and then traveled India where he finally died.[7] This is referred to as the swoon theory. According to Gary Habermas, a New Testament scholar and historian, “such an occurrence seems highly unlikely given the nature of scourging and crucifixion.”[8] The Roman soldiers scourged Jesus before he was put on the cross. The Journal of the American Medical Association did studies on Jesus scourging and crucifixion. Their studies conclude:

Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.[9]

With what we now know from modern science, it has become very difficult to continue belief in the swoon theory. The Roman guards didn’t even break Jesus’ legs when they got to him because they recognized that he was already dead.

One might still claim that it is possible that if the spear didn’t pierce Jesus’ heart then he could have survived. This will be addressed in depth later, but we have to recognize that the disciples were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. If Jesus merely survived the crucifixion it is unlikely for the disciples to believe Jesus had conquered death. “Upon seeing a swooned Jesus who was limping, bleeding, pale, and stooped over in pain, Peter would not have responded, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to have a resurrection body just like that!”[10] The sight of a limping, bleeding Jesus would have caused the disciples to panic and search for medical attention, not claim that he had risen. Based on what we know from modern medicine and history, it is very reasonable to conclude that Jesus really did die by Roman crucifixion.

[1] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 304.

[2] Ibid. 305.

[3] Ibid. 306.

[4] Ibid. 311.

[5] Ibid. 312.

[6] Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 1994), 39.

[7] Al Islam, “Jesus: a humble prophet of God,” The Official Website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, accessed May 16th, 2015, http://www.alislam.org/topics/jesus/

[8] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 100.

[9] William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255.11, (21 March 1986): 1463

[10] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 103.

The Case for the Resurrection: Was Jesus crucified?

Introduction

In a world with many different views and religions, it can be hard to claim to have the truth. It is popular to claim that all religions are true and that they all lead to God, each one getting to God in a different way. If all religions aren’t true, how can we know which religion is true and which ones are false? A strong case can be made for the truth of Christianity if we can answer one question. Did Jesus rise from the dead? In this series, I will argue that the most reasonable explanation based on the historical evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead.

How does the resurrection of Jesus help us understand what religion is true? The Apostle Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”[1] According to this verse, the truth of Christianity lives or dies on the truth of the resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the message we preach is true and it is reasonable to be a Christian. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then we should leave Christianity and be on a search to figure out which religion, if any, is true. So, let’s take a look at five pieces of historical evidence to see if Jesus really did rise from the dead.

  1. Jesus was crucified.
  2. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  3. Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty.
  4. The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus.
  5. The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed.

The Crucifixion

Looking at the historical evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus is the first important factor. If Jesus was never crucified then he didn’t rise from the dead three days later. The first places we can look to know if Jesus was crucified are the four Gospels. “That Jesus was executed by crucifixion is recorded in all four Gospels.”[2] This is important because it wasn’t only mentioned by one person. The Gospels are four independent sources stating that Jesus was killed by Roman Crucifixion.

Along with the four Gospels, we have mention of Jesus’ crucifixion by different writers in the first and second century. In A.D. 109, Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote, “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”[3] The people at that time would have known that the extreme penalty was crucifixion. We should notice here that Tacitus is making reference to the crucifixion of Jesus as a side note. He isn’t writing this in order to prove that Jesus was crucified, but instead mentions it causally.

There is also mention of Jesus’ crucifixion by the Jewish historian, Josephus. He wrote, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.”[4] This is important coming from a source outside the Christian community. Josephus would have no reason to make this up. It is because of multiple attestations that John Dominic Crossan, a skeptic wrote, “I take it absolutely for granted that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelihood that Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E.”[5] The testimony from Josephus and Tacitus, along with the Christian sources, was enough to convince Crossan that the crucifixion of Jesus was a historical fact.

This is the first step in looking at the resurrection of Jesus. We can know that the crucifixion of Jesus was a historical event. Next week we will determine if Jesus actually died by crucifixion or if he was taken off the cross before death.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:14. ESV

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 2004), 49.

[3] Tacitus, The Annals, written 109 A.C.E., Book 15: http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html

[4] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 18: http://www.loebclassics.com/view/josephus-jewish_antiquities/1930/pb_LCL433.51.xml?rskey=7CYSLX&result=5&mainRsKey=cEJsHC

[5] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 372.

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