In our last lesson we consider that Jesus has been proven to be a person who lived in the first century. Jesus also claimed to be God which means we are forced with the choice to accept him as God or believe he was a liar or insane for thinking he was God. The other great claim of Jesus that must be analyzed is that Jesus claimed he would raise from the dead and his disciples claim that he raised from the dead and saw him. I believe we are left with two simple choices when it comes to considering the resurrection. If Jesus raised from the dead, then he is God. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Jesus is a fraud and a liar. Furthermore, Christianity is invalid and worthless.
Was Jesus Dead?
One area of dispute is for some to claim that Jesus never really died. In fact, the Koran states that Jesus never really died on the cross. In the 19th century, some explained away the resurrection by stating that Jesus only fainted from exhaustion on the cross. Others have said that he was given a drug that made him appear to die and that later he revived in the cool, damp air of the tomb. Many scholars have repudiated this theory repeatedly, yet it still lives as answer to the skeptic. So how can we know that Jesus really did die?
Before Jesus is crucified, he is scourged severely. Roman scourgings were so terrible that Roman citizens were not to be punished by the method. Eusebius was a third century historian who described the flogging as, “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowls of the victim were open to exposure.” We know that many people would die from this kind of beating before they could be crucified. This alone, ought to be enough evidence to know that Jesus really died because he would have had these wounds unattended to for three days while in the tomb. He would have bled to death if somehow he had not died on the cross.
Just like the scourging, so also the crucifixion was so horrifying that Roman citizens could not be executed this way unless for the charge of high treason. Roman historians do not describe crucifixion because it was such an awful way for the victim to die. The shoulder were dislocated as the arms were stretched out on the cross beam to nail the hands. Large nails were driven into each hand and into each foot. Archaeological evidence has proven that each foot was nailed to the side of the cross. The severe shock to the body by hanging on a cross from hands and feet nailed to the cross along with the scourging led to a slow, agonizing death.
Breaking the Legs.
Because of the Passover festival, the Jews needed the bodies down from the cross before sun down when the Passover would begin. To hurry death, the legs of the crucified were broken. This would add more physical shock to the body. Further, the victim would no longer be able to use their legs to push up to breathe. Death would come quickly. But the Roman soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus. “When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead” (John 19:33). The soldiers are able to assess that Jesus is so clearly dead that they do not feel compelled to break Jesus’ legs. If there was any question, they would have surely broken Jesus’ legs to make sure that he would be dead before the beginning of the Passover. Some like to question the ability of Roman soldiers to know if a person was dead. Such questioning forgets that Roman soldiers were considered the most disciplined army ever. They may not have been rocket scientists, but they did know how to kill a person. They knew when a person was dead.
“But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out” (John 19:34). If Jesus was taken down from the cross still alive, he would have bled to death from the spear wound as well as the severe scourging being medically untreated for days. Further proof, however, that Jesus was already dead was the fluid that came out from the spear wound. Because of this description we are able to know that the spear probably went through the right lung and into the heart. The fluid described is consistent with what would happen with a body such physical shock. Fluid would build up around the lungs and heart, according to medical examiners. The fluid reveals that the soldiers were right: Jesus was clearly dead.
Handling the body.
Finally, everyone who handled the body is a witness that Jesus was dead. A centurion is in charge of the body and Pilate asks him if Jesus is dead (Mark 15:44-45). Pilate is convinced of Jesus’ death to release the body. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea wrap the body for burial. They testify that Jesus was dead. Most importantly, the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus dead are certain of his death by not disputing the release of the body of Jesus.
Jesus’ Body Was Placed In The Tomb
The latest explanation for the resurrection is the argument that Jesus was never buried in a tomb but his body was dumped. History indicates that as a rule, crucified criminals were left on the cross to be devoured by birds or were thrown into a common grave with other bodies. While this sounds like an argument, there is absolutely no proof that this is what happened to Jesus. There is not one shred of evidence that this is what happened to the body of Jesus. The gospels record that Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus and it was given to him. Joseph places Jesus in his tomb. If the body was dumped, why would Roman soldiers roll a stone in front of a tomb, seal a tomb, and stand guard over the tomb? The only answer is because the body of Jesus was in the tomb. Further, we have the witnesses of the women who saw where Jesus was laid. “Now Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were watching where He was placed” (Mark 15:47).
The Empty Tomb
We know that Jesus definitely died. We also know that Jesus was placed into a tomb. So we must consider an explanation for the empty tomb. There are not many options when it comes to explaining how the tomb of Jesus was empty.
As we have noted, some say that Jesus was not really dead. But how does a scourged man who has been crucified for hours and stabbed with a spear in the side get out of the linen wrappings, roll back the large stone over the tomb, defeat the Roman soldiers standing guard, and walk through the streets of Jerusalem with pierced feet? This is simply a rejected theory because of its impossibility.
12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:12-15)
Another theory that is even presented by the Jewish leaders is that the body was stolen. But if the body was stolen, consider that this proves the tomb was empty. No one could go to the tomb and say the body is there. The Jewish leaders had to come up with some sort of explanation for the empty tomb. The stolen body theory, however, is generally rejected by scholars because of this question: who would have stole the body? The disciples of Jesus could not have stole the body because they did not have the power to overthrow trained Roman soldiers. Would we suppose that the disciples broke into the tomb, unwrapped the linens on Jesus, rewrapped them neatly and left the linens on the slab, snuck out of the tomb with the body of Jesus and walked through the city of Jerusalem all completely unnoticed? No, this is not believable. Further, the enemies would not steal the body of Jesus because they had no motive. They did not want people to think Jesus rose from the dead so they would never dream of trying to steal the body.
The only other theory to explain the empty tomb besides a resurrection is that everyone went to the wrong tomb. However, this is just as unlikely and ridiculous as all of the other theories. As we have already read, the women saw where the body was laid. They would not have forgotten where their Lord was buried. Joseph of Arimathea would know where his own tomb was located. The Jewish leaders certainly knew where the tomb of Jesus was. If the disciples had gone to the wrong tomb, the leaders could have simply had the right tomb opened and revealed the body of Jesus. But they could not do this because they have already admitted that the tomb was empty.
Appearances of Jesus After Death
We must also deal with all of the appearances of Jesus to people after his death, which proves his resurrection. Jesus appears on separate occasions to:
- Mary Magadalene (Mark 16:9)
- To women returning from the tomb (Mat. 28:9-10)
- To Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
- To the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-33)
- Apostles without Thomas (John 20:19-24)
- Apostles with Thomas (John 20:26-29)
- To seven by the lake of Tiberius (John 21:1-23)
- To over 500 believers (1 Cor. 15:6)
- James (1 Cor. 15:7)
- Apostles (Matthew 28:16-20)
- At ascension (Acts 1:3-12)
- Paul (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor. 15:8)
- Stephen (Acts 7:55)
- Paul (Acts 22:17-21; 23:11)
- John (Rev. 1:10-19).
Not only are the number of appearances impressive, but these appearances were not to disciples only. James did not believe in the claims of Jesus but we read about him being a disciple after the resurrection appearance. Paul was an enemy of Jesus, killing disciples of Jesus. Paul turns into a disciple of Jesus after the resurrection appearance to him. Some attempt to explain these appearances by saying all of these people hallucinated. But hallucinations do not happen to every person at different times of the same thing. Further, skeptics like James and Paul would not have hallucinated see Jesus. Finally, hallucinations do not explain the empty tomb. The tomb is still empty. This leaves us with only one viable answer: God really did raise Jesus from the dead.
The Final Evidence
The disciples died for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead.
This proves that the disciples were absolutely convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus really had risen from the dead. We would not die for something we are unsure about.
The conversion of skeptics.
For Paul, who was killing and persecuting Christians, to become a Christian is weighty evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Paul did not want to be believe in Jesus, but did not have a choice because he saw the risen Lord.
Changes in culture and social structure.
The reason that the Jews continue to exist while other peoples and race of history have passed is because they are determined to hold on to their teachings and traditions. They pass those teachings down to their children and this has continued for generations, rather than assimilating into conquering nations. Yet we see hundreds of thousands of Jews in the first century going against their teachings to believe in Jesus. No longer would they offer sacrifices in Jerusalem believing that Jesus had died for their sins once for all. No longer would they need to keep the Sabbath but would worship the risen Jesus on Sundays. They would be baptized which pictures the death and resurrection of Jesus. They would partake of the Lord’ Supper which also remembers the death and resurrection of Jesus. They would never have made these life changes without firmly believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The emergence and longevity of the church.
If Jesus did not raise from the dead, how do we explain the millions of people who believe he did and follow his teachings? If it were all a farce, how do followers continue to believe?
Let us go back to our original choices we presented at the beginning of this lesson. If Jesus raised from the dead, then he is God and must be worshipped and obeyed. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then he is a liar and a fraud. The evidence strongly supports that Jesus did raise from the dead.