Christianity is the only major religion that claims its leader has been resurrected from death. In addition, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is generally considered to be the foundation for the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, it is highly unlikely that the Christian faith would be viable. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, the apostle Paul states, “[I]f Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain.” [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Michael Green, on page 61 of his book entitled Man Alive, says, “Without faith in the resurrection there would be no Christianity at all. The Christian church would never have begun. . . . Christianity stands or falls with the truth of the resurrection.” And Philip Schaff states on page 173 of his book entitled History of the Christian Church, “The resurrection of Christ is . . . emphatically a test question upon which depends the truth or falsehood of the Christian religion. It is either the greatest miracle or the greatest delusion which history records.”
Furthermore, if Jesus Christ was resurrected from death, it would be a divine miracle that provides evidence of the existence of God. [For additional discussion regarding evidence of the existence of God, click on “Evidence that God Exists.”]
Therefore, it is essential to determine the validity of the resurrection. To do so, we will consider the following:
- Jesus Christ was crucified and died on a cross.
- The tomb where Jesus Christ was buried was empty a few days after His burial.
- The lives of the apostles changed dramatically soon after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
- Many reliable witnesses saw Jesus Christ alive after His crucifixion and burial.
Jesus Christ Was Crucified and Died on a Cross
On pages 61-62 of his book entitled Christianity: The Witness of History, James Anderson says,
Now of the fact that Jesus was crucified there would seem to be virtually no room for denial or debate. . . . All our sources state that he was ‘crucified under Pontius Pilate’; and it is significant that this is asserted with equal insistence by pagans, Jews, and Christians.
However, according to the so-called Swoon Theory, Jesus did not actually die when He was crucified. Instead, He just fainted, due to exhaustion and the loss of blood. After a few days, He was resuscitated. Then, when the apostles and others saw Him, they assumed that He had been resurrected. While this theory may initially seem plausible to some people, there are ample reasons to believe otherwise.
The Roman soldiers who pronounced crucifixion victims to be dead had more than a limited understanding of medical matters. On page 201 of Lee Strobel’s book entitled The Case For Christ, Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D., provides the following perspective regarding the skill of the Roman soldiers in killing people:
[T]hey were experts in killing people – that was their job, and they did it very well. They knew without a doubt when a person was dead, and really it’s not so terribly difficult to figure out.
Besides, if a prisoner somehow escaped, the responsible soldiers would be put to death themselves, so they had a huge incentive to make absolutely sure that each and every victim was dead when he was removed from the cross.
In response to the question as to whether or not there was any possible way that Jesus Christ could have survived His crucifixion, Metherell says,
Absolutely not. . . . He couldn’t possibly have faked his death, because you can’t fake the inability to breathe for long. Besides, the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all. And the Romans weren’t about to risk their own death by allowing him to walk away alive.
If it is assumed that somehow Jesus Christ did manage to survive the crucifixion, other questions are raised. On page 27 of his book entitled Know Why You Believe, Paul Little asks,
Is it possible to believe that he would have survived three days in a damp tomb without food or water or attention of any kind? Would he have survived being wound in spice-laden grave clothes? Would he have had the strength to extricate himself from the grave clothes, push the heavy stone away from the mouth of the grave, overcome the Roman guards, and walk miles on feet that had been pierced with spikes?
Metherell makes similar arguments on page 202 of Strobel’s book, The Case For Christ:
[H]ow could he walk around after nails had been driven through his feet? How could he have appeared on the road to Emmaus just a short time later, strolling for long distances? How could he have used his arms after they were stretched and pulled from their joints? Remember, he also had massive wounds on his back and a spear wound to his chest.
[A] person in that kind of pathetic condition would never have inspired his disciples to go out and proclaim that he’s the Lord of life who had triumphed over the grave.
[I]t’s preposterous to think that if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his.
Even David Strauss, a skeptic who does not believe in the resurrection, does not agree with the swoon theory. On page 412 of The Life of Jesus for the People, Strauss states,
It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation . . . could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.
The Tomb Where Jesus Christ Was Buried Was Empty a Few Days after His Burial
When the apostles of Jesus Christ began proclaiming His resurrection from death, their claim could have been refuted if someone had produced the body of Jesus. But, there is no evidence that anyone living at that time argued that Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. For example, Acts 2:14-40 provides an account of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. In his sermon, Peter proclaimed that Jesus Christ had been resurrected from death. No one refuted Peter’s proclamation.
On page 225 of his book entitled Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell, a well-known Christian apologist, declares,
The Church was founded on the resurrection, and disproving it would have destroyed the whole Christian movement. However, instead of any such disproof, throughout the first century, Christians were threatened, beaten, flogged and killed because of their faith. It would have been much simpler to have silenced them by producing Jesus’ body, but this was never done.
If the Jewish or the Roman authorities had removed the body of Jesus Christ from the tomb and hidden it elsewhere, they could have produced it to refute the claims of His resurrection. There would have been no logical reason to keep Jesus’ body hidden. Instead, the Jewish religious leaders invented the story that disciples of Jesus Christ had stolen His body (see Matthew 28:11-15).
But logic strongly indicates that the apostles or other followers of Jesus Christ did not remove His body from the tomb where it was placed after His crucifixion. If any followers of Jesus Christ had attempted to remove His body from the tomb, they would have had to contend with the tomb guards. Of course, if all of the guards were asleep, then there would not have been a problem. However, it is highly improbable that all of the guards would be asleep at the same time on their watch, especially considering the high degree of concern that led to guards being placed outside the tomb to prevent Jesus Christ’s body from being taken. And, if the guards were asleep when the body of Jesus Christ was allegedly taken, how could they have known who took the body? Furthermore, if the guards were Roman soldiers, they could have been executed for sleeping while they were on duty.
Could the apostles have overpowered the guards and taken the body of Jesus Christ? All the evidence indicates that, following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the apostles were a group of frightened, discouraged, and depressed men who were highly unlikely to become suddenly brave enough to confront the guards at the tomb where the body of Jesus Christ was buried. On pages 22-23 of his book entitled Great Uncertainty in This Hour of World Crisis, Wilbur Smith says, “The disciples who had fled from Jesus when He was being tried, neither had the courage nor the physical power to go up against a group of soldiers.”
With regard to the story invented by the Jewish religious leaders that disciples of Jesus Christ had stolen His body, John Chrysostom says on page 531 ofHomilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew,
[I]ndeed, even this establishes the resurrection, the fact I mean of their saying, that the disciples stole Him. For this is the language of men confessing, that the body was not there. When therefore they confess the body was not there, but the stealing [of] it is shown to be false and incredible, . . . the proof of the resurrection . . . appears incontrovertible.
So, if neither the followers of Jesus Christ nor His enemies removed His body from the tomb, what other explanation is there except that Jesus Christ was indeed resurrected from death, just as the Bible accounts tell us?
The Lives of the Apostles Changed Dramatically Soon after the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
As previously stated, following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, His followers were frightened, discouraged, and depressed. However, just a short time later, they began boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ was the Messiah (Savior) whose sacrificial death on the cross enables any person who sincerely trusts in Him to have eternal life.
Clark Pinnock states on page 98 of his book entitled Set Forth Your Case,
There is a fantastic difference between the disciples who appear in the gospel narratives and those who figure in the book of Acts. Timid, unreliable, fearful, unbelieving men emerge from the events immediately following the death of Christ, bursting to tell of His resurrection, whatever the cost to their own personal safety.
Consider, for example, the change in the apostle Peter. James Anderson asks, on page 102 of his book, “How can one explain the change in Peter, from a man who [at the trial of Jesus Christ] denied his Master three times . . . to one who told the chief priests to their face that God had raised from the dead the one whom they had crucified. . . ?”
What could have changed the followers of Jesus Christ into men of courage and conviction in such a brief time? Michael Green states in the Editor’s Preface of I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, that the resurrection “was the belief that turned heartbroken followers of a crucified rabbi into the courageous witnesses and martyrs of the early church.” And, on pages 58-59 of his book entitledBasic Christianity, John Stott suggests, “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection. . . ”
Also noteworthy is the dramatic change in the belief of skeptics like James, the brother of Jesus, and Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul. Before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, neither of these men believed that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, Saul had persecuted Christians. After the resurrection, however, both men not only adopted the Christian faith, but they became leaders in the Christian Church.
Many Reliable Witnesses Saw Jesus Christ Alive After His Crucifixion and Burial
The New Testament mentions a number of experiences in which various people observed Jesus Christ after His resurrection from death. Several of these experiences are confirmed in more than one New Testament book. The appearances of the living Jesus Christ subsequent to His crucifixion and burial occurred at varying locations over a period of several weeks. Among the appearances that are mentioned are the following:
|Matthew 28:9-10Mark 16:9
|Matthew 28:16-20Mark 16:14-19
John 20:19-30; 21:1-14
|The apostles and others|
|Luke 24:13-31||Cleopas and another disciple|
|I Corinthians 15:3-8||CleopasThe apostles
James (Jesus’ brother)
Paul (the apostle)
In assessing the credibility of the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Stott states on page 55 of his aforementioned book that are three possibilities: they were inventions, they were hallucinations, or they were true. With regard to the first possibility, Stott says, “That the resurrection appearance stories are not deliberate inventions is as plain as could be. For one thing the narratives are sober and unadorned; for another they are graphic, and enlivened by the detailed touches which sound like the work of an eye-witness.”
James Anderson provides even stronger reasons for believing that the accounts of Jesus Christ’s resurrection were not fabrications. On pages 5-6 of his article entitled “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” which appeared in the March 29, 1968, issue of Christianity Today, Anderson says,
Think of the number of witnesses, over 500. Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. 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 they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense.
Why were the apostles of Jesus Christ, including Paul, willing to endure the hardships they did, including ridicule, beatings, imprisonment, and even horrible death, if they knew that what they were saying about the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not true? All of the apostles other than John died a martyr’s death. And Josephus, a prominent non-Christian Jewish historian who lived at that time, attests to the fact that James the brother of Jesus was also put to death for his Christian beliefs. Why did not at least one of them ever recant his declaration that Jesus Christ was resurrected from death? Obviously, they must have been sure that Jesus Christ was resurrected.
J. P. Moreland, Ph.D., says, on page 247 of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case For Christ,
[T]he apostles were willing to die for something they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands. They were in a unique position not to just believe Jesus rose from the dead but to know for sure. And when you’ve got eleven credible people with no ulterior motives, with nothing to gain and a lot to lose, who all agree they observed something with their own eyes – now you’ve got some difficulty explaining that away.
People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe those beliefs are true, and many people have died for a lie that they believed was true. However, people won’t die for beliefs that they know are false. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not occur, the apostles should have known. To the contrary, the apostles knew that Jesus had been resurrected, because they were eyewitnesses. Their belief in the resurrection of Jesus was not merely ideological, philosophical, or theological. And, since they were willing to die for their beliefs, it is reasonable to conclude that they were convinced that Jesus Christ was indeed resurrected from death.
Could the apostles have been mistaken about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is it possible that the accounts of Jesus Christ’s resurrection are attributable to hallucinations?
On pages 238-239 of The Case For Christ, Lee Strobel cites a document by Gary Collins, the author of dozens of books on psychological issues. In the document, Collins states,
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. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce an hallucination in somebody else. Since an hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.
And, on page 239 of Strobel’s same book, Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D, notes that, “The disciples were fearful, doubtful, and in despair after the Crucifixion, whereas people who hallucinate need a fertile mind of expectancy or anticipation.”
Clark Pinnock, on page 97 of his book, makes the following statements, which support the comments made by both Collins and Habermas:
[A hallucination] appears frequently at the end of a period of anxious wishfulness for something to happen, and to isolated persons, not to groups. . . . The resurrection caught everyone off guard. The disciples were surprised and disbelieving. . . . They needed convincing themselves.
James Anderson, on pages 97-98 of his book, adds the following insights regarding hallucinations:
[H]allucinations and similar phenomena conform . . . to certain rules. . . . [T]hey seem to be confined to persons of certain psychological types. But it is impossible to reduce those who claimed to have seen the risen Christ to any such classification. There was Mary Magdalene, who may have been an emotional and highly-strung young woman. But there was also a hard-headed tax collector, a ‘doubting Thomas’ and a number of down-to-earth fishermen – together with a heterogeneous crowd of some five hundred persons.
[E]xperiences of this kind are highly individualistic. . . . One man’s hallucinations, therefore, will almost certainly differ from another’s. But . . . five hundred people on one occasion had the very same ‘hallucination’ at the same time; while on other occasions ten, eleven, and seven individuals had precisely the same ‘fantasy.’ So it looks very much as though these experiences were based on objective facts rather than subjective impressions.
Furthermore, hallucinations are rare, according to Habermas. And, on page 239 of Strobel’s book The Case for Christ, he questions if it is reasonable “to believe that over a course of many weeks, people from all sorts of backgrounds, all kinds of temperaments, in various places, all experienced hallucinations?”
Michael Green states on page 97 of his book entitled The Empty Cross of Jesus,
The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity. . . . There can be no rational doubt that they occurred, and that the main reason why Christians became sure of the resurrection in the earliest days was just this. They could say with assurance, “We have seen the Lord.” They knewit was he.
There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus Christ was crucified. Furthermore, although some people may believe that He did not actually die from the crucifixion, their arguments do not stand up under scrutiny.
There is also no reasonable doubt that the tomb where Jesus Christ was buried was empty a few days after His burial. Ernest Kevan presented a lecture entitled “The Resurrection of Christ,” in which he expressed his belief that, while the empty tomb in which Jesus Christ had previously been buried does not necessarily prove the resurrection, it does offer only two alternatives. Kevan went on to say,
Those alternatives are that the empty tomb was either a Divine work or a human one.
No difficulty presents itself, however, when the decision has to be made between such alternatives as these. The enemies of Jesus had no motive for removing the body; the friends of Jesus had no power to do so. It would have been to the advantage of the authorities that the body should remain where it was; and the view that the disciples stole the body is impossible. The power that removed the body of the Saviour from the tomb must therefore have been Divine.
Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that the lives of the apostles of Jesus Christ changed dramatically after His crucifixion, and that many reliable witnesses saw Jesus Christ alive after His crucifixion and burial. James Anderson, on page 90 of his book, offers the following commentary, which provides a suitable summary of the basic reasons why these two developments support the validity of the resurrection:
How . . . can the fact of the resurrection be denied? . . . Think of the number of the witnesses; of the quality of the ethical teaching which they gave to the world and which, even on the testimony of their enemies, they lived out in their lives; of the fact that none of them, even under the pressure of sustained persecution or a martyr’s death, ever went back on the testimony he had given. Consider, too, the psychological absurdity of suggesting that a band of men should almost overnight be transformed from craven cowards huddled in an upper room into a company of witnesses whom no opposition could silence. . . .
Clark Pinnock says on page 99 of his book, “There are very few events of ancient history better attested with sound evidence than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Josh McDowell, on page 97 of More Than A Carpenter, a second book that he wrote, declares that Dr. Simon Greenleaf (“one of the greatest legal minds we have had in this country”) “concluded that the resurrection of Christ was one of the best supported events in history, according to the laws of legal evidence administered in courts of justice.”
Finally, in his book entitled Who Moved the Stone?, Frank Morison, a lawyer who had intended to write a book disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ, tells how he changed his mind after studying the evidence and, instead, came to believe in the resurrection. Significantly, the title of the first chapter of Who Moved the Stone? is “The Book that Refused to Be Written.”