The Evidence of the Resurrection
The Evidence for the Life, Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
By Austin Smith
Keeping in mind the command that we are given by Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, the purpose of this article is to explore the evidence we have for the historical life, death, burial, and resurrection, of Jesus of Nazareth. 1 Peter 3:15 says,
“15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”
The Greek word for “give a defense” is the word “apologia”. This is where we get the modern word “apologetics” from. So today we are going to engage in a bit of apologetics. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us, and after reading the article please take some time to look around and explore the rest of the website.
So we have this command before us of being ready to give a defense for our beliefs, and like I said I want to take this idea and I want to aim it at the very foundation of Christianity. So moving forward I would like for you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and follow along with me as I move through this chapter and discuss the topics at hand. We are going to start reading at the beginning of the chapter in verse 1. I will jump around a little bit here today and reference some other passages, but if you want to follow along then keep you finger on 1 Corinthians 15 because the first part of this chapter is what we are primarily going to be focusing on today. Starting in verse 1 at the beginning of this chapter we become acquainted with the most fundamental truths of the Gospel. We are going to get to the very root and epicenter of the Christian belief system. The Bible says,
“1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
So this right here is what we can call the “Gospel in nutshell”. Like we see in verse 1 Paul says “brethren, I declare to you the Gospel which I preached to you”. As Paul goes through and talks about this we are going to follow along with him and try to dissect each point that he makes to see whether or not they are true and what exactly his points can teach us. So he tells us in verse 1 that he is declaring to us the Gospel by which we are saved. That seems like an obvious point but that’s not something we want too over look. He starts out by telling us that we are saved by the Gospel and then he says in verse two, “if you hold fast that word which i preached to you - unless you believed in vain”. So this is Paul’s short introduction before he moves forward and you must understand these simple truths if you want to really understand why these topics matter so much. He is declaring to us the Gospel, and this is what saves us. Paul follows this with saying,“if you hold fast that word which I preached to you.” Many people like to believe that it doesn’t matter if you hold fast to that word. There is a popular and widespread doctrine today called the “preservation of the saints”. Many of you have probably heard of the acrostic T.U.L.I.P., which is an acrostic for the five points of Calvinism. The T stands for Total Hereditary Depravity. The U stands for Unconditional Election. The L stands for Limited Atonement. The I stands for Irresistible Grace. And the P stands for Preservation of the Saints. The Preservation of the Saints might be more familiar to you all under the name “Once Saved Always Saved.” Now I won’t stop here long and talk about this but it doesn’t seem that Paul and Peter believed in this. Firstly because of what Paul wrote here. He says in verses 2 and 3 “by which you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you”. So it seems that you are saved contingent upon your holding fast to the word. Peter expounds upon this and puts it in much more blunt terms in 2 Peter 2 verses 20-22 where he said,
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
So the Gospel is what saves us and we must hold fast to it and the teaching of the Bible for our salvation. We can’t turn back into the ways of the world. Like it says in Romans 6. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
Now we are going to continue making our way through 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and in these next verses this is where we really get to the meat of the passage. This is where we get into the the greatest news that has been proclaimed to mankind. This is the root of Christianity. This is the foundation on which we as Christians stand. We will begin reading in verse 3.
“3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,”
Now there’s a whole lot of perspectives out there regarding what we just read about Jesus. There’s a lot of people out there that believe Jesus was not a real person. People believe He never lived and walked on this earth, so he certainly never died by crucifixion because how can someone die if he never lived? Those people who believe that Jesus was not actually a real historical figure that lived on this earth are called mythicists. Of course they are called mythicists because they believe that the story of Jesus is a myth. Now I want to point out that this view is not prominent in the scholarly community. Most new testament scholars all agree that Jesus was a real historical figure. Yes, that even includes New Testament scholars that don’t claim to be Christians themselves. What we would call “secular New Testament scholars.” Even the very well known Non-Christian New Testament Scholar Bart Erhman wrote a book entitled “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth” in which he argues for the existence of the historical figure of Jesus despite his own lack of belief in the deity of Jesus. Another position that I would like to make mention of that you might hear a little bit more often is the viewpoint that Jesus was most certainly a real person, but there’s no way that we can know if Jesus actually died on the cross. I know that I’ve heard this idea a little more often than the mythicist position, but I think at one time or another we’ve all probably heard BOTH of these ideas. We’ve probably even asked ourselves these questions at times: “How do we know Jesus was real?” or “How do we know He died on the cross?” I’d like to address these questions first.
When you talk to non-believers about these issues you might run across these very bold and large sweeping statements like “We have absolutely no external corroboration for the existence and death of Jesus.” So first I will point out that this is completely false. And I don’t mean just partly false. I don’t mean that it could be a little bit true. It’s not an opinion question that you could see this way and I could see the other way. This statement is just false. There are actually at least 9 ancient non-Christian sources that talk about Jesus of Nazareth and corroborate that He was a real person. Again notice these are non-Christian sources, so we aren't even talking about early Christians sources — Church leaders like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, or Quadratus and Aristides of Athens. We are talking about the non-Christian sources. So we are going to take a look at a few of these now.
The first source
- Tacitus. Tacitus was a Roman historian that lived in the early second century (about 100 years after Christ) who wrote about the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. He wrote his work “Annals” or simply “Histories” around the year 116 AD, and this is what Tacitus said about Christ in his “Histories”.
“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. 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, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”
Now what do we learn from this? Well first we can see that there are Christians who were harshly persecuted for what they believed, but more importantly we see that Tacitus tells us that “Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of their procurators, Pontius Pilate.” So in this one sentence we get a load of facts that are of great value for Christians. We get that Jesus lived, that he died, that he died under the order of Pontius Pilate, that His followers were called Christians, that Christianity first broke out in Judea, and that Jesus lived under the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Some of you might be thinking “wow those facts seem really familiar”. This is because all of these facts are also found in the Bible.
The second source
2. Lucian. Lucian was a Greek satirist that lived in the second century. Lucian’s quotes about Jesus aren’t exactly complementary. As a matter of fact he describes Jesus in quite a blasphemous way, but regardless of this his quote is valuable as a non-Christian source attesting to Christ’s existence. This is just part of what Lucian said about Jesus and the early church.
“You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property”
Lucian here gives to us a good description of the early Christians and mentions that they follow the crucified Sage, which of course in this context is referring to Jesus.
The Jewish sources
3. Out of the remaining sources that we have I want to now take some time for us to look at the Jewish sources. These are the accounts of Flavius Josephus and the Jewish Talmud. We are going to read what the Talmud has to say first. The Talmud is a collection of Jewish documents compiled mostly likely a few hundred years after the time of Christ and this is what it says.
“Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously the herald had cried, “He is being led out for stoning, because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whosoever has anything to say in his defense, let him come and declare it.” As nothing was brought forward in his defense, he was hanged on Passover Eve.”
Josephus is another Jewish perspective for us to look to. Josephus lived roughly between the years of 37 AD and 100 AD and he was a leader in the war between the Jews and the Romans which occurred between 66 AD and 73 AD. This is the war where the Romans took over Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. During this war, Josephus, although he was a Jew, surrendered to Roman forces led by Vespasian in 67 AD and essentially changed sides. He eventually was granted Roman citizenship and freedom two years later when Vespasian become the Emperor of Rome in 69 AD. So this is the perspective the Josephus is writing from. He was not an advocate of Christianity to begin with when he was Jewish, but now he is a Jew that surrendered and is working for the Roman government. This is what Josephus said in his “Antiquities of the Jews”.
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
Now so far we have only covered some quotes from Tacitus, Lucian, The Talmud, and Flavius Josepus. There are actually 5 other early non-Christian sources (listed at bottom of article) that we will not read at this time that attest similar things about Jesus. These non-Christian sources alone give us a solid foundation for believing that Jesus was real and was crucified.
If you still have your Bible’s out we are now going to move to the next thing that Paul mentions. At the beginning of verse 4 Paul says “and that He was buried”. This is something that is often overlooked, but Paul believes it important enough to mention so we are going to look into the burial of Jesus. Now I will have to admit that I am not going to spend a lot of time on the burial, but this isn’t because the burial isn’t important. It is because like Jesus’ existence, this isn’t a very contested historical fact amongst scholars. As a matter of fact virtually all New Testament scholars believe in both the death and the burial of Jesus. Yes once again even secular scholars. Now to understand why the burial of Jesus isn't contested, we have to talk for just a second on the reliability of the New Testament Gospels. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
First we have to change how we view the New Testament. Many people will say “well the only thing that backs up the burial of Jesus comes from the Bible so we can’t trust it.” Well first that's only partly correct. The Bible isn’t the only place that talks about the burial. The burial is explained in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…….
Now some of you are thinking…”Austin. That is the Bible”. Well let me explain. The Bible isn't just one book. It is composed of 27 separate documents from the ancient Roman empire. These are the documents that Christians accept as scripture. And just because Christians accept them as scripture doesn't mean that they are just made up or false. As we have already seen they match up with what secular historians teach us. Jesus, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ followers, much of what the followers believed, the fact that Jesus lived under the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and that he was sentenced to death under the order of Pontius Pilate are corroborated by external sources. This is also only scathing the service of the real history that the New Testament records. There are a ton of things that show that the Gospels and the book of Acts record actual history. We can’t go into all of these things right now but we’ve already observed enough from secular history to prove that the documents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were not completely made up.
Well what about the question of whether we have accurate copies of the New Testament manuscripts? We don’t actually have the original autographs of any New Testament books so how do we know that the copies of the books that we do have, haven’t been changed throughout the centuries? Well we have 5,800 New Testament copies and fragments in the original Koine Greek language that the New Testament was written in. We also have over 20,000 copies in other languages like Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Arabic, but the Greek copies are the most important as far as reconstructing the original documents because that is the original language of the documents. So how big of a deal is it to have 5,800 copies? That is absolutely mind blowing. Many of you have probably heard of guys that lived back in this time such as Herodotus, Plato, Tacitus, Pliny, Caesar, and Homer. Homer comes in second place for ancient manuscripts. We have over 1,800 copies of his work Illiad. We have 8 manuscripts of Herodotus’s work, 7 manuscripts of Plato’s work, 20 manuscripts of Tacitus’s work, 7 manuscripts of Pliny’s work, and 10 manuscripts of Caesar’s work. So over 5,800 Greek manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament is still the winner.
So I say all of this to say that the accuracy of the documents aren’t doubted very much. It’s pretty widely accepted that the books are about 99.9 % accurate to the originals and the .01% that is disputed effects no central doctrine of the Christian faith. Not only that but all of the New Testament documents were almost certainly written within 70 years of Jesus life. Many scholars even believe that all of the Gospels were written before the year 70 AD. More liberal scholars will try to push the dates of the documents back much later, but it is generally believed even amongst the liberal scholars that the gospels were written within the first century. As a matter of fact most scholars on both sides of the aisle agree that 1 Corinthians, which we are looking at today, dates to roughly 55 AD. This is only a very short 22 years after Jesus’ lifetime.
So essentially most secular New Testament scholars just doubt the miracles and the supernatural aspects of the New Testament. But getting back to the burial of Jesus. This is what Frank Turek and Norman Geisler have to say about the burial of Jesus.
“The New Testament writers record that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish ruling council that had sentenced Jesus to die for blasphemy. This is not an event they would have made up. Considering the bitterness some Christians harbored against the Jewish authorities, why would they put a member of the Sanhedrin in such a favorable light? And why would they put Jesus in the tomb of a Jewish authority? For if Joseph didn’t really bury Jesus, the story would have been easily exposed as fraudulent by Jewish enemies of Christianity. But the Jews never denied the story, and no alternative burial story has ever been found.”
Aside from this many people still might ask what the motive was for Joseph of Aramathea? Why would a Jewish member of the Sanhedrin want to give Jesus a proper burial? The most likely answer to this seems to come from Deuteronomy chapter 21 verses 22-23 which gives instructs for a body to not be left hanging on a tree for more than 24 hours. It was also against Jewish law to bury a man on Sabbath days or festival days, and with the Passover right around the corner it seems that Joseph, in attempting to be a good Jew, decided to bury Jesus’ body quickly. John also seems to indicate this was the motivating reason behind Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus because in John chapter 19 starting in verse 38 and going through verse 42 John wrote…
“38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
So I agree with what Frank Turek and Norman Geisler have said. It seems that Joseph of Arimathea had good reasoning for wanting to bury Jesus and wanting to bury him so quickly. On top of this the writers of the Gospels don’t have much motivation for making up this detail if they were lying about their stories because if this detail wasn't true then the Jewish enemies of Christianity could have easily exposed this as a lie. Not to mention that we have no ancient accounts of a different burial story or theory that opposes the story of the gospels. And for these reasons almost all New Testament scholars accept the story of Jesus burial as historical.
The next historical fact that the majority of scholars accept is the empty tomb. Here are the basic reasons that point to the tomb actually being empty. These aren’t all of the reasons but I’m going to give you the reasons that I believe are the strongest. The first piece of evidence is that the gospels record that the women followers of Jesus were the first people at the tomb after the resurrection. In the Mediterranean culture of that time period, this would be a very odd thing to fabricate because the testimony of women was not considered to be credible. Of course we don’t view women that way today and the Bible teaches that women are to be treated much better than that, but in that culture the testimony of women would not have been very credible in the eyes of the people. Therefore, it seems odd to include this detail as evidence for their story…unless they were telling the truth.
The second fact that supports the empty tomb is the preaching of the early Christian Church. Jesus’ followers believed and preached from the very beginning that He had risen from the dead. The Jewish authorities of the time were strongly opposed to this teaching and wanted to suppress it. Well Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, the geographical center of the Jewish religion, and he was probably buried not far outside of the city. The Jews would have had a really easy job of killing early Christianity if they could have just taken people for a quick stroll down to go see the tomb and said, “See there’s the tomb and the body is still in there.” The fact that the Christian church started in Jerusalem and successfully grew there indicates that the burial place of Jesus in Jerusalem must have been empty. And as a matter of fact we have absolutely no ancient Jewish sources that make an attempt at contesting the empty tomb, and the lack of attempt to deny to the empty tomb in ancient literature points to the fact that the empty tomb was not the topic of debate. People instead talked about why the tomb was empty.
So we have established Jesus’ life, death, burial, and the empty tomb so let's move forward and see what Paul has to say next. Starting in the second half of verse 4 Paul says,
“and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
So right here. Here is the part where we start to get differing opinions. People are divided on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. We’ve all probably met people on both sides of this issue, and this is such a big issue that it is worthy of our time and careful consideration. Anybody can die and anybody can be buried, but nobody can raise himself from the dead unless he has some type of supernatural power. This issue is huge for everyone that lives on this earth because if Jesus rose from the dead then Christianity is true. And if Christianity is true, then the only proper response to that fact would be to become a Christian. So we are going to turn our focus into investigating the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and we are going to do this by investigating the leading theories regarding the resurrection.
The first theory is the Stolen Body Theory.
Many people have proposed that Jesus body was buried and that his tomb was visited at some point by His apostles that stole the body from the grave and then passed off a story that Jesus had risen from the dead. There’s multiple problems with this theory. The first problem was that the apostles were Jewish men that would have had no motivation to just suddenly decide overnight that they were going to start worshipping this one man as God and forsake all of their Jewish traditions like worshipping on the Sabbath day. Doing this would have caused them to be ridiculed by their own families and rejected by their own people. They certainly had no kind of religious motivation to invent some new religion. Especially Paul who was a well educated Jew who worked for the Jewish authorities to persecute Christians. Since Paul persecuted Christians, he certainly was aware of what he was risking when he converted to Christianity. And how does one account for the experiences that the apostles had? They believed they had seen the risen Christ. This explanation of the body being stolen cannot account for the common belief and tradition that almost all of the apostles were brutally martyred except for maybe John who probably died of old age. If the apostles had stolen the body and they actually knew that the whole story was a lie, then they wouldn’t have gone to their deaths to defend the story. They would have simply recanted their beliefs when threatened with death to save their lives, but since not of them ever recanted in the face of death, we can safely conclude that they at least had no hidden conspiracy about the resurrection. To give you an example of how big of a deal this is I’ll read a quote from Chuck Colson who was a former aide to President Nixon and went to prison over the Watergate Scandal. He said,
“Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aides to the President of the United States—the most powerful man in America, who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean, turned state’s evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin”—and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on—two weeks! The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact, is that all that those around the president were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake. But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stoning, execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Don’t you think that one those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did.”
At the very least all scholars admit that the 12 apostles at least believed they had seen the risen Jesus because of the writings of theirs that we have today and because tradition tells us that all of the apostles died brutal deaths except for maybe John. Also James the brother of Jesus was not a a believer in Jesus while He was alive. The Bible actually tells us that Jesus brother thought Jesus was insane. But some time later both Paul and James convert and fully believe in the resurrection! Not only this but all of the apostles already had their own religion. They were Jewish men that would have had no motivation to just suddenly decide overnight that they were going to start worshipping this one man as God and forsake all of their Jewish traditions like worshipping on the Sabbath day. Doing this would have caused them to be ridiculed by their own families and rejected by their own people. So the apostles have no clear motive for stealing the body and making up this resurrection story. Not to mention the guards in front of the tomb that would have guarded the body with their lives. For these reasons, the stolen body theory falls short.
The second theory is the Hallucination Theory
This theory states that the apostles were actually sincere in their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they were deceived because they experienced hallucinations.
There are two major flaws in this theory. The first is that hallucinations don’t happen in groups. They are like dreams. You wouldn't have a dream one night and then wake up and say to your friend “wow that was a great dream we had last night”. That’s not how dreams or hallucinations work. Yet Jesus appeared to all twelve of his apostles on many different occasions, in many different settings, over a forty day period, and not only did he appear to them, but he often appeared to them all at once while they were in a group and sometimes ate with them and let then touch Him to prove that he had resurrected in His body. It’s already pretty rare for someone to have a hallucination, but in this situation it’s completely unbelievable. We aren’t talking about a single hallucination. We are talking about multiple guys having the exact same hallucination all at the same time on multiple occasions. This is virtually impossible. Then to top it all off, this theory doesn't even offer an explanation for the empty tomb. If the apostles had hallucinations then the Jews could have strolled on down, produced Jesus body from the tomb, and proved them wrong. They never did. So this theory agrees that the tomb is empty, gives no explanation why the tomb is emptu, and then proposes that the resurrection narrative is due to virtually impossible hallucinations. For these reasons this theory isn’t believable.
The third theory is the Wrong Tomb Theory
This theory, of course, proposes that Jesus’ followers went to the wrong tomb. This theory is very easy to dismiss. First of all it’s highly unlikely that Jesus followers didn’t know where He was buried. Especially considering He was buried in a very nice tomb owned by a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Everybody in Jerusalem probably knew where this grave was. But let’s just say they did make a mistake. Let’s say they got confused about where they were going or they made a wrong turn and they went to the wrong tomb. It still wouldn't matter because if they went to the wrong tomb and then claimed that the tomb was empty, the Jewish and Roman authorities would have just went to the correct tomb, revealed Jesus body, and disproved the resurrection. The body was revealed though. So this theory doesn’t explain all of the facts either, and it falls short.
Then there’s the Substitute Theory
This theory asserts that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, but rather a substitute took His place and died for Him. This is the theory that Muslims believe in because it is taught by the the Qu’ran in Sura 4. The first problem is that this theory was never once proposed in the time around the crucifixion. This theory wasn’t proposed until about 600 years after Christ when the religion of Islam started. This theory not only contradicts all of the Christian sources of the crucifixion, but it also contradicts all of the early non-Christian sources that attest to Jesus crucifixion which were written much earlier than this theory. This theory also wants us to believe that all of the apostles, Roman guards, Pontius Pilate, the Jews, and Jesus’ own family and friends including his own mother that were at the crucifixion were all mistaken and none of them could tell the difference between the actual Jesus of Nazareth and a substitute.
The Qu’ran even says in chapter 5 verse 47 and verse 69 that the Gospels are inspired by God. Now I agree, but the problem is that if I go and read the Gospels, that leaves no room for the Qu’ran…because the Gospels say that Jesus was the Son of God, died, and rose again. But Islam rejects every one of these. So for these reasons this theory isn’t believable either.
So finally this last alternative theory might actually be my favorite out of all of the alternative theories about the resurrection.
This theory is called the Apparent Death Theory.
This theory states that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but instead he merely passed out, was still alive when he was placed in the tomb, and later escaped.
This is my favorite alternative theory because this theory proposes that Jesus was beaten, whipped, tortured, had heavy nails driven through his hands and feet, hung on a cross for three hours, had a Roman soldier pierce his side with a spear likely puncturing the pericardium of his heart to make sure that he was dead, was taken down from the cross, buried without anyone noticing that He was still alive, then once in the grave He unwrapped Himself from the roughly 75 pounds of burial wrappings that he would have been buried in, moved what some engineers have estimated to have been a roughly 3 to 4,000 thousand pound stone away from the entrance of the tomb, snuck past the Roman guards, and somehow managed to crawl back into Jerusalem while fatally wounded…………..and convince His apostles that He had risen from the dead. I think it’s pretty self explanatory why this theory is not believable.
So what is the explanation then? How do we account for all of the historical facts we have set before us? How do we account for the death, the burial, the empty tomb, the appearances to the 12 apostles, the appearances to James and Paul, and this new religion that inspired many Jews and pagans alike to ditch their centuries old religious traditions and follow and worship Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and Son of God. The best conclusion is that Jesus actually rose from the dead, and if Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead, then it only makes sense that we be Christians.
Now looking back at our text we will read the next 8 verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Paul wrote,
“12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
I want us to pay special attention to what Paul says in verses 17 and 18. “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” So what does he mean here when he talks about those who have fallen asleep in Christ? What does it mean to be in Christ? Well, being “in Christ” simply means that you are a Christian. Paul wrote in Romans 12:5 “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
That’s what it means. If you are in Christ then you have come into a union with Christ and you are a member of the body of Christ. And in this very same letter Paul teaches how we are to become members of the Body of Christ. Turn back to Romans chapter 6. In the first few verses Paul lays out for us why all of the stuff that he just taught us in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is so significant. In Romans 6 starting in verse 1 the Bible reads,
“1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
So maybe you're not a Christian. Maybe you have never obeyed the Gospel plan of salvation that is laid out in the scriptures. If that’s you today we want you to know that Christ died for your sins and resurrected in order to extend to you the offer of eternal life. The Bible says that for one to become a Christian he must hear the word (Romans 10:17), he must believe that Jesus is God (John 8:24), he must confess Jesus with his mouth (Romans 10:9-10), he must repent (Acts 2:38), and he must be baptized in water for the remission of sins. As we already read in Romans 6 and like it says in 1 Peter 3:21,
“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”
If you aren’t a Christian but would like to become one, then we would love to assist you in that.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with a few quotes from early non-Christian writers regarding the crucifixion scene of Jesus. Phlegon of Tralles was a second century historian who was born around 80 AD. Phlegon wrote,
“In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great eclipse of the Sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occurred in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicæa.”
We also have a quote from Thallus that survived through the years in the writings of Joseph Africanus. This is what Joseph Africanus had to say about both Thallus’ and Phlegon’s comments.
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the Passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending of rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer.”
The full list of non-Christian sources mentioned near the beginning of the article.
- Pliny the Younger
- The Talmud
- Mara Bar Serapion