The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or Reality?
Imagine that you have been hiking all day in the mountains of
Colorado, and you are lost. An enormous snowstorm is fast approaching,
and if you do not find a way out soon, it will cost you your life. Up
ahead there is a fork in the road, where you see two people. One is
laying down on the ground--dead. The other is standing up and wearing a
park ranger's uniform--alive. Who would you ask for directions?
Obviously, the living one.
A similar situation surrounds the questions of life after death.
Many religions claim to have the answers, but they all contradict each
other. They cannot all be true. So how can we know who to believe?
Christianity seems to be unique. Its founder and leader, Jesus
Christ, not only experienced death, but it is claimed that He also rose
from the dead and remains alive. If this is true, who would you believe
concerning matters of eternal destiny--one who is lying in his grave, or
one who has risen from the grave?
If Jesus has risen, it would seem reasonable to consider His
claim to be the only way to God: "I am the way, and the truth, and
the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me" (John 14:6). But,
according to the apostle Paul, "If Christ has not been raised, [the
Christian's] faith is worthless" (1 Cor. 15:17). So the question
arises: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
To investigate this issue, we will examine six facts which
virtually all scholars--even critical non-Christian scholars--who address
Christ's resurrection accept as historical. We will also see that the
Bible is not the only source of evidence for Christ's resurrection. John
Singleton Copley, recognized as one of the greatest legal minds in
British history, sums up the matter well: "I know pretty well what
evidence is; and I tell you, such evidence as that for the resurrection
has never broken down yet."
1. Jesus Christ died due to the rigors of crucifixion and was buried in
Jesus was crucified. Extra-biblical sources (sources apart from
the Bible) confirm this fact. Of particular interest is a reference by
Thallus, a non-Christian Samaritan historian. He regarded the
crucifixion of Jesus as so significant that he included it in his History
of the World, which he wrote about A.D. 52. Thallus tried to explain
away the darkness that fell when Jesus died on the cross as an eclipse of
the sun. Jewish sources also refer to Jesus' crucifixion at
Jesus was dead. The nature of crucifixion ensures death. After
analyzing the medical and historical evidence leading to Jesus' death, an
article in the Journal of the American Medical Association
"Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not
die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge"
(March 21, 1986, p. 1463). Even if Jesus had not died on the cross,
surely He would have died from three days in the tomb without food,
water, and much needed medical attention.
2. Jesus' tomb was empty just a few days later
Professor of philosophy Dr. G.R. Habermas in his Ancient Evidence
for the Life of Jesus writes: "Our study [of the extra-biblical
has shown that Jesus taught in Palestine and was crucified and buried in
Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate. These sources assert that Christianity
had its beginnings in the same location." Christ's apostles did not go
to some obscure place to begin preaching about His resurrection, but
instead went back to the city of Jerusalem, the very place of Jesus'
execution and grave. If what the apostles were preaching had been false,
it would have been evident to the people in Jerusalem and Christianity
more than likely would not have begun.
This situation therefore demands that Jesus was no longer in
tomb. Paul Althaus writes that the resurrection proclamation "could not
have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if
the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all
Second, early Jewish testimony admits the empty tomb. Matthew
28:11-15 makes reference to the Jewish assertion that the disciples stole
the body. The author then adds that this story was still being spread at
the time when he was writing. This text could not have been written
unless there really was a Jewish counterargument to the empty
tomb--otherwise, this passage would have been exposed as a fraud. Also,
the passage would have been pointless, since its main purpose was to
refute the Jewish allegation. The significance of this is that the early
Jews did not deny the empty tomb, but rather admitted the empty tomb by
trying to explain it away. Additionally, Josh McDowell points out that a
compilation of 5th century Jewish writings, called the Toledoth
acknowledges that the tomb was empty. Dr. Paul Maier calls this
"positive evidence from a hostile source, the strongest kind of
historical evidence. In essence, if a source admits a fact that is
decidedly not in its favor, the fact is genuine." That is exactly the
case with the empty tomb.
Because of the strong case for the empty tomb, there are many
natural theories that attempt to explain it away in order to deny
Did the disciples go to the wrong tomb? This cannot be the case
because the Jewish authorities, since they were against
Christianity,would have wasted no time in producing the body of Jesus
from the proper tomb, putting an end to Christianity. Surely someone
would have discovered this "mistake."
Did the disciples steal the body? If so, then the men who
delivered to the world the highest moral standards it has ever known were
frauds, liars, and hypocrites. Is this credible to believe? Paul Little
asks, "Are these men, who helped transform the moral structure of
society, consummate liars or deluded madmen? These alternatives are
harder to believe than the fact of the resurrection, and there is not a
shred of evidence to support them."
Did the Jews or the Romans steal it? Dr. John Warwick
dispels this possibility: "It passes the bounds of credibility that the
early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and preached it
among those who might easily have refuted it by producing the body of
Jesus." If they had the body, why didn't they put the corpse on a cart
and wheel it through Jerusalem, thus eliminating for all time any belief
in Christ's resurrection?
What about grave robbers anonymous? They steal what's on the
body, not the body. Who would want to steal a dead corpse?
In addition, most scholars today reject these natural theories
because they all fail to explain another crucial factor:
3. The disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was
the risen Christ
This fact is not widely disputed today, even among critical
scholars, because of the first-hand testimony supporting it. The
gospels, which record these appearances, claim to have been written by
eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus and by those who recorded eyewitness
testimony. These internal claims are confirmed by external sources. In
addition, the reliability and trustworthiness of the New Testament has
been confirmed by extra-biblical sources and archaeology. For these
reasons, the conclusion that the gospels record eyewitness testimony, as
they claim, cannot be denied.
In these reliable eyewitness documents, Jesus is reported to have
appeared physically alive to His disciples after His crucifixion. This
testimony is verified by 1 Cor. 15:3-8. In this passage, Paul is
recording an early creed concerning the resurrection appearances which,
the majority of scholars believe, he received within six years of the
crucifixion from Peter and James. Since Peter and James are both
mentioned in this creed as having seen Jesus alive after His death, we
may agree with Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide who says that this creed
"may be considered the statement of eyewitnesses."
Because the gospels and this creed are the early testimony of
eyewitnesses (not to mention that these eyewitnesses have been
be trustworthy), the theory that the resurrection is a myth or legend can
be ruled out. There are only three options--the disciples hallucinated,
lied, or really encountered the bodily risen Christ.
The disciples could not have been hallucinating because this
theory is flatly contradicted by certain psychological principles
governing the appearances of hallucinations. Also, the disciples record
touching Jesus and giving Him food (Luke 24:39-43), which cannot be done
with a hallucination. In addition, this theory fails to account for the
empty tomb. The next option is that the apostles were lying. But...
4. Jesus' disciples were transformed into bold witnesses who died for
their belief in the resurrection.
Of the twelve disciples, ten died for their belief in Christ's
resurrection and their belief in Him as the Son of God. This is
significant because if Jesus had not risen from the dead His disciples
knew it. People may die for something they believe to be true, but
fact false. But if the resurrection did not happen, the disciples did
not just die for a lie which they mistakenly believed to be true, but
died for a lie that they knew was a lie. Ten people would not all
give their lives for something they knew to be a lie.
Josh McDowell puts this well: "Jesus followers could not have
faced torture and death unless they were convinced of His resurrection.
The unanimity of their message and course of conduct was amazing...if
they were deceivers, it's hard to explain why one of them didn't break
down under pressure." After witnessing events such as Watergate, can
we reasonably suppose that the disciples could have totally covered up
such a lie?
5. The existence of the Christian Church
Christianity requires an historic cause. It did not exist until
about A.D. 30, when it suddenly burst to life, spread like wildfire, and
changed the world. What could have started this if not the resurrection,
as the early Christians claimed?
Josh McDowell writes, "The Church was founded on the
resurrection, and disproving it would have destroyed the whole Christian
movement. However, instead of any such disproof, through the 1st
century, Christians were threatened, beaten, flogged and killed because
of their faith." It would have been much simpler to silence
Christianity by putting forth evidence disproving the resurrection, but
this could not be done.
6. The conversion of Paul
If there was no resurrection, then Paul deceived the other
apostles of an appearance of Christ to him, and they in turn deceived
Paul! "Even worse, what could have motivated him to `sell out' to his
former `ministry' of persecuting the Christians when he was convinced
that it was God's will? From his point of view, why would he risk the
damnation of his own soul by converting to what he perceived as
anti-Jewish beliefs?" Paul says that it was an appearance of the risen
Christ that convinced him that Christianity is true.
Based on the evidence, my conclusion is that the Christian faith
is a reasonable faith (not a blind faith), based not on myth or
but on a solid historical event--the resurrection of Jesus. What do you
think? Would you agree with George Ladd, who said, "The only rational
explanation for these historical facts is that God raised Jesus in bodily
form"? How else would you explain all of these facts? Perhaps
before you come to a conclusion, you should consider one more reason.
Jesus has transformed millions of lives throughout history
My reasons for believing in Christ's resurrection are not simply
based on historical facts, as important as they are. I believe that
Jesus rose from the dead because He lives in me and I have experienced
the abundant life He offers. Millions of others have experienced this,
too, which leads us to the most important question of all: What is the
significance of Christ's resurrection?
First, we can be sure that life does not end at the grave.
Second, we can be certain that Jesus is who He claimed to be -- fully God
and fully man. Therefore, Jesus is the only one who can speak with
certainty and final authority on matters of eternal destiny. This
verifies Jesus' claim to be the only way to God and the claim that
Christianity is true. Third, there is genuine hope. Through the risen
Jesus, we can enter into a personal relationship with the living God,
have the certainty of eternal life, and experience His abundant life.
Several years ago, I began this relationship with God. I
understood that God loved me and created me to know Him personally. But,
I was also aware that before a holy and just God I was morally guilty
(i.e. sinful) and deserving of His judgment. I came to understand that a
relationship with God could not be restored unless the penalty for my sin
was paid--eternal death (Rom. 6:23).
The good news is that, on the cross, Jesus died in our place to
pay the death penalty for our sin (Rom. 5:8). That's what it means to
say "Christ died for us." That is also why He is the only way to
God--only Jesus has died to provide our forgiveness. If there was any
other way, Jesus' wouldn't have died. His resurrection demonstrates that
He conquered death and sin.
The Bible says that this relationship with God and eternal life
is a gift and therefore cannot be earned by good moral behavior (Eph.
2:8,9). Like any other gift, I knew that I had to accept it before it
would become mine (John 1:12). So I admitted to God that I was guilty of
rebellion toward Him and made a decision to put my trust in Jesus to
forgive me and to give me eternal life. I have been encouraged by His
promises to come into my life (Revelation 3:20), to give me eternal life
(John 5:24) and to make me a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). This gives
me hope not only for the here after, but also for the here and now.
No one wants to believe in something that isn't true, especially
me. The resurrection of Jesus has given me substantial reason to believe
that my faith is not in vain.
The evidence is clear: Mohammed's tomb -- occupied. Buddha's
tomb -- occupied. Confucius' tomb -- occupied. Jesus' tomb -- EMPTY.
What is your verdict?
1. Mortimer J. Adler, Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and
the Unity of Truth, Macmillan, 1990.
2. Antony Flew and Gary Habermas, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, pp.
3. Wilbur M. Smith, Therefore Stand, p. 425.
4. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?,
InterVarsity Press, 1972, p. 113.
5. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 43a.
6. Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson
Publishers, 1979, p. 217.
7. Paul Little, Know Why You Believe, Scripture Press Publications,
Inc., 1971, p. 63.
8. John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity, InterVarsity
Press, 1972, p. 78.
9. Carl Braaten, History and Hermeneutics, p. 78.
10. History and Christianity, pp. 31-35.
11. Evidence, pp. 65-74.
12. Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, p.99. For a more
in-depth treatment of 1 Cor. 15:3-8, refer to endnote 15, pp. 67-68.
13. Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, Tyndale House Publishers,
1977, p. 67.
14. Evidence, p. 218.
15. Gary Habermas & J.P. Moreland, Immortality: The Other Side of
Death, Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, p. 58.
16. George Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, William B.
Eerdsman Publishing, 1975, p. 141.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.
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