| A (Not So) Brief Defense of Christianity |
- The Resurrection of Christ an Historical Fact
Survival Course Manual
A (Not So) Brief Defense of Christianity
X. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a Historical Fact
There are really two points that we must
prove in order to demonstrate the truth of the resurrection of
Jesus Christ. First, the tomb of Jesus Christ was found empty on
the third day after His death. Second, the tomb was empty because
Jesus was alive.
- The tomb of Jesus Christ was found
empty on the third day.
Many people have denied that Jesus' tomb
was found empty on the third day after His death, but their reasons
have generally been theological or philosophical. It's extremely
difficult to argue against the empty tomb on the basis of
historical evidence. Here are some historical facts that support
the idea that Jesus' body was no longer in the grave.
- Christians have argued that the
tomb was empty on the third day since the beginning.
It usually takes at least two
generations for false legends to develop, for the simple reason
that it takes about that long for those witnesses who might
contradict the tale to die off. By all accounts, however, the
followers of Jesus began proclaiming right away that he had
been raised from the dead.
The books of the New Testament were
written early enough that eyewitnesses could have still
contradicted them, and those books at times reveal oral traditions
(in the form of early creeds, songs, or sayings) that show the
church's belief in the resurrection to be even older. There does
not appear to have been sufficient time for a legendary account to
have developed the resurrection was talked about immediately after
the death of Christ.
- Even the opponents of Christianity
believed that the tomb was empty.
If Jesus' body had still been in the
tomb, it would have been pretty easy for the opponents of
Christianity to discredit the resurrection. They could have simply
produced the corpse, paraded it around town, and put an end to any
further speculation. Why didn't they do it? Because the body wasn't
The Gospel of Matthew records one of
the arguments that the religious leaders of the day used to explain
the fact of the empty tomb. Apparently the story was widely spread
among the Jews that the disciples had stolen the body from the tomb
while the guards were sleeping (Matt, 28:13 15). They did not deny
that the tomb was empty. They simply offered another explanation
for the disappearance of the body!
Some may suggest that the body of
Jesus was never buried in a recognizable tomb, and that the
opponents of Christianity simply were unable to locate the corpse
when Jesus' disciples began talking about the resurrection.
However, the earliest historical accounts maintain that He was
placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the
Sanhedrin. There is no reason to question the credibility of this
testimony, which is very ancient and contains a number of specific
details. As Craig writes,
"Even the most skeptical
scholars acknowledge that Joseph was probably the genuine,
historical individual who buried Jesus, since it is unlikely that
early Christian believers would invent an individual, give him a
name and nearby town of origin, and place that fictional character
on the historical council of the Sanhedrin, whose members were well
Jesus was buried in a known
tomb, but the tomb was empty the third day. This is a fact that
even the opponents of Christianity recognized, and it's one that
Christians can appeal to in their arguments for the gospel (Acts
- If the tomb had not been empty, it
probably would have been treated as a shrine.
It was common in first-century
Judaism to regard the graves of holy men as shrines, but there is
absolutely no suggestion that the grave of Jesus was ever treated
in that way. His followers did not come back again and again to the
place to worship, nor did they treat it with any special esteem.
There was no reason to, because there was nothing inside.
- If the tomb was occupied, what
would make the disciples of Jesus risk their lives by saying that
it was empty?
Jesus' followers clearly believed
His tomb was empty, for they were persecuted from the very
beginning for their testimony to that effect. That doesn't prove
that what they said was true, but it does strongly suggest that
they believed what they said. People have died for lies, but only
because they believed them.
What would make the followers of
Jesus believe that His tomb was empty? Their own writings state
that they believed it because they went to see the tomb and found
that His body was no longer there. They did what you and I would
do. They checked it out, and it was empty.
- The tomb of Jesus was empty because He
had been resurrected from the dead.
There is very little question that the
tomb of Jesus was found empty on the third day after His death.
This is a fact that was widely proclaimed at a time when it would
have been easily discredited had it not been true. Even the
opponents of Christianity agreed that the tomb was empty, and
therein lies the crux of our next problem.
Given that the tomb was empty, what
happened to the body of Jesus? There have been several suggestions,
only one of which can be true.
- Did the disciples steal the
As noted above, this was one of the
earliest skeptical explanations for the empty tomb. It may be
early, but it isn't very credible.
For the disciples to steal the body,
they would have had to overcome guards who were stationed there
specifically to prevent its theft. At the same time, they would
have had to manifest a tremendous amount of courage, which is some
thing they apparently did not have when they fled the night Jesus
If the disciples had stolen the
body, they obviously would have known that the resurrection had not
really taken place. The fact that these men suffered in life and
were then killed for their faith in the resurrection strongly
suggests that they believed it really happened. They did not give
their lives for what they knew was a lie. The disciples did not
steal the body of Jesus.
- Were the disciples deceived?
Some have suggested that the
disciples really did believe in the resurrection, but that they
were deceived by hallucinations or religious hysteria. This would
be possible if only one or two persons were involved, but He was
seen alive after His death by groups of people who touched Him, ate
with Him, and conversed with Him. Even more to the point, the tomb
really was empty! If the disciples didn't steal it, even if they
did only imagine that they had seen it, what happened to the body
- Did the Jewish leaders take
If the Jewish leaders had taken the
body of Jesus, they would have certainly produced it in order to
refute the idea that He had been raised from the dead. They never
did that, because they didn't have the body.
- Did Jesus really die?
When left with no other credible
option, some have suggested that Jesus did not really die, that He
only appeared to be dead, was revived, and then appeared to the
disciples. This makes a mockery out of the sufferings of the cross,
suggesting that a beaten and crucified man could force his way out
of a guarded tomb. At the same time, it portrays Jesus as the sort
of person who would willingly deceive his disciples, carrying off
the greatest hoax of all time. That the disciples would believe Him
to be resurrected in triumph over death would be even more
surprising if He was in fact on the edge of death after a severe
Jesus was truly killed, He was
actually buried, and yet His grave was empty. Why? It is extremely
unlikely that anybody took the body, but Jesus' disciples offered
- Jesus was raised from the
Since the other explanations do not
adequately explain the fact of the empty tomb, we have reason to
consider more seriously the testimony of those who claimed to be
The followers of Jesus said that the
tomb was empty because Jesus had been raised from the dead, and
many people claimed to have seen Him after the resurrection. In 1
Corinthians 15, Paul identifies a number of individuals who
witnessed the resurrected Christ, noting also that Christ had
appeared to over five hundred persons at one time (v. 6). He tells
his readers that most of those people were still alive, essentially
challenging them to check out the story with those who claimed to
be eyewitnesses. The presence of such eyewitnesses prevented Paul
and others from turning history into legend.
Alternative explanations are
inadequate, and eyewitnesses were put to death because they
continued to maintain that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Christianity exists because these people truly believed in the
resurrection, and their testimony continues to be the most
reasonable explanation for the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.