The whole of Christianity rests upon the resurrection of Jesus. If he was not raised, Paul admits, “then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14 cf. v. 17). He went on to say, “But now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20). He affirmed that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God… by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
Have you ever noticed how many times the New Covenant affirms Jesus’ resurrection? The following is a list, that I’ve compiled, in which Jesus’ resurrection is affirmed: Matthew 28:6, 7; Mark 16:6, 9, 14; Luke 24:6, 34; John 2:22; 21:14; Acts 1:22; 2:31, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:2, 10, 33; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:18, 31, 32; 23:6; 24:21; Romans 1:4; 4:24, 25; 6:4, 5, 9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9; 14:9; 15:12; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:4, 12, 15, 20; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 2:12; 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 1:3, 21; 3:21. Clearly, the resurrection is a central message in early preaching, and in the New Covenant.
Moreover, Jesus prophesied that He would be raised (Matthew 12:39-40; 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33; 24:6-8; John 2:19-22). Even His opponents understood what He meant (Matthew 27:62-66). Jesus’ own credibility rests upon His resurrection (cf. Deuteronomy 18:22). Two things did the early Christians and non-Christians agree upon mutually. (1) The both agreed that he died. The apostles preached such (Acts 2:36; 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23; 2:2). The Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 112) said that Christ, “…was put to death by Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberias” (Annals, 15:44). The Talmud speaks of Jesus of Nazareth as “a transgressor in Israel, who practiced magic, scorned the words of the wise, led people astray… He was hanged on Passover Eve for heresy, and misleading the people” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? p. 101). (2) The both agree that the body of Jesus was missing. It did not stay in the tomb. The Bible makes clear that His enemies knew this (Matthew 28:11-15). Justin Martyr wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho (A.D. 165) of a letter that the Jewish community had circulated concerning the empty tomb. The letter said of Jesus, “A godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilaean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (chapter 108 quoted by Kyle Butt and Eric Lyon in Behold! The Lamb of God, p. 139-140). Another Jewish writing, Toledoth Yeshu (6th century A.D.) written to discredit Jesus say, “A diligent search was made and he (Jesus – B.H.) was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave… (ibid, p. 140).
What happened to the body? Was Jesus raised from the dead?
He really wasn’t resurrected; The disciples just imagined, or hallucinated it.
This does not seem to be an adequate explanation. Jesus was seen by a multitude of people [1. Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14-18); 2. Other women (Matthew 28:9-10); 3. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32); 4. Simon (Luke 24:33-35; 1 Corinthians 15:5); 5. Ten disciples, without Thomas (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19, 25); 6. Eleven disciples, with Thomas (Mark 16:14; John 20:26-29); 7. Seven disciples at the Sea Tiberius (John 21:1-24); 8. Eleven disciples on mount in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20); 9. Over five hundred brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:6); 10. James, thought to be Jesus’ half-brother (1 Corinthians 15:7); 11. The disciples at ascension (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-11)]. Some of these who saw Him, knew Him well (1 John 1:1; 2 Peter 1:16). These appearances occurred at different times, and places, to different people, over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3).
Gary Habermas has written, “Hallucinations are comparably rare. They’re usually caused by drugs or bodily deprivation. Chances are, you don’t know anybody who’s ever had a hallucination not caused by one of these two things. Yet, we’re supposed to believe that over the course of many weeks, people from all sorts of backgrounds, all kinds of temperments, in various places, all experienced hallucinations” (quoted by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ, p. 239).
Moreover, imagination or hallucination would not explain the missing body. Remember, on this point of the body being missing there was agreement.
Perhaps, the disciples fabricated the story. That is: they simply made up the story of the resurrection.
Why would they do so? (1) Financial gain? This does not seem likely. Paul was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest legal scholar in Israel of that day (Acts 22:3). He had contact with the highest officials in his nation (Acts 9:1-2; 22:5; 26:10). He said, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation” (Galatians 1:14 NKJV). His record was well-known to all Jews (Acts 26:4). He may have been a Judge (Acts 26:10 – The words “I gave my voice” are literally, “I cast down my pebble.” In court a white pebble was cast down for acquittal, a black pebble for condemnation. The NASB and the question a rising star in Israel (Acts 22:3-5; 26:3-4; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:4-8). Yet, Paul gave all of this up by becoming a Christian. He wrote, “What things were gain to me, those I count loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). As a preacher, Paul often times had to support himself with his hands (Acts 18:3; 20:33-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). He told the elders from Ephesus, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:33-34). Paul wasn’t even supported by those at Corinth (1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11). (2) Physical comfort? Certainly not! Paul was stoned at Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14:19). He caused a riot at Ephesus (Acts 19). He described his hardships – “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and day I have been in the deep. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness, and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). ). Think of others: Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:59-8:2); James was killed with the sword (Acts 12:2). Extra-Biblical writings indicate that of the twelve, only John did not suffer martyrdom. Yet, he did not have it easy. He was exiled to the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). (3) Popularity? I don’t think so! Paul, upon conversion was alienated from Israel’s elite. Three years after his conversion, some in the church still did not trust him (Acts 9:26 cf. Galatians 1:18). His preaching did not always please his own brethren (Galatians 4:16). The message was not always popular (Luke 6:26; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
Moreover, if the story was fabricated – why would they be willing to die for a lie? Many people will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe them true. But not if they know that it is a made up lie. Pamela Binning Ewen, “Whether or not we believe that the events reported by the authors of the four Gospels are true, it is clear from their own conduct by the fact that they were willing to suffer the rest of their lives and even die for the right to teach that these events occurred, that they were truthful in their testimony at least insofar as they believed it to be so. People do not (ordinarily anyway – B.H.) die for what they know to be untrue – for a lie” (Faith on Trial, p.90).
Further, there is still one other problem. What happened to the body?
Maybe, the disciples did steal the body. This is what was reported (Matthew 28:11-15).
How would they have done this? The tomb was guarded by a “watch” or “guard” of soldiers (Matthew 27:65; 28:11). Evidently, several were on duty at any given time (Matthew 28: 4, 11). The tomb was sealed with a massive stone (Mark 16:3-4). Stones weighing several tons are known to have been used to seal some tombs. How would they have moved the massive stone without gaining the attention of the soldiers?
The guards explanation is suspicious (Matthew 28:13). All would have had to be asleep at the same time. If asleep, how did they know the disciples stole the body? If they woke up in time to see, they certainly could have given chase. How quickly could they have moved carrying the body?
Further, how does one explain the grave-clothes? The custom of that day was for the body to be wrapped in clothing (bandages) and sticky spices (John 11:44; The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Historical… or Mythological by Edward Wharton, p. 15-16; Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ‘Grave Clothing’, p. 323). It was according to this custom that Jesus was buried (John 19:38-40). However in the empty tomb we find the grave-clothes left behind. “William Barclay, professor of New Testament at Glasgow University, and renowned as a scholar of the New Testament Greek, insists that the clothes were lying in their folds.’ That is, they were in a cocoon type shell as if Jesus had simply passed through them without disturbance!” (Ed Wharton, p. 15). The handkerchief that had been around his head had been folded up (John 20:4-7). Why would thieves do such? Wouldn’t it be faster, and easier just to take the body, clothing and all? Ed Wharton writes, “The question which must be answered is this. Who unwrapped Jesus, in unhurried manner rolled up the face napkin, then painstakingly, and with the skill of an artist, rewrapped those sticky grave-clothes back into their original shape so perfectly that they appeared as if they had not been tampered with? And all of this went unobserved… who can believe it? (ibid, p. 16).
Next, and most importantly – how do you explain the disciples change in courage? Prior to the resurrection, the disciples were a frightened, discouraged, dispirited bunch (Matt. 26:56). Peter denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75). The met behind closed doors due to fear (John 20:19). After the resurrection, they were emboldened to give witness, suffer imprisonment, and even death for the cause of Christ. Notice the change (Mark 14:50, 70-71; cf. Acts 4:17-21; 5:27-29).
Explanation #4: Maybe, they bribed the guards.
Such will not work! Guards of that day knew that to have missing, what you were posted to guard, ordinarily meant great punishment, even death (see Acts 12:19; 16:26-27; 27:42).
Moreover, this wouldn’t explain the fact that the disciples were willing to die for this. Rational people do not die for what they know to be a hoax.
Perhaps Jesus wasn’t really dead. He suffered on the cross, but was taken down before death. He was placed in the tomb, and three days later he was recovered enough from his injuries to leave under his own strength.
Remember, the soldiers declared him dead (John 19:31-34). They even thrust a spear into his side, which likely was in effort to verify his death; And, from his side flowed water and blood. “Most medical experts agree that this is an accurate description of what would have been observed, since water would have come from the pericardium surrounding the heart, and the blood from the right side of the heart. Some medical experts have observed that the water could also have been fluid accumulated in the lungs as a result of the beatings that Jesus suffered. All agree that this is strong proof of death” (Faith on Trial, by Pamela Ewen, p. 131). Who can believe this recovery story? “It is ludicrous to suppose that after suffering a night of anxiety so extreme as to cause sweat of blood, no sleep, a lack of food or water, beatings, a scourging, the labor of carrying his own cross to Golgotha, a crucifixion during which he was nailed to a cross for hours and then pierced with a lance, and thereafter being wrapped in one hundred pounds of spices, and placed in a cold tomb for the night, that Jesus could have lived. Scourging alone was almost a sentence of death” (ibid, p. 164). Further, he would have had to move the massive stone and sneak away unspotted, never to be apprehended again.
[Note: Some have wondered just how large this stone really was which would have had to be moved. Brad Bromling has written, “Someone might contend that the stone could not have been too heavy since Joseph rolled it in place by himself (Matthew 27:60). But this is only partially correct. The stones used for this purpose were often set in a sloping groove with the low point in front of the tombs opening. While it may have taken many men to move and scotch the stone up and away from the doorway prior to burial, one man easily could have removed the block and allowed gravity to draw the stone down the slope into its proper resting position. Also, it is possible that the stone was set in place by a number of men under the direction of Joseph. After all, when we say that Alexander conquered the world, we do not mean that he did so without the aid of an army… while we may never know (how large the stone was – B.H.), it is safe to assume that four women could move a fairly large stone without help; yet, apparently the force needed to move this stone exceeded (they supposed – B.H.) their combined strength (Mark 16:3) “(Brad Bromling, What Happened to the Body, Reason and Revelation, vol. 13, no. 5)].
This ‘swoon theory’ is a late comer to the alternative explanations. It seems to have been first advanced in 1768 (by Peter Annet). One can assert many things, but where is the sustaining evidence? One could just as easily assert that space aliens took the body of Jesus. But to assert is not to prove.
Maybe the Romans, or the Jews removed the body for security purposes.
This seems a very weak argument. If such is the explanation, then why did they not ever produce it to end the controversy. It would have been in their interest to silence the Christians.
Maybe the woman went to the wrong tomb.
The women had witnessed where his body was laid (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). But, it certainly is possible for human beings to make mistakes. Note: This would not be one individual going mistakenly to the wrong tomb, but a minimum of four individuals who were mistaken (Luke 24:10).
If they did make a mistake, then why didn’t Joseph point it out (it was his tomb – Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43, 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42)? Why didn’t the Romans, or the Jews expose the error?
Moreover, this would not explain the appearances of Jesus claimed by the people. Simon Greenleaf, “They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency” (The Testimony of the Evangelists, p. 32). They truly must have been convinced.
Explanation # 8:
Maybe they crucified the wrong man.
The one arrested claimed to be the Christ (Mark 14:61-62). He spoke with Mary, the mother of Jesus, from the cross (John 19:26). The Romans and the Jews were certain that they had the correct one.
Further, if they had the wrong man, you would have to believe that Jesus appeared to them for forty days (Acts 1:3), and then disappeared from their sight and earthly history. He was again never spotted.
Also, it would not explain what the disciples felt in examining Jesus (Read John 20:24-28). They were so convinced that they went from skeptics to ready and willing to die for the cause. This includes not just Thomas, and the apostles (who were slow to believe – Mark 16:9-11, 14; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:25); But, also, James – the half-brother of Jesus (John 7:5 cf. Acts 1:14; 12:17a; 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9; James 1:1; Jude 1). Josephus mentions James’ martyrdom. Also, Paul went from an enemy of Christianity (Acts 9:1-ff; 22:4-ff; 26:9-ff; Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:5) to a Gospel preacher.
Moreover, you still have to explain the missing body, whose ever body it was which had been in the tomb.
Maybe an animal, such as a dog or jackal, removed the corpse from the tomb. This has actually been suggested! (by Dominic Crossan).
God’s providence removes this as a reasonable possibility. The tomb was not dug into earth’s soil. It was hewn in stone (Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). If Jesus had received the common criminal burial, he might have been thrown into a shallow common grave in the dirt. Instead, Joseph of Arimathea provided a sepulchre out of rock.
This also saves us from another difficulty (cf. 2 Kings 13:21). This tomb had never been used (Luke 23:53).
Perhaps the gardener did steal the body.
One can assert many things. But where’s the evidence? Was this gardener ever tried or convicted for grave robbery?
Further, what about the alleged appearances. Did the disciples lie? What of their zeal? They were ready to die for the proclamation of the resurrection. They must have believed.
Conclusion: We’ve examined all of the common alternative explanations. They are lacking credibility.
Only one option seems reasonable. He is risen.
Do you believe? If you do it will radically change your life, even as it did those in the early church.