If the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fabricated hoax, it was the greatest deception, and a vicious and cruel lie created by despicable, heartless men. If so, Christians are to be pitied above all people, for our hope would then be based on that lie.
But, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is real, it was the greatest miracle, the greatest feat in all of human history, and its implications impact every individual from past to present.
As Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology says:
- “Without the belief in the resurrection the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, his crucifixion would have forever silenced any hopes of his being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of his career. The origin of Christianity therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.”1
Of all the important doctrines of the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an essential Christian doctrine that must be believed as a condition of salvation.
The apostle Paul said as much in Romans 10:8, 9:
- “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (emphasis added)
In other words, in order to have eternal life, we must acknowledge and be devoted to Jesus Christ as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead.
- Vernon McGee puts it this way:
- “‘Believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead’ means that the resurrection of Christ is the heart of the gospel.”2
Dr. John MacArthur says:
- “Men must believe the resurrection of Christ [in order to be saved] because it proves that He accomplished their salvation on the cross.”3
For the writers of the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was an extremely important issue, the cornerstone of the Christian faith.
- 1 Peter 1:3-4 says that we have “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
- Paul believed so firmly in the resurrection that he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:13, 14 that “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and [our] faith is also empty.”
- And to make sure we didn’t miss it the first time, Paul repeats it in verses 16 and 17, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, our faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”
Even two of Christianity’s most celebrated practices are seen and reflected in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Water Baptism celebrates the resurrection:
Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.”
Colossians 2:11-12 says, “In Him you were…buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
- Christians eat the Lord’s Supper in memory of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. This should be a time of joy for the Christian since we recognize that with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we also have eternal life:
In Luke 22:14-23 Jesus institutes communion, “Then He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This is the cup of the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’”
And after the resurrection in Luke 24:30-31, it’s recorded, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew; and He vanished from their sight.”
Even though the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an issue that has been thoroughly documented, researched and discussed, there are still those who would reject the evidence before them. For example:
John Dominic Crossan, co-founder and co-director of the Jesus Seminar, believes that Jesus was executed for revolutionary activities and, instead of being resurrected; his body was devoured by wild dogs.4
Islam believes that Jesus was never crucified and therefore could not have been resurrected.
- In fact, when confronted with Luke 24:39 where Jesus, after His resurrection, told His disciples, “Behold My hands and feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
- The Muslim will say something to the effect of “See, Jesus asked the disciples to touch him so he could not have died and been resurrected in a spiritualized body.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead physically, but that it was a spirit body. They teach that He used “different” spirit bodies than the one that was laid in the tomb, to appear to His followers.
On Sunday, March 4, 2007, a documentary on the Discovery Channel, by “Oscar-winning” director of the Titanic, James Cameron, claimed that the tomb of Jesus and his family had been found.
- Bar-Ilan University Professor Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the Jerusalem site, commented that the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards, since Jesus’ family was Galilean with no Jerusalem ties, but says that it makes for profitable television.
“They just want to get money for it,” Kloner said. “It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave,” he added. “The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time.”5
And of course there is the swoon theory or the apparent death theory – the theory that Jesus really didn’t die but was close to death on the cross and then, when in the tomb, was brought back from the brink of death by the coolness of the cave.
How about the twin theory – the theory that Jesus had a twin, that they were separated from birth and that when Jesus died, the twin carries out the plot to steal Jesus’ body and masquerade around as the risen Christ.
Even the hallucination theory – the theory that the people who had seen the risen Christ hallucinated the whole thing.
Then we have the theft theory – the theory that Jesus’ body was stolen by the disciples so as to appear that He had been resurrected from the dead.
And finally, the wrong tomb theory – in this theory, everyone went to the wrong tomb; they went to an empty tomb and assumed that He had been resurrected.
Tonight, we’re here to lay out the case for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ as taught by the Bible, our Final Court of Appeal.
Jesus Often Spoke of His Resurrection
Jesus said in John 2:19-21, “‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’…but He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (emphasis added)
Jesus spoke often of His physical resurrection from the dead and emphasized that it would be a “sign” that He was the promised Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament:
- Matthew 12:38-40 says, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them. ‘An evil and adulteress generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’”
- Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem…and be killed, and be raised on the third day.”
- Matthew 17:9 says, “Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.’”
- Matthew 17:22-23 says, “Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.’”
- See also Matthew 20:18, 19; 26:32; 27:63; Mark 8:31-9:1, 10, 31; 10:32-34; 14:28, 58; Luke 9:22-27; John 2:18-22; 12:34 and John Chapters 14-16.
Clearly, Jesus spoke often of His death and every time mentioned His resurrection, not once or twice but many times.
So, how can we as Christians, counter claims that Jesus’ “coming back from the dead” was a legend or a myth or His body was stolen or that He really didn’t die?
What Evidence do we have that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus was raised from the dead after three days as He predicted?
In order to help us better remember the Evidence for the Resurrection, I’ve chosen the acronym F. E. A. T. S. since this is the greatest feat in recorded human history.6
- Fatal Torment
- Empty Tomb
- Appearances of Jesus
- Transformation of the Apostles
- Skeptics Conversions
Let’s start with the first letter in the acronym F. E. A. T. S – Fatal Torment.
- Fatal Torment
In order to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, we obviously have to demonstrate that He died.
And thus, we will look at His scourging, crucifixion, and the Roman spear that was thrust into His side.
The Scourging of Jesus
Jesus faced false testimonies (Mark 14:56) in front of the Sanhedrin and was then sent to Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea (Luke 23:1), and sentenced to die at the hands of Roman soldiers on the cross. But first, the beatings and the scourging took place.
Mark 15:15 says, “So Pilate…delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.”
Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Michael Licona explain the scourging process:
“The usual instrument was a short whip…with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals…the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post…The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged…The scourging…was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death…As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles.”7
Dr. John MacArthur further explains:
“Often there were two scourgers, one on either side of the victim, who took turns…Muscles were lacerated, veins and arteries were torn open, and it was not uncommon for the kidneys, spleen, or other organs to be exposed and slashed.”8
Often times, many died before being crucified just from the scourging.
To further humiliate and weaken the victim about to be crucified, the Roman soldiers would make them carry their own cross (the cross bar) to the execution site.
There can be no doubt that the scourging of Jesus left Him so weak and worn down, that He was not able to carry His own cross.
Mark 15:21 says that the Roman soldiers “compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian…as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.”
The Crucifixion of Jesus
Luke 23:33 says, “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.”
As noted above, the scourging of Jesus would have been enough to kill a man let alone the horrific torment of the Roman cross.
Roman crucifixion was one of the worst deaths ever imagined. The Romans had decades to perfect their techniques of punishment. The cross allowed the Romans to get the most effective way of torture and death that they could possibly extract from an individual. Its purpose was to extend the suffering of the victim as long and excruciatingly as possible; to enhance an already horrific death.
We often underestimate the Roman cross. We see representations of our Lord on the cross and we’ve become so desensitized to it that it’s no wonder false theories like the “swoon theory” arise and we wonder how a person could possibly come up with this – do they not know what kind of torture and death that the Roman cross inflicted?
Crucifixion would have involved laying Jesus on His open lacerated bleeding back on a huge rough splintery cross. The Roman soldiers would take spikes, five to seven inches long and hammer them between the two arm bones at the wrist crushing the median nerve.
“The pain was absolutely unbearable…In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word: excruciating. Literally, excruciating means ‘out of the cross.’…they had to create a new word, because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during crucifixion.
At this point Jesus was hoisted as the cross bar was attached to the vertical stake, and then nails were driven through Jesus’ feet. Again the nerves in his feet would have been crushed…Crushed and severed nerves were certainly bad enough…his arms would have been immediately stretched, probably about six inches in length, and both shoulders would have been dislocated…This fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22, which foretold the Crucifixion hundreds of years before it took place, ‘My bones are out of joint.’”9
Often, death was caused by asphyxiation. Because of the position and tension on the diaphragm, the victim would have to push up on the spike in their feet, ripping flesh until it lodged against a bone, to take a breath of air.
Pushing up would have meant that Jesus’ raw lacerated back would have been scraping the course wood of the cross.
After a few hours of this, with exhaustion and intense, excruciating pain from pushing up, unable to do it anymore, respiratory acidosis would set in – “the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to an irregular heartbeat…[and] cardiac arrest.”10
Whether dying from cardiac arrest or from asphyxiation, crucifixion was 100 percent fatal.
The Spear Thrust into the Heart
John 19:33, 34 says, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead…one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”
Let there be no doubt, Jesus was dead. John 19:30 says, “[Jesus] said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (emphasis added)
John’s detail of the account in verse 34 only confirms Jesus was already dead when the soldiers came to break His legs (John 19:31-33):
“We are told on eyewitness authority that “blood and water” came out of the pierced side of Jesus…The eyewitness clearly attached great importance to this. Had Jesus been alive when the spear pierced His side, strong spouts of blood would have emerged with every heart beat. Instead, the observer noticed semi-solid dark red clot seeping, distinct and separate from the accompanying watery serum. This is evidence of massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death…The “blood and water” from the spear-thrust is proof positive that Jesus was already dead.”11
Clearly, the type of abuse that Jesus took was enough to kill any man and we can concur with the apostle John in 19:35 when he says, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.”
Dr. Alexander Metherell, a medical doctor and research scientist, comments…“After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health.”12
John Ankerberg and John Weldon conclude:
“Indeed, survival from crucifixions was unknown; just as today, men simply do not survive the firing squad, electric chair, lethal injection, or gas chamber. Because the law decreed the prisoner’s death, even if a first attempt fails, procedures are repeated until death occurs. Death by crucifixion was just as certain as by any modern method of execution; there was no escape.”13
The bottom line is this; the Roman soldiers were meticulous executioners. They had experience with possibly hundreds of executions under their belts and they would have been particularly knowledgeable when it came to death.
The fact that Jesus was no longer pushing up to exhale also would have been a tell-tale sign that He was no longer breathing and thus, dead.
Between the scourging, the crucifixion and the spear thrust into His side it’s very obvious that the Jewish leaders had fulfilled their desire “to kill Him” (John 5:16, 17; 7:25; 8:37; 8:40).
Let’s move on to the second letter in the acronym F. E. A. T. S – Empty Tomb.
- Empty Tomb
Jesus had just been crucified and His words of ‘rising again after three days’ were still ringing in the chief priests and the Pharisees ears.
This worried them so they decided to talk to Pilate.
- Matthew 27:62-64 says, “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So that the last deception will be worse than the first.’”
Pilate’s response in Matthew 27:65 is very revealing.
- “‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
There are three things to take notice of in the above verse.
- The Soldiers. The word guard or watch, in the KJV, [Greek: koustodia] means a “Roman sentry.” For an important political figure like Jesus, it’s highly possible that there were as many as 30, no less then 10 but likely 16 highly trained, able bodied, and fully armed Roman soldiers guarding the tomb.
The guard would have slept in shifts with at minimum 4 awake directly in front of the tomb during the night hours with the rest sleeping at the entrance.
These men were “instruments of conquest and domination”14 and were hard core military men, disciplined and dedicated to their tasks, cold enough to gamble over a dying victims clothing (Matthew 27:35).
It is important to note that if “any guard…deserted his post or fell asleep [he] would face crucifixion.”15
There are recorded instances in Roman military history of soldiers who were executed for “sleeping on duty” and “negligence” but one could also be punished or executed for “leaving the night watch.”
Bottom line is this, even if someone had planned to steal the body of Jesus, there would be no getting past these guys and these hard core soldiers would not have deserted their post for fear of execution.
- The Stone. The Bible tells us that the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb where Jesus was laid, was of formidable size as indicated by the following verse:
- Mark 16:1-3 says, “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves. ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’” (emphasis added)
Scholars tell us that the stone could have weighed possibly as much as two tons, thus the comment by the three women wondering who would move the stone for them.
Josh McDowell explains further:
- “The opening to the central chamber was guarded by a large and heavy disc of rock which could roll along a groove slightly depressed at the centre, in front of the tomb entrance.”16
Indeed, concerning the massive weight of the rock, “a phrase written in parenthesis, within the text of Mark 16:4 as found in a (fourth) century manuscript…adds, ‘And when he was laid there, he (Joseph) put against the tomb a stone which twenty men could not roll away.’”17
It’s worth noting that once the stone was rolled into place, it could not have been moved from the inside since it would have been impossible, not only because of the weight, but there would be no leverage and no handholds since the stone would have thoroughly covered the entrance.
Scholars and evidence point to the fact that the stone at the entrance of the rock-hewn tomb was so massive that the three women knew they would not be able to move the stone, let alone a man who had gone through what Jesus went through just three days earlier.
- The Seal. The seal would have been more symbolic as a deterrent than the actual 16 Roman guards or two-ton stone.
- Matthew 27:66 says, “So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
As to the method of setting the seal:
- “The sealing was by means of a cord or string passing across the stone at the mouth of the sepulcher, and fastened at either end to the rock by sealing clay.”18
Although the seal could be easily broken, the psychological factor that was associated with breaking an official seal of the Roman government would have been formidable in and of itself.
- “The ‘seal’ of the administrative authority in charge pressed into the wax, signifying its importance. Only the captain of the guard was permitted to give permission for the breaking of the seal. Anyone breaking it without permission would be executed.”19
The overall impact of these three security measures only increases the case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It would have been impossible to tamper with or steal the body of Jesus, not to mention explain away the resurrection by the “swoon theory.”
- T. Robertson, Professor of New Testament Interpretation Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1895-1934) said:
- “The sealing was done in the presence of the Roman guards who were left in charge to protect this stamp of Roman authority and power. They did their best to prevent theft and the resurrection, but they overreached themselves and provided additional witness to the fact of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus.”20 (emphasis added)
The Testimony of Women
Matthew 28:1-8 says, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it…[and] the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, He has risen.’” (emphasis added)
After three days in the tomb, Jesus Christ was resurrected according Scripture (Matthew 28:6; Acts 17:18; Romans 6:5) as well as His own predictions in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life”
John 20:1 also tells us that it was Mary Magdalene who Jesus first appeared to, which is highly significant as Ron Rhodes explains:
- “If the resurrection story were a fabrication by the disciples, no one in the first-century Jewish culture would have invented it this way. The fact is that in Jewish law a woman’s testimony was unacceptable in any court of law except in a very few circumstances. A fabricator would have been much more likely to place Peter or one of the other male disciples at the resurrection tomb.”21
We can see several evidences of the low view of women in the first century in the following quotes: 22
- “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women.” (Talmud, Sotah 19a)
- “Any evidence that a women [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman.” (Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1:8)
If the resurrection of Jesus was a fabricated story, the writers would not have used women as the first people at the tomb given the low place that women held in the first-century; they would have used men of high reputation to be the first at the tomb to further bolster the resurrection story.
When you take into account the soldiers, the stone, and the seal, you find it impossible for the body of Jesus to have been stolen by a band of scared, frightened and confused disciples (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50), or that He was revived and rolled the stone away Himself.
And the testimony of the women at the tomb only bolsters or reinforces that the story was not fabricated but was indeed a true event.
Let’s move on to the third letter in the acronym F. E. A. T. S – Appearances of Christ.
- Appearances of Christ
As stated earlier, Jesus said in John 2:19-21, “‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’…but He was speaking of the temple of His body.”
It must be pointed out that there is a one-to-one correlation between the body that dies and the body that is resurrected.
When we die and are eventually resurrected, it is still us, we are still recognizable as Jesus was, but it is a new glorified body.
We know it’s the same body based on John 20:27 when Jesus appeared to His disciples and told Thomas specifically to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing.”
It was His same body yet, it was a glorified body.
One of the strongest evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the physical appearances in the days that followed His crucifixion and resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 contains one of the earliest creeds in the New Testament.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 says, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.” (emphasis added)
It is believed, and with good reason, that this creed developed within five years of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- “In fact, many critical scholars hold that Paul received it from the disciples Peter and James while visiting them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion. If so, Paul learned it within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”23 (emphasis added)
This is extremely important due to the fact that not only were the disciples around to dispute this statement if it was incorrect, but also the people mentioned in the next verses were still around to also dispute the statement if it was not correct:
- 1 Corinthians 15:6 says, “After He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.”
Lee Strobel and Dr. Gary Habermas discuss the importance of this verse in The Case for Christ: 24
- Even though it’s only reported in one source, it just so happens to be the earliest and best-authenticated passage of all.
- Paul apparently was in close contact or knew people still in close contact with these five hundred people since he knew some “of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.”
Dr. Habermas says, “Now, stop and think about it: you would never include this phrase unless you were absolutely confident that these folks would confirm that they really did see Jesus alive. I mean, Paul was virtually inviting people to check it out for themselves! He wouldn’t have said this if he didn’t know they’d back him up.”
And finally, Paul says that Jesus was seen by James and by himself.
- 1 Corinthians 15:7-8 says, “After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
The 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 creed we just looked at, developing within a few years of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, is extremely important evidence to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But we also have the Gospel accounts and the Acts accounts.
In the Gospels and Acts, we have accounts of Jesus appearing over several weeks in different locations.
Sometimes indoors sometimes outdoors; to the apostle John who would have found it easy to believe and to Thomas who was skeptical and found it difficult to believe.
But what we have are appearances that are solid. Not mystical or shadowy glimpses of someone that may have been Jesus at a distance if the light was right and you squinted…
Jesus talked to these people, He interacted and even ate with His disciples (Luke 24:42, 43). This was Jesus up-close and personal. Consider that Jesus appeared to:
- Mary Magdalene (John 20:14)
- Another Mary (Matthew 28:1, 9-10)
- Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27)
- His disciples (Luke 24:36-53)
- His apostles without Thomas (John 20:19-24)
- His apostles with Thomas (John 20:26-29)
- Seven of His apostles (John 21:1-14)
- Eleven of the apostles (Matthew 28:16-20)
- His disciples at His ascension on the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:4-9)
So, not only is Jesus’ resurrection appearances recorded for us in the Gospels, but also taught in the Book of Acts. Consider the following verses:
- In Acts 2:32, during Peter’s sermon, he says, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” (emphasis added)
- In Acts 3:14-15, Peter again preaching to the “Men of Israel”, says, “But you denied the Holy One…and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” (emphasis added)
- In Acts 10:40-41, Peter confirms to Cornelius, “Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all people, but to witnesses chosen before God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” (emphasis added)
- Even Paul preaches in Acts 13:31, “He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.”
The bottom line is this, the number of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only astounding and credible, but would stand up as evidence in a court of Law. Consider the following:
- “If you were to call each one of the witnesses to a court of law to be cross-examined for just fifteen minutes each, and you went around the clock without a break, it would take you from breakfast Monday until dinner on Friday to hear from them all. After listening to 129 straight hours of eyewitness testimony, who could possibly walk away unconvinced?”25
There are more credible witnesses, more incidents, more detail and more corroborating statements over and over again in the Bible to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The next letter in the acronym F. E. A. T. S is the Transformation of the Apostles.
- Transformation of the Apostles
So, what was the effect on the disciples after seeing their risen Lord and Savior resurrected? What transformation came over them?
During His trial, crucifixion and even after Jesus’ death, we see that the disciples were discouraged, depressed and even scared. These guys are even recorded as cowering in a room after Jesus’ death.
- We read that at the time of Jesus’ arrest, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50)
- Simon Peter cringes with cowardness when confronted by a servant girl. (Matthew 26:69-75)
- The remaining disciples are hiding behind shut doors “for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19)
It’s obvious that these men, who had walked with Jesus for three years, did not expect that their Messiah would die, let alone be crucified on a tree.
They were taught that anyone crucified was accursed of God (Deut. 21:23, Gal. 3:13), and that their Messiah would not suffer death.26
And yet, we see in a very short time after the disciples had seen the physical resurrected Jesus, that they were no longer the scared men hiding behind closed doors that they were just weeks earlier.
These men believed they had seen Jesus Christ raised from the dead and it had such an impact on them, that it transformed them into men who boldly preached the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
These men gave up their sociological and their theological identities because they sincerely believed that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead.
These men died and were martyred for their belief that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead.
Liars Make Poor Martyrs
Lee Strobel puts it this way, “People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but people won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false.”27
Let’s take a look at some of the deaths of the apostles and remember all they had to do was recant and admit that they had stolen the body or had made it all up.
All they had to do was say “Wait, Wait, I’m just kidding, I made it all up.”
- Peter was crucified after being forced to watch the crucifixion of his wife. His last words to his wife are recorded as, “O thou, remember the Lord.”
- Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross. He was tied instead of nailed to extend the suffering.
- James was killed with a sword and is the only apostle whose martyrdom is actually recorded for us in Scripture (Acts 12:1-3).
- Phillip was stoned to death by most accounts in Asia Minor.
- Thomas is said to be buried in India after being killed by a spear for spreading the gospel.
- Matthew was reportedly beheaded.
- Bartholomew (Nathaniel) was crucified around 68 AD.
- Jude (Thaddaeus) was killed by an onslaught of arrows.
- James the Less was stoned to death.
- Simon the Zealot was sawn in two for preaching Jesus.
- John apparently was the only disciple to die a natural death.
Several facts stand out in the end:
- All the disciples were afraid, confused, scared and fled after Jesus was crucified.
- All the disciples saw the physically resurrected Jesus.
- All the disciples were radically changed and empowered to spread the gospel of the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- All the disciples were tortured and lived their lives for the furtherance of the Good News and with the exception of John, died horrific deaths for the sake of Jesus Christ.
They believed they actually saw Jesus resurrected and it transformed their lives forever.
Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8:
- “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (emphasis added)
The word power [Greek: dunamis] means “miraculous power, ability, abundance, might and strength.”
This is where the English word dynamite comes from.
As believers, we have spiritual dynamite in the form of the gifts of the Spirit, service, fellowship and our witness to the world.
The bottom line is that these men walked, talked, touched and ate with the living physically resurrected Christ as evidenced by their complete 180 degree turn from fleeing disciples, to believing apostles who died spreading the Good New of Jesus Christ.
And finally, the last letter in the acronym F. E. A. T. S – Skeptics Conversions.
- Skeptics Conversions
If we’re honest with each other, we were once skeptics ourselves, or maybe we still are. Being skeptical is a good thing. If we were not skeptical, we could be taken in be every type of scam or con.
God Himself tells us in Isaiah 1:18, “Come let us reason together.”
- The word reason [Hebrew: yakah] means “to argue, convince, correct, plead, reason (together).”
- The word “reason” (yakah) is a law term used for arguing, convincing, or deciding a case in court. The people were to be convinced by their argumentation with God that He was right and they were wrong about their condition.”28
Let’s look at two of the main skeptics of Jesus’ claims, and how they were “convinced” and then ended up being two of His strongest supporters:
James, the Brother of Jesus
Jesus had at least seven brothers and sisters according to Matthew 13:55-56:
- “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?”
Even Josephus, the Jewish historian from the first century mentions, “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, whose name was James.”29
James, like Jesus’ other family members were not believers in Jesus during His earthly ministry:
- Mark 3:21 says, “But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”
- Mark 6:3-4 says, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James…So they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.’”
- John 7:5 says, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”
Next we hear of James in the 1 Corinthians 15:7 creed and we read:
- “After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.”
Then, we read that James is identified as the leader in the Jerusalem church:
- In Acts 15, we read of certain men in the church who were requiring circumcision (Acts 15:5), in addition to putting their faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul, Barnabas and Peter resolved the issue by speaking before the council in Jerusalem with James, apparently the leader, making the following recommendation in Acts 15:19:
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.”
We also have the testimony of Hegesippus (110–180 AD), a second century Christian writer of the early church:
- “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our savior to the present day…”30
Although we do not have an abundance of information on James, we can conclude that while Jesus was in His earthly ministry, James was one of the brothers who thought Jesus “was out of His mind” and “did not believe Him.”
After seeing the risen Lord as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7, James then becomes the leader in the Jerusalem church.
Upon seeing Jesus after His resurrection, one can have no doubt that James was a skeptic who after seeing the risen Lord became a believer in Jesus Christ as his Messiah and Savior.
The Historian Josephus tells us that James was stoned to death for believing in Jesus.
Saul of Tarsus (Paul)
Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul the apostle, was a devout Jew and Pharisee by training and education.
Saul hated anything to do with Christianity since he believed that it was disloyal and disruptive to the traditions of the Jewish people.
Acts 9:1 tells us that “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him so that…he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
What better way to tell Saul of Tarsus’ own testimony than to let him speak for himself about his Jewish heritage and persecution of the church:
- Philippians 3:6,7 Paul says he was, “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee, concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is the law, blameless.”
- In Acts 22:3 Paul says, “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God”
Saul further admits his extremism against the Lord’s church:
- 1 Corinthians 15:9 says, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (emphasis added)
- Galatians 1:13 says, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” (emphasis added)
- Galatians 1:23 says, “But they were hearing only, ‘He [Paul] who formally persecuted us…’”
So, how could a man, a Pharisee trained and educated, who was set and taught in the Jewish law, do a complete 180 degree turn and instead of hunting down the Lord’s church, become one of the Lord’s church?
Acts 9:1-19 tells of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and you’ll notice two things that stick out:
First, Jesus spoke to Paul according to Acts 9:4:
- “Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’”
Second, Jesus appeared to Paul according to Acts 9:17:
- “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’” (emphasis added)
- Acts 22:14, 15 confirm saying, “Then he said, ‘The God of our father has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.’” (emphasis added)
- Acts 26:16, confirms what Paul said earlier, Jesus says, “But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose” (emphasis added)
- 1 Corinthians 9:1 says, “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”
- And remember the 1 Corinthians 15:8 creed where Paul says, “Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
Again, we have to conclude that the sight of the risen Lord had to convince Saul of Tarsus that Jesus did indeed rise from the grave on the third day as He predicted.
This is important since Jesus appeared directly to Paul and it was not just second hand testimony by somebody else. This of course means that we have primary sources (i.e. Paul’s writings in the New Testament) instead of second hand sources (i.e. someone told someone who in turn told Paul they had seen the risen Lord).
In summary, because of the Fatal Torment, Empty Tomb, Appearances of Christ, Transformation of the Disciples, and the Skeptics Conversions evidence, we can be assured and rest in the FACT that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead on the third day as He promised…and God does not lie (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; John 17:17).
Alternative Theories Rebuffed
When we hear an alternative theory as to the resurrection of Jesus, we have to ask ourselves three questions:
- Does the alternative theory explain the Empty Tomb?
- Does the alternative theory explain the Appearances of Jesus?
- Does the alternative theory explain the Transformation of the Disciples?
Swoon theory (apparent death theory)
This is the theory that Jesus did not die but simply passed out on the cross and was revived in the dampness of the tomb.
- Can the Swoon Theory explain the empty tomb? – Yes
- Can the Swoon Theory explain the appearances of Jesus? – Yes
- Can the Swoon Theory explain the transformation of the disciples? – NO
The disciples would not have been impressed with a man who would have been so pale, weak, bleeding and sickly that they had to take care of Him and nurse Him back to health.
How could they have hailed Him as their Messiah, conqueror of the grave?
The disciples would not have let themselves be martyred for a man who was not the Messiah, let alone preach the resurrection of Jesus and the dead when they would have known that Jesus didn’t die.
This is the theory that Jesus had a twin even though the Bible and the birth accounts mention absolutely nothing of Jesus being a twin.
- Can the Twin Theory explain the empty tomb? – NO
- Can the Twin Theory explain the appearances of Jesus? – Yes
- Can the Twin Theory explain the transformation of the disciples? – NO
If Jesus had a twin, Jesus’ body would have still been in the grave and all the scribes and Pharisees would have had to do was exhume and display Jesus’ body to stop any resurrection talk.
As for the transformation of the disciples, if it was a twin that took Jesus’ place, why would he have scars in his hands, feet and side?
- Jesus asked Thomas in John 20:27, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
This is the theory that the people only thought that they saw Jesus but it was actually a mass hallucination.
- Can the Hallucination Theory explain the empty tomb? – NO
- Can the Hallucination Theory explain the appearances of Jesus? – NO
- Can the Hallucination Theory explain the transformation of the disciples? – NO
First, as with the twin theory, if the disciples and the 500 people only hallucinated that they saw Jesus, Jesus’ tomb would still have been occupied and all the Jewish leaders would have had to do was to produce the body to end the spread of Christianity right then and there.
Second, hallucinations are individual in nature caused by something wrong in the brain. It is subjective and personal in nature, one person yes — over 500 at one time, impossible.
Finally, hallucinations arise from false expectations. The disciples certainly didn’t expect to see Jesus rise from the dead and they didn’t really believe that He did. They had to be persuaded that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.
- Luke 24:26-38 says, “Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.”
In this theory, the body of Jesus was stolen by the disciples, the Jewish leaders or by somebody else. Of course they would have had to get past the Roman Soldiers to do this – highly unlikely.
- Can the Theft Theory explain the empty tomb? – Yes
- Can the Theft Theory explain the appearances of Jesus? – NO
- Can the Theft Theory explain the transformation of the disciples? – NO
Did the Jewish leaders steal the body?
We know that the Jewish leaders didn’t steal the body due the fact that they bribed the guards who were on duty that night to tell people that the disciples stole the body.
- Matthew 28:12, 13 says, “When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’”
- All the leaders had to do was produce the body to stop the rumors that Jesus had risen from the grave.
- If the Jewish leaders stole the body, #2 and #3 are NO.
Did the disciples steal the body?
We can rest assured that the disciples didn’t steal the body because of course there would have not been the appearances of Jesus or the transformation of the disciples, again making #2 and #3 a NO.
Again, highly unlikely that these disciples would have been tortured, watch their loved ones die and given their lives for what they knew was a lie.
Did someone else steal the body?
What if the Roman Soldiers or someone else stole the body?
We will again see our principle that in order for the theory to be valid all three questions have to be accounted for: #2 and #3 are, of course NO.
Wrong tomb theory
This theory states that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb early in the morning and after having discovered it empty, assumed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
- Can the Wrong Tomb Theory explain the empty tomb? – Yes
- Can the Wrong Tomb Theory explain the appearances of Jesus? – NO
- Can the Wrong Tomb Theory explain the transformation of the disciples? – NO
First, we can see, the wrong tomb theory is discredited by #2 and #3.
Second, skeptics Paul and James were not convinced by the empty tomb but by the appearances of the risen Jesus.
And finally, once the disciples started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, whose tomb Jesus was buried in, and the Jewish leadership could have easily pointed out Jesus’ tomb and exhumed the body to discredit the resurrection teaching.
Paul Little says:
“Even if the women, the disciples, the Romans and the Jews all went to the wrong tomb, one thing is sure: ‘Certainly Joseph of Arimathea, owner of the tomb, would have solved the problem.’”31
This theory states that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day as He predicted.
What happens when we look at the simple 3 fold criteria to see if it holds up or not?
- Can the Resurrection Theory explain the empty tomb? – Yes
- Can the Resurrection Theory explain the appearances of Jesus? – Yes
- Can the Resurrection Theory explain the transformation of the disciples? – Yes
Therefore, we can see that the resurrection of Jesus Christ best explains the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus Christ, and the transformation of the disciples.
As Christians, we believe in the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as taught by the Bible, our Final Court of Appeal.
As Dr. Norman Geisler, dean and professor of theology and apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary states:
“If Christ did not rise in the same physical body that was placed in the tomb, then the resurrection loses its value as an evidential proof of His claim to be God (John 8:58; 10:30). The resurrection cannot verify Jesus’ claim to be God unless He was resurrected in the body which He was crucified. That body was a literal, physical body. Unless Jesus rose in a material body, there is no way to verify His resurrection. It loses its historically persuasive value.” 32
This belief is paramount in the Christian faith because if Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, His crucifixion would have been the end of it, the disciples would have gone their way and Jesus’ name would have been lost to antiquity as just another man who claimed to be God, but is still in the grave.
Christianity hinges on the Evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“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? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty…your faith is futile, you are still in your sins…If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14, 17, 19)
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!
Resources used and recommended reading material:
- The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona, Kregel Publications, ISBN: 0825427886
- Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Norman L. Geisler, Baker Books, ISBN: 0801021510
- The Case For Christ, Lee Strobel, Zondervan Publishing House, ISBN: 0310226465
- The Resurrection of Jesus, Robert B. Stewart, Fortress Press, ISBN: 0800637852
- Resurrection, Hank Hanegraaff, Word Publishing, ISBN: 0849916437
- Jesus Under Fire, Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan Publishing House, ISBN: 0310211395
- Fast Facts on Defending Your Faith, John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Harvest House Publishers, ISBN: 0736910565
- Know What You Believe, Paul E. Little, Cook Communications Ministries, ISBN: 0781439647
- The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, ISBN: 0785242198
- Evidence of the Resurrection, Rose Publishing, ISBN: 1890947970
- Evidence for the Resurrection, Sean and Josh McDowell, Regal
Publishing, ISBN-13: 9780830747856
If you have questions or comments, please feel free to email Robby Beum at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Josh McDowell quoting Dr. William Lane Craig, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 204.
- J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), p. 718.
- Dr. John MacArthur, Jr., New Testament Commentary Romans 9-16 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), p.75.
- Robert Morey, The Trinity, Evidence and Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: World Publishing, Inc. 1996), p. 288.
- http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/ – News and Current Affairs Section – Scorn poured on director’s ‘coffin of Christ’ theory dated February 25, 2007
- I did not create this acronym, other than to add the ‘S’, for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ but after looking at different methods of teaching the Resurrection, I’ve chosen Hank Hanagraaff’s method which I believe accurately portrays an excellent apologetics approach. Specifically, his book Resurrection is the book I’m referring to.
- Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), p. 100
- John MacAuthur, New Testament Commentary on Matthew(24:26) (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), p. 244
- Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), p. 198
- Josh McDowell quoting Michael Green, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 225
- Evidence for the Resurrection (Torrence, CA: Rose Publishing, 2004) quoting Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998)
- John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996), p. 12 as cited by Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection (Ventura, CA: Regal Publishing, 2009), p. 168
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 238
- Ralph O. Muncaster, Examine the Evidence (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2004), p. 389
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 232 citing H.W. Holloman, An Exposition of the Post Resurrection Appearances of Our Lord, Unpublished Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1967.
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 232 citing T.J. Thornburn, The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., LTD., 1910).
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 234 citing Henry Alford, The Greek Testament: With a Critically Revised Text: A Digest of Various Readings…,Vol. I. Sixth edition. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1868
- Ralph O. Muncaster, Examine the Evidence (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2004), p. 391
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 233 citing A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. 5 vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930. Reprint, New York: R.R. Smith, Inc., 1931
- Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2001), p.179
- Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), p.72
- Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), pg. 52-53
- Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), pg. 231-232
- Ibid, p. 237
- Ibid, p. 246
- Ibid, p. 247
- The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2004), p. 1036
- Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), p. 67
- Ibid, p. 67
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 280 quoting Paul Little.
- Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 204 quoting Norman L. Geisler.