By Andrew Halloway
You might be thinking, what do I care? What difference does it make if Jesus rose from the dead or not?
It makes all the difference in the world. If Jesus didn't come back to life after being dead for three days, then millions of Christians have been deceived for 2,000 years, and martyred for it. And today, thousands of believers are still being persecuted and killed rather than deny their faith, so if the resurrection was a hoax they are dying for nothing.
But if He really did rise, then He is still alive and is God – just as He claimed. That means every word He said is true – including the fact that we can have a relationship with God today, that death is not the end, and that Jesus will one day return to our world as King.
You don't have to leave your brains at the door to consider the resurrection. Countless intellectuals have believed it, from Sir Isaac Newton and JRR Tolkien to today's Oxford Professor of Maths John Lennox and Cambridge paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. Why? Because an impartial look at the facts of the resurrection make it hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus did rise.
Let's look at a few.
The empty tomb
After Jesus' crucifixion, Jesus' body was taken down from the cross, wrapped from head to toe in cloth strips, and laid in a solid-rock tomb. A two-ton stone was rolled across the entrance and sealed so it would be known if anyone broke in. Soldiers guarded the tomb.
On the Sunday morning the stone had been rolled aside, the guards had fled, and the body was gone. But the strips of cloth were still where the body had been, and no one ever produced the body to disprove the resurrection.
Jesus' disciples could not have stolen His body.
The disciples (Jesus' closest followers) thought the movement was over and they hid for fear of being arrested like Jesus. Hardly the state of mind of a group who would attack the guards to steal the body.
In any case, the guards would have faced death or severe punishment for failing in their duty, so they would have been no pushovers.
Perhaps Peter (who was so afraid he denied knowing Jesus three times) and Thomas (who did not believe Jesus was alive even when told by all the others) overpowered the guards to take the body, and later died for a myth they made up? Unbelievable.
Jesus' enemies could not have stolen His body.
Why would the Romans or Jewish religious leaders steal the body of someone they had killed? The Jewish leaders were the ones who asked for the tomb to be guarded, to prevent resurrection rumours arising. And if they had the body, surely they would have shown it in order to quell the rumours, and Christianity would have died out. They did not, and it did not.
The swoon theory.
This supposes that Jesus did not die. The Roman executioners only thought he was dead. Really? He was flogged with a Roman whip that ripped the flesh from His back, then forced to carry His cross around Jerusalem, then crucified, and finally stabbed in the heart to ensure He was dead. Then He was wrapped so tight in cloths that, had He still been alive, He would have suffocated.
Yet somehow He is supposed to have survived on a stone cold slab for two days, with no food or water, then pushed over a two-ton stone without the soldiers noticing and walked out of the tomb on nail-pierced feet. This is harder to believe than the resurrection!
The hallucination theory.
This says the eleven disciples had a group hallucination, all seeing the same things at once. Problem – hallucinations are an individual experience, so even if they all hallucinated at the same time they would have seen different things. Not only that, it was not just the eleven male disciples who saw the risen Jesus, but the women too, and the appearance of Christ kept happening for 40 days after his death, up to more than 500 people at once.
The transformed disciples.
After Jesus' crucifixion, most of His disciples went into hiding, apart from a few brave women who had stayed by Him through His death and looked after His body. That's why the Bible records that women were the first to see Jesus after His resurrection despite the fact that this would have been counter-productive for the early Church. Why? Because a woman's testimony was not regarded as reliable at that time. That's why historians today see this as genuine evidence for the resurrection. If you were making it up, you wouldn't make women the first eyewitnesses.
But after seeing Jesus for themselves, the rest of the disciples were no longer cowards. They risked life and limb to tell the world about Jesus, and ten of the eleven disciples were martyred. Early Church writers say Peter was crucified upside down, Thomas was speared, and James was beheaded. Why die for something if you know it isn't true?
The explosion of the early Church.
Historian Ken Curtis writes: "The spread of the Christian Church in its earliest centuries is one of the most amazing phenomena in all of human history". Within weeks of Jesus' crucifixion, followers of Jesus in Israel were numbered in the thousands. Why follow an executed "criminal"?
And within a few decades, there were churches across the Roman Empire, and as far away as India. Their leaders were imprisoned, tortured, and killed. How could a movement so dangerous to your personal well-being become so popular?
Of course, there is much more to consider. But the real reason people oppose the resurrection is not because of the historical evidence, but because they cannot – or will not – believe in such a miracle. Those whose minds are closed to the possibility of the supernatural will endlessly look for alternative explanations, despite the evidence.•