Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Sermon Illustrations

Home > Sermon Illustrations

Atheist Cold-Case Detective Investigates Jesus' Resurrection

What happens when a CSI-style forensic detective goes to Calvary to investigate what transpired after Jesus' crucifixion? J. Warner Wallace is a forensic detective specializing in cold-case investigations. As an atheist Wallace became intrigued with the Gospels and their account of Jesus' resurrection because “the most important question I could ask about Christianity just so happened to fall within my area of expertise. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” It would prove to be the ultimate cold-case forensic investigation because eyewitnesses and material evidence that could be used to prove or disprove what happened have been gone for nearly 2000 years. Wallace came away utterly convinced that it was true.

As an atheist, Wallace had always assumed that the resurrection was a lie, believing that the twelve apostles “concocted, executed, and maintained the most elaborate and influential conspiracy of all time.” When Wallace looked at the evidence and as an “unbeliever: he found four minimal facts to be substantiated “by both friends and foes” of Christianity:

1. Jesus died on the cross and was buried.

2. Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced his body.

3. Jesus’ disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.

4. Jesus’ disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations.

Wallace tells how he then used the kind of abductive reasoning he would use at a crime scene “inferring the most reasonable explanation” and came up with several hypotheses:

One: The disciples were mistaken about Jesus’s death. Jesus survived his crucifixion and appeared to disciples after he recovered. This theory fails to explain what the disciples saw when they brought Jesus down from the cross. Didn’t they check if he was breathing, if his body was cold, or if rigor mortis had set in? Is it reasonable to believe they would have not noticed any of these conditions common to dead bodies?

Two: The disciples stole the body and fabricated the story of the resurrection. While this explanation accounts for the empty tomb, it fails to account for the transformed lives of the apostles. The apostles, who had been cowards, were now suddenly as bold as a battleship because of the lies they themselves had concocted.

Three: The disciples were delusional. This fails to account for the empty tomb. More importantly, Wallace argues that he has never encountered large groups having identical hallucinations.

Four: An imposter tricked the disciples, convincing them that Jesus was alive. This theory fails to account for the empty tomb and requires an impersonator. The disciples were highly skeptical and the impersonator would have had to be adept at copying Jesus’ mannerisms. Above all, he would have needed to possess miraculous powers since the disciples’ report Jesus working miracles after the resurrection.

Five: The resurrection is a wildly exaggerated legend that grew exponentially over time. This theory clashes with the record of witnesses making claims about the resurrection from the earliest days of the Christian movement.

Wallace concludes: “The resurrection is reasonable. The answers are available; you don’t have to turn off your brain to be a believer.” Wallace joins a long line of intellectuals who are part of the “resurrection genre” of writers--sceptics who started out to disprove the resurrection and ended up believing that it is true.


George Conger, “CSI Calvary – the compelling case for the Resurrection,” Anglican.Ink (4-2-18); J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, (David C. Cook, 2013)

Related Sermon Illustrations

Can a Scholar Believe in the Resurrection?

Can a classical scholar believe in Jesus? Lindsay Whaley, professor of mathematics and linguistics at Dartmouth University, certainly thinks so. Whaley writes:

Billions of people around ...
[Read More]

Detective Accepts Christ Based on Evidence

As a cold-case homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace called himself a hardcore atheist and "evidentialist" because he believed the truth was always tied to the evidence. But at the ...

[Read More]