The Truth about the Resurrection
The Truth about the Resurrection
Who would you guess is the most successful trial attorney in the entire world? The Guinness Book of World Records says, "Most successful attorney: Sir Lionel Luckhoo, who succeeded in getting his 245th consecutive murder acquittal by January 1, 1985."
This is an absolutely astonishing feat that nobody else in the world has ever come close to replicating. Two hundred forty-five consecutive murder trials either won before the jury or won on appeal. I would suspect he's a very bright person and that he has tremendous analytical skills. He certainly must be a world-class expert on what constitutes reliable, admissible, and persuasive evidence.
Wouldn't it be interesting to get an opinion on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from a monumental legal expert like Sir Lionel Luckhoo? During his own spiritual journey Luckhoo did take his expertise in law and went through the question of whether the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands up to the test of legal evidence. He ultimately concluded: "I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt."
Our everyday experience tells us that dead people do not come back to life. Yet here we have the most successful attorney on the entire planet applying the legal tests of evidence to the historical accounts of Jesus Christ's resurrection and concluding with absolute confidence that his resurrection is a reality. Having looked at the evidence, he then did the most logical thing in the world: he gave his life to Jesus Christ. Like Sir Lionel Luckhoo, we should examine the evidence for ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 15:17 the apostle Paul wrote "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins." The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of Christianity. It is the ultimate authentication of Jesus Christ's claim that he is the unique Son of God.
Evidence proves the certainty of Jesus' death on the cross.
I want to begin by summarizing how Jesus Christ died. Some believe Jesus Christ never really died on the cross. It's called the swoon theory, and it suggests that Jesus either fainted on the cross or he took a drug to make him appear as if he had died. Then when he was taken to the tomb, the cool air revived him, and he emerged alive. People who subscribe to this theory contend that there was no real resurrection because Jesus didn't die in the first place.
The historical evidence about the death of Jesus Christ shows the complete fallacy of that position.
After Jesus' trial, John 19:1 says "Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged." A medical expert named C. Truman Davis studied what was involved with this flogging, and he concluded this was a brutal beating that left Jesus on the edge of death.
Jesus was tied to a post and beaten at least thirty-nine times, probably much more than that, with a whip that had jagged bones and balls of lead woven into it. Repeatedly, the whip was brought down on his bare shoulders, back, and legs. The heavy thongs cut through his skin, and as the blows continued, they cut deeper into the underlying tissues, initially producing an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins and finally the spurting of arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying tissues and muscles.
The balls of lead first produced large, deep bruises that were then broken open by subsequent blows. By the end, the skin of his back was left hanging in long ribbons, and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn and bleeding tissue.
One witness to a Roman flogging wrote, "The sufferers veins were laid bare. The very muscles and tendons and bowels of the victim were laid open to exposure."
Many people sentenced to be crucified never made it alive to the cross; they died at the flogging. Undoubtedly, Jesus was in serious to critical condition even before the crucifixion began. It's no wonder that the historical accounts tell us that Jesus was unable to carry his own cross.
He was then laid on top of the cross on the ground and five- to seven-inch spikes were driven through his wrists, crushing the median nerve, which is the largest nerve that runs to the hand. After his wrists and feet were nailed securely to the cross, the cross was hoisted into the air; and Jesus hung there.
Death from crucifixion is a slow death by suffocation, because the stress on Jesus' chest muscles was so great that he could inhale but he could not exhale unless he pushed up with his feet to relieve some of the pressure on his chest. For the victims of crucifixion again and again they would push themselves up against this incredible pain, and eventually exhaustion set in.
If the Romans wanted to hasten death, they would come by with a mallet and shatter the shin bones of the person on the cross so he could no longer push up. The person would slowly asphyxiate to death. That's what the executioners did to the criminals who were crucified on Jesus' side; but they didn't do that to Jesus because it was clear Jesus was already dead. To confirm that, the soldiers plunged a spear between his ribs that punctured the sack around his heart and his heart itself, causing a clear fluid and streams of blood to pour out. Eyewitnesses recorded this, and the Roman experts confirmed that Jesus was dead.
Nobody came down alive from a Roman cross, and that included Jesus Christ. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Society concluded:
"Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart, and thereby, insured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge."
What if Jesus somehow survived the cross? What if somehow Jesus decided to go against everything he taught and intentionally deceive people? What if somehow he escaped the linen cocoon in which his body was wrapped that contained seventy-five to a hundred pounds of spices? And what if he was able to push away the boulder from the mouth of his tomb, a boulder so large one ancient account said twenty men couldn't budge it? And what if he was able to get past the Romans guarding his tomb?
Think of the condition he would have been in when he appeared to his disciples. He wouldn't have inspired them to declare triumphantly that Jesus had overcome the grave, and to go and launch a worldwide movement based on that. They would have pitied him and called for a doctor.
Evidence shows the resurrection is not a created myth.
The accounts of Jesus Christ began very early, before mythology could contaminate the accounts. For instance, we have a creed, recited by the church as early as 24 to 36 months after the death of Jesus, that said, "Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried. And he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." The creed goes on to specifically mention eyewitnesses that Jesus appeared to. The fact that these accounts of Jesus' resurrection go back so early completely contradicts the assertion that the resurrection was a product of mythology that developed during the decades following Jesus' life.
Studies into the rate at which legend accrued in the ancient world tell us it takes a minimum of two generations for mythology to corrupt a solid core of historical fact. There was nowhere near that amount of time in the case of Jesus Christ. In fact, when the apostle Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time, he says many of the 500 were still alive. In effect, Paul was saying, "If you don't believe me, go ask the witnesses. They're still around." The proclamation that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Son of God began virtually immediately after his death. It was not a product of mythology.
Evidence proves the tomb was empty.
In 1990 archaeologists in Jerusalem uncovered the burial grounds of Caiaphas, Jesus' chief accuser. Nobody has ever uncovered the body of Jesus Christ. History tells us Jesus' body was laid to rest in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, and the tomb was sealed. An extremely heavy boulder was rolled in front of it, and it was guarded by elite Roman guards. Yet, it was discovered empty on Easter morning, quite significantly, by some women.
The fact that the Bible says women discovered the tomb empty lends even more credibility to these accounts, because women had low status in Jewish society at that time. If the disciples were fabricating this story, surely they would have claimed it was men who discovered the tomb empty because their testimony would have been more credible in that culture. This is one more indication the writers were committed to recording exactly what took place, even though that bit of historical truth didn't help their case.
More importantly, however, even Jesus' opponents admitted the tomb was empty. They bribed the guards of the tomb to say it was the disciples stole the body while they were asleep. That's ridiculous because the disciples didn't have the opportunity. Besides, if the guards were sleeping, how did they know it was the disciples who stole the body?
The point is, when the disciples declared the tomb was empty, Jesus' opponents didn't respond by saying, "You're wrong. He's in the tomb." Nor did they respond, "You just have the wrong tomb. The body is over here." Instead, they admitted the tomb was empty on Easter.
How did the tomb become empty? Certainly the Romans and Jewish authorities wouldn't have taken the body. They wanted Jesus dead. The Jews or Romans would have loved to produce the dead body of Jesus Christ and kill the doubt right there. But they didn't because they couldn't.
Would the disciples remove the body, although they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by stealing the body? They surely would not have chosen deprivation and to be tortured to death for a charade. If this had been a conspiracy, certainly one of the disciples would have broken ranks under the pain of torture and told the truth. But it never happened.
Perhaps the women on Easter morning went to the wrong tomb. When they found it empty, they assumed Jesus had returned. This argument doesn't withstand scrutiny either. Not only did Mary Magdalene and the other women find the tomb empty, but Peter and John came out and checked it out for themselves. Don't you think they would have made absolutely sure this was the right tomb before they risked their lives proclaiming that Jesus' body was gone? Besides, Joseph of Arimathea knew where his own tomb was located, and he certainly would have told them. If all of them came down with collective amnesia, surely the Jewish and Roman authorities would have pointed out, "No, here's the real tomb" so they could show that Jesus was still inside.
History's unanimous testimony is on Easter morning the tomb was empty. There was no motive for the Jewish authorities, the Romans, or the disciples to have stolen the body. The only explanation that fits the facts is that Jesus really did return from the dead.
The witnesses of the resurrection are reliable.
During the next 40 days Jesus appeared a dozen times to more than 515 different individuals. He talked with people. He ate with people. He even invited one skeptic to put his fingers in his hands where the nail holes were and to put his hand in his side where the spear had been thrust into him.
Five hundred fifteen eyewitnesses. That is a lot of people. If we had a trial on the question of whether Jesus returned from the dead, and if we were to call each one of the 515 witnesses to give a first-hand account of their encounter with Jesus for just 15 minutes, and if we did it around the clock, we'd be sitting there for nearly six days. I wonder, after sitting through 128 hours of eyewitness accounts, how many people would leave here unconvinced of Jesus' resurrection? This number and quality of eyewitnesses is unprecedented.
When I was a skeptic, I tried to poke holes in the eyewitnesses' testimonies. Maybe they were hallucinating. When I talked to psychologists about that, they told me that was not possible. Hallucinations are like dreams. They're individual events that can't be shared between people. One expert said, "If you had 515 people all having the same hallucination at the same time, that would be a bigger miracle than the resurrection itself."
I then thought that the eyewitnesses' accounts of the resurrection were an example of group think. This occurs when people in a group subtly encourage one another through the power of suggestion to see an image that isn't really there. I asked Dr. Collins, president of a national association of psychologists, if this was possible.
"The circumstances would have been all wrong for this sort of thing to have occurred," he said. "The disciples were not anticipating a resurrection. The idea of Jesus coming back from the dead would run totally contrary to all of their Jewish, cultural, and religious beliefs. So they weren't primed for that sort of thing to have happened. Besides, Jesus ate with them. He talked back to them. He appeared at numerous times before all kinds of people with all kinds of different emotional make-ups and in various settings—all of which runs contrary to this group-think theory."
The appearances of Jesus were not hallucinations, not wish fulfillments, and not mythology. They were real historical events that revolutionized people's lives. Think about what happened to the disciples. History tells us that before Easter they were dejected because they thought their leader was gone forever. The disciples after the crucifixion were hiding behind closed doors, afraid they might be put to death. Yet, after Easter these same men were out boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ was alive. Suddenly these once cowardly individuals were transformed. History tells us all but one of those disciples suffered violent deaths. Yet none of them ever disavowed their testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who literally and bodily appeared to them.
Still skeptical, I said, "I look through history and see all kinds of crackpots willing to die for their religious beliefs." There was a terrorist in Tel Aviv who strapped explosives to his body, walked into a crowded marketplace, and blew himself up. Why would he do that? The Chicago Tribune said he sincerely believed if he were to die in that manner he would instantly go to paradise.
Don't you see the difference between the disciples and a terrorist like that? People will die for their religious beliefs if they are convinced their beliefs are true. People will not die for religious beliefs they know are false. The disciples knew first-hand that Jesus had risen from the dead because they were there. Because they knew it was true, they were willing to die for it.
Sir Lionel Luckhoo was right. The evidence is overwhelming: early accounts plus empty tomb plus eyewitness testimony equals the certainty that Jesus Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead as the ultimate authentication of his claim to being the unique Son of God.
Look at every religious leader of history—Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed—they are all in the grave. But Jesus Christ isn't. His tomb is empty. Jesus Christ alone possessed the power to overcome the grave.
Who are you going to invest your hope in for eternal life? Who is it logical to invest your hope in? The evidence points convincingly to Jesus Christ having told the truth when he said in John 11:25, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies."
Lee Strobel is teaching pastor at Saddleback Community Church in Mission Viejo, California. His most recent book is