With Easter approaching, and an abundance of films about Jesus and Christianity on television, and many other religious headlines and memes going around, I’ve had the opportunity to read quite a few social media comments – good and bad – about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But the ones that really stick out to me are those who say – with confidence – that it did not happen. If someone is not quite sure about the resurrection story, I can understand that, but to know confidentally, without investigation, and without proof, that it simply did not happen, seems a little foolish, and unwise. The story of Jesus is one of the most known and re-told stories over the last two centuries. It would be equivalent to the “story of the century” when it happened back then. And for anyone who loves an investigative story or a captivating headline, this is one that is worth investigating thoroughly, just to be sure. Because if one is so sure it did not happen, then there must be evidence of that as well.
The biggest claim from the skeptical comments I read is that it just isn’t logical. Being a very logically-minded person myself, I have to disagree with that statement. Most people have just not taken the time to look at the logic in detail. Professor Richard Swinburne of Oxford University is a scholar known especially for his aptitude in evaluating evidence. He writes in a book published by Oxford University Press that, based on the available historical evidence today, it is 97% likely that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. (Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book, “Jesus Among Secular Gods”). Even if you factor in an extra chance of error, those are still very good odds. So let’s look at some of the logic of the resurrection.
God cannot be 100% proven or disproven. Neither side (atheist or faith-based) can state 100% proof, so the atheistic argument that God cannot be proven is not a good one. God cannot be completely disproven either. There is evidence that suggests a creator, and other miraculous events have happened in life that science cannot explain. Much circumstantial evidence points heavily toward God as well, and cases have been won on circumstantial evidence before.
Establish a baseline
If you believe in God and that He created the universe and mankind, then anything else can be possible. Therefore it cannot be ruled out that Jesus was resurrected. It doesn’t matter if one believes creation took 6 days or happened over 6 billion years. If you believe it came from God, that there is a Higher Being, then anything else becomes a possibility. Given this much to be true, then the real skeptical question becomes, “Who is God and how much does He interact in our daily lives?” That is a completely separate philosophical question to be explored later, but it does not abolish the belief in God and the possibility of God’s actions. Yet, if you do not believe in any Higher Being or these basic statements about the creation of life, then there is no need to discuss Jesus’ resurrection. Your issue is not with the evidence of the resurrection, but with the idea of God itself. That also is a separate discussion.
The possibility of God’s actions
Assuming one does believe in the baseline of God or a Higher Being, and that God created the universe and mankind, and therefore anything else could be a possibility, then this becomes the measure for determining the rest of the stories in the Bible. A God that creates the universe and mankind can certainly create a virgin to give birth to Jesus, and a God that creates life in the beginning can certainly bring someone back to life. None of this is out of line with God’s possibility. Even the unexplainable things we sometimes observe in our own lives today lean toward this possibility rather than contradict it.
Many well-meaning people believe in God and even in Jesus, but just not the actual resurrection. Even though we’ve established the possibility of God and that this is in line with what God could do, some people need more proof. I get that. So let’s look now at some of the evidence. There are only two realistic hypothesis to examine: either the disciples made up the story, or it is true. The story could not have evolved later as folklore because those who wrote the New Testament gospels and letters were eye-witnesses or first-hand accounts, and wrote them not long after it happened. It was not a story that evolved later.
There were approximately 1/2 million Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion due to Passover. Jerusalem was already a large city, but at Passover time, all Jews came to Jerusalem. Some people believe that Jesus was not even crucified, but that theory does have much credibility. What happened to Jesus instead? There were many accounts of Jesus’ healing and teaching, and large crowds followed him everywhere. He was a controversial figure at best. If he had not been crucified, these stories of Jesus would have continued. He would not have just disappeared, and his followers would not have just stopped following. There would have been some other story of his death or his continued life. But there isn’t.
Since it is very likely that Jesus was crucified, and historical evidence does support this, the real question is about the resurrection. Did it happen or was the body taken? No body was ever found, so it could not have been left in the tomb. If the disciples lied about the resurrection, which is the only other possibility, they would certainly not have invented a story the way they did. Let’s look at that story.
As the story is written in the gospels, the first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women. Women were not considered credible in that day. If the disciple writers were trying to convince people of a lie and make it believable, they would have used more credible witnesses.
In order to make up the story, the apostles would have to steal the dead body and hide it where it could never be found – in a city of 1/2 million people and with Roman guards everywhere. These disciples had very little money and status, and therefore it would be very difficult for them to pull this off. It would also be the perfect crime – with eleven disciples all agreeing to it, even writing about it later, and eventually dying over it. This is very unlikely given our human nature. The easiest way to get away with a crime, is to do it by yourself. Multiply a crime by eleven people, and someone would have snitched.
Even if the body could be stolen, how would they get it past the Roman guards? The counter-story to the gospels says that the Roman guards fell asleep while guarding the tomb. How would several guards all fall asleep at the same time and not hear the disciples moving a large stone from the tomb? If anything, the guards would have slept in shifts. And the penalty for a Roman guard to fall asleep would be for the entire unit to be burned. The Romans did not mess around with things like this.
No crime charged
Why weren’t the disciples ever charged with the crime of stealing the body or breaking the Roman seal on a tomb? This would have been punishable by death. If the Romans crucified Jesus for less of a crime, why not do the same to the disciples, and shut it down once and for all?
The place of the tomb was recorded as being down a hill. The large stone that covered the tomb would have to be rolled up the hill and away from the tomb. Imagine the disciples trying to do this in the middle of the night with the Roman guards sleeping. It almost seems comical, and definitely not logical.
The burial linens were recorded as still being in the tomb. If the disciples took the body, they would certainly have left him clothed out of respect. When Lazarus was reportedly raised from the dead by Jesus, he came out still bound in his linens. However, Jesus did not.
And finally we have Luke, the doctor and historian who wrote about Jesus’ life after Jesus was already resurrected. Luke never met Jesus, and was not a follower while Jesus was alive. He was a Greek, and had absolutely nothing to gain by documenting Jesus’ life. Yet, he had heard the stories after the resurrection, just like many others had. He investigated for himself, talking to eye-witnesses and gathering facts. As a result, Luke has given us one of the most beautifully written accounts of Jesus. In those days, there were no “best-sellers” and no attention-grabbing headlines or similar motives like we have today. For Luke and the disciples, they could not have possibly imagined the outcome of all of this. They were simply telling what they saw and experienced. And there were others too. James, the half-brother of Jesus, did not believe in who Jesus was until after the resurrection, and then he became a follower. Why? What would have been his motive if it had only been a lie?
Back to basics and the possibility
Since we cannot fully discredit the claim that the resurrection could be true, it gets back to one basic statement: If you believe in God and that He created the universe and mankind, then anything else is possible. And why not? Would God just create mankind and leave us here with no other miracles or great acts? Not likely. There is sufficient evidence, the probability does tip the scales, and it is not illogical. We can all decide whether we want to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, but to say it’s not logical or that it definitely did not happen, is simply not true. But when one believes in the resurrection, then it changes everything, and maybe that is the real fear of the skeptic. It means that death is not the final end. And it means that God does care about us, and that He does interact in our lives – which also answers that earlier philosophical question about who God is and how He interacts with us.
Want to investigate more for yourself? Here are just a few resources:
Youtube: anything from Ravi Zacharias, an atheist turned apologetic with numerous recognitions and honorary degrees, who speaks at many colleges and conferences.
Josh McDowell: any of his multiple books. Josh McDowell set out in college to disprove Christianity.
Jesus Booklet: from Godlife.com