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Answers to your questions about life, religion and the Bible
Was Jesus really resurrected?
(An encore column, first published in The Citizen March 27, 2005)
Dear Father Paul: Did the resurrection of Christ really happen? What’s the proof? One of my professors says that the resurrection of Christ is a myth. — Anthoney
Dear Anthoney: You ask an excellent question, because if Jesus really did rise from the dead it means that he is, indeed, the Son of God and we owe him our love, worship and lifetime devotion. On the other hand, if he didn’t, it means that he was a fake, a phony, and we owe him nothing. The stakes on this question are very high.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which Christians celebrate on Easter, is the central tenant of the Christian faith. His resurrection, not his teachings or even his miracles is the reason why Christianity spread from a handful of disciples to include the vast majority of people in the known world in a short 300 years. Many historians have called the resurrection of Jesus the greatest single event in human history; “a boulder crashing into the pool of human history,” said one, “its widening circle of waves still having a momentous effect 2,000 years later.” Others, like your professor friend, say that the resurrection is a myth.
No serious historian would ever claim that Jesus never lived. Or that he was not a great teacher, prophet and miracle worker, or that he was not crucified; there is just too much historical evidence to the contrary. But was he in fact resurrected? Did he rise from the dead? What is the truth?
Most of the doubters claim that either Jesus wasn’t really ever dead or that he was not resurrected, that something else happened. They claim that if he did indeed die on the cross, that the Roman or Jewish authorities removed and hid the body or the disciples stole the body, or finally, that the “so called” witnesses were simply “hallucinating.”
Those who profess the “Jesus wasn’t really dead” view say that Jesus was in some kind of “swoon” or coma when he was taken down from the cross. The problem with this view is that crucifixion was a form of execution, not punishment or torture. Crucifixion was used to kill the victim, period. No one ever walked away from a crucifixion alive. The person died a slow and painful death by asphyxiation. In Jesus’ case, he was flogged and beaten to within an inch of his life before he was ever nailed to the cross. A first-person written account by the apostle John says that Jesus was already dead when the Roman soldiers came to break his legs so that he could no longer lift himself up to breathe (John 19:32-33). It is noted in the Bible also that Jesus was stabbed with a spear in his side and that all of his blood ran out on the ground. Finally, if we are to believe that he was placed in his tomb still alive after his horrible ordeal, we have to believe that he could survive in the tomb for three days without food, water or medical attention, that after three days he was strong enough to roll away the huge stone weighing several tons that sealed the tomb, that upon leaving the tomb he fought with and overpowered several armed Roman soldiers guarding the tomb, and finally, that he walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of his disciples as is recorded in Mark 16 and Luke 24. Not very likely.
The problem with the scenario of either the Roman or Jewish authorities stealing then hiding the body of Jesus is that it would have been simple and easy for the authorities to merely produce the body for inspection as proof that Jesus was still dead when his disciples started claiming that he had risen from the dead and was alive. They didn’t produce Jesus’ body because there was no body to produce.
The claim that Jesus’ disciples stole and hid his body doesn’t hold water either because later, when they themselves were threatened with torture and execution, the disciples could have saved themselves by simply admitting the “truth,” that there was no resurrection, that it was all a lie. They didn’t. Does anyone seriously believe that all of the disciples would be willing to die for a lie?
Finally, the most compelling pieces of evidence for the actual resurrection of Jesus are the written eye-witness accounts of his post-death appearances in the Bible. There are six independent written testimonies by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul of Jesus appearing alive after his crucifixion. These men record a total of 11 separate appearances of a risen Jesus over a period of 40 days. And, if that isn’t enough, it is recorded in I Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at one time. Wow! It isn’t very likely that all of these witnesses were hallucinating is it?
No, Anthoney, I believe that any open-minded person, who looks at all of the evidence, will conclude as I and over 1.5 billion people alive today on planet earth have concluded, that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and that he really is the Son of God.
Do you have a question? I will try to answer your question in the paper. Send your question to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. See www.holycrosschurch.word press.com for information.]