The historical validity of the Resurrection
By George O. Wood
A cynic quipped to his colleagues, "Gentlemen, it would be easy to
start a new religion to compete with Christianity. All the founder would
have to do is get himself crucified and then be raised from the dead."
Does anyone have truth?
Suppose you dont know if anyone has the truth, so you attend a
seminar on world religions. A young woman relates a dramatic change
in her life from drug addiction to wellness. She attributes it to Jesus.
However, she is followed by a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Hindu
all averring that their religious faith has brought an inner feeling
of congruence and God-connectedness.
Then a young man, rather unkempt in appearance, says, "I grew up in
a dysfunctional family and in recent years lived alone with deep depression.
While cooking breakfast one morning, I accidentally flipped an egg too
high and it landed on my head. Instantly, I experienced the sensation
of warmness over my whole being. My whole life has changed. A warm egg
on the head will do the same thing for you."
All testify from their own subjective experiences.
Add to their number the final person who addresses the seminar: a buoyant,
confident college coed. "Im glad religion has worked for all these
people, she says, but I dont need any
crutches to get through life. I am so happy to be free of all superstition.
If you need a transcendental belief system or a warm egg, have at it
but not me. Im strong enough to stand on my own without
beads in my hands, prayers on my lips, a cross around my neck, or a
god in my heart."
Which testimony is true?
How is truth established?
If the reality being tested involves repeatable phenomena, then the
scientific method is your answer. For example, you can drop a ball from
the leaning Tower of Pisa every minute for the rest of your life, and
you will always get the same result. It falls to the ground.
But, what about a phenomenon that is unique, nonrepeatable? You use
the historical method for validation. For example, the existence of
Abraham Lincoln (or any other person) is not provable by the scientific
method. Why? Because individuals appear once and are gone. We establish
their existence by eyewitnesses. When the eyewitnesses die, we rely
upon documents (writings, drawings, photographs, etc.) left by the eyewitnesses.
We examine the claims of Jesus through application of the historical
method. The scientific method only tells us that people are born, live
and die. What do you do with a claim that one person in human history
lived, died and lived again? You look at the testimony of the
eyewitnesses and the totality of the circumstances surrounding the purported
event. You sift through the evidence; and, if the witnesses are no longer
alive, you evaluate documents left behind.
The body of Jesus
All theories trying to discredit the resurrection of Jesus, over 20
centuries, can be boiled down to six possibilities as to why His corpse
disappeared from human history.
1. The followers of Jesus stole the body.
This is the first theory advanced to counter the claim that Jesus rose
from the dead. (See Matthew 28:13.) To hold this position, you must
discount the New Testament assertion that the gravesite was guarded
by soldiers, placed there with Roman permission by religious leaders
fearful that His disciples would steal the body in order to perpetrate
a hoax. (See Matthew 27:62-66.)
Why would the disciples of Jesus even want to steal a dead Jesus? Only
hours before His death they had all forsaken Him and fled. What would
account for their sudden bravery and duplicity in stealing the body?
2. Jesus did not really die on the cross.
This is called the swoon theory. It does not account for the fact that,
had Jesus survived crucifixion, it would have left Him emaciated. But,
the disciples of Jesus preached Him as dynamically alive.
If Jesus pulled off such a hoax, there should be no respect for Him
in the common culture. How can anyone say He is a good teacher, if at
the core He is a liar or a lunatic?
If He did not die on the cross, when did He die? Where was He buried?
Why was His corpse never produced? How can the emergence of His large
contemporary following be explained men and women willing to
stake their lives on the fact that He rose from the dead?
3. The Romans or religious leaders took the body.
If either the Romans or the religious leaders took the body, they would
have immediately produced it the moment the apostles began preaching
Jesus as raised from the dead.
4. The women went to the wrong tomb.
This view was advanced because of the accounts in the Gospels of women
arriving at the tomb early on Easter morning. Rather than meeting an
angel, as claimed, they actually met a gardener whom they mistook for
a heavenly being. When he tried to point out they were at the wrong
tomb, they falsely assumed Jesus had risen and ran to tell His disciples.
Of course, the rebuttal to this theory is that, if the women went to
the wrong tomb, then all someone had to do was go to the right tomb.
5. The disciples were victims of hallucination.
This view suggests that the purported post-Resurrection appearances
of Jesus to His followers took place in their minds. However, hallucinations
occur to individuals and not to groups en masse. What would account
for the hallucinations abruptly ending after 40 days?
6. Jesus followers told the truth He had risen.
Why should anyone believe their account? Because there is credible
Lukes Gospel tells the story of two followers of Jesus, Cleopas
and an unnamed disciple, returning the seven miles from Jerusalem to
the village of Emmaus the morning of the Resurrection. They are pictured
as sad and shattered. They have already heard a report that some of
the women from their company had gone to the tomb at daybreak and returned
saying Christ was risen. But they did not believe the women, because
their words seemed like nonsense. (See Luke 24:11.) They didnt
even bother to go to the tomb and check out the story.
Two others did: Peter and John. (See John 20:1-9.) When John saw the
evidence, he drew inferences. What could explain the grave clothes appearing
in such a neat and folded manner? If enemies of Jesus had stolen His
body, they would not have taken time to unfold and refold the clothes.
Only one logical explanation: Jesus had risen, even though John himself
had not yet seen the risen Christ.
But, these eyewitnesses of Jesus had even better evidence than that
found at the gravesite the risen Lord appeared to them. "After
his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing
proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty
days" (Acts 1:3, NIV).
Our culture separates private character from public conduct. Not so
the early followers of Jesus. They staked their message and very lives
on His credibility and theirs.
Jerusalem was filled with those who were eyewitnesses of the Crucifixion,
heard the rumors of the Resurrection and appearances by Jesus, and knew
the corpse had disappeared. At great danger to themselves, in the very
city where He was executed for holding himself out to be the Son of
God and Messiah, the followers of Jesus declared, "This man was handed
over to you by Gods set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with
the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
But God raised him from the dead" (Acts 2:23,24).
The opponents of Jesus launched a cover-up. When the chief priests
had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a
large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, His disciples
came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.
If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you
out of trouble" (Matthew 28:13,14).
Like the enemies of Jesus, your conduct can fly in the face of reason
if you are disposed to evil. The first persons to disbelieve the Resurrection
did so not because their heads were unconvinced, but because their hearts
were darkened and rebellious.
Whom do you believe Jesus and His followers or those who opposed
Some say Jesus did not rise again from the dead, but He was a great
moral teacher. If His followers lied about Him, then He was a poor teacher
of truth; and, if He lied about himself, He should be disgraced.
What does the Resurrection mean to you? Everything, if you will respond
to this call from an eyewitness of the risen Christ: "If you confess
with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
To be saved is to be forgiven of sin, to be in right relationship with
God, and to receive Gods gift of eternal life.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the only satisfactory
conclusion that may be reached when all the evidences are weighed. From
a personal experiential point of view, the ongoing presence of Jesus
Christ living in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit brings you
into true, loving and joyful relationship with God. In the last analysis,
faith is not a leap in the dark. It is resting in the sufficiency of
The late William Sangster, an English Methodist minister, became seriously
ill with progressive muscular atrophy two years before his death. For
those final years he endured suffering with courage. On Easter, unable
to walk or speak, he wrote to his daughter: "It is terrible to wake
up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, He
is risen! But it would be still more terrible to have a voice
and not want to shout.
Oh, I want to shout: Jesus is risen from the dead. I hope you do too.
George O. Wood, D.Th.P., is general secretary
for the Assemblies of God.