The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection/Program 2

By: Lee Strobel; ©2007
Lee Strobel set out to answer two questions: Did Jesus ever claim to be the Son of God; and if he did, did he offer any proof?



Announcer: Question? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Is it fact or fiction? Does it matter? What’s the evidence? And what answers would you present to a non-Christian friend who asks, “Isn’t Jesus’ resurrection just a myth?” How do we know that he was really dead when they took Him off the cross? And after His burial, were Jesus’ resurrection appearances to over 500 people, just psychological events in their minds, or real physical appearances of the risen Jesus? My guest today who will answer these questions is former atheist, turned Christian, Mr. Lee Strobel, former award winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, and New York Times best seller of over 20 books. We invite you to join us to hear the amazing evidence for Jesus’ resurrection on this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show
Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Boy, we have got a great one again for you today. And my guest is Lee Strobel. He is the award-winning author of The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, The Case for the Creator. And he has got a new book out on The Real Jesus. But what we are talking about is his story, because he was a skeptic for most of his life. He was the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He is a graduate of Yale Law School. And I am telling you, he was a trip. He really believed that God was something that people just invented in their mind to soothe their fears. And, Lee, let’s rehash the story a little bit, and pick it up before we get to the two points that are the key points that you started tracking when you wanted to investigate what Christianity was. Tell the story just a little bit from the beginning here.
Strobel: Well, I became an atheist when I was young, in my teens, and married a woman who was agnostic. She became a follower of Jesus, which freaked me out, and I thought was going to lead to divorce. But when I saw positive changes in her and really exposed myself to the Christian message for the first time, I thought, you know what, this is worth my time and effort to investigate, to scrutinize, to see whether or not it withstands examination from a skeptic. And so I embarked on what turned out to be a two year investigation of Christianity and other faith systems as well.
Ankerberg: Again, tell them how skeptical you were, though, and how you tracked down evidence, even as the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune.
Strobel: Yeah, I mentioned we used to pride ourselves on being skeptical and actually had a sign in our newsroom that said, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” In other words, where are the facts? Where is the proof? Where is the evidence? And that is who I was. I mean, you can imagine, John, you put together journalism and law, you know what kind of a jerk, of a skeptic that you get. But that is who I was. And it was very natural for me, because this is what I did for a living at the Chicago Tribune. I checked out things to see if they were true. So I would call experts, I would study archaeology, I would look at ancient history, I would go over questions of manuscript evidence and so forth. It was a very natural thing for me to do. But what was different about this, John, it was the biggest story I had every pursued. I mean, I had done some big ones, I won some big awards for my investigations, but nothing had as much riding on it as this question of, number one, did Jesus every claim to be the Son of God, and if He did, number two, did He back it up, did He prove it, by returning from the dead? That was the nub to me of the issue.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and you set out actually not to prove that it was true but to disprove it.
Strobel: Yeah, I mean, in a lot of ways, having lived such an ugly, immoral life, the last thing I wanted, frankly, was to be held accountable for it. The last thing I wanted was God looking over my shoulder. I wanted to do what I wanted to do; I wanted to live the way I wanted to live.
Ankerberg: And you also realized that if you actually believed in Christ then there would have to be some changes made.
Strobel: Yeah, I realized that, well, my wife used to say, “I have no hope. I have no hope for my husband.” Seriously, she told people after she became a Christian, “I have no hope. He is the hard headed, hard hearted, legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. I have no hope that he is ever going to bend his knee to Jesus Christ.”
Ankerberg: Alright, rehash point number one.
Strobel: Did Jesus claim to be the Son of God? Absolutely, I think the record is absolutely clear to anyone who is honest and examines the record.
Ankerberg: But you didn’t think that going in?
Strobel: No, I thought this was legend that was created in the many, many decades after His life. But right there in the earliest records, the first biography written by Mark, based on the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter; I mean, go right back to the beginning and it shows that Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, which was not just a claim of humanity, it was a claim of divinity. Because the Son of Man was a figure in Daniel 7 who had these divine qualities, who would judge humankind, whose kingdom would endure forever, who was worshiped by all people, who is sovereign, who would be in the very presence of the Father. These are attributes of the divine. And then, of course, in His trial, when He was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? Are you the Messiah? Are you the Son of God?” “I AM” are the first two words out of his mouth. And then he applies this Daniel 7 imagery to himself again. And how does the High Priest respond? By saying blasphemy. Why? Because Jesus, a mere man, was claiming to be God. [Mark 14]
And yet that wasn’t enough for me. It wasn’t enough that He claimed it, it wasn’t enough that His teachings were profound. I mean, there are a lot of profound teachers through history, let’s face it. The question to me was, can you back it up? Can you prove it? What can you do? And according to the text He performed miracles. But you know what, that’s one thing, to read about it that it happened 2000 years ago. But I needed something that went beyond a miracle that maybe could have been a sleight of hand. I needed something that was indisputable.
Ankerberg: And so you fastened on the big one.
Strobel: I did. The resurrection is the lynchpin of Christianity. I mean the apostle Paul said that, and everybody knows it. But Gerald O’Collins, the theologian, once said that Christianity without the resurrection is not Christianity without it’s final chapter, it is not Christianity at all. So everything rides on did Jesus return from the dead and thus prove that He is the Son of God?
Ankerberg: Alright, so how did you get to the evidence?
Strobel: Well, I looked at two years worth of evidence, but to summarize it, I looked at five words that begin with the letter “e”. The first one is execution: was Jesus, was he dead when they took Him down off the cross? I thought, well, maybe He fainted and then was taken to the tomb and the cool air resuscitated Him; so you don’t have a miraculous resurrection, you just have a fortuitous resuscitation. Well, you examine what does crucifixion involve, and you realize it could not be so, that He must have been dead.
Ankerberg: Why?
Strobel: Well, first of all He was brutally flogged by the Roman authorities with whips that had jagged bones imbedded in them and balls of lead. And one eyewitness to a Roman flogging said the very muscles and sinews and bowels of the victim were laid open to exposure. This is incredibly brutal. In fact, you remember the movie The Passion of the Christ? I got to know Mel Gibson during the filming of that movie. And when the movie got an R rating because of the violence and the brutality of the beating and the crucifixion of Jesus, I thought it was unfortunate. I thought it would limit the audience in the movie. So I said to Mel, thinking..
Ankerberg: Giving him a little advice…
Strobel: Yeah, a little advice. I said, you know, you could have toned down the violence. And he looked at me and he said, “Dude, I did tone it down.” And he was right. What he meant was, “I toned it down from what actually took place.” People couldn’t stomach it, people couldn’t face it if he presented historically, in an accurate way, what actually took place. I interviewed medical experts who said that Jesus was in hypovolemic shock after the beating, that is, shock from a great loss of blood. And then to have nails driven through your wrists and your feet, to be hoisted on the cross, which puts incredible stress on your chest muscles so that you can’t breathe. Your lungs are locked in an inhale position. So the only way you can breathe is by pushing yourself up with your feet. And, of course, then you are scraping your bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. And then exhale, take a new breath and then settle down and then have to push up again and breathe and so forth. I mean, until exhaustion took over.
In fact, that is why when the Romans wanted to hasten the death of someone, they would take a metal rod and just shatter their shin bones so they could no longer push up, and they would just suffocate, in a sense. Their heart would give out because of the stresses of suffocation. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association did a review of the historical data and said that clearly Jesus was dead even before the wound to His side was inflicted, a wound which, by the way, punctured His heart and His lung.
And, in fact, we have five secular sources that also confirm. You have Tacitus who is an early historian; you have Josephus, an early historian; even the Jewish Talmud says that Jesus was killed by hanging; that is, hanging on the cross. So, John, go to the most skeptical New Testament scholars in the world, go to Gerd Ludemann, atheist, Vanderbilt University; he will tell you. John Dominic Crossan, a very liberal Christian, will tell you that of all the facts we know from ancient history, one of the ones for which there is solid bedrock is that Jesus was dead when He was taken off the cross.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I mean they didn’t have to be rocket scientists to know He was dead. If you pushed yourself up, you were able to breathe; but when you were hanging down for past 15 minutes, going into 30 minutes and you didn’t go up, you were dead because you had no breath in those lungs.
Strobel: Yeah, and think of this. I mean, even if Jesus somehow did survive it and wanted to go against all of His teaching, to fool people into thinking He was resurrected and somehow got out of the linen wrappings that He was wrapped in, and somehow rolled the rock away from the mouth of the tomb, and somehow got past the guards at His tomb, think of the condition He would have been in. He would have been in such terrible critical condition that there is no way in the world that the disciples would have seen Him and said, “Oh, this is wonderful. Let’s build a worldwide movement based on the glorious hope that some day we will have a resurrection body and return from the dead.” They would have looked at Him and called 911 and said get Him some help! My goodness, He is a mess! So there is absolutely no historical support for the idea that Jesus somehow survived the cross.
Ankerberg: What was your second point?
Strobel: Second point were the early accounts that we have. I used to think that the idea that Jesus rose from the dead was a myth, a legend, that grew up in the many decades after His life. Well, what I found is we have incredibly early historical support for the resurrection. Not only is it in all four gospels, but even prior to that we have preserved for us a creed recited by the earliest Christians. And this creed is preserved for us by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. What does it say? It says that Jesus died. Why? For our sins. He was buried; He was resurrected on the third day. And then it mentions the names of eyewitnesses including skeptics whose lives were changed 180 degrees because they encountered the resurrected Jesus.
Now John, this creed of the church has been dated back by scholars from a wide range of theological beliefs to as early as 2-5 years after the life of Jesus. And, of course, the beliefs must precede the making up of the creed; therefore, they go right back to the cross itself. So we don’t have some legend that grew up in the many decades later. We have a news flash from ancient history. In fact A.N. Sherwin-White, the great classical historian from Oxford University, did a study at the rate at which legend grew up in the ancient world. And he determined that the passage of two generations of time was not even enough for legend to wipe out a solid core of historical truth. We don’t have the passage of two generations of time here. We have something that goes right back to the event itself. This is incredibly powerful historical evidence that it is true that Jesus did return from the dead.
Ankerberg: Alright, we are going to take a break and we are going to come back to the other three point. You have got the eyewitness, and you have got the empty tomb, and you have got the emergence of the church. And you are not going to want to miss this. I mean, when he lays out this evidence, you need to hear this. So stick with us, we will be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back. We are talking with Lee Strobel, who is the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He was a skeptic, a straight out atheist. And as he started to investigate the claims of Christianity, the claims of Christ, he came down to the key point, namely the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Did it happen? And he is talking about the points underneath that question, did Jesus rise from the dead. The evidence that started to persuade him that, goodness sakes, possibly this thing actually happened. Alright, you already talked about the fact of… well, review for us here.
Strobel: First, the execution: that Jesus was definitely dead when He was taken down from the cross. And then the early account. This is not a legend that developed a long time ago; we have extremely early accounts that affirm the resurrection. Then I go on to the third e which is the empty tomb. And the most powerful fact about the empty tomb of all, I think, is that nobody in the first century was claiming it was anything but empty. In other words, everybody conceded it was empty. The authorities tried to spread the story that the guards were asleep, and the disciples stole the body, which made no sense, because they had no motive means or opportunity. Besides which that is admitting the body is gone.
Ankerberg: And if you were sleeping how did you know it was the disciples?
Strobel: Exactly. The story never made sense from the beginning, nobody believes it today. But the bottom line is, even the skeptics had to come up with a story to try to explain it away, even though they were unsuccessful in doing that.
Ankerberg: Yeah, plus 75% of the scholars, critical scholars, out there, they believe that is a historical fact.
Strobel: Yeah, and that includes the skeptical scholars.
Ankerberg: Yeah.
Strobel: That’s Christian, atheist. The people who really study this issue, 75% agree the tomb was empty.
Ankerberg: Okay, so you have got another point in the historical record, you have got an empty tomb of Jesus. So that raises the question, what in the world happened to the body?
Strobel: And the next e, therefore, is eyewitnesses. And what we have is 515 people who encountered the resurrected Jesus. And we have Paul talking about his own experience. We have, you know, the earliest account that we have of all of the resurrection, which is this 1 Corinthians 15 creed that we talked about of the early church. That mentions 500 people at once encountering him. And then I love what it says, it says, “Oh, excuse me. By the way, a lot of these guys are still around. If you don’t believe me, go talk to them. Check it out yourself.” No way they would have said that if it wasn’t true.
Ankerberg: Yeah, you could verify it.
Strobel: Exactly. So if you were to call to a witness stand all of the people who encountered the resurrected Jesus and just cross examined each one of them for 15 minutes apiece, and go around the clock, you would be sitting here for 126 straight hours listening to eyewitness accounts. How many people, after hearing 126 straight hours, would walk away saying, “Yeah, I don’t believe it!” You know, I mean….
Ankerberg: You used to sit in court and do that.
Strobel: Exactly. I’ve seen people sent to the death chamber on a fraction of this kind of evidence. So I think there is powerful evidence that Jesus encountered these individuals whose lives were transformed, including Saul the persecutor of Christians who became Paul the great missionary. Why? Because of the resurrection. The half-brother of Jesus, James, who was a doubter of Jesus’ divinity during His lifetime becomes a leader of the local church. Why? Because, 1 Corinthians 15 says, he encountered the resurrected Jesus.
Ankerberg: Alright, then you have the emergence of the church.
Strobel: The emergence of the church. And what is amazing about that is in the very city where Jesus had been put to death the disciples are going around a few weeks later saying, “Hey, He arose from the dead.” Now, how do you sell that to people if they are there and they know better? Instead what we see is the disciples appealing to the common knowledge that their audiences had. Peter got up in the very same city where Jesus had been put to death a few weeks later and looked at people and he says, “You remember Jesus. He did miracles in your midst. You know that He did.” And then he said this: Jesus God raised from the dead, “To which we are all witnesses.” [Acts 3:15] Well, how did they respond? Did they say, “Peter, come on. You are exaggerating. You are making this stuff up”? No! History shows that on that day 3000 people said, “Peter, we know you are telling the truth. What do we do?” And they found forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ and the church is miraculously born in the very same city where He was put to death. How do you explain that if this is legend, or if this is stuff they were making up, they were exaggerating, they were lying about? I think that is powerful stuff.
Ankerberg: It is. Alright so what happened when you brought that to a conclusion?
Strobel: Well, I mean after two years and there is so much more that we could talk about…
Ankerberg: Yeah, and we will…
Strobel: And so you get to that point. And it was November 8, 1981. And I went into my room by myself. It was a Sunday afternoon. And I took the yellow legal pad like I had been taught at law school. And I put a line down the middle. And on one side I put the evidence I had seen that is convincing me that Jesus is the Son of God and proved it by returning from the dead. And on the other side the negative evidence. And I am writing page after page after page. And finally I put down my pen and I said, wait a minute, in light of the avalanche of evidence that points so powerfully towards the truth of Christianity, it would have required more faith for me to maintain my atheism than for me to become a Christian. Because to maintain my atheism I would have to swim upstream against this torrent of evidence flowing the other way. I was trained in journalism and law to respond to truth. And I couldn’t deny it, I couldn’t swim upstream anymore.
And so I just, I said, “Lord Jesus I believe, I believe that you are the Son of God who proved it by returning from the dead. But what do I do, what do I do?” And I remember somebody had pointed out a verse to me: John 1:12, and I looked it up. John 1:12: “But as many as received him to them he gave the right to become the children of God, even to them that believed in his name.” And I realized that believing in Him entailed receiving Him. It meant not just having intellectual agreement with church doctrine, it meant receiving Jesus as my forgiver and leader. And so I prayed, and I turned from a life of immorality and sin, and I confessed it, and I received forgiveness for that from Jesus Christ. And I just said, “God, I just want to follow You. I want to live the way You designed me to live for the rest of my life.”
Ankerberg: How did that affect your family?
Strobel: Well, I went out and I told my wife. And she just burst into tears and she threw her arms around me and she said, “You hard hearted son of a Baptist! I have been telling you this for two years! Hello!” You know. But she said, “I told people I had no hope for my husband.” And they gave her a verse, Ezekiel 36:26. And all through this two years that I was doing this investigation, behind the scenes my wife was praying Ezekiel 36:26, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove that heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh.” And, John, as I opened my life to Jesus, He began to change my values, my world view, my philosophy, my attitudes, my priorities, my parenting, my marriage, my relationships. All of this over time began to change for the good.
Ankerberg: The big one that I thought was Alison, your daughter. What happened there?
Strobel: Yeah, all she knew during the first five years of her life was a dad who was angry and drunken or absent. And as she watched as God began to change my life in front of her little eyes, after several months she went up to my wife, and she had actually said this first to her Sunday school teacher, she went up and she said “I want God to do for me what He has done for daddy.” And at age five she opened her heart, she received forgiveness through Christ, she became a Christian. Now she is 31 years old; she writes Christian novels. My son, same thing, came to faith and now he has got Masters degrees in Philosophy of Religion and New Testament. He is getting his Ph.D. in theology because he says, “Dad, there is a whole generation out there that doesn’t understand. This is not wishful thinking, this is not legend, this is not made up; this is historically true.” I said, “Son, you study and you learn and you go tell your generation.” John, Jesus changed my life, my eternity, my family. And that’s my story.
Ankerberg: Alright, folks, you have listened to Lee. And if you agree with the evidence, one thing that I am concerned about is, some of you do agree with this evidence, but you have never gotten into the game. You are still on the bench thinking about these things. And there is a danger to that. There has got to come a time when you entrust yourself to Jesus Christ. You say it is true, and if He is the Savior, you are going to ask Him to save you. And, Lee, what’s the danger of people just sitting on the fence and not acting on this evidence?
Strobel: That’s the worst possible position, because they think they are okay, and yet their kids don’t look at their life and say, “I see a change, I see a difference, I want that for my life.” Why is that? You could be sitting in a church for 15 years and be in general agreement with some doctrine, but not be an adopted son or daughter of God Almighty. You can do that, John, it is not hard. I did it November 8, 1981.
Ankerberg: Alright, folks, I am so glad we are at this point. Because many of you, you need to do what Lee did. And I am going to give you an opportunity to do that. I am going to ask Lee to say a prayer similar to the one he did when he invited Christ to come into his life and entrusted himself to Him. And this is the moment for some of you. This is the time where you need to say that in your own words to the Lord. And you need to begin that personal relationship. It may be scary, but the fact is, it is the greatest thing in life. If the evidence is there, it is time to act on that evidence. And if you will, Lee, lead them in a word of prayer and ask them to pray with you.
Strobel: I mean, what I prayed and they can pray this right now and just say, “Lord Jesus, I do believe that You are who You claim to be: the one and only Son of God. I believe that You died on the cross to pay for my sin as my substitute so that I wouldn’t have to. Lord Jesus, I realize I have sinned, I have done wrong, I haven’t lived up to my own standard of morality, much less Yours, which is so much higher. I confess that. I don’t want to live that way any more. And right now I receive Your freely offered gift of forgiveness. I can’t earn it, I can’t merit it. I can just receive this free gift that You offer, based on what You did on the cross. Lord Jesus, from this moment on, please lead my life, because my life from now on belongs to You.”
Ankerberg: Folks, if you say it the Bible says, “Whosoever,” whosoever means anybody, it means you right now, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord.” If you heard that prayer and called on the Lord, the last three words of the verse “shall be saved.” [Rom. 10:13] It is something that Christ does to you, you can’t manufacture it. It is something that He does when He comes into your life. And you will start to feel Him; you will start to experience Him along the way now, if you really meant that. Just trust that He did it.
And we are going to continue with more of the evidence next week. In fact, there have been some radical new attacks on the resurrection, and Lee had to rethink all of this in light of those radical attacks that are out to see if maybe he was wrong somewhere along the line. And we are going to look at those radical attacks and find out how he answered the questions. You won’t want to miss it. I hope that you will join us then.

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