The Main Event, Was Jesus Really Resurrected?
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs; ©2007|
|The claims of The Lost Tomb of Jesus not only require thatSimcha Jacobovici and James Cameron prove that the ossuaries found in the Talpiot Tomb contain the bones of Jesus and his family, but also that they disprove that Jesus rose from the dead. The question that must be answered is The Main Event — Was Jesus really resurrected?|
- 1 The Main Event, Was Jesus Really Resurrected?
- 2 Five fundamental facts about the end of Jesus’ life
- 3 THE DEATH OF JESUS
- 4 THE HONORABLE BURIAL OF JESUS
- 5 THE DISCOVERY OF THE EMPTY TOMB
- 6 THE APPEARANCES OF JESUS: DID PEOPLE REALLY SEE HIM ALIVE AFTER HIS DEATH?
- 7 WHERE DID THE DISCIPLES’ BELIEF THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD ORIGINATE?
- 8 SO WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO US?
The Main Event, Was Jesus Really Resurrected?
The claims of The Lost Tomb of Jesus not only require that Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron prove that the ossuaries found in the Talpiot Tomb contain the bones of Jesus and his family, but also that they disprove that Jesus rose from the dead. The question that must be answered is
The Main Event, Was Jesus really resurrected?
The main event of Jesus life is his resurrection. If He didn’t rise from the dead, it doesn’t matter what He taught. You can forget about Jesus and Christianity. Why?
Jesus claimed to be God; God doesn’t lie, and Jesus said that He would rise from the dead on the third day. If there was no resurrection of his literal, physical body from the tomb in which he was buried, then he is a liar and not God, and Christianity is false. However, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then He proved his claim to be God, and Christianity is true. It would indicate we should listen to him and not to some other. After all, no other religious leader has come back from the grave, but Jesus.
In fact the Christian faith down through the centuries has been willing to put itself on the line right at this point by saying, if the resurrection happened, then Christianity is true. If it didn’t, then Christianity is false. A rabbinic lawyer who went about persecuting Christians, one day met the risen Christ and his life was changed. Paul wrote in his letter to people at Corinth, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so isyour faith. You are still in your sins and those who have died in Christ are lost. If there is no resurrection, in this life we are to be pitied more than all men.”
Five fundamental facts about the end of Jesus’ life
In the last two years, American and British television networks have aired numerous television specials on the life of Jesus. Guests and scholars have issued many new opinions about what happened at the end of Jesus life. Some of the opinions they have offered are: Jesus really didn’t die on the cross, he survived and became a traveler to Egypt or to Spain; or his body was secretly taken out of the tomb by his mother and brother James, and the other disciples never discovered what they had done. Concerning Jesus’ resurrection appearances, some have speculated that the disciples had hallucinations of Jesus, or psychologically induced visions, or they just made up the story that Jesus rose the dead to comfort other Christians who loved Jesus and wanted to remember him in a unique way. How can the average person sift through all of these theories and get to the bottom line, the truth of what really happened at the end of Jesus life?
During a television taping on the historical Jesus with historian and philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig (who on this topic has debated Bart Ehrman at Harvard University, John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, and atheist Gerd Ludemann, and has authored a dozen scholarly books), I asked him, what historical facts must we examine in order to get a clear picture of what happened. He replied:
- It seems to me that there are five fundamental historical facts which any credible historian must account for if he is to give a tenable historical hypothesis about the fate of Jesus of Nazareth.
- The first of these is the death of Jesus.
- The second is the honorable burial of Jesus.
- The third is the discovery of his empty tomb.
- Fourth, would be the postmortem appearances of Jesus;
- and fifth would be the origin of the disciples belief that Jesus was risen from the dead.
Now another highly respected historian and authority on the events surrounding Jesus death, burial, and resurrection is, Dr. Gary Habermas. In a television interview with him he listed 12 historical facts about the end of Jesus life that are accepted by the vast majority of critical scholars. He stated:
- I have to ask the question, which are believable facts and which are not. Most scholars will give you a list of at least 12 facts. The vast majority of scholars will give you more than these. But virtually every scholar will admit virtually every one of the following:
- 1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
- 2. He was buried.
- 3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing his life had ended.
- 4. Many scholars believe that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
- 5. The disciples had experiences. And I’ll say this in a way that even the critics will be able to accept. The disciples had experiences, which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. They thought Jesus appeared to them.
- 6. Because of these experiences the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid of their own shadow, so to speak, into bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection.
- 7. This message was the center of preaching in the early church. Remember what Paul said – “This is of first importance: Death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.” (I Corinthians 15:3)
- 8. This message was especially proclaimed in the environs of Jerusalem where Jesus had died and was buried just shortly before.
- 9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and it grew.
- 10. Sunday became the primary day of worship. And that’s significant for Jewish believers.
- 11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also “believed” that he saw the resurrected Jesus.
- 12. A few years later, Paul was converted by an experience which he likewise “believed” to be the appearance of the risen Jesus.
THE DEATH OF JESUS
Dr. Habermas continued,
- “The very first fact on this list is that Jesus died. Why do scholars today rarely question the death of Jesus? Why do the founders of the Jesus Seminar, for example, those who have written on the subject like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg say that the fact that Jesus died is the surest fact we have in his career? It’s because the data are so strong. Now, what are some of those? Well first of all, death by crucifixion is essentially death by asphyxiation. When you hang on a cross and the weight of your body pulls down on the intercostal pectoral and deltoid muscles around your lungs, you reach a state where, when the weight is dragging down on them, you can inhale, but you are increasingly unable to exhale until you reach a place of almost paralysis and you can’t exhale at all.
- Actually, in the 1950s and experiment was done in West Germany where male volunteers were asked to be tied to a 2 x 4. These males lost consciousness at a maximum of 12 minutes. Now, on the cross you can push up, if only on the nails or whatever, you can push up. And when you push up, you relieve those muscles in your lungs. But when you pull down on them again, because you can’t stay up there for long, you pull down and when you’re in a low position on the cross, you asphyxiate. The Roman Centurion did not have to have a degree in medicine. If the person was hanging low on the cross for any amount of time — let’s say, 30 minutes — he’s dead.
- Then, we’re told that they stabbed Jesus in the chest and blood and water came out.
What Dr. Habermas described would be enough evidence to convince most people that Jesus died on the cross. But as we researched Jesus’ death on the cross, we found that there was a lot more that was done to Jesus to bring him to the point of death.
Based on the research conducted by several medical professionals and theological scholars, a wealth of information is currently available regarding many of the medical aspects of Jesus’ death. This research provides solid evidence of the suffering of Jesus that occurred during his trials, during his Roman whipping, at the cross, and confirmation that he was DOA—dead on arrival—at the tomb.
THE HONORABLE BURIAL OF JESUS
Dr. William Lane Craig: “With respect to the second historical fact, the honorable burial of Jesus, the majority of New Testament scholars who have written on this subject agree the Jesus of Nazareth was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.”
We discovered that scholars believe Jesus was honorably buried by Joseph of Arimathea because of the early historical evidence. Mark writes, “Joseph of Arimathea…went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate…granted the body to Joseph. And Joseph…took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”
Jewish archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay is considered to be the foremost authority on tombs in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. I asked him if current archaeological evidence supports the description given in the Gospels about the tomb in which Jesus was buried?
We have the fact that it was a rich man’s tomb. We have, most probably, the allusion to the fact that it was outside the city of Jerusalem. We have the stone found unrolled three days later. We have very little, but all together we have about a thousand burial caves from the time of Jesus surrounding Jerusalem and the details that we have in the Gospels about the burial of Jesus, they fit well with the evidence that we have in the field.
Dr. William Lane Craig commented,
I was somewhat amused when Peter Jennings said [in The Search for Jesus] that according to the Gospels, Jesus was laid in the tomb by His mother and His friends. Now, if the story of Jesus’ burial were a late developing legend that accrued over the decades in the early Christian church, that is exactly the sort of pious story that one would expect to find–Jesus was buried by His devoted mother and His faithful disciples. But that’s not, in fact, what the Gospels say.
Instead, what the Gospels say is that Jesus of Nazareth was laid in a tomb by this enigmatic figure, Joseph of Arimathea, who appears out of nowhere in the Gospels, and contrary to expectation, gives Jesus of Nazareth an honorable burial in a tomb. Moreover, Mark tells us that this man was a member of the Sanhedrin, the very council that had just condemned Jesus to be crucified. And that Joseph singles out Jesus among the trio of men that had been crucified for special care by giving Him an honorable burial in a tomb rather than allowing the body to simply be dispatched into a common grave reserved for criminals. This is extraordinary and requires some sort of explanation.
In fact, we discovered that archaeologists think the Church of the Holy Sepulcher may mark the actual site of the tomb in which Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the traditional site where Christians think that Jesus was buried. I asked Dr. Magen Broshi, who had been asked to do an archaeological examination of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, if he thought that the site was the place that Jesus was actually buried.
“Well, there is high probability. Very high probability,” Broshi replied.
Dr. Magen Broshi is a respected Jewish archaeologist and scholar on the Second Temple period. He is the former curator of the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem in which the Dead Sea scrolls are housed. He was asked to conduct the excavation at the Church of the Holy Selpulchre for a rather unusual reason.
They invited me to participate in the dig. What was very important for them was that I was an infidel. I wasn’t a Christian. They didn’t want Catholics. They didn’t want Greek Orthodox. They wanted somebody who was absolutely “neutral” and I was that person.
Now, the evidence Dr. Broshi found while excavating at the Church of the Holy Selpulchre led him to defend it as the most reasonable place for the burial of Jesus. I asked him why.
For two reasons. One reason is that the tradition should be trusted. It was too important to be forgotten, and there was a Christian community in Jerusalem, around Jerusalem that would have carried it on, handed it down from one generation to the other. And the second reason is that this area was a graveyard at the time of Jesus, and there are several graves around here now. There were more, but they have been obliterated by later building activity.
All four Gospels report Joseph of Arimathea requested permission from Pilate to bury Jesus, and that His body was laid in a tomb cut out of solid rock. Three of the writers say the tomb was new; that is, no one had ever been laid in the tomb before. All four accounts mention a stone that was rolled against the entrance to the tomb. Matthew adds, it was a large stone. The Gospel accounts talk about a stone that was rolled in front of the tomb. “Does that make sense to you?” I asked Broshi.
“Why not? We found it.” Broshi replied, “…Not here, in many other places, the rolling stone.”
Broshi further went on to explain that these stones sometimes weighed more than a regular car, but were round so that they could be rolled. The stones were placed in front of tombs to keep robbers and animals away from the tomb.
In spite of the evidence for the honorable burial of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan said this during the ABC Special: “After Jesus died on a cross, he was thrown on a trash heap and chewed up by wild dogs.” In fact, Crossan further asserted in the Discovery Channel’s The Lost Tomb of Jesus, that if Jesus’ bones were buried in the Talpiot Tomb it would not affect his faith.
Dr. Gary Habermas commented,
I could say for the moment that it’s interesting that virtually none of his friends have followed him in claiming this, and that doesn’t prove anything here or there, but maybe it’s a hint that the data are not in his favor. One thing I would say to that is, we are devoid of a single fact that says that happened to Jesus. We have a lot of reasons to think that he was buried and that the tomb in which he was buried was empty–but nothing, not any fact, that says he was thrown into a common grave.
Dr. William Lane Craig further expounded,
The historical credibility of the burial account of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea leaves skeptical critics in an extremely awkward position because, you see, if Jesus was in fact buried by a Jewish Sanhedrist in Jerusalem, as the Gospels claim, that means that the location of Jesus’ tomb was known to both Jew and Christian alike. But in that case, it’s impossible to imagine how a movement founded on belief in the resurrection of a dead man who had been publicly executed in Jerusalem could arise and flourish in the face of a tomb containing His corpse. So that those scholars who want to deny such things as the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances also find themselves forced to deny the fact of the honorable burial of Jesus, despite the fact that this is one of the earliest and best attested facts about the historical Jesus that we have. It’s extremely awkward for them.
Some people say, “Well, the answer to that is that the disciples stole the body. That’s why the tomb was empty.”
Craig said, “Nobody says that anymore. That theory has been completely abandoned since the early 1800s. No responsible scholar holds to such a thing.”
But why have scholars concluded the disciples did not steal Jesus’ body? And why have they abandoned the theory that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, which He just fainted or swooned? And further, why have they given up on the idea that Jesus later revived in the tomb, somehow pushed aside the huge stone, and then appeared to His disciples, convincing them that He had risen from the dead? Well, scholars dismiss these theories because they were completely demolished by the liberal critic, David Strauss, over a hundred years ago.
But in his [Strauss] major work in 1835 in Life of Jesus he said the Swoon Theory is not going to work and the problem was this: It is self-contradictory. What you have from the “Swoon” is a living Jesus but not a resurrected Jesus, and here’s how it works. Jesus should have died on the cross; He didn’t. He should have died in the tomb; He didn’t. He certainly can’t roll the stone away. No problem. He did. Now, Strauss didn’t believe in a guard, but for those who believe a guard is sitting out there, He works His way through the guards. But here’s the problem for Strauss. Again, you’ve got: didn’t die on the cross; didn’t die in the tomb; couldn’t roll the stone. He comes to where the disciples are. He knocks on the door. What’s this man going to look like? He’s a human Jesus. He’s been crucified. He’s worked the wounds open again. He’s bleeding from the scalp. His hair has not even been washed. I mean, you’ve got sweat and blood, and He’s worked the side open again. And He’s hunched over, He’s limping, He’s pale. ” One problem,” Strauss said, “with the Swoon Theory is, you get a Jesus who is alive, but you don’t get a Jesus who is raised.” Now, Strauss does not believe in the Resurrection, but he knows the disciples did. And the “Swoon” doesn’t get you from A to B. You get this kind of Jesus: “Lord, come on in. Get a chair. Get a pail of water. Call the doctor.”
To paraphrase Strauss, the disciples would have gotten a doctor before they proclaimed Him risen because here’s Peter over in the corner saying, “Oh, boy! Some day I’m going to have a resurrection body just like His.” And that, by the way, is the proclamation that is most tied to the Resurrection of Jesus: that believers will be raised. Now, again, Strauss doesn’t think believers are going to be raised, and he doesn’t think there’s a guard, and he doesn’t think that Jesus was raised, but if you can’t get that belief on the disciples’ part, it doesn’t work. And the problem is, “swoon” can’t account for the experiences that the disciples had that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE EMPTY TOMB
This brings us to the third major historical fact that everyone must account for, that on the Sunday following Jesus crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his followers. All the early sources report Jesus’ tomb was found empty, first by women, then by His disciples, and finally, by the Jewish leaders themselves.
I asked Dr. William Lane Craig why researchers find the empty tomb credible. He replied,
The majority of scholars who have written on this subject agree that the tomb of Jesus was probably found empty by a group of His women followers early on Sunday morning. That represents the historical core of the empty tomb narrative as we find it in Mark….
The empty tomb story enjoys multiple independent lines of evidence. For example, as I’ve already indicated, the burial account supports the empty tomb story. If the burial account of Jesus is historically accurate, then the inference that the tomb was found empty is not very far at hand because the Resurrection faith could not have arisen and flourished in the face of a closed tomb.
Secondly, I think that the empty tomb story is also multiply and independently attested in early sources.
I then asked Dr. Gary Habermas why Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15 is solid evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
The empty tomb is preached very early. You’ve got Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 saying Jesus died, he was buried, and what went down is what came out, and what came out is what appeared.
…If you’re using the methodology that says we’ll use the facts that critics admit and facts which are well attested, Paul is admitted to being an eyewitness. The book in which his testimony appears, I Corinthians, is already early, about 25 years after the cross. But then the creedal passage that he reports, or that early tradition from I Corinthians 15, verses 3 and following, is earlier still. And in Galatians 1 and 2, he’s got apostolic confirmation of his message about the Resurrection events from Peter and James in Galatians 1; Peter, James and John in Galatians 2. So you’ve got this intricate interwoven “and accredited, eyewitness messenger with an early book, with an even earlier creed”–and it’s teaching our fact here in question: the empty tomb.
As Dr. William Lane Craig explained, there is one final piece of evidence that proves Jesus’ tomb was empty. The Jewish leaders themselves testified to this fact.
The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the Resurrection was not to point to the occupied tomb, but rather, to say that the disciples had stolen the body. It was itself an attempt to explain away why the body was missing. So what we have here is evidence from the very enemies of the earliest Christian movement in favor of the empty tomb, evidence that is simply “top drawer,” because it comes not from the Christians, but from the very opponents of the early Christian movement.
So let’s stop for a moment and summarize what we have discovered. The historical evidence shows Jesus was crucified on a cross, His body was laid in a tomb that was cut out of solid rock, and three days later, that tomb was found empty. What happened to Jesus’ body? And what turned the disciples from cowards to courageous proclaimers that “God has raised Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of that fact.” We will examine what scholars had to say about these questions next.
THE APPEARANCES OF JESUS: DID PEOPLE REALLY SEE HIM ALIVE AFTER HIS DEATH?
Dr. William Lane Craig said, “The fourth fundamental fact that any responsible historical hypothesis has to account for in explaining the fate of Jesus of Nazareth is the fact that after His death different individuals and groups of people claimed to have seen Jesus of Nazareth alive from the dead on different occasions and under varying circumstances. Now, this general fact is one that is universally acknowledged today among New Testament critics.”
Historians believe that after watching Jesus die on the cross, His disciples fled in despair. The question that is raised is, what caused them to change their mind and proclaim Jesus was alive and that He was the Messiah, the Son of God?
Dr. Ben Witherington answered,
- Well, in terms of the psychological profile of the disciples, if we believe that it is true that they denied, deserted and betrayed Jesus, that they had given Him up for lost when He died on the cross, psychologically, something significant had to have happened to change all of their minds about this particular issue after the crucifixion of Jesus. Because remember, no early Jews were looking for a crucified Messiah. If you wanted to scotch the rumor that Jesus was Messiah, get Him crucified. That would prove that He was cursed, not blessed by God So here they are, completely shattered, their world has been turned upside down, they’ve spent the last year, two years, three years of their life, apparently for nothing, following Jesus. What was going to change that opinion? Something from outside of themselves had to impact them like a sledgehammer, hitting them over the head to change their mind about the fact that Jesus was dead and gone. Something dramatic had to have happened. Martin Dibelius, a German scholar once said, you need to posit an X big enough between the death of Jesus and the birth of the early church to explain the connection. If you don’t posit an X big enough, then you haven’t explained the historical connection.
As Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, one of the leading experts in the United States in biblical archaeology and the history of the Christian religion, said, “If the Resurrection had not happened, then we wouldn’t be here speaking. There would have been no Christian movement. He would have been a mistaken Messiah.”
But according to the historical sources, how many people claimed to have seen Jesus? Dr. Gary Habermas revealed evidence from the New Testament accounts:
Now, of course, the key list there is in 1 Corinthians 15. In that list you have individuals, leaders of the Church. Paul starts with Peter, ends with himself, in the middle has James, the brother of Jesus–three key individuals who saw the risen Jesus. But you also have groups and that’s very important to ascertain some evidence for these appearances. You have the Twelve; you have a group he calls “all the Apostles”; you have more than 500 brethren, most of whom remain alive.
Now, when you go to the Gospels, I think also with good grounds we have, for example, the women. You have several women at the tomb and probably Mary Magdalene alone as she returns. So you’ve got them sighting Jesus as well as the empty tomb and, again, if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you do not use women because they can’t go to a law court. You’re not going to impress people in first century Palestine. By far the best reason for starting with the women and secondarily with Mary is very simple: they saw the risen Jesus.
Now, the Gospels also tell us about a long walk with two men on the way to Emmaus. I mean, it takes a while to walk and talk for miles with this visitor who turns out to be Jesus.
You have appearances to the groups of disciples. You have in John 20 all the disciples present except, of course, Judas and Thomas. You have a second appearance a week later with Thomas in the famous incident where Thomas asks for evidence.
So you’ve got a wide range of activities. You’ve got men and you’ve got women. You’ve got individuals and you’ve got groups. You’ve got indoors, outdoors, sitting, standing, fishing, making a shore lunch; walking with them; hanging on by the ankles. Wide variety.
But scholars want to know, “What did these people really see? Did they see Jesus in His physical body, or in some kind of a vision?” According to Dr. Ben Witherington,
Most scholars would certainly say that the disciples believed that they saw Jesus, and many of them would want to just leave it there and say, “Okay, it was subjective phenomenon that happened here.” But if you interpret those Gospel documents about the resurrection appearances of the risen Lord, and you interpret the Pauline evidence, the rest of the New Testament evidence, they were claiming far more than that. They were claiming to actually have a physical encounter with Jesus after His death, and that He ate, was tangible, could be touched, that He was still moving in space and time as a real person. So they were claiming more than just having had a vision of Jesus.
Now, scholars have used different words to describe what they think the disciples saw. Some claim the disciples saw an ordinaryappearance of Jesus, that is, Jesus was literally, physically present with them. He ate with them, and invited them to touch Him. Dr. Craig continued, “If there had been people there with tape recorders and cameras, they would have had photographic and audio images of Jesus appearing in the Upper Room. That would be an ordinary appearance.”
Other scholars use the word “vision” to describe what they think the disciples saw. A vision is defined as seeing an object in the mind without the use of the five senses. Further, there are two kinds of visions: a truthful vision and a false vision. An example of a true vision, what scholars also call a “veridical” vision, would be a prophet who receives information from God. I asked Dr. William Lane Craig about these true visions.
A truthful vision, I think, would be an example of what Stephen saw when he was stoned. He looked up and saw the heavens opened and he said, “I see the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.” But the Jewish persecutors about Stephen saw nothing at all. They didn’t perceive anything, and they rushed upon him and stoned him and killed him. What Stephen saw was a truthful vision, a God-induced visionary seeing of the exalted Christ.
But scholars also talk about a false or non-truthful vision. An example of this would be a person who gets drunk and sees a pink elephant. They really do see the pink elephant, but it is a hallucination, purely a projection of the person’s own mind and is not really there. This is what scholars usually refer to when they admit the disciples saw something, but then imply it was some kind of vision, not a literal physical appearance of Jesus. The question is, did the disciples know the difference between a real physical appearance of Jesus and a vision of Jesus in their minds? Dr. Craig continues,
Now, it’s interesting that the New Testament draws a clear distinction between appearances of Christ and visions of Christ.The appearances of the risen Christ were to a limited circle and soon ceased. But visions of the exalted Christ went on in the New Testament Church. Paul saw them when he was praying in the temple in Jerusalem. Stephen saw a vision of Christ at the stoning. In the Book of Revelation you have a vision of the throne room of God that John sees.
So the visions in the Church were something that did not cease, that went on; and yet these were distinct from a Resurrection appearance.
But what can be said to those who claim Jesus’ disciples only had hallucinations of Jesus? Habermas answers,
What’s wrong with hallucination theory? Probably no theory has more problems.
Problem #1: Groups of people, not even two at once, see the same hallucination. A hallucination is something you believe so firmly that you invent the mental picture. Two cannot share a hallucination any more than two can share a dream. So if you’ve got groups of…if you have examples of group appearances and you have them, for example, three in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, those are not hallucinations, not as a group.
Secondly, the disciples didn’t believe it. It’s granted by everybody, both from scripture and from psychology, that you can’t have exuberant, expecting disciples after this calamity–best friend, livelihood, everything is destroyed. And they’re supposed to be hoping for a Resurrection and making these sorts of images. So second, they’re not in the right frame of mind.
Three may be the most devastating one. Too many different people, times, places. You have men; you have women. Indoors, outdoors. Walking, standing. Everything. The problem is, to believe that every one of these people manufactured a private, individual hallucination is beyond credulous. We rarely even see hallucinations today, but they were just supposed to have them on demand. That’s too problematic.
Fourth problem: if the disciples were seeing hallucinations, we’ve got a little problem with the empty tomb. It wouldn’t be empty. And so the leaders are saying, “Now, fellows, we’ve got a problem here.” Now critics say, “Now, come on, 50 days later what would the body look like?” Hey look, it doesn’t make any difference. This body looks like it’s crucified. Here’re the nails. This is your man. Blows the theory away. So the empty tomb is a deathblow to hallucination.
In fact, as Dr. Craig illustrates, neither visions nor hallucinations explain what the disciples proclaimed, namely, that Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead.
It’s offered as an explanation of the appearances; but in fact, it does not explain why the disciples came to believe Jesus was risen from the dead. For you see, given the typical Jewish mentality about beliefs in the afterlife, they would have believed that Jesus would have gone to Abraham’s Bosom, to Paradise, where the souls of the righteous dead would be with God until the Resurrection at the end of the world. And therefore, if they had hallucinated visions of Jesus, they would have projected visions of him as exalted, in Heaven, where God had taken Him up until the Resurrection at the end of the world. But that, at most, would have led them to proclaim the “assumption” of Jesus into Heaven or the “glorification” of Jesus in Heaven, not His literal resurrection from the dead. For the Jew, the Resurrection was an event that took place in space and time, in history, and therefore something more is needed than just hallucinations of the dead man to explain why they came to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus rather than merely His translation into Heaven.
WHERE DID THE DISCIPLES’ BELIEF THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD ORIGINATE?
Dr. Craig asserts, “The fifth fundamental fact that any credible historical hypothesis concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth has to explain, is the very origin of the disciples’ belief that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. You see, it’s an indisputable fact that Christianity sprang into being in the middle of the first century. Now, why did this movement arise? Where did it come from?”
Dr. N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and a leading British New Testament scholar says,
The origin of Christianity is actually itself one of the most extraordinary phenomenon in the history of the world. A.D. 20–“there ain’t no such thing as a Christian church.” By A.D. 120, the emperor in Rome is getting worried letters from one of his proconsuls off in northern Turkey about what to do about these Christians. So in that century, you have this extraordinary thing suddenly appearing out of nowhere. And all the early Christians for whom we have actual evidence would say, “I’ll tell you why it’s happened. It’s because of Jesus of Nazareth and the fact that He was raised from the dead.”
Craig continues, “All scholars agree that the reason for the birth of this Christian movement in Palestine in the middle of the first century is because these first disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that the God of Israel had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. But now that occasions an even deeper question: Where in the world did they come up with that outlandish belief?”
According to Dr. Witherington, life for the early Christians took an extraordinary amount of courage:
Well, I would say that it takes, and it did take, in the first century A.D. a great deal of courage to be a Christian, and to claim that a crucified manual worker named Jesus from Nazareth, against all expectations, turned out to be the savior of the world. Now this is a fantastic claim. Early Jews were not looking for a crucified Messiah, so far as we can say. Greco-Roman persons were certainly not looking for a crucified manual worker being their Messiah. So here we have these people, evangelizing the world and claiming this is the truth that you need to know about: Jesus died and rose again, and this demonstrates who he is. It takes an awful lot of guts to put that message out there.
Dr. Craig further explains
- …to appreciate how outlandish their new belief in Jesus was, you must understand something about the disciples’ Jewish background. They had placed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Jewish Messiah who would deliver Israel from her enemies. Yet, there is no conception in antecedent Judaism of a Messiah who, instead of coming and conquering Israel’s enemies, would be vanquished and executed by them and executed in so shameful and disgraceful a manner as crucifixion. This was simply unheard of in Jewish messianic expectations.
- Moreover, the idea that Messiah would then be raised from the dead is simply unknown in Judaism. Couple with this the fact that according to Old Testament law anyone executed by hanging on a tree is thereby shown to be accursed by God and the Jews applied this law to crucifixion as well. Now, what this meant is that the crucifixion showed Jesus of Nazareth out to be a man literally under the curse of God. It wasn’t just that now their beloved Master was dead and they had lost their rabbi, it was worse than that. For three years they had been following a man accursed by God, a heretic, a Jewish schismatic, so that the crucifixion put a question mark behind everything that these men had believed in and entrusted about Jesus.
- In addition to that, Judaism had no concept of a resurrection occurring within history. Read the Jewish literature prior to and up through the first century. You will find nothing parallel to the Resurrection of Jesus in Jewish thought. In Jewish thinking, the Resurrectionalways occurred after the end of the world. And it was always a general resurrection of ALL the righteous dead. There was no conception of the Resurrection of an isolated individual apart from the general Resurrection, in advance, within history, to Glory and immortality. And that’s why, as a historian, I must conclude that these disciples really did see the resurrected Jesus, and this changed their lives and the way they thought.
“Now you can say an awful lot about what people are willing to live for, but what people are actually willing to die for is another question. These early Christians were prepared to die for an honest testimony about having seen the risen Jesus,” says Witherington.
However, as Habermas allows,
- I imagine a lot of people are saying, “I’ll grant you that the Disciples believed they saw Jesus.” How do you get from “thought they saw” to “they saw”?
- The fact that they thought they saw the risen Jesus is important for two reasons. Those five facts I asked for and evidenced before, those facts tell me, number one, naturalistic theories don’t work. The disciples, theybelieved they saw the risen Jesus. But some people say they saw hallucinations. But using only those five historical facts, we can show hallucinations don’t work. All of the naturalistic theories fail.
- Then, there is a second reason why their belief that they saw Jesus, turns into they actually saw Jesus. It is because these same five facts that everybody admits, include a lot of good evidences that they really saw Him–like: their life was changed. It was a central proclamation. Otherwise, how do you get the intellectual skeptic Paul onboard? How do you get Jesus’ own unbelieving brother James onboard? How do you get Thomas onboard? Every one of them agreed it was something they saw.
- What does Christianity have that other religions don’t have? Jim Jones’ followers believed he was the messiah. They were wrong. The followers of David Koresh likewise. Hale-Bopp comet people–they believed the UFO was coming for them. Anybody can be wrong about beliefs. People can even die for false beliefs.
- But what was different about the disciples was they didn’t just say Jesus was the Messiah and He was raised from the dead. Their central claim was, “We saw Him.” Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead,” after just giving a list of the appearances (1 Corinthians 15), then our faith is vain.”
- Let me illustrate. I would say that it is safe to say that funerals have convinced you that resurrections don’t happen. What would it take to persuade you that a friend came back from the dead? Let’s say your best friend is a lawyer, and he is respected and credible in everything he does. One afternoon he tells you, I’m going to meet my mother for lunch. You believe him. The next week, his mother tragically dies of a heart attack. You go to her funeral and watch as she is buried. A month later, your friend tells you, “I want you to know that I saw my mother last night.” This time you don’t believe him. What changed? It’s because you’ve never seen someone come back from the dead. David Hume said it would be a miracle if a dead man came back to life because “that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise that event would not merit that appellation.”
- Hume is right. But as C.S. Lewis has said, “If a miracle has never happened before, then of course, it has never happened before. The only way that we can know a miracle has occurred is to investigate the historical evidence.”
- So, because of you’re past experience that dead people stay dead; you are wondering what’s wrong with my friend? Maybe he just mistook someone else for his mom. Maybe he was hallucinating. Maybe in his grief he just wanted to believe she was really around and had a vision of her. But he keeps insisting, “No! I really saw my mother.”
- The next day, you go to Wal-Mart to do some shopping. As you are walking down one of the aisles, you turn the corner and your friend’s mother comes up to you and says, “Hello.” She starts talking to you about old times — only the things you both know and remember. On her left arm you can see she has the same scar you can remember she got while cooking lunch. So it’s the same body.
- As she walks away, you’re worried. How can she be alive? You saw her, and you shook hands with her. But you’re still having a hard time believing it. You can relate to those in the Gospel account of whom it says, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” As you walk down the aisle, you meet twelve friends who are also shopping at Wal-Mart. You wonder if you ought to tell them that first your friend, and now you, have actually seen his mother. But just at that moment, she comes around the corner, and all twelve of you see her.
- Now the evidence is starting to mount up in your mind and you are convinced she is alive. Somehow, some way, she is alive. You all saw her. Later that night at your church, 500 people are gathered for the service. Your friend’s mother comes out of the side door and walks up on the platform where she speaks to the whole congregation. Now, you are a part of a group of 500 people who have all seen and heard her at the same time.
- My point is, the Disciples didn’t just say, “I believeJesus,” they said, “We saw Jesus.” And somehow, we have to do justice to their point. Yes, the Disciples believed. They believed Jesus was raised. They believed He is the Messiah. But besides that, they’ve got evidence here that nobody else has: “I saw you at Wal-Mart” and “We saw you in a group.” If my faith is based on seeing you at Wal-Mart, and at another time in a group of 500 people, I think it’s pretty firm. And that’s one reason the Disciples were so excited and so convinced. “Seeing is believing.”
And so in our search to find out what happened at the end of Jesus life, what have we found? According to Dr. Craig,
- With respect to historical hypotheses concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth, there are four fundamental facts agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars who have studied this and written on the subject that must be explained.
- Number one: the honorable burial of Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
- Number two: the discovery of Jesus= empty tomb by a group of his women followers early on Sunday morning following his crucifixion.
- Number three: the experience of various individuals and groups of people at various locations and under various circumstances of post-mortem appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
- And number four: the very origin of the Christian faith itself in the disciples coming suddenly and sincerely to believe that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
- Those are the facts that need to be explained. What is the best explanation for these? I believe that when you assess the various alternatives, the various live options, using the ordinary canons of historical assessments such as: explanatory power, explanatory scope; the degree of contrivance; plausibility, the degree to which it is in a accord with accepted beliefs; the degree to which the hypothesis outstrips rival hypotheses; that the best explanation for these facts is that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
Dr. Habermas continues the case,
- We have framed this argument to facts that believers andunbelievers hold in common. We’ve started with 12. There are really more than that, but we reduced it down to 5. And what we want the critic to understand here is, these are your facts. They’re in your books. They’re in everybody books. What do you do with these five facts?
- The disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus. How do you stop this path from “thought they saw” to “really saw”? You come up with a naturalistic theory. Then, I want them to take one of those and run with it. Don’t hide behind, “Well, granted, something happened.” No. You’ve given us enough facts here to say the earliest eyewitnesses believed they saw the risen Jesus. We need an alternative if the answer is not going to be they really saw Him.
- But strangely enough; most scholars won’t take that route, either in their books, in dialogues, they won’t take that route. They feel like they’re trapped. They will say, “If I take this theory, you’re going to be coming after me.” I’ll say, “Now, wait a minute. I’m using your facts. If you don’t believe the conclusion, what’s this missing X? What do you think really happened?”
- They usually at that point will opt out of the discussion any way they can. But if they do take a naturalistic theory, my assertion is, the known historical facts, those admitted by all scholars, are sufficient to refute those naturalistic theories as well as give the best evidences for the Resurrection. I mean, if you’re going to grant as much as they grant, let’s follow this thing to a conclusion. You have given me five facts. Explain the five facts. Don’t hide behind “something” happened. Tell me what these facts indicate. I think we’re pushing straight toward the Resurrection of Christ.
“Therefore, the historian,” says N.T. Wright, “whether that historian is a secularist, a Muslim, a Christian, whatever–the historian has to say, ‘How do we explain the fact this movement spread like wildfire with Jesus as the Messiah, even though Jesus had been crucified?’ The answer has to be, ‘It can only be because He was raised from the dead.’”
“…The claim of the resurrection of Jesus alone makes Him unique among religious figures of the world. The fact that we have good evidence for it makes it more than unique. It makes it astonishing.” Dr. William Lane Craig
SO WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO US?
Now, if God did raise Jesus from the dead, what was He trying to tell us?
Darrell Bock answers,
I think the Gospel is the good news that God has provided a way to come into your life forever, not as a ticket, but into a relationship. And He has provided the way to that relationship through the person and work of Jesus Christ, not only the sacrifice for sins, but the provision of His very own Spirit coming into your life so that you can relate to God on a healthy level and overcome the sinfulness that is inherent in you. And the good news is that God is committed to that relationship, so committed to that relationship that He sent His only Son to die that it might take place. And the only requirement that exists—it’s a serious requirement—the only requirement is that you believe that He’s done that for you and, in faith, you ask for that relationship through Jesus Christ. It’s that simple, and that demanding, because once God comes into your life, He’s in it to do a marvelous work, a work that grounds you in a relationship with God that will never end.
Finally, Dr. Craig Evans tells us, “If a person is going to say Jesus is not going to be important in my life, I’m not going to believe in Him, then they’re going to have to say that for other reasons besides historical. The evidence is there, the sources are there, the picture is clear and coherent, and in my academic opinion, the picture is quite compelling.”