No Evidence Please
The profession of “disciple” did not offer a great life expectancy for those willing to preach and teach in His name. For instance, we know James was killed with a sword (Acts 12), Paul was beheaded, whereas Peter and Andrew were crucified. And yet they preached Christ crucified with boldness. This was not a profession for the faint at heart. The question should be asked: Why would men be willing to give up their lives in exchange for preaching the Gospel? The answers lies in a cogent understanding of what the resurrection of Christ really means for mankind.
Humans living in the twenty-first century do not like buying things “sight unseen”—and I believe this holds true as they consider the resurrection as well. We want to “kick the tires” and evaluate the evidence. Whether you are a “life-long” Christian or skeptical non-believer, evidence exists that an unbiased heart cannot ignore. While many people still cling to a position of unbelief, a true evaluation of the evidence renders their foundation untenable. Lord Darling, former chief justice of England observed, “No intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that indeed the resurrection story is true” (Green, 1968, p. 53-54).
The discipline of science seeks to gain knowledge through observation of the available evidence. When one dissects the resurrection through the eyes of science, there are many things one can defend even almost two thousand years removed from that event:
The Evidence Reveals Jesus Lived
A thorough investigation of history reveals Jesus walked this earth. We can read the testimony from early non-inspired preachers whose writings testify for Christ—men like Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 30-100); Ignatius (A.D. 70-110); Polycarp (A.D. 70-156); Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165); and Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202). In addition to these non-inspired preachers there is also extensive documentation from “hostile” witnesses such as the Jewish historian Josephus. He noted:
And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also Greeks. He was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out.” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:3:3)
Another “hostile” witness would be the Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-117) who observed:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” (Annals, 15:44)
Additional evidence can be found in the testimony of Roman historian, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (commonly referred to as Suetonius). Suetonius wrote: “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christian, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief” (Nero, 16:2), giving us evidence that Christians existed during this time. In his famous work on The Life of Claudius, he noted: “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbance at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from the city” (25:4). [Suetonius simply used a variation on the spelling of Christ, but it is virtually the same as the Latin spelling “Christus.”] Considering we date everything by the life of this man Jesus, it is only rational to conclude Jesus lived.
The Evidence Reveals Jesus Suffered Mortal Wounds on the Cross
The Gospel accounts paint a grim picture of the final hours in the life of Jesus. The Romans had perfected the art of torture and slow painful death. The Bible records that Jesus was beaten, spit upon, scourged, mocked with a crown of thorns, crucified, and then a spear was thrust in His side (see Mark 14-15; Matthew 27; Luke 22:54–23:49; John 19). These statements are confirmed by the testimony of historians such as Josephus. The Jews acknowledge that Jesus lived and even concede that He was hung in the Talmud—a major text of the Jews only second to the Hebrew Bible. In the Babylonian Talmud they admit:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! (translated by I. Epstein, London: Soncino, 1935, vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281).
Prior to the crucifixion, Pilate had Jesus scourged. Scourging was a known legal preliminary for every Roman execution, because without it strong condemned men would remain on the cross for several days before finally succumbing to hunger and exposure. Dr William Edwards and his colleagues described Christ’s flogging in the following manner: “Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock” (1986, 256:1457). Add to this John’s record that Jesus’ side was pierced by a soldier (John 19:34), and it’s clear to see that Jesus suffered intense, fatal wounds.
The Evidence Reveals Jesus Died
If for no other reason than the fact that science has never observed anything that (or anyone who) could escape death, Jesus’ death is beyond question. Additionally, the inspired Bible records His death, as do many extra-biblical sources (see above);thus, one can logically rationalize that Jesus lived, suffered, and died.
The Evidence Reveals Jesus was Buried in Tomb
The Bible is clear that the body of Jesus was placed into a new tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; etc.). Theology professor Wilbur Smith noted, “the word for tomb or sepulcher occurs thirty-two times in the four Gospel records of the resurrection” (1971, p. 38). Archaeological evidence supports the burial practice of using tombs and ossuaries during the period under consideration. We also know the body of Jesus was prepared with spices, oils, and linen—a common practice of the day (Mark 15:46-16:1; Luke 23:56). In a letter circulated by the Sanhedrin in the first century, the Jews admit Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb: “A godless and lawless heresy had sprung up from one Jesus a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified; but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (emp.added). [Mentioned by Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho (A.D. 100-165) and Eusebius (A.D. 265-340)].
The Evidence Reveals Measures were taken to Secure the Tomb
A stone was placed in front of the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:66). In ancient days this was a protective measure to keep out men and beasts. H. W. Holloman, referencing G. M. Mackie observed “The opening to the central chamber was guarded by a large and heavy disc of rock which could roll along a groove slightly depressed at the center, in front of the tomb entrance (1967, p. 38). Additionally, Matthew records “So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (27:66). If this were not the case, why would the women who visited after the Sabbath have been concerned with “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” (Mark 16:3). In addition to the stone, they also “sealed the tomb” most likely with a glob of wax imprinted with the signet ring of one of the Romans in authority. Thus, the door could not be opened without breaking the seal—making it a crime. We learn a little more about the “seal” from Daniel 6:17 , where it is recorded that the king sealed the stone with his signet ring. Having given Roman authentication to this seal, a guard was placed in front of the tomb (Matthew 27:65-66). Given that death was the punishment for abandoning a post or neglecting duties while on post, it defies reason that anyone could have easily stolen the body of Jesus. The soldiers’ own lives were at stake over the body of Jesus Christ.
The Evidence Reveals the Tomb was Found Empty
Scholars agree that the death of Jesus was a major news event in Jerusalem during that time—a focal point that could not be easily ignored. While we think of trials like O.J. Simpson’s as being a media circus, consider how much attention the death and burial of Jesus received. While it is true Jews and Romans lacked 24-hour news coverage (which might not have been a bad thing!), it cannot be overlooked that the trial and death of Jesus would have overshadowed the trial of O.J. Simpson. If Jesus had not made it out of the tomb, word would have quickly gotten around. Furthermore, if His body had still been in a tomb, His followers would have journeyed to worship that location, similar to the way Muslims make their annual pilgrimage today. While Jews agree that a man named Jesus walked the earth, they are unwilling to grant Him the title of Son of God. However, consider their plight—if His bones still existed, no excuses would be necessary regarding Who this man was. Yet, the Bible records that the soldiers were bribed to keep quiet (Matthew 28:11-15). Additionally, the Toledoth Yeshu, Jewish manuscripts dated to approximately the sixth century record: “A diligent search was made and he [Jesus] was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden” (emp. added).
The Evidence Reveals the Apostles Preached Boldly After the Resurrection
One of the most convincing pieces of evidence that Jesus came out of the tomb is the change in the Disciples’ attitudes following His resurrection. Prior to His resurrection we learn that His disciples “forsook Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). These were men who were scared. We even find Peter cursing in His denial of knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18). But after they see a resurrected Jesus, their fear changes to boldness. We find them teaching throughout the book of Acts with courage and conviction (see Acts 2, 3:14-15, 4, 5:22-32; 10:34-43; 13:26-39, etc.).
The Evidence Reveals Jesus Appeared to Many After His Resurrection
The following is a record of those to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection. Once again, if these appearances did not happen, they could have been easily disproven or contested, and yet ancient writings do not contain any challenges to these appearances. If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, then why didn’t men speak out during Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)?
Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:11).
Jesus appeared to “the other” women at the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10).
Jesus appeared to Peter later in the day (Luke 24:34).
Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).
Jesus appeared to 10 apostles (Luke 24:33-49; John 20:19-24).
Jesus appeared to Thomas and the other disciples (John 20:26-30).
Jesus appeared to seven apostles by the Lake of Tiberias (John 21:1-23).
Jesus appeared again to all the apostles (Matthew 28:16-20).
Jesus appeared again to all the apostles (Acts 1:4-9).
Jesus appeared to 500 brethren on a Galilean mountain (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Jesus appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
Jesus appeared to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:7).
Jesus appeared at the ascension (Acts 1:3-12).
Jesus appeared to the first Christian martyr Stephen (Acts 7:55).
Jesus appeared to John at Patmos (Revelation 1:10-19).
If these appearances didn’t happen, then why were they never refuted?
Anyone can choose to ignore evidence. In fact, some scientists are guilty of throwing out evidence that doesn’t agree with their preferred results. But oversight, ignorance, or discounting evidence do not reduce its importance or make it simply “go away”. The facts remain. Last year I interviewed Gary Habermas, a world-renowned scholar on the resurrection. During our time together he noted: “[Y]ou don’t need the inspired New Testament or even a highly reliable translation of the Bible to get a resurrection. If all you had were the historical facts that the vast majority of critical scholars regularly concede, you can make a very strong case for the resurrection using only their data.” Given the mountainous accumulation of evidence for the resurrection, one wonders why more humans have not conceded this Truth and humbly analyzed what it means to their own existence. One also wonders why men are not proclaiming His death, burial, and resurrection today as boldly as the disciples once did?
Edwards, William D., Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer (1986), “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of American Medical Association, 256:1455-1463, March 21.
Green, Michael (1968), Man Alive (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press).
Holloman, Henry (1967), An Exposition of the Post-Resurrection Appearances of Our Lord, Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.
Smith, Wilbur M. (1971), “The Indisputable Fact of the Resurrection,” Moody Monthly, May.