Facts about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Ó Copyright 1999-2002 Riverpower.org
Sir William Ramsay, regarded as one of the greatest archaeologists ever, investigated the writings of Luke in an apparent effort to undermine the Gospel writer's credentials as a historian, and to discredit the entire New Testament. After 30 years of study, however, Ramsay concluded, "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy... this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."1,2
1. The large stone was moved, in spite of the Roman guards and seal
Jesus' tomb was secured in three ways:
(a) A large stone was rolled against it. It was customary to roll big stones against tombs; the stones were generally too big to be moved by just a few men, so levers were used to move them. Some have estimated that the stone that sealed Jesus' tomb weighed 1-1/2 to 2 two tons (1,361-1,814 Kilograms), which is the approximate weight of a midsize car.
(b) A Roman guard unit--which usually consisted of four soldiers--was stationed at the tomb. Roman guards were strictly disciplined fighting men held to the highest standards. Failure often required death by torturous and humiliating methods.
(c) The Roman seal was affixed to the stone that secured the tomb. The seal stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. Breaking the seal meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.1
On resurrection Sunday morning, the first thing that impressed the people who approached the tomb was that the large stone was moved.3 Certainly the entire guard unit would not have fallen asleep with torture and death as the consequences. But even if the guards did fall asleep, how could thieves have sneaked by the guards and moved the massive stone without waking them up?
2. The tomb was empty
Jesus' tomb was near Jerusalem (John 19:42). Had the tomb not been empty, claims of the resurrection, which were first made in Jerusalem, could not have been maintained for even one hour-- people in Jerusalem could have gone to the tomb to check for themselves.3
Both Jewish and Roman sources and admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the "Toledoth jeshu."3
3. Jesus' burial wrappings were in the tomb
The linen wrappings in the tomb amazed the disciples. Jesus had simply moved through the wrappings, apparently without a struggle, and laid the face cloth aside. Had Jesus' body been stolen, the thieves would not have taken the time to remove the wrappings or fold the face cloth.
4. There were many witnesses to Jesus' appearances
In studying an event in history, it is important to know how many participants or eyewitnesses were still alive when reports about the event were published. If the number was substantial, the event can be regarded as fairly well established, because the eyewitnesses could have refuted an inaccurate report. For instance, if several people witness a murder, and the police report about it contains numerous lies, the eyewitnesses can refute it.3
The apostle Paul wrote that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. What's more, most of the 500 were still alive when Paul was proclaiming the resurrection, so skeptics could simply question the eyewitnesses:
5. New Testament accounts were circulated among people who were alive at the time of the resurrection
Archaeological discoveries have confirmed that New Testament accounts of the resurrection were written within the lifetimes of people who were alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have denied the accuracy of the Gospel writers' accounts.
6. The followers of Christ were persecuted and killed for proclaiming the resurrection
Jesus' disciples fled when Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial prior to being crucified. They were apparently afraid that they would be imprisoned or killed for of their association with Jesus. Peter even denied that he knew Jesus. After Jesus was crucified and buried, they remained in hiding, afraid and depressed, until Mary and others came to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Why would these men, who had displayed such cowardice, risk their lives in going from city to city proclaiming the resurrection, if they did not truly believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? They certainly gained nothing for doing so. The disciples did not receive wealth or prestige for preaching the resurrection; there were no material benefits whatsoever. In fact, they were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to lions, tortured, and crucified for their preaching.3
1. Maybe the women who reported the missing body had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb
This would mean that the disciples also went to wrong tomb.
Also, the Jewish authorities and the Roman guards were not mistaken about the location of the tomb. If the women and the disciples had gone to the wrong tomb, the Jewish and Roman authorities would have immediately produced the body of Jesus from the proper tomb in order to stop the rumor of the resurrection.3
2. Maybe those who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus were hallucinating
It's difficult to imagine that more than 500 people had the same illusion or hallucination. Here again, the Jewish and Roman authorities could have produced the body to squelch the rumor.
3. Maybe Jesus swooned
The swoon theory is that Jesus didn't die, but merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought He was dead. When He later resuscitated, the disciples thought that He had risen from the dead.3
It contradicts medical science to believe that Jesus could have survived the crucifixion, let alone survived another two days in the tomb, removed the large stone, overpowered the Roman guards, and then convinced His followers that He had conquered death and the grave.3
4. Maybe Jesus' body was stolen
Who would have stolen the body?
As mentioned above, Jesus' disciples fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial prior to being crucified, and then they stayed in hiding until hearing of the resurrection. Why would these men, who had displayed such cowardice and depression, risk their lives trying to overpower the Roman guards and steal Jesus' body? And why would they have wanted to? There was nothing for them to gain by stealing the body. They were persecuted, tortured, and eventually killed for preaching the resurrection, so there was no motive for them to fabricate a lie.
What's more, even if the disciples would have wanted to maintain a conspiracy, they would not have been able.
Every conceivable method was used by Roman and Jewish officials to stop them from talking.3 Self-preservation would have eventually won over the disciples' commitment to a conspiracy. If the resurrection were a concocted hoax, the disciples would have testified against one another before succumbing to beatings or the death penalty. Think about America's Watergate: The Nixon administration, the most powerful group of men in the world at the time, could not maintain a conspiracy for even a few weeks. They buckled under pressure and chose self-preservation over maintaining a lie to save their leader.
Consider also that the Romans must not have believed that the disciples stole Jesus' body--had the officials believed it, they would have killed them for breaking the Roman seal.
Theft of Jesus' body by Jewish or Roman authorities doesn't make sense either. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, they could have produced the body of Jesus and put an end to Christianity. But they didn't.3
Several historians have performed exhaustive evaluations of the facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ and concluded that there is no event of ancient history that is better supported by historical evidence. Statements by these historians can be found in the book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell (see Further study, next).
For documentation of the facts presented in this article, as well as information on the reliability of the Bible, read the book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell. The book, as well as cassette tapes and books on related subjects, can be purchased from Josh McDowell Ministry, Box 1000, Dallas TX 75221, USA, Telephone 800-222-5674 or 972-907-1000.
1. McDowell, J. Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Here's Life Publishers, Inc., 1972,1979.
2. Ramsay, W. M. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953.
3. McDowell, J. "Evidence for the Resurrection," Josh McDowell Ministry, 1992.