This is the text of a talk I gave just after Easter giving some of the argument as to whether Jesus’ resurrection actually happened or not.It is a talk, so it is written in the way I talk not the way I write!
On Easter Day Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that on the day we celebrate as Good Friday, in roughly 33AD, Jesus was crucified on a cross at the hands of the Romans, and on Easter Sunday morning two days later he was raised back to life again. The tomb he was put in was empty and many people saw him alive after he was put to death.
In fact Christianity is the only religion which claims that it’s central figure died and came back to life again. This is at the very centre of Christian belief. Without the cross and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity doesn’t make sense.
So, the first question we should ask is Did it happen? Did Jesus really die and rise again
1. Did it happen?
We have i think only 3 options – which different people have tried to claim throughout history.
a) Jesus didn’t really die on the cross
b) Jesus did really die, but something happened to the body
c) Jesus did die and he was raised to life again.
I don’t think there can be any other possibilities. So lets take each one of those in turn.
Claim number 1: Jesus didn’t really die.
It’s safe to say we can discount this claim. Not only were the Biblical books were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus so they offer a very reliable account, but two historians who have nothing to do with Christianity record that Jesus died.
Roman Historian Tacitus in his book Annals 15:44 written in 109AD
“Christ…, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate”
Jewish Historian Josephus in his work Antiquities (chapter 18) (written in 93 AD)
“He was [the] Christ. And … Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, “
Both of these considered in historical terms, contemporaries of the events which happened. So it is fair to say that Jesus was definitely put on the cross.
But what if he didn’t quite die on the cross? Could he have been only nearly dead? and the cold of the tomb revived him?
Firstly it is fair to say the the Romans were experts in executing people. They did it as a matter of course. They were good and making sure people were dead. There is no record in entire Roman history of anyone ever surviving a Roman flogging and crucifixion.
And the Bible records a remarkable detail about Jesus’ crucifixion: To ensure that he was dead, the roman soldier was instructed to stick his spear into Jesus’ side. It is reported that a mixture of blood and water come out (John 19:34)
That may not have meant much then, but any doctor today will tell you that after death, blood separates into two parts – a dark clot which gives it its colour, and a watery serum. This separation was proof indeed that Jesus was truly dead.
So Jesus was truly dead. He was laid in a tomb with a massive stone blocking the entrance (too big for one man to push). And two Roman guards were placed at the entrance to the tomb. If Jesus hadn’t been dead in the tomb he would have had to push away this stone, and fight off the guards… surely too much for a man who just endured a crucifixion.
So it is safe to assume that Jesus was truly dead. We can dismiss the claim that Jesus didn’t really die.
Claim number 2: Jesus did die, but someone moved the body
Could the Romans or the Jews have hidden Jesus’ body? Unlikely, they wanted him dead. He was upsetting the Jews by claiming that the way to God is open to all people through him, and he was upsetting the Romans too. They both wanted him dead.
Besides, if they had hidden the body, once rumours started to circulate that he was alive again, all they would have had to do was to produce the body… “He’s not alive, he’s dead… look here’s his body”
So it is safe to say the Romans and Jews did not steal the body.
Could the disciples have stolen the body to make it look like he was alive?
3 points on this:
a) Jesus was different sort of Messiah
It is worth noting that all along in the gospels, the disciples have been very slow to understand what Jesus was doing. All along he said he would have to die and be raised to life again. But all along the disciples were expecting Jesus to become a different sort of Messiah – one whom would stay alive and overthrow the Romans and restore their land. They wouldn’t have made this up because they didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to do. They are usually portrayed in the gospels as having been confused as to what Jesus was doing.
b) The first witnesses were women
if you were going to make up a resurrection, you wouldn’t do it like this. The first witnesses to the empty tomb were women – a woman’s word in those days counted for nothing in their law. Only a mans testimony was admissible as evidence in their courts, and then you needed two men to produce a reliable testimony. If you were going to make it up you would have picked two men to be the first witnesses, not two women.
c) all died
And it is also worth noting that almost all of the disciples died in subsequent years standing up for their faith. They all died claiming that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. If they had known he was dead (and consequently if they were lying), they never would have stuck to their story. People just don’t go to their deaths for something they know is not true.
So we now need to conclude , that the disciples didn’t steal the body either.
Claim number 3: Jesus did die and was raised to life again
So the only option left to us, is that Jesus did die, but the tomb he was laid in was found empty, and that he did come back to life again.
In fact, a few years later, the apostle Paul wrote this
1 Cor 15:5-6 “he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve [disciples]. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living,”
Jesus appeared to over 500 people in the 40 days after his death and resurrection. And what’s more, most of them are still alive, Paul wrote. Don’t believe me? Ask them! They’re still alive.
At the centre of the Christian faith is this extraordinary claim that Jesus Christ, Son of God, died and was raised to life again. It may be unlikely, but the evidence points to it being true.
2. What does it mean
Very quickly, let me just outline the implications that Jesus death and resurrection has for Christians.
Firstly It verifies that Jesus is who he says he is. If this is true, we have to take seriously everything else Jesus said.
Throughout the gospels he claims to be:
- the Messiah (john 4:26),
- the Son of God (Matt 26:63, mark 14:61 and elsewhere),
- the Son of Man (mark extensively),
- even, in no uncertain terms – God himself (Mark 14:61, power of nature, and sins)
If this is true, then God is in the midst of us, having come to earth to live as a human. If this is true then God has put himself in our shoes and continues to live in the midst of us. And If this is true we can know God through Jesus.
Secondly it shows that death is overcome. Death being the final separation between God and humanity. Death being the end – this death is overcome. All that separates us from God is overcome and defeated. Christians call all this stuff that separates us from God ‘sin’, and the consequence of this separation was death. But Jesus has conquered death. he has been resurrected, he has been through it. He shows us that there is a way through it.
Thirdly Jesus was raised to life never to die again. His risen life shows us what life can be like with God. His risen life becomes our risen life. God has made it possible for us to be made new too, even before we die.
All those things that we didn’t like about ourselves – our temper, insecurities, propensity to get ourselves into trouble - all those things become made new because Christ has conquered death and offered us a new way to live.
It is possible to live our lives with God
- free from the expectations of others
- gain real joy and peace
- to have confidence about the future, even when we can’t see where it is coming from
- to love our neighbours, even though we may not like them
- to forgive others, even when we feel justified
- to resist temptation.
As I said, Jesus’ death and resurrection is at the centre of Christian belief. But not just at the centre of our faith, but it impacts every aspect of our lives. It is not just a historical fact, but and everyday reality as we live for God through Jesus.