Monday, February 16, 2015

How can we believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

There are some who call themselves Christian who question the reality of the Resurrection. They ask with sincerity, "Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Where is the proof?" They do not question His Crucifixion or the fact that He was put into a tomb after He was taken down from the Cross, but cannot accept that he was resurrected from the dead. They wonder if the body was stolen or that Jesus just fainted and really wasn't dead or some other rationale.  But this fact of His Resurrection is the heart of Christian belief. You cannot be a Christian and doubt that He rose from the Dead. This is the hope we all have as Christians that we too will be resurrected, following Him to be united with Him in Paradise for eternity. Without the Resurrection there is no basis for the Church, the sacramental life based on the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent on Pentecost. So this question needs to be answered.

Let's take the argument that someone stole the body. We need to ask who had such a motive to do so? It's not clear that there was anyone who had such a motive. We can consider the possibilities of the Romans, Jewish religious leaders or the disciples.

The Romans were most interested in peace in Their territory. If they had stolen the body there would have been chaos. The only reason they let Him unjustly be crucified is that they thought it would bring peace. They were concerned about the problems that would occur if anyone stole the Body. So what did they do? They stationed guards around the tomb and sealed it. They knew he was dead as it was they who killed Him.

How about the Jewish leaders? What would have been the rumors if they had stolen the body and hidden it somewhere? People would have thought He had risen from the dead, the very idea they were trying to suppress. They surely wanted Him to be dead and able to prove that He was dead lying in the tomb. The fact that He was missing from the tomb was a serious problem for these Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders were suspicious that the disciples had stolen the Body to give the people the impression that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead and was Who He claimed to be, the Messiah.

How about the disciples, could they have stolen it. Remember the tomb was guarded by Roman Guards and its was sealed with a cord and a wax seal on orders of Pontus Pilot.  If these soldiers were neglect in their duty their fate would have been death. It would have been very difficult for them to have bribed the guards to have access to the tomb. There were 11 disciples so even if somehow they got by the guards and stole the body, one of the eleven would have surely said something about it eventually. Think about what they did after the Resurrection. They carried the Good News to all corners of the world and all but one was killed for their belief and teaching. If the Resurrection was a lie they made up, how could they have faced such suffering and death on behalf of a story that was made up? It's very likely that one of them when faced with the threat of torture and death would have given in and confessed that it was all a hoax, that they had stolen the body to make it look like He had risen from the dead. But not one of them did. They sacrificed dedicated their lives to Him and brought many to having faith in Him. Their efforts caused much suffering and difficulty for themselves as they acted over several decades without wavering in their faith.

Also the disciples saw Him after they found the empty tomb. They talked with Him, He instructed them on the mysteries of the Church, He prepared them for their future ministry to carry on His teaching. They set out to tell the world after having witnessed the resurrected Christ knowing they too would never die as Jesus had shown them that He truly had the power over life and death. They knew what they had witnessed was the truth.

How about the idea that Jesus did not really die but was only unconscious when taken down from the Cross? Examine the details of what took place.  First he was severely scourged, He was beaten with a whip that had several cords with a small piece of metal or bone attacked at the end. The idea was this kind of scourging would tear the skin.  Normally there was a limit to 40 strokes but the Romans were much more ruthless than the Jews and there was no limit for them. The historian Eusebius wrote in the third century that "veins were laid bare, and... the very muscles, sinew, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure."  Jesus could have died just from this whipping. When he ascended on the Cross he had already lost much blood. The use of the Cross was considered the most cruel way to kill someone. There were spikes that were driven through the hands and feet, but the killer was that you had to struggle to breath so death come from suffocation and each breath brought pain. It was a slow painful death. At the end the Romans broke the legs to make sure they could not support themselves for any more breaths. But in the case of Jesus they saw He was already dead and did not break His legs. To make sure He was dead the soldiers took their spear and pierced His body and there was something that looked like blood and water that came out. Medical technology tells us that the description accords with the fact that the blood had already been clotting inside His body and had separated from the watery serum a sure sign of death.

Knowing that Jesus was dead, and wanting to get the bodies disposed of before the sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath, Jesus was taken down from the Cross and prepared for burial in the tomb.  There was an influential man Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilot for the body. He had a tomb nearby where He could be buried. Think of the situation. The spikes and to be taken out of his hands and feet and his body was torn severely from the scourging.  They prepared His body for burial according to the Jewish custom. The body was washed and then bandaged with narrow long strips of cloth that they wrapped tightly around His body. There was a mixture of spices placed between the layers of cloth that would seal them together.  In the case of Jesus we know they used a large amount of spices, 100 lbs, to make sure His body was well preserved. He was wrapped like a mummy and laid on a slab in the tomb. The tomb was then closed with a heavy stone, sealed and then guarded by Roman soldiers.

What happened? The day after the Sabbath were there was allowed no work some of the women who had followed Jesus went to the tomb to anoint his body with perfume.  But when they got there they found the tomb to be empty. They clearly expected to find Him there. They were dismayed to find Him missing. Then they fled to tell the disciples. Peter and John immediately ran to the tomb to verify what the women had seen.  John who was there records what he found.
And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.    John 20:5-10
The women returned and are greeted by two angels. One, Mary Magdalene,  encountered the risen Christ in the garden. He says to her,
Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."
His body was spiritualized. Yet he could eat and did with the disciples.  There were many who witnessed Him. There are many other details available in the Scripture. Its hard to imagine that all this could have been all made up.  With all the little details it is clearly the account of eyewitnesses There is the detail of the head napkin lying by itself and folded. It was clear that the body was not taken out of the grave cloths which had been sealed to gather with the mixture of spices. If they had it would have been unraveled. There was the empty grave wrapping and the head cloth by itself. This is not the scene of a robbery.

Truly He is risen!

Reference: Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About God: The Jesus Edition, Eric Metaxas


  1. Who wrote the Gospels? For what purpose were the Gospels written? Is there any evidence to support the belief that these four first century books were written as eyewitness, historical accounts?

    If it turns out that we do not know who wrote these books, and we do not know for what purpose these books were written (for all we know, they could be historical fictions, written for entertainment purposes only), then doesn't the entire foundation of the "evidence" argument for the Resurrection fall to pieces?

  2. We do know who the Gospel writers were. These are eyewitness accounts and are not written like fiction. There were thousands of eyewitnesses who could refute the Gospels but there are no records of such writings. The writers we persecuted and killed for proclaiming the Good News, not a likely occurrence if they were writers of fiction. There are several documents written by non-Christian historians of this time that support the story. Check out the early posts: How do we know Jesus was a real person, How can we Trust the Bible, How do we know Jesus was God.

  3. The only author in the Bible who mentions anything about guards being at the tomb, Matthew, says that the guards were not posted until the next day after Jesus body had been placed in the tomb, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb, he had not sealed it. So, the tomb of Jesus was left unguarded and unsealed the entire first night, in the darkness, and probably part of the next day. That would provide ample time and ample opportunity for someone to have moved or stolen the body.

    So even if the biblical account of the “guards at the tomb” story is correct, the fact that there is a time period when the tomb was left unguarded, blows a hole in the Christian claim that a resurrection is the best explanation for the empty tomb and the disciples’ belief that Jesus had been resurrected. For instance, if grave robbers had taken the body, the Jews would say that the disciples took the body and the disciples would say that Jesus had fulfilled his prophecy and had risen from the dead.

  4. Gary I don't agree with your interpretation but even if you accept this possible lapse even though the tomb was closed with a large stone and sealed, how to you account for all the other arguments that substantiate His resurrection?

  5. Consider this Fr. Charles:

    Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

  6. You say: "But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD?"
    We know for sure that John who was present at these events in the Gospels and the writer of one was still alive in AD 70. There were thousands of witnesses and many would have been alive only 38 years after His Resurrection. There is no record of those opposing this fact but there are Jewish and Roman historians who confirm. There is no explanation of the thousands for martyrs who stood to death as witness to their faith in the Gospel.

  7. 1. Please provide the proof that John son of Zebedee was alive in 70 AD.

    2. The fact that one are all of the authors of the Gospels was/were alive in 70 AD proves nothing. You first need to prove that any of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The majority of NT scholars say that none of the authors of the Gospels were eyewitnesses. You may accept a fringe position on this issue if you wish, but it is against the scholarly consensus.

    3. What proof do you have that there were "thousands" of witnesses to the death and post-death events of Jesus?

    4. Please name any Jewish or Roman historian who states that an eyewitness to the crucifixion of Jesus was still alive in 70 AD.

    5. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout history who are members of minority religious sects have been severely persecuted and willing to die for their beliefs. A willingness to die for one's beliefs is not proof that the belief is true.

  8. Dear Readers: You do not need to be a scholar to disbelieve resurrection claims.

    Two thousand years ago, hundreds of millions of people on earth believed in a god named Zeus who lived on top of Mount Olympus in Greece who performed many fantastical supernatural deeds. The existence of Zeus and the historicity of his alleged deeds have never been disproven.

    Approximately 1300 years ago, a man named Mohammad claimed to have received a visit from a supernatural being who gave him the true word of the creator of the universe and who enabled him to fly on a winged horse into the heavens. Hundreds of millions of people today believe in the historicity of these claims. These claims have never been disproven.

    Approximately 200 years ago, a man named Joseph Smith claimed to have received golden plates from a supernatural being containing the true, updated, word of the creator of the universe. Millions of people today believe that this claim is historical fact. This claim has never been disproven.

    Since these claims have never been disproven, should we believe them? Should we believe these fantastical, extra-ordinary claims that defy the established laws of nature? The proponents of the above claims would say that the possible/probable existence of a Creator greatly increases the probability of these claims being true. But is that really correct? Doesn't the evidence seem to suggest that if a Creator exists, he/she/they/it have chosen to operate, at least within our universe, within the natural laws? How often have experts confirmed that established natural laws have been violated?

    I would therefore suggest that the possible existence of a Creator can in no way be assumed to increase the probability of un-natural events occurring within our universe. We have no confirmed evidence to suggest that a Creator routinely or even sporadically violates the laws of nature. We have no evidence to believe that gods live on Greek mountains; that celestial beings enable humans to ride on winged horses; or that persons in upstate New York receive plates of gold from angels.

    So when another large group of people living today tells you their fantastical, extra-ordinary claim that two thousand years ago a three-day-dead corpse was suddenly reanimated back to life by an ancient middle-eastern deity, broke out of his sealed tomb, ate a fish lunch with his former fishing buddies, and then levitated into the clouds, I suggest that we consider this claim to be just as probable as the three claims above.

    And unlike what you have been told, dear friend, you do NOT need to be a scholar to disbelieve all four of these supernatural claims. Why? Answer: Because the onus of proof is NOT on you, the skeptic. In western, educated society the onus is always on the person making the fantastical, extra-ordinary claim, not on those who doubt it.

    Therefore, the onus is on the proponents of these four supernatural tales to prove their veracity, and so far, the evidence presented by these groups of believers is dismal to pathetic. That is why no public university history textbook in the western world lists any of these four claims as even "probable" historical events.

    You don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales of gods living on mountains, prophets flying in the air on winged horses, upstate New Yorkers receiving heavenly messages in cow pastures, or reanimated dead guys flying off into outer space. Don't let the proponents of these tall tales convince you otherwise.

  9. So Gary, it seems you object to the truth handed down to us in many documents and the continuing tradition that followed, what do you believe about life after death and you purpose in life. What is your basis for what you believe?

  10. Mormons and Muslims claim THEIR "documents", handed down to them, are also the truth. Once again, the evidence from nature indicates that the laws of nature are never violated. Only wild-eyed, mostly uneducated people have claimed they have observed otherwise, whether we are discussing alien abductions, flying winged horses, or resurrected dead bodies.

    I can't prove your supernatural tale false, but you and yours haven't done a very good job of convincing educated professional historians that your tale is historical fact. If you had, your claim would be listed in public university history books as at least a "probable fact".

    It is not.

    "what do you believe about life after death and your purpose in life": I have no idea what happens, if anything, after death. But again, looking at the evidence, I will die and decompose just as I saw my pet rabbit, pet cat, and pet dog die and decompose.

    Remember, we aren't discussing whose world view is "better" or "nicer". We are discussing what is TRUE, regardless of how cold and disturbing that may be.

    The basis for my world view is reason and science. I prefer the truth to fiction, regardless of how unpleasant the truth may be.

    1. There is no basis for continuing this discussion as you limit your reality to the physical realm of science and ignore the reality of spirit. I will never influence you with logic or historical facts and you will never influence me with an experience of human spirit. I will allow one more comment and the terminate this discussion. We have different truths and different ways of knowing.

  11. No. I think that is enough. I appreciate your courteous attitude, however.