There is a danger that threatens always to imperil the Christian faith. It is the danger that comes from syncretism. Syncretism is that attitude toward religion which holds that no one religion can be said to possess or to offer the whole truth, and that the way to a world religion is to take the best from all religions and to mold it all into a new religion that is an amalgam of all existing religions. The idea is that the message of Christ Jesus has to be filled out by material from other sources. On this point Paul is uncompromising. There is no one who can add anything to Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ there came to men the full and final and perfect revelation of God, and we need nothing more.
— William Barclay, The All-Sufficient Christ
In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
— Paul, Colossians 2:3
I want to look at one last possible explanation of the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. We somehow have to explain the empty grave of Jesus 3 days after his death and burial. We somehow have to explain the incredible change that came over his disciples that caused them to go into the whole world preaching Jesus. We somehow have to explain that Christianity grew out of this movement despite all of the hostile forces against it. I believe that the best and most reasonable explanation for all of these facts is that Jesus did rise from the dead.
One final alternative explanation is that the followers of Jesus all suffered from hallucinations and delusions; that when they thought they saw Jesus alive after he had died, they were simply succumbing to their own fevered imaginations. Is this explanation possible? Read the rest of this entry »
Many people think that the central claim of Christianity, that Jesus was raised from the dead, is nothing more than a myth or superstition. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Apostle Peter specifically said that he and the other disciples had not followed cleverly devised myths, but were eyewitnesses of Jesus; and the apostle John said that he was presenting what he had heard, seen, examined and touched. These men presented the resurrection of Jesus not as a mythical story, but as a fact of history to which they could give personal testimony.
Nevertheless, some insist that this claim has no historical truth. One way skeptics attempt to do this is by saying that the disciples of Jesus went to the wrong tomb, found that tomb empty, and mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead. Read the rest of this entry »
In the letter to the Romans (1:3-4), Paul said that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead is the ultimate proof that every claim he made for himself, such as having the ability to forgive sins (Luke 5:20-26), and being the only way for men to be in relationship with God (John 14:6), is absolutely true.
There’s no question that Jesus did die on the cross.
But some have suggested that though he did die and was buried, there must be a way to explain the fact that the grave was empty three days later without resorting to a miraculous or supernatural answer. One suggestion has been that the tomb was found empty, not because he rose from the dead, but rather because someone stole his body. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul the apostle once wrote that if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then all preaching and faith to the contrary is worthless (1 Cor 15:14). By saying this, he placed the resurrection at the very center of Christianity. Simply stated, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then all other claims of Christianity are suspect.
Given this, it’s not surprising that the resurrection of Jesus is sharply contested by opponents and skeptics of Christianity. It’s not surprising at all that people would say that Jesus never was raised from the dead. What is somewhat surprising is that there are some who say he never died at all.
It’s not known who first suggested this, but the theory was made popular by a man named Karl Venturini. It basically says that because medical technology had not come very far in the time of Jesus, what happened on the cross only had the appearance of death. This even seems to be supported by Biblical evidence, as in Mark 15:44 we are told that Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion, expressed surprise that he had died in such a short time.
This is taken to prove that the impression of the disciples was mistaken, and rather than dying on the cross, Jesus had actually only fainted, or swooned. Later on, in the cool environment of the grave, Jesus is said to have recovered and made his way out of the grave. Unfortunately, his disciples were so naïve and gullible, they insisted that this resuscitation was actually a resurrection.
Well, that’s the theory. But does it stand up to the evidence?
First of all, there are all kinds of problems with suggesting that Jesus did not die on the cross. Since we are told that the impressions of the disciples are suspect, we can instead rely on the very people who carried out Jesus’ crucifixion – the Roman governor Pilate, and the Roman soldiers.
Again we recall Mark 15:44, where we are told that Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died. But the record goes on from there to say that he summoned the centurion in charge of the crucifixion and asked whether Jesus was dead.
Put yourself in the position of this Roman centurion. Because he had been given the responsibility of putting Jesus to death, the centurion himself would have been subject to the death penalty if he was careless in carrying out the sentence. And given that the governor was already expressing doubt about Jesus having died, the centurion would have wanted to be doubly sure that Jesus was, in fact, dead.
But the centurion did know for a fact that Jesus was dead. When the soldiers had found Jesus dead on the cross – much earlier than they expected – they took measures to ensure he really was dead. John tells us in chapter 19:34 that one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and that blood and water poured out from his side. This fact confirms Jesus’ death, and is so important that in the very next verse (19:37) John tells his readers explicitly that he saw it for himself and is telling the truth.
This event, recorded by John, is proof that Jesus did die on the cross. And the centurion told the governor that this was the case.
But even if we suppose for a minute that Jesus did just faint on the cross, there are still problems with believing that he revived in the grave, and that convinced his disciples that he was raised from the dead. As John R.W. Stott has written, is it really feasible to believe:
that after the rigours and pains of trial, mockery, flogging and crucifixion He could survive thirty-six hours in a stone sepulchre with neither warmth nor food nor medical care? That he could then rally sufficiently to perform the superhuman feat of shifting the boulder which secured the mouth of the tomb, and this without disturbing the Roman guard? That then, weak and sickly and hungry, He could appear to the disciples in such a way as to give them the impression that He had vanquished death? That He could go on to claim that He had died and risen, could send them into all the world and promise to be with them unto the end of time? That He could live somewhere in hiding for forty days, making occasional appearances, and then finally disappear without any explanation? Such credulity is more incredible than Thomas’ unbelief.
John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity, pp.48-49
Friends, it takes too much to believe the swoon theory. On the contrary, a reasonable explanation of the evidence leads us to one conclusion – Jesus did die, and he rose from the dead.
If someone were to tell you 30 years from now that the 2001 airplane bombing of the twin towers in New York never happened, how would you respond?
Depending on the kind of person you are, you might simply say something like “that’s obviously not true”. But given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, you might be confused or possibly even upset that someone would make such a suggestion, never mind try to convince others of it.
If you can understand the kind of certainty with which you know the truth to that question, then you can understand how early Christians felt about Jesus.
When early Christians shared their faith with others, their message was remarkably consistent. They said, over and over again to anybody who would listen, that Jesus, a man from Nazareth, was raised from the dead.
That message – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – was and is the central truth of Christianity. God demonstrated to the world that Jesus was his son by raising him from the dead.
Whatever else may be true of Christianity does not matter if the resurrection never happened. It’s not surprising, therefore, that early and modern Christians have advanced that claim so strenuously. It’s also not surprising that people who do not believe in Jesus make a point of attacking this central claim.
Over the years, people have tried many ways of explaining the resurrection without admitting to anything miraculous or supernatural. Some have suggested that Jesus never died, but merely fainted on the cross. Others have said that his body was stolen by his followers, who then created a religion in his name even though they knew he was never actually raised from the dead. Still others have suggested that the followers of Jesus went to the wrong grave, and all of the religious activity that came later was the result of this one mistake. Some have even gone so far as to say that the disciples all suffered from mass delusions, and that when they thought they saw Jesus, they really were experiencing a hallucination.
These theories about the resurrection have been around for a long time, and I suppose they will probably be around for many years to come. But the fact of the matter is that when considered alongside the evidence they just don’t add up. Over the next few days I’ll look briefly at each of these ways of explaining the resurrection and stack it alongside the evidence that we have available. When we do that, the only reasonable conclusion is what the early Christians believed and preached – Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.
But for a few minutes, I want to think about those Christians themselves. I believe one of the greatest proofs of the resurrection is the fact that these people in particular preached it.
Many of Jesus’ earliest disciples were people who at first had no faith in him personally. And for the ones who did have faith, the arrest, trial, and execution of the man they thought to be their national savior was a terrifying blow to them. When Jesus was taken by the authorities, rather than stay with him, all his disciples ran away. In fact, days later they were still so terrified of what might happen to them, that they were hiding away behind closed and locked doors.
But these same terrified people, in the space of just a few days, were telling everyone that would listen that Jesus rose from the dead. They stood up to opposition from their neighbors, their enemies, and even religious and government authorities to tell the message of Jesus.
What in the world can explain this transformation?
Just like if someone tried to tell you that the towers didn’t come down, you would be hard pressed to convince an early Christian that Jesus was not raised from the dead, and for the same reasons. Just like many of us saw the towers come down with our own eyes, the first people who preached Jesus’ resurrection were eyewitnesses of it – they personally saw him die, and they personally saw, heard, touched, spoke to, and ate with that same Jesus after he rose from the dead.
That’s what they told others about Jesus – that they were his eyewitnesses. And because they had seen it for themselves, they couldn’t be convinced that it wasn’t true. No matter how unpopular it made them, and no matter how much they had to suffer for it.
The people who were closest to the events, and had the greatest opportunity to investigate the facts, knew, beyond question, that Jesus rose from the dead. And that, to me, is convincing.
Can you picture Him coming onto the scene? Everywhere He looked, people were being beat up, tortured and tormented, by all the things that the bully was doing. All you had to do was look around at the disease, the demonizing, the disfigurement, the despair… There was absolutely no question who was in charge.
Until He showed up.
“…if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you” – Luke 11:20 (NIV)
Jesus came into Satan’s territory and picked a fight. He came to where the devil had power, where demons took possession, and disease was prominent. He looked around at all the enemies of mankind and said “Which one of you is the toughest?” He proved that he was greater than Satan by casting out demons. He proved he was stronger than sickness by healing all who came to him. He proved he was more powerful than sin by conquering death itself, the punishment for sin and the final enemy.
It doesn’t matter what was holding mankind back – Jesus beat up on all those things, and made a show of it.
There’s no comparison. He’s the Best.