Sadly, some people think of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ as merely a story that people tell around Easter. However, this event, the most important event in all human history, really happened just as it says in the Bible. If this Jesus Christ really came back to life, then Christianity is true and Jesus is the only way to heaven. If it is not true, then Christianity falls apart (I Corinthians 15). Here are some answers to questions about this subject.
1. How do we know that it was really Jesus that was killed and not someone else? Did they crucify the right one? When we read the stories of the arrest of Jesus (John 18:1-11,Luke 22:47-53, Mark 14:43-52, and Matthew 26:47-56) we see that Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples for three years identified Jesus for the soldiers so that they could be sure that they had the right man. Jesus had been teaching in the temple and so it is likely that there were others in the mob that arrested Jesus who could confirm that Judas identified Jesus correctly instead of mistakenly identifying one of the disciples. In Luke 22: 47-53 we can see that Judas not only identified him but that one of the disciples cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus, healed the man on the spot. Only Jesus could perform miracles like that. He just touched the place where the ear had been cut off and it was healed. He also gave one more teaching about living by the sword and dying by the sword, this is a teaching that only Jesus could give. He was so peaceful. If they arrested one of the disciples by mistake, there is no way that the disciple would have calmly healed the servant and given a sermon as we can see in Matthew 26: 52-54 Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will be killed by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” (NIV) Only Jesus could so calmly heal the servant’s ear and then calmly make such a profound statement about living by the sword and dying by the sword. From the time Jesus was arrested until he was sealed in the tomb, the living and dead Jesus was in constant view of soldiers. He was bound and there was no way that any mistakes were made about who he was. The right man was crucified. After the resurrection, the skeptics of that time, denied the resurrection but they did not claim that the accidentally crucified the wrong person instead of Jesus. This argument was only invented much later.
2. How do we know that Jesus really died? Maybe he just pretended to be dead or fainted and then “came back to life” three days later.
Let’s look at what happened to Jesus. He was beaten with a whip by Roman soldiers. The whips that were used had lead balls or bone at the tips of the 9 thongs. These whips made deep cuts into his body. Many people died just from these beatings. Jesus would have lost a lot of blood. If each thong made a cut and Jesus received 39 blows (he may have received more), Jesus’ body would have had 351 deep cuts. Then they placed a crown of thorns on his head. Later, spikes were driven into his hands and feet and he was hung on a cross which killed people by slowly suffocating them. After Jesus died, the soldiers drove a spear into his chest which went through a lung and into his heart. There is no way that Jesus could have survived this. In addition, Jesus was in a tomb which was closed by a big stone. There is no way that a man in Jesus’ condition or even a healthy man could have stayed in the grave for three days without food or water then suddenly moved the stone and escaped without alarming the guards. Jesus really died. Even if all the above were possible, Jesus would have been in such bad condition that he might have gotten pity from his followers but they never would have believed in him. They would not have been so sure of his resurrection that they themselves were willing to be tortured and executed for that belief. Jesus after the resurrection was so inspiring that his disciples were transformed and his skeptics, including his brother James believed.
3. How do we know that Jesus was really placed in a solid rock tomb and not buried in a shallow grave under a pile of rocks?
The Bible teaches that Jesus was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man. Rich people were buried in rocks which were carved into solid rock. The opening was covered by a large rock which was rolled into place, just as the Bible teaches. We should trust what the Bible teaches on this point because it describes perfectly Jewish tombs of the day. Beyond that, we see that soldiers were placed in front of the tomb. In addition a seal was placed on the stone. Both the disciples, the priests, and the Romans all agreed that Jesus dead body was placed in a tomb. The idea that Jesus body was buried in a shallow grave was never considered factual at the time of the disciples. It came from people who do not want to believe in the resurrection and are looking for any excuse, no matter how far-fetched.
4. Is it possible that the disciples stole the body of Jesus? The disciples were very frightened and ran away when Jesus was arrested so it seems unlikely that they would be brave enough to face fully armed Roman soldiers just days later. Remember, the disciples were fishermen and tax collectors etc. They were not trained soldiers. They would not be a match for Roman soldiers. During Jesus’ arrest, one of the disciples tried to kill one of the servants of the priests with a sword, but he was only able to cut off his ear, which Jesus healed. Given the fact that the body was in a stone tomb, with a big stone and a seal over the only entrance it would have literally taken a miracle to be able to steal Jesus’ body without being noticed. If the disciples tried to covertly steal Jesus body, there his a high probability that the guards would have noticed and there would have been a fight. If that happened, many of the disciples would have been killed or wounded in the fight.There is also no report of harm being done to the guards. A meeting of all the religious leaders was called, and they decided to bribe the soldiers. They told the soldiers, “You must say, `Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you and everything will be all right.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.Matthew 28:12-15 NIV The guards may have said that they fell asleep but there were anywhere from 10-16 guards guarding the tomb. If they were caught sleeping while on guard duty, they were to be beaten and burned alive. There is no way that every one of 10-16 guards, who knew that the penalty for falling asleep on duty would have fallen asleep. If even one guard was awake, the disciples could not have stolen the body without someone being injured or killed. If the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, why would they die for the belief that he rose from the dead?
5. How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead?
We know that the tomb was empty, both Jesus’ friends and enemies agreed to that. We know that whatever happened was so amazing that it frightened Roman soldiers. Also, Christ’s grave clothes were empty but still wrapped in the form of his body. Jesus appeared to many people, including women and 500 people at one time (1 Cor.15). He even appeared to people who were skeptical such as Thomas. Even James, his brother, who had earlier been one of Jesus’ critics later became a leader of the Church and was stoned to death for this belief. James knew Jesus well and despite all of the miracles he did not believe in him until after the resurrection. Jesus must have been very amazing in order to convince James.
6. After the resurrection did Jesus have physical body or was he just a ghost or a dream (hallucination) that appeared to his followers?
Please read Luke 24:35-43 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” But the whole group was terribly frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost! “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why do you doubt who I am? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do!” As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his feet. Still they stood there doubting, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.
Jesus was not a dream or a hallucination. A single individual may have a dream but hundreds of people cannot have the same dream. Jesus was not a ghost or spirit. Spirits do not have physical bodies. Jesus could eat fish. When he walked along the road and talked to his disciples, I am sure that he left footprints and the disciples could hear the sound of his footsteps and breathing. If he were a spirit, his disciples would have noticed. Several people at the same time could see the wounds in his hands and feet. I am sure that some of them touched him, most likely Thomas. John 20: 24-28 One of the disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
Jesus after the resurrection was in a physical body. His body after the resurrection was better than the one that he had before the crucifixion. For example, he could go through walls or closed doors without opening them. He could disappear when he wanted.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
For more information read:
Strobel, Lee The Case For Christ Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998
Wilson, Bill The Best of Josh McDowell A Ready Defense Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1993