The date on the lower, right-hand side of my PC’s taskbar was staring at me and reminding me that it has been 2,019 years since Jesus Christ was born in human flesh on this earth. Whether you like our dating convention or not, year 2019 does affirm that Jesus Christ is so pivotal a person that we divide human history in two by His birth. We acknowledge that Alexander the Great was born 356 years before Christ; Julius Caesar was born 100 years before Christ; Genghis Khan was born 1,162 years after the year of Jesus’ birth. The births of all the renowned men and women of history—and everyone else, for that matter—are dated in relation to the birth of Jesus. “B.C.” stands for “before Christ,” and “A.D.” stands for the Medieval Latin term anno Domini, which means “in the year of the Lord.”Now that’s a pivotal person!
H.G. Wells, author of the famous The Outline of Historyand probably best known for his science fiction writings, was a historian by profession. He wrote, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history” (The American Magazine, July 1922, “H.G. Wells Picks Out the Six Greatest Men in History,” by Bruce Barton). Wells continued, “Now, it is interesting and significant, isn’t it, that an historian, setting forth in that spirit without any theological bias whatsoever should find that he simply cannot portray the progress of humanity honestly without giving the foremost place[italics mine] to a penniless teacher from Nazareth.” When questioned as to why he gave such an honored place to Jesus Christ, Wells answered, “For the historian’s test of greatness is not, ‘What did he [i.e., the historical figure] accumulate for himself?’ or, ‘What did he build up, to tumble down at his death?’ Not that at all, but this: ‘Was the world different because he lived? Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor and vitality that persisted after him?’ By this test Jesus stands first;….”
Why is Jesus Christ the one by which history is divided? Why isn’t this year called 2418 A.S. (2,418 years after Socrates) or 3830 A.H. (3,830 years after Hammurabi)? We don’t date history by these men; we date these men by the birth of Jesus—399 B.C. and 1811 B.C., respectively. Do you wonder about this “penniless preacher from Nazareth”?
In thinking about Him more seriously, let’s consider these important questions:
- Did Jesus Christ live?
- Was Jesus Christ God?
- Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?
DID JESUS CHRIST LIVE?
Some defenders of atheism make the outrageous claim that Jesus Christ did not exist. They suggest that not only was He not God, He was not even a man because He never lived! But historians generally do not deny Jesus’ existence. That position is clearly owned by avowed atheists. For example, Madalyn Murray O’Hair used to publicly question whether Jesus lived, as would Bertrand Russell, a famous philosopher of the 20th century. Frank Zindler, a modern defender of atheism, also has questioned the historicity of Christ. Historian J. Gilchrist Lawson said, “The legendary, or mythical, theory of Christ’s existence is not held by any one worthy of the name of scholar. The historical evidences of Christ’s existence are so much greater than those in support of any other event in ancient history; no candid scholar could reject them without also renouncing his belief in every event recorded in ancient history” (Greatest Thoughts About Jesus Christ, New York: Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1919, p. 160). F. F. Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, says: “Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth,’ but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories” (Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972, p. 71).
So, what do we do with the question, “Isn’t Jesus a myth?”
Christianity is the onlyreligion in the world that is based upon historical evidences. It is not a blind faith; rather, it is a faith based upon evidence. And the evidence is overwhelming. People do not reject the historicity of Christ because of a lack of evidence. They desireto disbelieve, not wanting Him to have existed—or they are so preoccupied with living that they haven’t devoted the effort needed to examine the evidence. For the sincere skeptic who is seeking tangible support and a legitimate foundation for faith, there is ample proof. This proof is found in both biblical and non-biblical testimony.
Twenty-seven books of the New Testament attest to the reality of Jesus. One cannot simply brush away the Bible as an untrustworthy document. The Bible has proven itself accurate historically, geographically, scientifically, and in every other area in which its truth can be tested. It is credible and uniquely qualified to be highly esteemed for its information. The great law-and-evidence expert Simon Greenleaf, a founder of Harvard Law School, said, “Every document apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.” (D. James Kennedy, Skeptics Answered, Multnomah Books, Sisters, Oregon, p. 72).The historians who gave us the New Testament have been cross-examined as no other historians in the history of mankind. That cross-examination included sword, torch, whip, irons, and cruel cross. They died for the truth that they espoused. They could have easily denied what they knew to save their lives; the law of self-preservation would compel them to do so. Their testimony stood the test. Jesus was not a myth to the authors of the New Testament.
Are “Bible writers” the only ones who mentioned the person of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not. At least nineteen secular writers refer to Jesus Christ as an actual, historical figure. Among these writers are:
Tacitus, a Roman historian
Suetonius, a Roman historian
Pliny the Younger, a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Rome
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher
Aristides of Athens, a Greek author
Lucian, a Syrian novelist
Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian, Governor of Asia, and son-in-law of Julius Agricola, who was Governor of Britain A.D. 80–84. Writing of the reign of Nero, Tacitus alludes to the death of Jesus Christ and to the existence of Christians at Rome:
“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.” Annals XV. 44
Suetonius was a Roman historian, court official under Hadrian, and annalist of the Imperial House. He said,
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (another spelling of Christus), he expelled them from Rome.” Life of Claudius25.4
“Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”Lives of the Caesars,26.2
Lucian, a satirist, spoke scornfully of Christ and the Christians. He connected them with the synagogues of Palestine and alluded to Christ as:
“…the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world….Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.” The Passing Peregrinus
Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian, is one of the first Gentile writers to mention Christ. He wrote in A.D. 52. Another ancient writer, Julius Africanus, quotes Thallus:
“Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).” Thallus felt he must offer some naturalistic explanation for the phenomenon of the sun’s ceasing to give its light.
Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.” Antiquities.Xviii.33.
Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea who condemned Jesus to death, wrote to Tiberius Caesar about the details of Christ’s condemnation and crucifixion. Apparently this report was well known, for several other historic personages referred to it. Years later a Christian apologist wrote to another Caesar and encouraged him to check out his own archives as proof that these things were so.
Pliny the Younger was the Governor of Bithynia when he wrote to Emperor Trajan in A.D. 112 to seek counsel on how to handle the Christians in his jurisdiction. He informed Trajan of the persecution he was bringing against these Christians and yet they continued to multiply. In that letter Pliny wrote:
“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.” Epistles X
Trajan’s reply to Pliny’s letter remarked on the innocence of the Christians and charged Pliny not to persecute them.
The evidence is on the side of Christianity. The 27 books of the New Testament, 19 pagan writers, and three Jewish writers testify to Jesus Christ’s historical reality.
Brilliant Minds’ Testimony
Great minds have spoken affirmatively concerning the historicity of Jesus Christ. Beliefis not just for the “weak-minded” as skeptics have suggested. On the contrary, denial of the historical evidence only reveals the skeptics’ weak-mindedness when it comes to taking the evidence at face value. Many leaders and great people historically and today (believers and unbelievers alike) have confirmed their belief in the reality of Jesus Christ’s existence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson(American poet) – “The unique impression of Jesus upon mankind—whose name is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world—is proof of the subtle virtue of this infusion.”
Napoleon Bonaparte(Emperor of France) – “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world, there is no possible term of comparison.”
Robert Louis Stevenson(Scottish novelist and poet) – “When Christ came into my life, I came about like a well-handled ship.”
Lew Wallace(American lawyer, soldier, author of Ben Hur) – “After six years given to the impartial investigation of Christianity, as to its truth or falsity, I have come to the deliberate conclusion that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior of the world, and my personal Savior.”
Albert Einstein(American physicist who originated the theory of relativity) – “I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”
William Shakespeare(among the greatest literary geniuses of all time) – “I commend my soul into the hands God, my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the merits of Jesus Christ my Savior to be made partaker of Life everlasting.”
Lord Byron– “If ever man was God or God man, Jesus Christ was both.”
Joseph Ernest Renan(French nationalist and skeptic, humanist historian of religion) – “Jesus was the greatest religious genius that ever lived…. Jesus is in every respect unique, and nothing can be compared with Him. All history is incomprehensible without Christ…Whatever may be the surprises of the future, Jesus will never be surpassed…. All ages will proclaim that among the sons of men there is none born greater than Jesus.”
This list can go on for pages! There should be no doubt regarding the truth of the historicity of Jesus Christ. Some atheists may deny it, but they don’t base their denial on historical evidence. So, when someone claims the Jesus was just a myth, don’t panic. Just smile confidently, chuckle, and say, “You really aren’t aware of the facts, are you? Let me enlighten you a little bit.”
WAS JESUS CHRIST GOD?
In the mid-1800s, Scottish Christian preacher John Duncan formulated what he called a “trilemma. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or the Lord. We only have four logical choices concerning Jesus Christ. Here they are. Jesus was either:
- A liar and deceiver, or
- A lunatic who was insane, mentally ill, or
- A legend fabricated by a group of men who called themselves disciples, or
- The Lord God that He claimed to be
Was Jesus Christ purposely deceptive?
Few skeptics seek to maintain this choice. Jesus’ ethical teachings are the highest mankind has and His personal moral character was above reproach. Even his enemies had to fabricate charges against Him to secure His criminal conviction. It is morally impossible that someone of the highest ethical character would knowingly deceive people.
William Lecky, one of Great Britain’s most noted historians and a dedicated opponent of organized Christianity, in History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, wrote:
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence, that it may be truly said, that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind, that all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.”
Phillip Schaff, the eminent Christian historian, wrote:
“How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter—that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and age?”
Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar. Alternative one must be ruled out.
Was Jesus Christ innocently deluded?
Jesus undeniably claimed to be the prophesied Messiah.
“The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he”(John 4:25–26).
“But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven”(Mark 14:61–62).
Was Jesus just mentally ill or psychotic? Was He so psychologically crippled that He deceived himself into believing that He was actually God? What insane man could ever live such a complete life as Jesus that is the epitome of sanity and mental health?
Psychiatrist J.T. Fisher observes:
“If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene, if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage…and if you were to have the unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount…. For nearly two thousand years the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here rests the blueprint for successful human life with optimum mental health and contentment.”
Dr. John W. Montgomery writes:
“But one cannot very well have it both ways: if Jesus’ teachings provide ‘the blueprint for successful human life with optimum mental health,’ then the teacher cannot be a lunatic who totally misunderstands the nature of his own personality.”
No man can logicallymaintain that Jesus was psychotic. No one who reads His words and carefully examines His clarity of thought, incisive argumentation, or penetrating insight into human nature can possibly think so—else they would have a preposterous imagination! Alternative two is ruled out.
Was Jesus Christ simply invented by the disciples, just a legend?
Did the disciples falsely invent Jesus’ teachings and lie about His resurrection? Impossible! They had neither the motive nor the ability to invent Jesus. This option is the least credible of all. All but a few diehard atheists agree that Jesus was no invention. No less an authority than Encyclopedia Britannicasays:
“These independent [non-Christian] accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20thcenturies.”
Why would the disciples espouse what they knew to be false and then die for it? Martyrs die for what they are convinced is true, not what they know to be false. Jewish theology may call for the emergence of a messiah, but Jesus didn’t fit their understanding of what that messiah would be like. A messiah of their own invention would be much different than Jesus. Alternative three is greatly lacking and must be ruled out.
Was Jesus Christ the Lord of heaven and earth?
It is impossible to maintain that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or a legend. Our only option is that He is the Lord God.
The famous Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis wrote:
“‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus Christ is unique in all creation; in all history and religion there has never been another like Him. His teaching was unique! Compare Jesus’ teaching with…
The Analectsof Confucius
The Koranof Mohammed
The Vedasof the Hindus
The teachings of Buddha, or of Shinto, Zoroaster, or of the great philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, etc.
Their teachings pale in comparison to the words and deeds of Jesus; the chasm that exists between them seems to separate the infinite from the finite. Jesus’ words are truth, filled with compassion, and give strength and hope to the spirit of man. How did people respond when He taught? Listen to their testimonies:
(John 6:68–69) “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. 69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
(John 7:46) “The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.”
(Matthew 7:28–29) “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Jesus taught that He could forgive sins, something all religions concede is reserved to God alone. Jesus taught He would rise from the dead, go back to heaven, and come again to personally raise the dead and judge every person who ever lived. Jesus taught that everyone’s eternal destiny depended upon how they treated Him (John 8:24; Matthew 10:32–33). Whoever made such claims as these? Jesus taught truth with impact!
His life was unique. Compare the person of Jesus Christ to Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Lao Tse, Zoroaster, and others. It is like comparing the sun to a light bulb or the ocean to a droplet. Read the specific claims of these founders of world religions; none of them makes the claims Jesus does.
- In the KoranMohammed states, “Muhammad is naught but a messenger” and “Surely I am no more than a human apostle.” Several times in the KoranMohammed is acknowledged as sinful, asks forgiveness from God, or is even rebuked by God. Mohammed confessed he was sinful; Jesus claimed to be sinless. Mohammed claimed to be a prophet of God; Jesus claimed to be God. Mohammed was supposedly rebuked by God; Jesus always did those things that pleased the Father (John 8:29).
- The Buddha only claimed to be an “enlightened” man, one who could show others how to escape the futility of this world and find release from suffering in a state of individual non-existence called “nirvana.” He said, “You disciples, do not affirm that the Lord Buddha reflects thus within himself, ‘I bring salvation to every living being.’ Subhutientertain no such delusive thought! Because in reality there are no living beings to whom the Lord Buddha can bring salvation.” Buddha claimed to be enlightened; Jesus claimed to be the Light of the world. Buddha said he brought salvation to no man; Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father in heaven except through Him.
- Confucius said, “As to being a Divine Sage or even a Good Man, far be it for me to make any such claim.” Confucius denied being divine or even good; Jesus claimed He was God and was perfect.
In The World’s Living Religions, Professor of the History of Religions, Robert Hume, comments, “All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances. Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God-consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a consistent program for his religion.”
What evidences can a person give for the deity of Jesus Christ? Evidences do exist—miracles performed, lives changed, the emergence of the Christian faith, and the institution of the church, to name a few. John Ankerberg and John Weldon in Ready with an Answerwrite:
“Other religions in the world are believed despitethe lack of genuine evidence supporting their truth claims; only Christianity can claim credibility becauseof such evidence. Regrettably, what is often overlooked in the field of comparative religion today is that no genuinely historical or objective evidence exists for the foundational religiousclaims of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion.”
Scientist, Christian apologist, and biblical commentator Dr. Henry Morris observes:
“As a matter of fact, the entire subject of evidences is almost exclusively the domain of Christianevidences. Other religions depend on subjective experience and blind faith, tradition and opinion. Christianity stands or falls upon the objective reality of gigantic supernatural events in history and the evidences therefore. This fact is an evidence of its truth.”
DID JESUS CHRIST RISE FROM THE DEAD?
The greatest single evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ is the resurrection from the dead! A student at the University of Uruguay once asked apologist and professor Josh McDowell, “Why can’t you refute Christianity?” He replied, “For a very simple reason. I’m unable to explain away an event in history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The resurrection issue takes the question “Is Christianity valid?” out of the realm of philosophy and makes it a question of history. Is sufficient evidence available to warrant belief in the resurrection?
There are three main historical facts that support the resurrection of Jesus: His empty tomb, Jesus’ appearances alive after His death, and the very origin of the Christian faith.
The Empty Tomb
Several issues must be settled, such as, Jesus was dead. Study Roman crucifixion—the scourging alone would sometimes disembowel the condemned. Consider the agony of the cross: Jesus was nailed thereon and He was bleeding, lacerated; His bones were pulled out of joint; He experienced cramping and thirst as He hung naked in the hot sun; He was in torment, and finally a spear was thrust through His ribcage into His heart cavity. From this spear thrust, blood and water flowed; the heart had ruptured. To the pathologist, this blood and water flow is strong medical proof that Jesus Christ was already dead before the spear entered His side. The Roman executioners, a death squad skilled in the art of crucifixion, pronounced Jesus dead. The abominableness of this torture was realized by Rome’s most famous orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who said, “Even the mere word, cross, must remain far not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts, their eyes, their ears.”
The body of Christ was hastily embalmed and wrapped in graveclothes with 100 pounds’ weight of myrrh and aloes spices. This was the burial custom. Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb, a cave cut out of the rock, and a great stone was rolled across the entrance—so great that the women who came back to the tomb on Sunday morning to finish the embalming wondered who they would get to remove the stone. The stone had been sealed by the Roman government to prevent any attempted vandalizing of the sepulcher. Anyone molesting the tomb would incur the wrath of Roman law.
A Roman guard was stationed at the mouth of the tomb in response to Pilate’s command, “…make it as sure as ye can” (Matthew 27:65).A guard could consist of four or more soldiers. Sixteen watched Peter in prison. Study the military disciplines of the Roman soldiers; you’ll gain an understanding of the regimen with which they fulfilled their duties. To lose a prisoner in their charge was their own death sentence! Following the resurrection, the guards informed the chief priests of the paralyzing miraculous events they witnessed. The guards were bribed with large sums of money and promised to be “secured” by the Jewish leaders if news reached Pilate that the tomb was empty. Security was needed to save their own necks from the death penalty.
Jesus’ tomb was empty! Who moved the stone? Where was the body? Was it stolen by Christ’s friends—a defenseless band of scared disciples holed up in a room for fear of the Jews? Did they overpower the mighty Roman army? These disciples were fishermen, not trained warriors. Did they steal the body and fake the resurrection? Never!
First, they didn’t even expect the resurrection. If they really thought Jesus was going to rise from the dead on the third day, where would they have been? Why, they would have been outside the tomb to see the event. At one time or another, Jesus rebuked all the disciples for their unbelief in His resurrection. As the Gospels show, they rejected the first reports of Jesus’ resurrection. It was only after Jesus appeared to them again and again, talking with them, encouraging them to touch Him to see that He had a physical body, showing them the wounds in His hands and His side, that they became convinced (John 20:20, 27).
Second, they didn’t understand the necessity for the resurrection. They couldn’t comprehend that their messiah was going to die (Matthew 16:21–22; Mark 9:10, 32; Luke 18:34). The disciples were utterly disheartened men, anxious only to run away and hide, and forget the whole affair.
Was the body stolen by Christ’s enemies? No, they wanted to make sure the body stayed in the tomb. But if they had stolen it, they would have produced the body as proof that the resurrection message was erroneous. Neither the Romans nor the Jews could produce the body of Jesus or explain where it went.
Y. Kramer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, wrote:
“By far, most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the Biblical statements about the empty tomb.” He lists 28 prominent scholars in support. According to New Testament critic Van Dalen, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds. Those who deny it, do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”
Jesus’ Appearances After His Death
According to the late Norman Perrin, of the University of Chicago, “The more we investigate the traditions with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.”
Appearances of the resurrected Christ were bodily and physical, and were witnessed not only by believers, but also by skeptics, unbelievers, and even enemies. He appeared to individuals, to groups, and to more than 500 people at one time!
J.N.D. Anderson writes of the testimony of the appearances:
“The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But, so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position. Think of the number of witnesses, over 500. Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense.”
The Origin of the Christian Faith
This implies the reality of the resurrection. Christianity sprang into being in the middle of the first century. Where did it come from? Why did it arise? All scholars agree that it came into being because the disciples believed that God raised Jesus from the dead. And they proclaimed this message everywhere that they went. But where in the world did they come up with that belief? If you deny that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then you have to explain the disciples’ belief in terms of either Christian influences or Jewish influences. Obviously, it couldn’t have come from Christian influences—there weren’t any. But neither can it be explained from the side of Jewish influences because the Jewish concept of resurrection was radically different from Jesus’ resurrection. As a renowned New Testament scholar, Yayaki Merimias, puts it, “No where does one find in the literature of ancient Judaism anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus.” The most plausible explanation of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection of Jesus is, therefore, that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
Accompanying this bursting of Christianity into existence was also the foundation of the Church. The Church is a fact of history; it did not just happen but had to have an adequate cause. Christians went everywhere preaching the resurrection of Christ and establishing churches. They “turned the world upside down” with their doctrine (Acts 17:6).
Does the evidence for the resurrection stand up to cross-examination in a modern court of law?
“Lawyers…are expertly trained to deal with evidence. Skeptics can, if they wish, maintain that only the weak-minded would believe in the literal, physical resurrection of Christ, but perhaps this only reveals their own weak-mindedness when it comes to taking the evidence at face value. Lawyers are not weak-minded. Hundreds of lawyers are represented by The National Christian Legal Society, The O. W. Coburn School of Law, The Rutherford Institute, Lawyers Christian Fellowship, Simon Greenleaf University, Regent University School of Law, and other Christian law organizations, schools, and societies. Among their number are some of the most respected lawyers in the country, men who have graduated from our leading law schools and gone on to prominence in the world of law. The law schools of Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Boston, New York University, University of Southern California, Georgetown, University of Michigan, Northwestern Hastings College of Law at U. C. Berkeley, Loyola, and many others are all represented. Among the Board of Reference or distinguished lectureships given at … Simon Greenleaf University … [are] Samuel Ericsson, J.D., Harvard Law School; Renatus J. Chytil, formerly a lecturer at Cornell and an expert on Czechoslovakian law; Dr. John W. Brabner-Smith, Dean Emeritus of the International School of Law, Washington, D.C.; and Richard Colby, J.D., Yale Law School, with Twentieth Century Fox. All are Christians who accept the resurrection of Christ as a historic fact.” (Ready with an Answer, by John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, p. 100).
Irwin H. Linton was a Washington, D.C., lawyer who argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In A Lawyer Examines the Bible,he challenges his fellow lawyers “by every acid test known to the law…to examine the case for the Bible just as they would any important matter submitted to their professional attention by a client….” Linton further argues the resurrection “is not only so established that the greatest lawyers have declared it to be the best proved fact of all history, but it is so supported that it is difficult to conceive of any method or line of proof that it lacks which would make [it] more certain.” He concludes that even among lawyers, “he who does not accept wholeheartedly the evangelical, conservative belief in Christ and the Scriptures has never read, has forgotten, or never been able to weigh—and certainly is utterly unable to refute—the irresistible force of the cumulative evidence upon which such faith rests….” (ibid, p. 101).
Sir Lionell Luckhoo is listed in the Guinness World Recordsas the world’s “most successful lawyer,” with 245 successive murder acquittals. He was knighted twice by the queen of England and appointed high commissioner for Guyana. He declares, “I have spent more than forty-two years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world.…I say unequivocally the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no doubt.” (ibid, p. 106).
These facts are accepted by a majority of historian scholars, Christian or skeptical:
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- Jesus was buried in an easily accessible public tomb.
- The death of Christ caused His followers to lose all hope in His messianic claims.
- The tomb was empty.
- The disciples had genuine experiences, which they were convinced were literal appearances of the risen Christ.
- The disciples were radically transformedfrom skeptics and doubters to bold proclaimers of Christ’s resurrection.
- Eleven of the twelve apostles suffered martyrs’ deaths for their convictions.
- The resurrection message was absolutely central to the early preaching of the Church.
- The resurrection message was central to the entire New Testament.
- The resurrection was first proclaimed in the very environment most hostile to it, Jerusalem. Even there, those motivated to disprove the resurrection could not do so.
- The Church exists only because of the disciples’ conviction that the resurrection occurred.
- The Sabbath Day was changed to Sunday.
- James, Paul and many other skeptics were convinced on the basis of empirical historical evidence.
To the Honest Skeptic,
Ultimately, you must decide for yourself what you are going to believe. However, your decision does not determine truth. Study the historical evidence available to you at your own library. Purchase books. Research the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Weigh the evidence carefully. You may even approach the facts with the goal to disprove Christianity; others have. George Lyttleton and Gilbert West in the mid-eighteenth century did just that. Lyttleton, a member of Parliament and Commissioner of the Treasury, set out to prove that Saul of Tarsus was never really converted to Christianity. Gilbert West, Esquire, intended to demonstrate that Jesus never really rose from the dead. Each took a year to establish his case. As they proceeded, they both concluded that Christianity was true, and they both became Christians. They published their findings. In our own century a rationalistic journalist named Frank Morrison attempted to strip away the “overgrowth of primitive beliefs” about Jesus Christ and reveal Him for who He really was, and then publish a book. He did publish a book, Who Moved the Stone?,one of the most able defenses of the resurrection of Christ in our time. The evidence convinced him.
Caution!!! Doing nothing is a big mistake. If Jesus is God, and He is, and if Jesus is coming back, and He is, then you must be prepared to meet Him. His next coming is imminent, your life is fleeting, and your opportunity to accept Him as Savior is very limited in time. Miss that opportunity and it will be the greatest loss in your life.