by Dale Reeves
Easter has come and gone this year. It was quite a different celebration than we experienced last year when we weren’t able to meet in person at church, and when very few extended families were able to get together for a meal. Gone are the Easter egg hunts for this year. All of the pastel-colored hard-boiled eggs at our house have been eaten. The leftover ham has all been consumed. There may be a jelly bean or two still left, but that is about all that remains of Easter 2021.
But what of the resurrection of Christ? This is the foundation of our faith as believers. Many religions claim to have been founded by a prophet or great teacher who served others for the good of mankind. But there is only one Messiah who willingly sacrificed his life for all people, promised that he would rise from the dead on the third day—then actually did it! Through the years, there have been many theories that have been proposed to try to invalidate what Jesus accomplished on our behalf. Last week in a sermon discussion group at our church building, we talked about some of these attempts to discredit the resurrection of Christ.
The apostle Peter tells us part of being a disciple of Jesus means you are able to defend why you believe what you believe. He challenges us in no uncertain terms, “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15, NLT). The fancy word for this is apologetics, which is defined as a “systematic discourse in defense of doctrine” or “a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity.” There are many great resources that offer some wonderful apologetics for our faith in Christ. Many years ago, I read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict and more recently, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.
This week, I listened to a podcast in which Lee Strobel, a skeptic by nature, set out to disprove the merits of Christianity, for the purpose of “rescuing his wife from a local church.” What he discovered was not what he was expecting. You can check out that podcast here.
With a view toward providing you with solid evidence for being able to defend your faith in Jesus, I would like to offer the following rebuttals to some of the conspiracy theories that have attempted to invalidate Christ’s bodily resurrection from the tomb.
Wrong Tomb Theory
This theory claims everyone just went to the wrong tomb—an empty one—and assumed Christ had resurrected.
The craziness of this proposition is that nobody thinks if they were to go to an empty tomb that would automatically mean the deceased had resurrected from the dead. Pontius Pilate had dispatched Roman soldiers (historians believe this could have been a dozen or as many as sixteen soldiers) to guard the tomb. Clearly, they knew the location of the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed, and they knew it belonged to a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea. This fulfilled a prophecy that was given in Isaiah 53:9 over 700 years before it happened.
Much more would have had to happen to the disciples other than just finding an empty tomb to explain their sudden fierce belief in a resurrected Christ—and their willingness to die for their faith. All but one of the disciples were martyred for their faith. And not one of them ever recanted. Joseph Bergeron, a medical doctor from Indianapolis who did extensive research on Christ’s death and resurrection, said, “People sometimes will die for some misguided belief that they have. Nobody dies for a hoax.”
This preposterous theory would have you believe that Jesus did not really die—he only “swooned.” He passed out from exhaustion, shock, pain, and loss of blood; then woke up a couple of days later, he revived in the coolness of the tomb, then rolled away the huge stone (weighing probably two tons) by himself, and escaped.
First of all, people did not survive Roman crucifixion. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, alive just after Christ’s time on earth, documented that there were no survivors of Roman crucifixion. In all the decades of this means of execution, he said there was one person who came down from the cross alive and this person died within twenty-four hours. Quite a number of people, both friends and foes, witnessed Jesus’ body come down from the cross, and they would have definitely known if he was not dead, but just unconscious. The swoon theory also cannot answer the problem of the linen wrappings of Jesus lying undisturbed in the tomb. Jesus would have had to perform a miracle of wiggling out of the tightly-wound strips of cloth that were bound about his body with 70-90 pounds of spices in the wrappings.
Stolen Body Theory
This theory actually began the very day that Jesus walked out of the tomb. The chief priests devised this plan:
“As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. 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 so you won’t get in trouble.’ 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 28:11-15, NLT).
To accept this theory, one would have to believe a bunch of scared, cowering men who had fled in terror after Jesus’ crucifixion would risk death and take on the toughest, most feared soldiers of the ancient world. The stone used to seal Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was huge. Moving it would have taken a half-dozen or more men and it would have made a lot of noise (assuming the Roman soldiers were asleep)! History tells us that if a Roman soldier failed at an assignment, he would be executed. They plunged a spear into his chest to absolutely ensure that he was dead.
This theory proposes that all of Jesus’ “supposed” post-resurrection appearances were actually to people who were emotionally in shock and therefore had hallucinations. These appearances never happened, they only took place in the minds of those who had the hallucinations.
There are several hurdles to overcome if one is to espouse this theory. First of all, over the 40-day span between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension to Heaven, Jesus appeared more than twelve times to different group sizes ranging from just one person to over 500 people at one time (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Typically, people who hallucinate either have a physiological problem or a biochemical problem in their brain. The disciples didn’t appear to have suffered from any debilitating conditions, and several places in the Gospels we are told that the disciples were reluctant to believe in the resurrection. Jesus appeared to them several times to convince them. A hallucination hypothesis can never explain the group appearances the disciples had with Jesus. In rare documented cases of group hallucinations, they all see different things. Also, you can’t converse with a hallucination, and you certainly can’t eat with one. But the risen Christ appeared before several groups in several different places, conversed with people, and ate with them.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all” (Acts 4:33, NIV).
The facts remain. The disciples of Jesus obeyed Jesus’ last command to them to testify of his resurrection. As a result, Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire, so much so that by AD 64, there were enough believers that emperor Nero launched a mass persecution against Christians. Many of Jesus’ followers willingly died, not for a hoax, but for the greatest feat in all of history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.