The empty tomb of Jesus,
experiences of resurrection appearances
and the disciples' firm belief that he'd risen from the dead
are all matters of well-attested historical record that require explanation.
The next question to ask is: What is the BEST explanation for these 3 historical facts? Is the resurrection story really more plausible than the alternative naturalistic explanations offered for the evidence we have?
1. The Conspiracy Theory says the disciples faked Jesus' resurrection by stealing and hiding his dead body and then spreading the lie that he had risen. But...
- Jews at that time had no concept of a rising Messiah so this plan would not have made any sense to them.
- These disciples were willing to die for their belief that Jesus had risen. People don't willingly allow themselves to be tortured and killed for something they KNOW to be a lie.
- This theory does nothing to explain the numerous experiences of the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
2. The Apparent Death Theory says Jesus didn't really die on the cross but merely passed out and later revived in the tomb, escaped and convinced people he had risen. But...
- Romans were expert killers and knew how to make sure people were definitely dead! Even if Jesus had managed to survive the cross (impossible), he would have died in the sealed tomb.
- Even if he survived the cross (impossible) and the tomb (impossible), he would have had to move the stone from the entrance (which took several healthy men to move) and then take on the Roman guard to escape!
- Even if he did all this (impossible), a tortured and half-dead Jesus would hardly be in any state to convince anyone he had risen from the dead. Anyone who met him would see that he was in need of urgent medical attention!
3. The Displaced Body theory says that Joseph of Arimathea (whose tomb Jesus borrowed) moved Jesus' body to a criminals' graveyard and that's why the disciples found the tomb empty and believed Jesus had risen from the dead. But...
- Jewish laws prohibited the moving of corpses after they had been buried.
- The criminals' graveyard was close to the site of execution, so there would have been no need to bury it somewhere else first and then move it.
- Also, once the disciples started saying Jesus had risen, Joseph could have (and surely would have) corrected them.
- And again, this theory does nothing to explain the numerous experiences of the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
4. The Hallucination Theory says the experiences of the appearances of Jesus alive after he died can be put down to people's minds playing tricks on them in their grief. But...
- Jesus appeared many times in many places, and not just to individuals but groups and to a crowd of over 500 people at once. And to skeptics as well as believers. This kind of mass-scale hallucination simply does not happen.
- The jewish disciples' first thought would not have been (and wasn't) resurrection anyway because it was not part of their belief system at all. They thought he was a ghost until he proved otherwise (Lk 24:39).
- This theory doesn't even attempt to explain the empty tomb.
The 4 most popular naturalistic theories fail to explain the 3 historical facts we have considered.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the only explanation that accounts for:
- The empty tomb
- The resurrection appearances
- The disciples' willingness to die for their belief in the risen Jesus
If God exists, miracles are possible and we should not rule out this final explanation.
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stated by Sherlock Holmes).
1. Do you believe God raised Jesus from the dead? Why or why not?
2. What do you make of the various naturalistic theories to try and explain the 3 historical facts we have been considering? How would you explain them?
3. What are the implication for you if the resurrection really happened and Christianity is true? What would you say to God about this?
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