The people's voice of reason


John Eidsmoe

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? That's hard to believe, some say. Isn't there any other explanation?

Yes, there are other explanations -- if you have enough faith to believe them. Here are a few:

"He just swooned"

In his 1966 book The Passover Plot Hugh Schonfield popularized an alternate explanation: Jesus didn't really die on the Cross; He merely feel into a coma and later awakened.

Sounds reasonable, except for a few problems:

• Besides the scourging and the crown of thorns, Jesus bled from the nail wounds in His hands and feet. And then the soldier pierced His side with a spear, and water and blood flowed out (John 19:34), meaning the heart was pierced.

• The soldiers had conducted myriads of crucifixions and undoubtedly knew the difference between a coma and death.

• Those who took His body down from the Cross and prepared Him for burial would have detected any signs of life.

• The body of Jesus was wrapped in a shroud (cloth about 30 feet long), His arms at His side, and placed in a tomb, and the tomb was closed by a stone.

• The body of Jesus lay in the tomb for three days, without food or water and possibly without air. If somehow Jesus remained alive during this time, and then regained consciousness, could He have been strong enough to burst through the shroud, rise from His bed, push the stone aside, and appear before witnesses?

This would be a greater miracle than a resurrection.

"They went to the wrong tomb"

Others dismiss the Resurrection by saying the disciples went to the wrong tomb, and, finding it empty, concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Certainly people can make mistakes. But if so, all the enemies of Jesus would have to do was go to the right tomb, produce the body, and thus silence the rumors.

But no one did.

"His appearance was only an hallucination"

Still others explain the appearances of Jesus as hallucinations.

People do experience hallucinations. However, as psychology professor Gary Collins says, "by their nature only one person can see any given hallucination at a time." Yet Jesus was seen by Mary, by Cephas, by the disciples together, then by "five hundred brethren at once" (I Corinthians 15:6), then again by James and again by the disciples.

As Paul (a lawyer trained in the law school of Gamaliel, Acts 22:3) summarized the case for the Resurrection, he says of the five hundred who saw Jesus, "the greater pat remain unto this present time, but some are fallen asleep." (I Cor 15:6) Why does he add this detail? He is saying, check it out! Ask the witnesses. We can be assured that the enemies of Christianity did indeed check with these witnesses, and if even one of them had expressed doubts, that would have made headline news. But again, there is no record of any witness retracting his/her claims of having seen the risen Christ.

Furthermore, the disciples not only saw Jesus, they walked with Him, talked with Him, touched Him, and ate with Him. Hallucinations don't operate that way.

'"The disciples stole the body"

Then there's the claim of the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, that the disciples stole the body while they slept.

As a lawyer, I'd love to cross-examine those soldiers on the witness stand:

You realize, do you not, that sleeping on post is a capital offense under Roman law?

Well, uh, yes it is.

And yet you maintain that every single one of you slept the entire time the disciples stole the body?

That's right; I guess we were just tired.

Now, a gang of people coming on the scene, rolling away a huge stone, removing a body, and carrying that body away would have made a lot of noise, wouldn't it?

Well, yes, I suppose so.

And yet, not one of you stirred in the least during this entire escapade?

No, we were sound asleep the whole time.

Then you've disqualified yourselves as witnesses! If you were asleep the entire time, you saw nothing and heard nothing and know nothing at all about what happened. Your testimony is self-defeating and totally worthless.

"These people were liars"

All other explanations having failed, skeptics say the disciples were liars.

But as the late Harvard professor of legal evidence Simon Greenleaf noted in his book An Examination of the Testimony of the Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, With an Account of the Trial of Jesus (1846, 2007), this supposition is suicidal. Why would these men, who by all accounts appear to be decent and honorable, invest a false story and hold fast to that story despite persecution, impoverishment, ridicule, torture, and death? Surely, at least one of them would have cracked under pressure. "From these absurdities," Professor Greenleaf says, "there is no escape, but in the perfect conviction and admission that they were good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed and considered, and well knew to be true."

And so...

As we can see, none of these explanations make sense. But some are reluctant to believe in the Resurrection, because ordinary people don't rise from the dead.

But Jesus was not an ordinary person. He was and is the Son of God, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He came into the world to die for our sins and to rise for our justification.

Yes, it requires faith to believe that. But it is the only explanation that makes any sense at all. And it is also the only hope for the world.

On Good Friday, let us commemorate His death.

And on Easter Sunday, let us celebrate His resurrection!

Colonel Eidsmoe pastors two churches, teaches Christian Apologetics, and serves as Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law.


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