The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most controversial arguments for the existence of God. It appears that the strategic and passionate attempts to refute Jesus and His resurrection at Christmas and Easter is due to the eternal consequences of our response to the premise, “If the resurrection of Christ is true, then God exist”. What follows is a brief summary of the argument for God from the resurrection and a response to two alternate theories. The first theory is, the resurrection is a myth, and the second is, the disciples stole Jesus’ body.
The Gospel Writers Speak of Jesus as God
The gospel writers claim that Jesus is the representation of God in the flesh. Thus, if the testimony of the writers and of Christ Himself are true, then the resurrection is true and Jesus is God. The first chapter of John introduces the claim that Jesus is God.
“ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (Jn 1:1, 14 ESV)
In the book of Hebrews, often attributed to Paul, he writes:
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. “ ( Heb. 1:1-3 NIV)
Jesus Claims to be God
Jesus speaks of His deity with these words,
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn 8:58 NIV)
The similar phrase is found in Exodus 3:14
“God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14 NIV)
Speaking to people who understood the phrase God said of Himself in The Old Testament, Jesus declares that He is God. In this passage from John, Jesus speaks of His relationship with His Father.
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him,” (Jn 10:29 NIV)
Because of His claim to be God, He is consequently delivered up to the Romans by His own people, the Jews, to be crucified.
Jesus Performs Miracles and Predicts His Death and Resurrection
The Apostles record many miracles which affirm the supernatural powers of Jesus. The first is the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine. (Jn 2:1-11) Matthew, Mark and Luke all write of the miracle of Jesus calming a raging storm at sea. (Mt 8:23-27, Lk 8:22-25)
“They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mk 4:41 NIV)
All the Apostles tell of Jesus’ miracle feeding of five thousand people. (Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:31-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:5-14.)
Finally, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mt 16:21 ESV)
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The apostles all write in detail that Jesus was crucified, and suffered an agonizing death on the cross, verified by a Roman soldier thrusting a spear into Jesus’ side. Jesus was buried in a tomb that was secured, sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers. On the third day as Jesus had predicted He rose from the dead. The ground shook, light burst forth from the tomb, the stone that had sealed His tomb rolled away and the guards fell as dead. Within hours, women and some disciples found only the burial cloth in the tomb. Jesus then appeared subsequent times to the apostles and many others. In the book of Acts, attributed to Luke, he describes Jesus appearing after His resurrection.
“After His suffering, He presented Himself to them with many convincing proofs that He was alive. Over a span of forty days, He appeared to them and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3 BSB)
Jesus Receives Worship and Speaks as God
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20 NIV)
Many believe that the gospel accounts of the resurrection are true and Jesus is who He claims to be. However, for some there are many critical questions, doubts, and theories to work through before arriving at this conviction. Two theories seek to discredit the resurrection specifically. One theory is that the resurrection is a myth and not history. The second theory is that His disciples stole the body of Jesus.
Just Another Myth
Myths are fabrications of events that take time to disseminate and perpetuate. Regardless of whether the myth came from local pagan beliefs or zealots intent on creating a new religion, the events described in the gospel accounts take place locally and in the presence of eyewitnesses. The motivation to debunk the story of the resurrection would be at its peak within this hostile generation. However, no one comes forward with proof to explain the testimony of over 500 eyewitnesses that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them.
William Lane Craig suggest historical research indicates early belief in the resurrection, dating the following creed of belief to be within 5 years of the death and resurrection of Christ.
“ For what I received I passed on to you… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. “ (1 Cor 15: 3-9 NIV)
Craig suggests that Paul is quoting from an established, traditional creed received at his visit to James and Cephas in Jerusalem. (Gal 1:18)
“It thus dates to within five years after Jesus’ death. So short a time span and such personal contact make it idle to talk of legend in this case.” (William Lane Craig – The Resurrection of Jesus – npag)
There is not enough time to allow a myth of such proportion and detail to emerge. It would most certainly not be created by a Jewish culture that had little tolerance for pagan ideas and little affection for the Christ followers.
Where Did You Hide Him?
Another theory proposed by critics of the resurrection, is that Jesus’ followers stole His body and buried Him elsewhere. This is the story that the Roman guards were told to use by the authorities once they found out Jesus’ tomb was empty.
“some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Matt 28:11-15 NIV)
There are many unanswered questions regarding this theory. One question is, how would the sleeping Roman guards know that the disciples stole Jesus’ body? and further, why would Roman guards admit to sleeping on the job? It is difficult to believe that the grief stricken and fearful disciples moved the large rock in front of the tomb and hoisted Jesus’ body away without being detected by Roman guards. Trained to guard with their lives and knowing they had failed in their charge, the guards perhaps found it difficult to refuse the offer of money and protective support of the chief priest.
The problem with this theory is that if the disciples had Jesus’ body why would they then record that over 500 local witnesses had seen the resurrected Jesus alive? Were the eyewitness lying? Why would the disciples steal a body and create a lie, and attempt to perpetuate the lie in the face of persecution and threats to their lives?
In the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, the authors explain these problems in detail arriving at this conclusion.
“The main point is that the theft hypothesis was a tacit admission that the tomb was really empty. “After all why would the Jews concoct an explanation for the empty tomb if Jesus’ body was still in there?” (p309)
Finally, most of the Apostles were martyred for their belief in the resurrection, if they knew where Jesus’ body was they could have recanted from their position and saved themselves. Josh McDowell in his book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” comments on the unwavering conviction the apostles had in the resurrection Christ.
“Each of the disciples, except John, died a martyr’s death… because they tenaciously clung to their beliefs and statements,” (Josh McDowell. p255)
It is simply not reasonable to believe the stolen body theory, given the lack of supportive evidence, the hostility of the culture surrounding the Apostles who were willing to suffer and die as martyrs, and the testimony of many eyewitnesses.
Conclusion of the Christian
Christianity not only affirms Gods revelation to all but His revelation provides answers to life’s questions. It inspires further exploration of His attributes and His creation and helps us make sense of all other arguments for His existence. Cold case investigator J.W. Wallace writes;
“In the end, I came to the conclusion that the gospels were reliable eyewitness accounts that delivered accurate information about Jesus, including His crucifixion and Resurrection….The gospel accounts became the foundation from which I examined the cosmological, axiological, teleological, ontological, transcendental and anthropic arguments for God’s existence.” (J.W.Wallace n.pag)
The gospel accounts of the resurrection are persuasive because of the testimony of many witnesses consequently affirming the prophetic words of Jesus and scripture. Studying the gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that Jesus is God, as He claims to be, and that the words of the Old Testament from which He quotes are true. Finally, it is reasonable to conclude that the words of scripture speak truth because they provide reasonable, compatible answers to questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life, relationships, death and eternity.
(Acts 1:3 BSB)
(Ex 3:14 NIV)
(Heb. 1:1-3 NIV)
(Jn 1:1, 14 ESV)
(Jn 8:58 NIV)
(Jn 10:29 NIV)
(Mk 4:41 NIV)
(Mt 16:21 ESV)
(Mt 28:11-15 NIV)
(Mt 28:16-20 NIV)
(1 Cor 15: 3-9 NIV)
Craig, Lane, William. “The Resurrection of Jesus” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus
Geisler, Norman. and Turek, Frank. “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004 p309
McDowell, Josh., ed, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” (San Bernardino, California: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972), p. 255.
Wallace, J.W. “Jesus is Evidence That God Exist” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2015/jesus-is-evidence-that-god-exists/