There are three specific evidences upon which both Christians and non-Christians agree. These three evidences are:
- Jesus Christ was crucified.
- There was an empty tomb.
- There was an Easter proclamation: He is risen!
Jesus was crucified on the cross around A.D. 32. He was taken down from the cross and was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Historical documents state that a large stone weighing between one and two tons was placed at the front of the tomb.
And on that stone was placed the Roman seal. A Roman guard then was placed in front of the tomb to make sure nothing happened to the body. That Roman guard had between four and 16 well-trained military men. Yet the tomb was empty three days later. Some skeptics, attempting to explain the empty tomb, present theories that actually require more faith to believe than the resurrection itself.
One theory is called the “Swoon Theory,” set forth by Venturini. It suggests that Jesus did not really die on the cross; He was taken down off the cross, and when He was put in the tomb, the dampness of the tomb revived His body. He moved the large stone, tiptoed around the guards, appeared to His disciples as a triumphant God, and then went off and died somewhere. Even most skeptics do not embrace that, but some use it to try to reinforce their positions that Christ did not rise from the dead.
Another theory says the women went to the wrong tomb. If the women went to the wrong tomb, that means the Roman guards also went to the wrong tomb. That means the Jewish leaders went to the wrong tomb. Otherwise, Jesus’ body would have been found in the right tomb. The alternative to these and similar theories is the empty tomb and the disciples proclaiming, “He is risen! Jesus Christ is alive! He forgives sins and gives eternal life to those who believe.” If this had been a lie, the Jewish officials had only to go to the tomb, get the body, and display it in the middle of Jerusalem, saying, “There is your ‘risen’ Savior,” and the Christian movement and resurrection proclamation would have been over. But they were unable to produce the body. The tomb was empty.
John Warwick Montgomery, a Christian apologist and former dean of Simon Greenleaf School of Law, writes, “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
Paul Althaus of the University of Erlangen in Germany adds, “The resurrection could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.”
The explanation for the empty tomb can be that it was either natural or supernatural. If Christ truly was raised supernaturally from the dead by God, I can rightly and truthfully call you to repent of your sins and trust Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, for that is the logical response. But if the explanation is natural, someone had to remove the body. But who? The Roman soldiers? No, the Roman soldiers were placed there to keep the body in the tomb. The Jewish officials? No, they would just have brought it out and declared, “There’s your ‘risen’ Savior,” to refute the disciples’ claims.
Perhaps the disciples removed the body and perpetrated the lie that Jesus was God and rose from the dead. But evidence found by those who investigated suggests the opposite. First, the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. Jesus had told them over and over that He would die and three days later rise from the grave, but they did not understand Him.
Once Jesus died, the disciples were 11 fearful men, hiding, running for their lives. Their leader was dead and their dreams were shattered.
Yet, within several days after the resurrection this same group became bold, courageous, and visionary. What caused such a great change? It was not because they had seen an empty tomb— it was because they had seen Christ alive from the dead.
What would the disciples have to gain by fabricating a story about Christ’s resurrection? Prestige? Wealth? Power? Position? Let me tell you what they gained. All but one died a martyr‘s deaths. Some were decapitated. Some were crucified. Some were stoned to death or beaten to death, all because they claimed Jesus is alive and offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Here is a list of what the 11 apostles and early Christian leaders gained by holding on to the declaration that Christ has risen:
- Andrew was crucified on a cross.
- Barnabas was stoned to death by Jews.
- Bartholomew was beaten to death with clubs.
- James, brother of Jesus, was stoned.
- James the Less was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and beaten.
- John died of natural causes.
- Jude was crucified.
- Luke was hanged on an olive tree.
- Mark was dragged through the streets by his feet and then burned to death.
- Matthias was stoned and beheaded.
- Matthew was killed by sword.
- Paul was beheaded.
- Peter was scourged and crucified upside down.
- Philip was scourged and crucified.
- Simon was crucified.
- Thomas was thrust through with a spear.
- James, son of Zebedee, was killed by the sword.
- Thaddaeus was killed by arrows.
If this story of the resurrection were a lie, they would have known it was a lie. For them to live a lie is certainly inconsistent with what we know about their moral lives. In his history text, Harold Mattingly writes, “The apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, sealed their witnesses with their blood.”
No man would be willing to die unless he knew he had the truth. It is true that a lot of people have died for a lie, but only when they believed it to be the truth. Given the evidence and the conviction of the early Christian leaders, we can confidently say that the resurrection is true. Jesus is risen, Easter did happen, and we can live knowing that our King is victorious!
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John's travels for ministry behind the Iron Curtain led him to found East-West Ministries International in 1993. John and his wife, Susie, live in Dallas, Texas and have a grown daughter and two grandchildren.