I was studying Physics when I first investigated the claims that Christians made about Jesus. And I think I would’ve said something just like that—it must be ridiculous, a man rising from the dead. I assumed all Christians had taken leave of their senses.
That was until I actually came across some Christians who weren’t stupid, and they really believed it. So I started to look at the evidence, and quickly realised that the centrepiece of the jigsaw was this claim that Jesus rose form the dead. Without it, Christianity collapses.
So isn’t it ridiculous? Well, a scientific approach can come to our help at this point. Of course a man rising from the dead breaks the normal laws of nature—but those laws don’t say what has to happen, they merely describe what normally does happen. When you go to unusual circumstances like down to absolute zero temperature, or up to the speed of light, or back to the beginning of time, those are very unusual circumstances, and different laws apply.
So I came to realise that if God had stepped into the world he’d created and become a man, that would be a pretty unusual, in fact (I think you’d agree) unique, set of circumstances.
Under those conditions, different laws would apply—and it would be no surprise if God's entrance into the world and the departure from it broke all the normal laws of life and death. Perhaps a virgin birth—perhaps rising from the dead. So maybe it’s not so ridiculous after all—maybe it’s reasonable that if Jesus was and is God, that he must have risen from the dead.
But of course, just because a resurrection could happen, that doesn’t mean it did happen. What is the evidence?
Well first of all, of course Jesus did really die. The Romans knew their job—they were experts at crucifixion.
And his body really had gone from that grave—the tomb was empty. Even his enemies had to admit it, and they couldn’t produce the body.
And then there were the resurrection appearances. Many people on different occasions, amounting to hundreds altogether, claimed that they’d seen Jesus alive after his resurrection.
And then there was the transformation of the disciples, from cowards to the most courageous men, who were not only prepared to die for their faith—most of them did, for believing this truth, that Jesus had risen form the dead.
So maybe it’s not ridiculous—maybe it’s quite reasonable. Maybe it’s ridiculous to believe that they would have been prepared to die for something they knew to be false.
But don’t take my word for it—have a good look at the evidence for yourself. Why not look at the Go Deeper under this answer? Why not read the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection for yourself? Why not go and investigate the claims for the resurrection with others in a local church?
And decide for yourself whether the resurrection is ridiculous—or real.
Thanks for clicking on “Go Deeper” after watching or reading Paul’s answer. This section gives you some more points to think about, in a slightly deeper way, and points you to some other resources you might find helpful if you want to keep thinking through crucial issue.
Let’s be clear. No one can prove beyond any doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. But that’s because no one can prove anything beyond any doubt. If you’re married, you can’t prove your spouse loves you—but, based on the evidence, you believe that they do (or that they don’t). You can’t prove that you’re not a butterfly who’s dreaming it’s a human—but, based on the evidence, you believe that you’re not (hopefully!)
So in thinking about whether Jesus rose or not, it’s about what you think is the most likely explanation for what happened that day in history. Paul mentioned some reasons why he became convinced as an adult that the resurrection was historical fact.
But of course, not everyone agrees with him! And people have come up with a few pretty good explanations. These are the best around. For each one, you’ll find reasons why they’re good explanations, and then some questions that they don’t quite answer.
THERE WAS NO EMPTY TOMB: THE WOMEN WENT TO THE WRONG ONE
Remember, these were bitterly upset women. They’d watched Jesus’ body get put in a tomb a couple of days before, but it had been getting dark, and there were lots of tombs around there. So on the Sunday, when it was still not fully light, they’d gone to a different tomb—an empty one. Someone nearby (a gardener, perhaps) told them they were looking in the wrong place, that Jesus wasn’t there: and they’d put two and two together and made 638, and assumed he’d risen back to life.
They then told Jesus’ other closest friends, who came and looked at the wrong tomb as well: and so the legend of “the risen Jesus” was born.
Unanswered questions: The women weren’t expecting Jesus to rise again. If you went to a tomb and found the body you were expecting wasn’t there, would you think he’d risen back to life, or would you think you’d made a mistake and go and find the correct tomb?
The authorities knew which tomb it was: they put soldiers outside it to guard it. When a month or so later Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, announced in the centre of Jerusalem that Jesus was alive and had gone back to heaven, and when thousands of people believed him, why didn’t the authorities just go and get the body out of the correct tomb, thus killing the Christian movement stone dead?
THE TOMB WAS EMPTY BECAUSE JESUS WAS NEVER REALLY DEAD
The reason there was no corpse in the tomb was because there was no corpse. Jesus didn’t die on the cross; he just fainted with exhaustion, and was taken down before he actually stopped breathing. Then, in the coolness of the tomb, he recovered, moved the stone and walked out. That’s why the women found an empty tomb; and why Jesus was able to appear to his friends and eat with them, and why he was able to go for a walk with a couple of them. A little while later he told his friends he was going away, and went and lived out his days in peace somewhere else. They assumed he’d gone back to heaven: and started telling everyone he’d risen back to life from the dead, and now gone to heaven.
Unanswered questions: The Romans were good at lots of things, and one of them was crucifying people. Did they really make the mistake of thinking Jesus was dead when he wasn’t?
One of the Roman soldiers checked Jesus was dead by sticking a spear into his side. Could a man who had been stabbed in the heart survive without medical help for three days and then walk out?
Could a man who’d been nailed to a cross go for a long walk with his friends, and convince everyone that he had a powerful resurrected body, not a broken crucified one?
Why did the soldiers guarding his tomb not notice when he limped out on feet with nail-sized holes in them?
THE TOMB WAS EMPTY BECAUSE THE BODY WAS TAKEN BY THE AUTHORITIES
The Jewish authorities had heard Jesus saying he’d rise again. So they removed the body, so that there could be no silly business about the disciples taking the body and then claiming he’d really risen. They put it somewhere else, where it was easier for them to keep an eye on it. But of course that left an empty tomb: and before they knew it, the disciples were announcing that Jesus had risen. Their plan had spectacularly backfired; but it was still the case that there was no resurrection.
Unanswered questions: If the authorities had the body, why didn’t they produce it when people started believing Jesus had risen?
THE TOMB WAS EMPTY BECAUSE THE BODY WAS TAKEN BY GRAVE-ROBBERS
Bodies in those days weren’t valuable; but the clothes they were buried in were. So what happened was very simple. Some grave robbers, who had no idea who this was, stole the body. By the time the women arrived at the tomb, it was empty: and so a legend was born.
Unanswered questions: Why, when the empty tomb was discovered, were the valuable grave-clothes still there? Why hadn’t the grave-robbers taken the only thing in the tomb that was of value?
THE TOMB WAS EMPTY BECAUSE THE BODY WAS TAKEN BY THE DISCIPLES
Of course, the people with most to gain from Jesus rising was his friends. After he died, they looked stupid for following him. So they hatched a brilliant plan. They stole the body, hid it somewhere, and then announced that the tomb was empty and a living Jesus had appeared to them several times. Conveniently, no one else could check it out because he’d now gone back to heaven. This allowed them to set up and lead a new religion, so that they could gain power and influence over others. They even ended up writing what we call the New Testament, continuing the great lie that Jesus had risen for centuries—even to today.
Unanswered questions: Could the disciples, who were terrified and had run away, really have managed to pull off stealing a body from under the noses of some guards?
If the disciples had made up the biographies of Jesus in the Bible, why do they come across in the biographies as scared, disloyal and weak? Wouldn’t you make up something more impressive about yourself?
If the disciples made this up, they knew for a fact Jesus hadn’t risen. Yet almost all of them ended up being killed for saying he’d come back to life and was God. Wouldn’t at least one of them have admitted it was all made up to avoid being crucified, stoned or beheaded?
THE DISCIPLES DIDN’T REALLY SEE JESUS: IT WAS A HALLUCINATION
It’s not clear how the tomb was empty, but it’s easy to explain why Jesus’ friends “saw” him alive again. It was because, in their grief and shock, they simply hallucinated his appearance. It wasn’t really him, it was the product of their imaginations; but they didn’t realise that, and honestly believed that he’d returned to life.
Unanswered questions: Medically, people simply don’t hallucinate the same thing at the same time. Did dozens (and on one occasion hundreds) of adults really have an identical hallucination at exactly the same time?
Why was the tomb empty?
THE TOMB WAS EMPTY BECAUSE JESUS HAD RISEN BACK TO LIFE
This is what Jesus’ friends claimed had happened, even when they faced gruesome deaths for saying it. It explains the empty tomb; and it explains the appearances of Jesus after his death.
Unanswered questions: Do people really rise from the dead? It’s not exactly a normal event!
(Which Paul answered: if Jesus is God, then we’d expect his exit from the world to break all the normal laws of nature. And, of course, if you wanted to prove you were God, you’d need to do something amazing and abnormal—like promising to die and rise again, and then actually doing that.)
Far more has been said and written about the resurrection than there’s space to do here! But it’s important to work out what you think happened that first “Easter Sunday”—because, as Paul said, the resurrection claim is the centerpiece of the whole of Christianity.
Strange as it may seem, it’s well worth praying to ask Jesus, if he really is God and if he really did rise from the dead, to show you that it’s true. Even for his closest friends, Jesus needed to “open their minds so they could understand” the Bible, and that he really had risen (Luke chapter 24 v 45). As you think this through, it’s well worth asking Jesus to open your mind to the truth.
Other good things to do:
GO ON a Christianity Explored course, where you’ll have time and space to go through all your objections and questions about the resurrection.
READ The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Part Three, where a journalist examines the evidence for and against the resurrection (you can get a copy here).
GO TO http://www.bethinking.org/resurrection-miracles/, where you’ll find loads of thoughtful articles and talks (some very short, some fairly long) on various aspects of the resurrection.