Easter Sunday It is a rare event that won't happen for
another 1500 years. John Pratt, a Ph.D. in astronomy and
expert in ancient calendars says: "Have you noticed Venus,
the Evening Star, currently blazing in the west after
sunset? From Native American traditions we learn that
in this phase it epresents the Savior when he was at the
heights of his ministry. In March it will plunge into
darkness below the horizon even as the Savior conquered
the forces of death in the underworld. Then, in an extremely
rare event, Venus will resurrect precisely on Easter (April
15, 2001) as the Bright Morning Star. That rare coincidence,
which won't happen again for 1500 years, can be witnessed
around the world just before dawn on Easter Sunday wherever
the eastern horizon is low and clear. This extraordinary
sight was also witnessed on that Easter Sunday morning
long ago when death was conquered by the Savior of all
of all mankind.
for the Resurrection
centuries many of the world's distinguished philosophers have
assaulted Christianity as being irrational, superstitious and
absurd. Many have chosen simply to ignore the central issue of
the resurrection. Others have tried to explain it away through
various theories. But the historical evidence just can't be discounted.
student at the University of Uruguay said to me. "Professor McDowell,
why can't you refute Christianity?"
a very simple reason," I answered. "I am not able to explain away
an event in history--the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
can we explain the empty tomb? Can it possibly be accounted for
by any natural cause?
A QUESTION OF HISTORY
After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, I have come
to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either
one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted
on the minds of human beings--or it is the most remarkable fact
are some of the facts relevant to the resurrection: Jesus of Nazareth,
a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Christ prophesied in the
Jewish Scriptures, was arrested, was judged a political criminal,
and was crucified. Three days after His death and burial, some
women who went to His tomb found the body gone. In subsequent
weeks, His disciples claimed that God had raised Him from the
dead and that He appeared to them various times before ascending
that foundation, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire
and has continued to exert great influence down through the centuries.
The New Testament accounts of the resurrection were being circulated
within the lifetimes of men and women alive at the time of the
resurrection. Those people could certainly have confirmed or denied
the accuracy of such accounts.
writers of the four Gospels either had themselves been witnesses
or else were relating the accounts of eyewitnesses of the actual
events. In advocating their case for the gospel, a word that means
"good news," the apostles appealed (even when confronting their
most severe opponents) to common knowledge concerning the facts
of the resurrection.
F. Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis
at the University of Manchester, says concerning the value of
the New Testament records as primary sources: "Had there been
any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect,
the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would
have served as a further corrective."
IS THE NEW TESTAMENT RELIABLE?
Because the New Testament provides the primary historical source
for information on the resurrection, many critics during the 19th
century attacked the reliability of these biblical documents.
the end of the 1 9th century, however, archaeological discoveries
had confirmed the accuracy of the New Testament manuscripts. Discoveries
of early papyri bridged the gap between the time of Christ and
existing manuscripts from a later date.
findings increased scholarly confidence in the reliability of
the Bible. William F. Albright, who in his day was the world's
foremost biblical archaeologist, said: "We can already say emphatically
that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of
the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before
the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament
critics of today."
with the papyri discoveries, an abundance of other manuscripts
came to light (over 24,000 copies of early New Testament manuscripts
are known to be in existence today). The historian Luke wrote
of "authentic evidence" concerning the resurrection. Sir William
Ramsay, who spent 15 years attempting to undermine Luke credentials
as a historian, and to refute the reliability of the New Testament,
finally concluded: "Luke is a historian of the first rank . .
. This author should be placed along with the very greatest of
I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical.
And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death,
and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than
most of the facts of ancient history . . .
Professor of Classics
The New Testament witnesses were fully aware of the background
against which the resurrection took place. The body of Jesus,
in accordance with Jewish burial custom, was wrapped in a linen
cloth. About 100 pounds of aromatic spices, mixed together to
form a gummy substance, were applied to the wrappings of cloth
about the body. After the body was placed in a solid rock tomb,
an extremely large stone was rolled against the entrance of the
tomb. Large stones weighing approximately two tons were normally
rolled (by means of levers) against a tomb entrance.
Roman guard of strictly disciplined fighting men was stationed
to guard the tomb. This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal,
which was meant to "prevent any attempt at vandalizing the sepulcher.
Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would
have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.
three days later the tomb was empty. The followers of Jesus said
He had risen from the dead. They reported that He appeared to
them during a period of 40 days, showing Himself to them by many
"infallible proofs." Paul the apostle recounted that Jesus appeared
to more than 500 of His followers at one time, the majority of
whom were still alive and who could confirm what Paul wrote. So
many security precautions were taken with the trial, crucifixion,
burial, entombment, sealing, and guarding of Christ's tomb that
it becomes very difficult for critics to defend their position
that Christ did not rise from the dead. Consider these facts:
#1: BROKEN ROMAN SEAL
As we have said, the first obvious fact was the breaking of
the seal that stood for the power and authority of the Roman
Empire. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely
severe. The FBI and CIA of the Roman Empire were called into
action to find the man or men who were responsible. If they
were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion
upside down. People feared the breaking of the seal. Jesus'
disciples displayed signs of cowardice when they hid themselves.
Peter, one of these disciples, went out and denied Christ three
#2: EMPTY TOMB
As we have already discussed, another obvious fact after the
resurrection was the empty tomb. The disciples of Christ did
not go off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ was raised
from the dead. Rather, they went right back to the city of Jerusalem,
where, if what they were teaching was false, the falsity would
be evident. The empty tomb was "too notorious to be denied."
Paul Althaus states that the resurrection "could have not 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."
Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb.
Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century
Jewish writings called the "Toledoth Jeshu." Dr. Paul Maier
calls this "positive evidence from a hostile source, which is
the strongest kind of historical evidence. In essence, this
means that if a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favor,
then that fact is genuine."
who was a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, put
forth the suggestion that the rise of the Christian movement
was God's doing; he could not have done that if the tomb were
still occupied, or if the Sanhedrin knew the whereabouts of
Maier observes that " . . . if all the evidence is weighed carefully
and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons
of historical research, to conclude that the sepulcher of Joseph
of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was actually empty
on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence
has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology
that would disprove this statement."
FACT #3: LARGE STONE MOVED
On that Sunday morning the first thing that impressed the people
who approached the tomb was the unusual position of the one
and a half to two ton stone that had been lodged in front of
the doorway. All the Gospel writers mention it.
There exists no document from the ancient world, witnessed
by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies
. . . Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of
Christianity is based upon an irrational bias.
who observed the stone after the resurrection describe its position
as having been rolled up a slope away not just from the entrance
of the tomb, but from the entire massive sepulcher. It was in
such a position that it looked as if it had been picked up and
carried away. Now, I ask you, if the disciples had wanted to
come in, tiptoe around the sleeping guards, and then roll the
stone over and steal Jesus' body, how could they have done that
without the guards' awareness?
FACT #4: ROMAN GUARD GOES AWOL
The Roman guards fled. They left their place of responsibility.
How can their attrition he explained, when Roman military discipline
was so exceptional? Justin, in Digest #49, mentions all the
offenses that required the death penalty. The fear of their
superiors' wrath and the possibility of death meant that they
paid close attention to the minutest details of their jobs.
One way a guard was put to death was by being stripped of his
clothes and then burned alive in a fire started with his garments.
If it was not apparent which soldier had failed in his duty,
then lots were drawn to see which one wand be punished with
death for the guard unit's failure. Certainly the entire unit
would not have fallen asleep with that kind of threat over their
heads. Dr. George Currie, a student of Roman military discipline,
wrote that fear of punishment "produced flawless attention to
duty, especially in the night watches."
FACT #5: GRAVECLOTHES TELL A TALE
In a literal sense, against all statements to the contrary,
the tomb was not totally empty--because of an amazing phenomenon.
John, a disciple of Jesus, looked over to the place where the
body of Jesus had lain, and there were the grave clothes, in
the form of the body, slightly caved in and empty--like the
empty chrysalis of a caterpillar's cocoon. That's enough to
make a believer out of anybody. John never did get over it.
The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was
not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothes--undisturbed
in form and position.
FACT #6: JESUS' APPEARANCES CONFIRMED
Christ appeared alive on several occasions after the cataclysmic
events of that first Easter . When studying an event in history,
it is important to know whether enough people who were participants
or eyewitnesses to the event were alive when the facts about
the event were published. To know this is obviously helpful
in ascertaining the accuracy of the published report. If the
number of eyewitnesses is substantial, the event can he regarded
as fairly well established. For instance, if we all witness
a murder, and a later police report turns out to he a fabrication
of lies, we as eyewitnesses can refute it.
OVER 500 WITNESSES
Several very important factors arc often overlooked when considering
Christ's post-resurrection appearances to individuals. The first
is the large number of witnesses of Christ after that resurrection
morning. One of the earliest records of Christ's appearing after
the resurrection is by Paul. The apostle appealed to his audience's
knowledge of the fact that Christ had been seen by more than 500
people at one time. Paul reminded them that the majority of those
people were still alive and could be questioned. Dr. Edwin M.
Yamauchi, associate professor of history at Miami University in
Oxford, Ohio, emphasizes: "What gives a special authority to the
list (of witnesses) as historical evidence is the reference to
most of the five hundred brethren being still alive. St. Paul
says in effect, 'If you do not believe me, you can ask them.'
Such a statement in an admittedly genuine letter written within
thirty years of the event is almost as strong evidence as one
could hope to get for something that happened nearly two thousand
years ago." Let's take the more than 500 witnesses who saw Jesus
alive after His death and burial, and place them in a courtroom.
Do you realize that if each of those 500 people were to testify
for only six minutes, including cross-examination, you would have
an amazing 50 hours of firsthand testimony? Add to this the testimony
of many other eyewitnesses and you would well have the largest
and most lopsided trial in history.
Another factor crucial to interpreting Christ's appearances is
that He also appeared to those who were hostile or unconvinced.
and over again, I have read or heard people comment that Jesus
was seen alive after His death and burial only by His friends
and followers. Using that argument, they attempt to water down
the overwhelming impact of the multiple eyewitness accounts. But
that line of reasoning is so pathetic it hardly deserves comment.
No author or informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus as
being a follower of Christ. The facts show the exact opposite.
Saul despised Christ and persecuted Christ's followers. It was
a life-shattering experience when Christ appeared to him. Although
he was at the time not a disciple, he later became the apostle
Paul, one of the greatest witnesses for the truth of the resurrection.
If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings,
their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all
F. F. Bruce
argument that Christ's appearances were only to followers is an
argument for the most part from silence, and arguments from silence
can be dangerous. It is equally possible that all to whom Jesus
appeared became followers. No one acquainted with the facts can
accurately say that Jesus appeared to just "an insignificant few."
believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected in time and space by
the supernatural power of God. The difficulties of belief may
be great, but the problems inherent in unbelief present even greater
theories advanced to explain the resurrection by "natural causes"
are weak; they actually help to build confidence in the truth
of the resurrection.
THE WRONG TOMB?
A theory propounded by Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who
reported that the body was missing had mistakenly gone to the
wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to check up on
the women's statement must have also gone to the wrong tomb. We
may be certain, however, that Jewish authorities, who asked for
a Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus' body
from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location.
Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there!
the resurrection-claim was merely because of a geographical mistake,
the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the
body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all
time any rumor resurrection.
Another attempted explanation claims that the appearances of Jesus
after the resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations.
Unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances
of hallucinations, this theory also does not coincide with the
historical situation. Again, where was the actual body, and why
wasn't it produced?
DID JESUS SWOON?
Another theory, popularized by Venturini several centuries ago,
is often quoted today. This is the swoon theory, which says that
Jesus didn't die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of
blood. Everyone thought Him dead, but later He resuscitated and
the disciples thought it to be a resurrection. Skeptic David Friedrich
Strauss--certainly no believer in the resurrection--gave the deathblow
to any thought that Jesus revived from a swoon: "It is impossible
that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who
crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required
bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last
yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the
impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the
Prince of Life,
For the New Testament of Acts, the confirmation of historicity
is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity,
even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians
have long taken it for granted.
Classical Roman Historian
impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such
a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which
He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could
only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility
have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their
reverence into worship."
THE BODY STOLEN?
Then consider the theory that the body was stolen by the disciples
while the guards slept. The depression and cowardice of the disciples
provide a hard-hitting argument against their suddenly becoming
so brave and daring as to face a detachment of soldiers at the
tomb and steal the body. They were in no mood to attempt anything
theory that the Jewish or Roman authorities moved Christ's body
is no more reasonable an explanation for the empty tomb than theft
by the disciples. If the authorities had the body in their possession
or knew where it was, why, when the disciples were preaching the
resurrection in Jerusalem, didn't they explain: "Wait! We moved
the body, see, He didn't rise from the grave"?
if such a rebuttal failed, why didn't they explain exactly where
Jesus' body lay? If this failed, why didn't they recover the corpse,
put it on a cart, and wheel it through the center of Jerusalem?
Such an action would have destroyed Christianity--not in the cradle,
but in the womb!
THE RESURRECTION IS A FACT
Professor Thomas Arnold, for 14 years a headmaster of Rugby, author
of the famous, History of Rome, and appointed to the chair
of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value
of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar
said: "I have been used for many years to study the histories
of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those
who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the
history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence
of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the
great sign which God bath given us that Christ died and rose again
from the dead." Brooke Foss Westcott, an English scholar, said:
"raking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that
there is no historic incident better or more variously supported
than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption
that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency
in the proof of it."
REAL PROOF: THE DISCIPLES' LIVES
But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those
early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go
everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ?
there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts--prestige,
wealth, increased social status or material benefits--we might
logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted
and total allegiance to this "risen Christ ."
a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were
beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified.
Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking.
they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete
confidence in the truth of their message.
WHERE DO YOU STAND?
How do you evaluate this overwhelming historical evidence? What
is your decision about the fact of Christ's empty tomb? What do
you think of Christ?
I was confronted with the overwhelming evidence for Christ's resurrection,
I had to ask the logical question: "What difference does all this
evidence make to me? What difference does it make whether or not
I believe Christ rose again and died on the cross for my sins!'
The answer is put best by something Jesus said to a man who doubted--Thomas.
Jesus told him: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no
one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6).
the basis of all the evidence for Christ's resurrection, and considering
the fact that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship
with God, who would be so foolhardy as to reject Him? Christ is
alive! He is living today.
can trust God right now by faith through prayer. Prayer is talking
with God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your
words as He is with the attitude of your heart. If you have never
trusted Christ, you can do so right now.
prayer I prayed is: "Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying
on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and trust
You as my Savior. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me
eternal life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Thank
You that I can trust You."
McDowell, according to a recent survey, is one of the most
popular speakers among university students today. He has spoken
on more than 650 university and college campuses to more than
seven million people in 74 countries during the last 21 years.
Josh McDowell Ministry