Did Jesus Really Die and Live Again?

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Did Jesus Really Die and Live Again?

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“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32 Acts 2:32This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
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).

One of the greatest proofs that Jesus is exactly who He said He was—the Son of God and the only One through whom eternal life is offered—is His resurrection from the dead.

His followers were convinced that He was the Messiah and the Son of God. His miracles, His sinless life and His teachings all proved to them who He was. But His resurrection confirms every claim Jesus made to all people for all time.

What is astounding is that Jesus put everything on the line with His own statements that He would die and be raised to life again. He foretold His own resurrection on several occasions. “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31 Mark 8:31And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
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).

When the scribes and Pharisees wanted a sign from Him, He said only one sign would be given: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 Matthew 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
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).

It is quite risky to foretell your own resurrection. Yet Jesus not only foretold His resurrection, but announced precisely when He would be resurrected.

So it comes down to this one event. How do we know that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead happened? If it didn’t happen just as He said, then we have no reason to believe that the way of life that Christ brought was any better or more right than any other religion. There would be nothing earthshaking about Jesus of Nazareth; He would be simply another religious fraud.

But if it did happen, there is one great difference between Jesus and all other religious leaders: Jesus’ teachings are true, and everything He said is true, and He is exactly who He claimed to be.

In his book Reasonable Faith, Dr. William Craig gives three great, independently established facts on which the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection rests: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the origin of the Christian faith (p. 272). Let’s examine the details and implications of each of these.

Did Jesus really die?

That Jesus died and was buried is one of the best-established facts about Jesus. The Bible says again and again that Jesus died. Some critics have argued that Jesus wasn’t completely dead when He was entombed. The Koran, considered holy by Muslims, claims that Jesus only seemed to be dead. Some skeptics have claimed that He merely appeared to be dead, possibly drugged, but revived while in the tomb and escaped to convince His disciples that He had risen from the dead.

But when we examine the facts, what such theories suggest is physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures and wounds was such that no man could have survived the crucifixion and three days and nights isolated in a dark, cold tomb.

To say that He was drugged ignores the record. He turned down the painkiller that was usually given to crucifixion victims (Mark 15:23 Mark 15:23And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
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). Later He was offered a sip of sour wine from a sponge, but there is no indication of a drugging effect on Jesus from this because of His obvious agony and final death cry (verses 36-37).

Death at the hands of Roman torturers and executioners was certain and could come from several causes. Journalist Lee Strobel, in an interview with Dr. Alexander Metherell, describes the death of Jesus from a medical point of view ( The Case for Christ, 1998, pp. 193-200).

Jesus had been beaten repeatedly and lashed with a Roman scourge before His crucifixion (Matthew 27:26 Matthew 27:26Then released he Barabbas to them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
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). The leather scourge, a type of whip, was designed to inflict maximum pain and damage on the victim. It was braided with pieces of bone and metal woven into the ends that tore into the flesh with each stroke. The scourge would rip into the underlying muscles and produce strips of quivering, bleeding flesh.

Eusebius, a third-century historian, reports that “the sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure” (quoted by Strobel, p. 193). Many victims would die from the scourging before they could be crucified.

The extreme pain, coupled with loss of blood, would often cause the victim to go into shock—his blood pressure would drop and cause fainting, collapse and intense thirst. The Gospels record that Jesus experienced these symptoms on His way to Golgotha. Weakened to the point of collapse, He couldn’t bear the weight of the beam He was carrying and a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to carry it part of the way for Him (Mark 15:21 Mark 15:21And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
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). When He was crucified, He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28 John 19:28After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst.
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).

He had already suffered savage beatings before the scourging. At His trial before the Sanhedrin, “they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?’” (Matthew 26:67-68 Matthew 26:67-68 67 Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, 68 Saying, Prophesy to us, you Christ, Who is he that smote you?
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). When they turned Him over to the Roman soldiers, they further brutalized Him, beating Him with their fists, slapping Him and shoving a crown of thorns on His head (Matthew 27:29-30 Matthew 27:29-30 29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it on his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! 30 And they spit on him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
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; Mark 15:16-19 Mark 15:16-19 16 And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. 17 And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, 18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! 19 And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit on him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.
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; John 19:3 John 19:3And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
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).

The extent of this beating is indicated in the prophecy of Isaiah 50:6 Isaiah 50:6I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
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: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (NIV).

Another prophecy in Isaiah 52:14 Isaiah 52:14As many were astonished at you; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
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is even more graphic: “His form, disfigured, lost all human likeness; his appearance so changed he no longer looked like a man” (REB). What this tells us is that He was so badly beaten, so bloodied and maimed, that He was scarcely recognizable as a human being.

Pilate appears to have thought that when he had Jesus brought out to the crowd after the beatings and scourging, He would present such a pitiable spectacle that it would satiate His accusers’ thirst for blood (John 19:1-6 John 19:1-6 1 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. 2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, 3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. 4 Pilate therefore went forth again, and said to them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no fault in him. 5 Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, Behold the man! 6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate said to them, Take you him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.
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). But their hatred of the bloodied man from Nazareth would not be satisfied. They insisted He be crucified.

The agony of crucifixion

Because of the terrible effects of these beatings and the scourging, from a medical standpoint Jesus would have already been in serious to critical condition even before He was taken away to be crucified (Alexander Metherell, M.D., quoted by Strobel, p. 196).

In a crucifixion, the Romans typically used iron nails, five to seven inches long and about three eighths of an inch square, driven into the victim’s wrists and feet to fasten him to the wooden members. The Bible says nails were driven through Jesus’ hands, but in the language of the day the wrist was considered part of the hand. Nails were driven into the wrists, between the arm bones, because the hands themselves could not support the weight of the body.

This placement of nails is supported by the 1968 discovery in Jerusalem of the bones of a man who had been crucified and buried in a first-century tomb. His right heel bone still had a large iron nail embedded in it, and one of his right forearm bones had a groove and wear marks consistent with a nail being driven between the two arm bones near his wrist.

The nails pounded through the wrists would have crushed the median nerve, the largest nerve going to the hand, causing indescribable pain. “The pain was absolutely unbearable,” says Dr. Metherell. “In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word: excruciating . Literally, excruciating means ‘out of the cross.’

“Think of that: they needed to create a new word, because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion” (quoted by Strobel, pp. 197-198). Nails driven through the feet would have brought similar pain.

We can’t know for sure whether Jesus was crucified on a simple stake or a cross with a crossbeam. Either way, being hung by His arms would have caused great stresses on His body. His arms would have been stretched several inches and both shoulders likely were dislocated.

The prophecy of Christ’s suffering in Psalms 22:14 Psalms 22:14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the middle of my bowels.
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refers to His tortured condition: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within me.”

Dr. Metherell continues with a description of the agonies Jesus endured: “Once a person is hanging in the vertical position…crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.

“After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he’d have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore” (Strobel, pp. 265-266).

What was the cause of Jesus’ death?

Many people assume that Jesus simply expired from the trauma or suffocated, which were the common causes of death in crucifixion. Various medical doctors have studied execution by crucifixion and come to similar conclusions. Some theologians and churches have taught that Jesus died of a broken heart. Can we know what actually killed Him?

Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah 12:10And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
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contains a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion. Referring to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, it says: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (NIV). Time and time again the Scriptures speak of the importance of Christ’s shed blood (Acts 20:28 Acts 20:28Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.
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; Ephesians 2:13 Ephesians 2:13But now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.
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; Hebrews 9:11-14 Hebrews 9:11-14 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
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; 1 Peter 1:18-19 1 Peter 1:18-19 18 For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
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). Jesus Himself said that the wine of the New Testament Passover represented “my blood…which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 Matthew 26:28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
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, NIV).

Clearly a central focus of Christ’s sacrifice was His blood, which He shed as a sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. Regrettably, this is obscured somewhat in John 19:30-34 John 19:30-34 30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. 31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they broke not his legs: 34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water.
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, which makes it appear that Jesus died and then later was stabbed by one of the Roman soldiers, “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34 John 19:34But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water.
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, NIV). However, there is a problem if this were the specific order of events, because dead bodies, once the heart has stopped its pumping action, no longer bleed like that.

This problem is resolved when we consider many older manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel, which contain words that appear in a few Bible translations but were left out of most modern versions. These missing words tell us the proper sequence of events.

The Twentieth Century New Testament, which includes these words, reads: “And about three [o’clock in the afternoon] Jesus called out loudly: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani’—that is to say, ‘O my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’ Some of those standing by heard this, and said [mistakenly]: ‘The man is calling for Elijah!’

“One of them immediately ran and took a sponge, and, filling it with common wine, put it on the end of a rod, and offered it to him to drink. But the rest said: ‘Wait and let us see if Elijah is coming to save him.’ However another man took a spear, and pierced his side; and water and blood flowed from it. But Jesus, uttering another loud cry, gave up his spirit” (Matthew 27:46-50 Matthew 27:46-50 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calls for Elias. 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. 50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
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).

The missing words, noted here in italics, show that Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear, uttered a loud cry and then died. Other versions that contain the missing words include the Moffatt Translation and the Rotherham Emphasized Bible, and various other Bible versions include a footnote or marginal reference noting the omitted words.

So does Matthew’s account conflict with John’s? No. Both describe the same events, but from different perspectives.

Matthew jumps immediately from Jesus’ death to a description of the temple veil being torn in half, while John focuses on the fact that, in contrast to the two criminals crucified with Jesus, not one of His bones was broken. John then explains parenthetically how Jesus had already died so that His bones did not need to be broken—His side had been pierced with a spear (John 19:31-34 John 19:31-34 31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they broke not his legs: 34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water.
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).

John then tells us in verse 36 that this took place in fulfillment of Psalms 34:20 Psalms 34:20He keeps all his bones: not one of them is broken.
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and the symbolism of the Passover lambs, which were to be slain and not have a single bone broken (Exodus 12:6 Exodus 12:6And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.
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, Exodus 12:46 Exodus 12:46In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall you break a bone thereof.
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; Numbers 9:12 Numbers 9:12They shall leave none of it to the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it.
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). The Passover lambs that had their blood shed to save the Israelites (Exodus 12:6-13 Exodus 12:6-13 6 And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the entrails thereof. 10 And you shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall you eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
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) pictured Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
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).

The final fatal blow

Continuing in John 19:37 John 19:37And again another scripture said, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
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, John explains that the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah 12:10And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
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that Jesus’ body would be pierced was fulfilled. What was this final, fatal thrust like that ended Jesus’ life?

John Lyle Cameron, M.D., explains: “The soldier was a Roman: he would be well trained, proficient, and would know his duty. He would know which part of the body to pierce in order that he might obtain a speedily fatal result or ensure that the victim was undeniably dead…

“The soldier, standing below our crucified Lord as He hung on the cross, would thrust upwards under the left ribs. The broad, clean cutting, two-edged spearhead would enter the left side of the upper abdomen, would open the…stomach, would pierce the diaphragm, would cut, wide open, the heart and great blood vessels, arteries and veins…, and would lacerate the lung.

“The wound would be large enough to permit the open hand to be thrust into it [compare John 20:24-27 John 20:24-27 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the LORD. But he said to them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the middle, and said, Peace be to you. 27 Then said he to Thomas, Reach here your finger, and behold my hands; and reach here your hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
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]. Blood…, together with water from the…stomach, would flow forth in abundance. The whole event as described by St. John must, indeed, have happened, for no writer could have presented in such coherent detail so recognizable an event, unless he or someone had actually witnessed its occurrence” (quoted by R.V.G. Tasker, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: John, 2000, pp. 212-213).

The idea that Jesus didn’t really die, that He fainted or was drugged and was later resuscitated, has no basis in fact when you consider the clear statements that He died. The apostle John had been an eyewitness to that death, having been right there with others as these events unfolded (John 19:25-35 John 19:25-35 25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold your son! 27 Then said he to the disciple, Behold your mother! And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. 28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst. 29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it on hyssop, and put it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. 31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they broke not his legs: 34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water. 35 And he that saw it bore record, and his record is true: and he knows that he said true, that you might believe.
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).

The Roman soldiers, too, knew He was dead. They may not have been medical experts, but they were used to seeing executions and knew when someone was dead. Before releasing the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate confirmed with the centurion overseeing the execution detail that Jesus was indeed dead (Mark 15:43-45 Mark 15:43-45 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly to Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 44 And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling to him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
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).

Even if we assume Jesus could have physically survived the crucifixion, how could He then have lived for three days and nights in a tomb, sealed away from any kind of medical care or treatment?

There is one other point we should make here. Assuming the seemingly impossible notion that a man could somehow have lived through all this, the accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples after the ordeal would have been just that much more impossible. And even if He had somehow managed it, He certainly couldn’t have appeared as One who would inspire His disciples to proclaim that He had been resurrected to a glorious and powerful state. He would’ve been a severely broken, wounded man—psychologically traumatized, physically crippled and maimed for life.

Any theory to explain that Jesus really didn’t die cannot be taken seriously in light of the clear evidence we have.

Jesus’ burial

Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a new tomb that Joseph had reserved for himself.

Because Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the same Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, he is unlikely to be a Christian invention. Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member,… taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43 Mark 15:43Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly to Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
American King James Version×
).

Given permission to take the body, Joseph “bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb” (verse 46).

No one trying to contrive and pawn off a fabrication would have invented a person who did not exist and say he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation. Members of the Sanhedrin were widely known. Because Joseph was a respected public figure, many people would have known the location of his tomb. If Jesus had not been buried in his tomb, the ruse would have been all too easy to expose.

Notice also the precautions taken to make sure nothing could happen to the body of Jesus once it had been placed in the tomb: “The next day…the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.”

“ ‘So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard” (Matthew 27:62-66 Matthew 27:62-66 62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together to Pilate, 63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64 Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. 65 Pilate said to them, You have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as you can. 66 So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
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, NIV).

Roman guards were placed around the tomb the day after Jesus’ burial. Surely they would have noticed had Jesus awakened from a near-death state or His body been stolen by His followers. Their orders were clear: They were to make sure nothing happened to the body of Jesus. If they failed at this duty, they could be put to death just as Jesus had been.

Both the Jews and the disciples of Christ would have known the location of this tomb. The women who would figure prominently in the discovery of the empty tomb observed where the tomb was and that Jesus was in fact laid inside it (Luke 23:55 Luke 23:55And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid.
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). They also knew a massive stone had been rolled over the entrance of the tomb (Mark 15:46-47 Mark 15:46-47 46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone to the door of the sepulcher. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
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) and knew it had to be rolled back when they returned to the same location to apply the burial spices they had prepared (Mark 16:3 Mark 16:3And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?
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).

There was no question in the mind of the women and His other disciples that Jesus was in that tomb.

Women discover the empty tomb

Mark also records for us the detail that three women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—approached the tomb before sunrise to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. Finding the heavy stone rolled away, they entered the tomb and were shocked and afraid when they saw “a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side.” The man told the women, “He is risen!” and instructed them to go and tell Jesus’ other disciples (Mark 16:1-8 Mark 16:1-8 1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he said to them, Be not affrighted: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee: there shall you see him, as he said to you. 8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
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).

In the society of the day, the testimony of women was held in such low regard that they were not even permitted to serve as witnesses in a court of law. How remarkable it is, then, that women were the acknowledged discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb!

Had someone fabricated the story at a later date, as many critics assume to have been the case, the plot surely would have made male disciples such as Peter and John the discoverers of the empty tomb. That it was women who were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb is best explained by the straightforward truth that the women named were indeed the actual discoverers.

The Gospel writers faithfully recorded what for them was an awkward and potentially embarrassing detail.

Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that the tomb was empty

What was the reaction of Jesus’ enemies to the disciples’ stunning declaration that Jesus was alive again after having been publicly executed?

Their reaction is very revealing. Did they respond that the disciples were lying, that Jesus’ body still lay in the rock-hewn tomb? No. Did they claim that the disciples were hallucinating? No. Instead, they bribed the Roman soldiers responsible for guarding the sealed tomb to spread what they knew was a lie . They told them to spread a cover story, to claim that Jesus’ disciples had come and stolen His body while they slept, and that they would cover for the soldiers if they got in trouble with the Roman governor.

Read the account in Matthew 28:11-15 Matthew 28:11-15 11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed to the chief priests all the things that were done. 12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money to the soldiers, 13 Saying, Say you, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
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. This was the best excuse the authorities could come up with to explain why Jesus’ body was missing and could not be found!

Here we have evidence from the very enemies of Christ that His tomb was empty. The best rationale they could come up with they knew to be a lie. There is no other explanation for how the tomb became empty except that Jesus was resurrected bodily and left the tomb.

Eyewitness accounts of His appearances

On multiple occasions and under various circumstances individuals and groups of people saw Jesus alive after knowing He had died.

Notice what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brothers at once; of whom the greater part remain to this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
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).

How did Paul receive this information? He was acquainted and had spoken with the people involved. He had heard the account in their own words. Most who could verify it were still alive. He is making this assertion knowing he could be proven wrong if it were not true!

Such eyewitness accounts cannot be dismissed as fantasy. They must refer to actual events that were witnessed by many people alive at the time of Paul’s writing. Paul even lists the names of the best known of the witnesses so others could verify the facts of Jesus’ resurrection for themselves!

Appearances in bodily form

All of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels are in bodily form. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” He asked His apostles when He appeared to them, as recorded in Luke 24:36-43 Luke 24:36-43 36 And as they thus spoke, Jesus himself stood in the middle of them, and said to them, Peace be to you. 37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. 38 And he said to them, Why are you troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have. 40 And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said to them, Have you here any meat? 42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. 43 And he took it, and did eat before them.
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.

He invited them, “Behold [look at] My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When they still did not believe, perhaps because it was too good to be true, He asked them for food, which He took and ate in front of them.

Then there is the occasion when Jesus appeared to all His apostles, including Thomas, who apparently was missing on the previous occasion. Thomas was adamant that he would not believe unless he saw Jesus’ wounds with his own eyes and felt the wounds with his own hands (John 20:24-29 John 20:24-29 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the LORD. But he said to them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the middle, and said, Peace be to you. 27 Then said he to Thomas, Reach here your finger, and behold my hands; and reach here your hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said to him, My LORD and my God. 29 Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
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). Yet he was absolutely convinced when Jesus appeared to them all and specifically invited Thomas to verify that He was indeed the same Jesus whom Thomas and the rest had known for so long.

On yet another occasion Jesus appeared to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. On this occasion He performed a miracle, fixed and ate a breakfast of bread and fish with them and gently rebuked Peter for returning to his life as a fisherman rather than taking care of the far more important business of tending to His Church (John 21:1-23 John 21:1-23 1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, I go a fishing. They say to him, We also go with you. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5 Then Jesus said to them, Children, have you any meat? They answered him, No. 6 And he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat to him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. 8 And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. 9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, Bring of the fish which you have now caught. 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12 Jesus said to them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples dared ask him, Who are you? knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then comes, and takes bread, and gives them, and fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. 15 So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my lambs. 16 He said to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my sheep. 17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Love you me? And he said to him, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not. 19 This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said to him, Follow me. 20 Then Peter, turning about, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrays you? 21 Peter seeing him said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus said to him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? follow you me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brothers, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not to him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you?
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).

It’s been suggested that these appearances were merely hallucinations on the part of the disciples. But this theory cannot account for the fact that the appearances were in different places, at different times and in front of different groups of people. Jesus appeared in ways that were convincing to all the apostles. These appearances left no doubt in their minds—including that of Thomas, who staked out his position that he wouldn’t believe unless he literally saw and felt the Jesus whom he knew.

The disciples’ astounding transformation

One of the major proofs of the resurrection of Jesus is the dramatic change in the lives of His disciples.

The Gospel accounts are not flattering to the apostles (which is further evidence that they didn’t fabricate the story). At the time of Christ’s arrest and trial, all His apostles forsook Him and fled (Matthew 26:56 Matthew 26:56But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
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). Peter, who vowed that he would always stand by Jesus, even cursed and swore in denying that he knew Him (Matthew 26:69-75).

Jesus, we remember, foretold Peter’s weakness and even forewarned His apostles that they would also stumble because of their association with Him (Matthew 26:31-35 Matthew 26:31-35 31 Then said Jesus to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. 32 But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. 33 Peter answered and said to him, Though all men shall be offended because of you, yet will I never be offended. 34 Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, That this night, before the cock crow, you shall deny me thrice. 35 Peter said to him, Though I should die with you, yet will I not deny you. Likewise also said all the disciples.
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).

Within a short time, however, we see a dramatic change. We find the apostles speaking to large crowds and openly declaring that Jesus had risen from the dead. Far from running away and hiding, now they boldly confronted the civil and religious authorities with the fact that Jesus had been killed and raised to life again.

They defied orders threatening them with imprisonment if they continued to speak about this man Jesus (Acts 4:1-23 Acts 4:1-23 1 And as they spoke to the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came on them, 2 Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold to the next day: for it was now eventide. 4 However, many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. 5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, 6 And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the middle, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have you done this? 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said to them, You rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, 9 If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the weak man, by what means he is made whole; 10 Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him does this man stand here before you whole. 11 This is the stone which was set at nothing of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. 14 And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle has been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. 17 But that it spread no further among the people, let us straightly threaten them, that they speak from now on to no man in this name. 18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, judge you. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. 22 For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was showed. 23 And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
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). They courageously faced beatings and endured death threats because they preached that Jesus was alive and was the Messiah (Acts 5:17-42 Acts 5:17-42 17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, 18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. 19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, 20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. 21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned and told, 23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. 24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. 25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straightly command you that you should not teach in this name? and, behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree. 31 Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him. 33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. 34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; 35 And said to them, You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do as touching these men. 36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nothing. 37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nothing: 39 But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest haply you be found even to fight against God. 40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
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).

Whereas only weeks before they had denied they even knew Him, now nothing could stop them from openly publicizing what they obviously knew to be true. Only one explanation for their new unshakable belief even in the face of imprisonment and execution is plausible: They saw Jesus Christ alive after they knew He was dead. They spoke with Him, ate with Him, received extensive instructions from Him, spent time with Him and touched Him.

These men gave the remaining years of their lives, and ultimately life itself, for the One they knew had conquered death. Had they all been only participants in a giant hoax, could we believe these men would give their lives for something they knew to be a lie?

Peter’s remarkable change

The apostle Peter is the best known of the disciples whose lives were so remarkably changed. His boldness on the Feast of Pentecost was amazing. At the temple he addressed a huge crowd of people, from which 3,000 became disciples of Jesus the Messiah.

Peter spoke to people who lived in Jerusalem and all of Judea as well as many other parts of the Roman world. They were in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, as God had commanded in Deuteronomy 16:16 Deuteronomy 16:16Three times in a year shall all your males appear before the LORD your God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:
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. Peter reminded them that they all knew who Jesus was and what had happened to Him seven weeks earlier at the Passover feast (Acts 2:22-24 Acts 2:22-24 22 You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the middle of you, as you yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be held of it.
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).

Peter, who had denied his acquaintance with Jesus before He died, now fearlessly proclaimed to the people that they were the ones who had crucified the promised Messiah— but that God had raised Him up.

The reaction of the people is quite telling. There is no denial, no outcry, no attempt to stone Peter for this apparently outrageous charge. Many of them knew of the events surrounding the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. They knew that many—perhaps even some of those standing there listening to Peter—had shouted for Christ’s blood. They knew of the strange disappearance of the body from the tomb, a mystery no one had been able to solve.

They knew or had heard of other strange events that took place at the time: the mysterious darkness that descended on the land as Jesus was being crucified, people being resurrected from the grave and walking the streets of Jerusalem, and the massive veil in the magnificent temple tearing from top to bottom with no apparent cause.

How were these events to be explained? What did they mean? Peter was giving them the amazing explanation—an explanation that would require them to make a decision that would affect the rest of their lives.

Peter contrasted the empty tomb of Jesus with the nearby tomb of Israel’s greatest king, David. “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29 Acts 2:29Men and brothers, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day.
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). His point was unmistakable: Everybody knew where David’s tomb was and that this was where the king’s body was buried. But Jesus, unlike David, was no longer bound by the grave!

Jesus of Nazareth, Peter declared, had been raised up by God, and many witnesses could testify to that fact. Once again there was no argument from the crowd. On the contrary, the people asked what they should do now that they, too, were convinced that Peter was right. Peter replied that they should repent and be baptized and that they also would receive the Holy Spirit, as the disciples had on that very day (Acts 2:37-38 Acts 2:37-38 37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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).

The only way to explain the dramatic transformation of the disciples from a frightened band ready to throw everything away and flee back to Galilee is that Jesus left behind dramatic and powerful evidence: an empty tomb and then multiple bodily appearances. Ordinary men from ordinary walks of life, who had denied their Master and failed Him miserably, suddenly changed almost overnight into dynamic leaders of a Church that was to defy and challenge the ancient pagan world.

James, half brother of Jesus, becomes a believer

Perhaps an even more remarkable transformation took place in the life of James, the half brother of Jesus (James was the natural son of Mary and Joseph while Jesus was the son of Mary and God the Father). Notice how J.P. Moreland describes events in James’ life as recorded in the Bible and contemporary history:

“Why did these men change? Why did they undergo hardship, persecution, pressure, and martyrdom? Consider James the brother of Jesus. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, tells us that he died a martyr’s death for his faith in his brother. Yet the Gospels tell us that during Jesus’ life, he was an unbeliever and opposed Jesus.

“Why did he change? What could cause a Jew to believe that his own brother was the very Son of God and to be willing to die for such a belief? It certainly was not a set of lovely teachings from a carpenter from Nazareth. Only the appearance of Jesus to James (1 Corinthians 15:7 1 Corinthians 15:7After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
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) can explain his transformation.

“As with James, so it is with the other disciples. One who denies the resurrection owes us an explanation of this transformation which does justice to the historical facts” ( Scaling the Secular City, 1987, pp. 178-179).

Paul the persecutor is transformed

The apostle Paul is another remarkable example. As a devout Jewish rabbi and strict Pharisee, he was resolutely convinced that Jesus’ resurrection had not taken place. Paul persecuted members of the early Church for believing in such nonsense. He staked his whole mission in life on his conviction that the resurrection was a fabrication and the movement was a threat to every tradition he held sacred.

This new movement, he was convinced, deserved to be stamped out by any means, including imprisonment and execution (Acts 22:4 Acts 22:4And I persecuted this way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.
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)—and this would be his personal crusade. Then something happened. Jesus Christ appeared to Paul and spoke to him.

Paul was not a man given to the vivid imaginations of superstitious people. He was a levelheaded intellectual. Yet he later was prepared to defend his zeal for Christ before hostile mobs as well as governors, kings and other rulers. In the end Paul was prepared to die for what he knew was true: Jesus was indeed the Messiah and was alive and well at the right hand of God.

The existence of the Christian Church

Dr. Moreland puts it this way: “What cause can be postulated to explain the fact that the Christian church transformed the world of the first century? The odds for its success were antecedently poor. Several religions existed in the first century and some of the elements of Christianity can be found in them. Why did Christianity succeed, especially when it was such an exclusivist faith which frowned on syncretism? What caused the church to get started? There never was a form of Christianity which did not emphasize the centrality of the death and resurrection of a divine Jesus.

“The resurrection of Jesus is the explanation the church herself gave, and it is the only adequate one. Cambridge New Testament scholar C.F.D. Moule argues this way: ‘If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?’” (ibid., pp. 180-181).

That Jesus Christ really was resurrected from the dead is the only truly reasonable conclusion.