Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
The claim that Jesus was raised from the dead is the most vital point in the Bible. Without it, Christianity is a waste of time (1 Cor 15:12-19). It is important that we know why we should believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, because there are many theories that try to counteract the resurrection story.
One theory holds that the disciples of Jesus stole the body from the tomb. This is actually the oldest theory because it dates back to the time of the event (Matthew 28:11-15). However, this argument can be refuted by the fact that none of the disciples of Jesus defended him when he was betrayed (Matthew 26:56), and one disciple, Peter, even denied him three times (Matthew 29:69-75). The disciples were in hiding after He was crucified and were as surprised by his resurrection as everyone else. The soldiers who were charged to guard the tomb knew that their lives were at stake, if anyone came to steal the body. They were to protect it or die trying. Another refutation of the theft theory is that all but one of the disciples of Jesus were martyred (in various violent ways), maintaining that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead. If they had been lying, they would not have gone through so much suffering because of Him.
Another theory holds that Jesus played dead on the cross and then was put in the tomb. He recovered sufficiently enough over just a few hours that He could get out, find his disciples, and tell them to spread the lie that He had risen. This theory has many weak points. First, it does not take into account the true level of torture that Jesus would have gone through: the scourging, the lack of food and water, the time spent on the cross, and the sword in his side. In order to get out of the tomb, He would have had to wrestle off a significant amount of spices and wrappings (Luke 24:56), roll a heavy stone away (Matthew 27:60), overpower a group of armed Roman guards (Matthew 27:65-66), find the disciples’ hiding place, and get through a locked door. Overall, this simply does not seem possible for a crucified man to accomplish. It would take only a quick Google search to find the work of modern doctors, who have explained the death of Jesus as fact based on the combination of both blood and water that flowed from his body when pierced by the spear. That only happens when a person is truly dead.
Some say that Jesus simply had an identical twin that no one knew about who took His place on the cross. Jesus would have then gone to the disciples after the twin was killed, and He would have made them think that He had risen from the dead. This is a very weak argument because Jesus would have had to go against His own teachings in order for this to work (besides the fact that the twin would have to have played along with the plot!). It also does not explain the empty tomb, which is a known fact from both Christian and secular historical sources.
A widely popular belief is that the women who were going to Jesus’ tomb got lost and went to the wrong tomb. When they found it empty, they thought He had risen. This theory makes no sense, even when you take extreme grief into account. The women who were going to the tomb had just been there to prepare Jesus for burial on Friday night, and of course the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers, so it would have been easy to spot on Sunday morning. This theory also does not account for the fact that the Jews could have easily destroyed Christianity by presenting the body to them. A body was never produced (even a wrong body!), so obviously this belief does not work.
The most popular theory of all is the legend theory. It states that Jesus was never raised from the dead but was left to rot on the cross. A short time later, the apostles decided that what happened to Jesus did not matter, but that they could spread the gospel anyway. This theory, in my opinion, has the most flaws. It does not account for the fact that the Jews claimed that the body was stolen, and the fact that the tomb was empty. The story is also hard to believe as a legend, because the apostles began preaching to people in the same city that the events took place. If it was false, anyone in the city could have exposed the apostles as frauds. Besides, the empty tomb was discovered by women. In those days, the testimony of women was not accepted. If the apostles were trying to make a legend, it would have been more likely that they would have used more reliable people, like themselves.
It is also notable that the resurrection isn’t “just a Christian story.” It has been told and believed by secular historians of the day like Josephus as well, and Jesus was so influential that the calendar of years starts over with Him.
The countless theories that have been proposed don’t hold water. The only story that makes sense is the true story that the apostles told and recorded for us. If the resurrection really happened, then everyone should believe it. Do you? If not, why not? We should be willing to tell it to everyone and to die for it, just as the apostles did and so did many others since that time.
“And HE said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned…So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven …and they went out and preached everywhere…” Mark 16:15-20
- Ben Smith