Growing up I heard about Jesus being raised from the dead at a young age. After all we live in western civilization, deeply influenced by 2,000 years of Christian history, even if that influence has been decreasing. Like many Americans I grew up attending a church that celebrated Easter.
But as I got older I began to question the validity of the resurrection. Was the idea of Jesus’ resurrection any truer than the Easter bunny? Was this just a fanciful fairy-tale? As my teen-age years moved forward I began to conclude that people who were just really into religion (for some reason) made up Jesus’ resurrection. I mean really, Jesus rose from the dead?
During my freshman year, though I had very minimal interest, another guy from my floor gave me a book called “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell. In it, McDowell makes a case that the resurrection of Jesus is the most reasonable explanation of what happened to Jesus’ body. The argument goes something like this:WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM?
First, historically it is pretty indisputable that Jesus died on the cross at the hands of the Romans, and that soon after his burial Jesus’ grave was empty. We have an early tradition in the first century of some Judeans (the first Christians) who believed that Jesus rose from the dead. This belief was central to the rise of Christianity. With Jesus’ resurrection being so central to Christianity, all one needed to do in order to disprove the resurrection was to display Jesus’ body in order to discourage this belief. Just roll open the tomb and show them the goods. There is no historical evidence that anything like this happened. In fact, there is evidence in first century sources that both the Roman and Jewish authorities also found the grave to be empty. If the tomb was empty, then what happened to Jesus’ body?WHERE'S THE BODY?
Second, skeptical scholars have speculated that if Jesus’ tomb was empty then maybe somebody stole the body. It would be easy to conclude that Jesus’ own followers stole the body in order to propagate the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. They speculate that Jesus’ disciples lied when they proclaimed to the world that they saw Jesus in a resurrected state after his death.
However, the problem with this idea is that the implication is that Jesus’ followers would have knowingly died for a lie. Now we don’t have to go further back than 911 to see that many people throughout history have died for their religion. That in and of itself is not impressive. Yet, these martyrdoms are usually hundreds of years after the religion has already been founded. In the case of Christianity, if the disciples just made it all up it would be very strange indeed if they were willing to die for their lie. If I completely made up a testimony and someone held a gun to my head promising that I could go free if I simply relented, I know I would just take it back. But the historical evidence shows that Jesus’ disciples (with the exception of John) were martyred because they were propagating belief in a risen Jesus. Why would Jesus’ followers risk their lives to the point of death in order to continue to tell others about Jesus’ resurrection if they just made it up and hid Jesus’ body themselves?
Third, some skeptical scholars have speculated that maybe the Romans or the Jewish leaders took Jesus’ body. This idea is pretty easily refuted based on the statements above. If the Romans or Jews were so opposed to the early spread of Christianity (which they were) yet they also took Jesus’ body, why would they not put it on display for all to see?WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
There are other theories that are even more of a stretch, like the idea that Jesus’ disciples had an illusionary experience and thought they saw Jesus physically risen from the dead. Again, if Jesus’ appearance to the disciples was an illusion, why would the authorities not simply walk the early Christians to Jesus’ grave and show them his scarred and decaying body?
“What happened to Jesus’ body, why was the grave empty?” I believe regardless of one’s religious or non-religious views, every human being must answer this question. If Jesus did raise from the grave, it changes everything. There are many speculative answers to this question but no matter what your answer is, it is based on faith. The only question is: is your answer, based upon faith, the most reasonable explanation?