Honest Skeptic or Stubborn Scoffer? — Analysis of the Resurrection

Are you an honest skeptic or a stubborn scoffer?

— A historical analysis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was either the greatest event in human history or else a cruel hoax. Where do you stand? As the apostle Paul wrote (1 Cor 15:14): “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” But if he is risen . . . well, that changes everything, if you have the sense to think it through.

Let’s stipulate that Biblical Christianity rises and falls on the historical truth of the resurrection. That’s what this booklet is about: to help you get over whatever intellectual barriers you have so you can come face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ — your Creator, your Judge, and hopefully (if you choose) your Saviour. You may have additional “intellectual” barriers associated with evolution, the origin of evil in the world, what happens to people who never hear the Gospel, etc. Those are easily answered, but outside the scope of this short booklet.

The discussion below is from the following viewpoint: Take the presupposition that the New Testament record is the inerrant, inspired word of God. And then observe whether all the evidence conforms to this foundation, or doesn’t. (It does.) Is this record internally consistent? Does the behavior of the parties involved conform to common sense and human experience? How do the Gospels, the eyewitness testimonies of the four evangelists, serve as a foundation for the early history of Christianity — namely, could the historical events pertaining to the early churches in the first two centuries have any other explanation but that the New Testament record is true? And, not least, do the sum of the parts, and the whole itself, have the “ring of truth” that would serve to transform the life of an individual in the 21st century, as we read of the lives revolutionized in the 1st?

This tract is written for the reader who is seeking truth, and not for a determined scoffer. If you care about the meaning of your life and the certainty of your death and judgment to come, then begin by investing some time in reading the accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as found in the last few chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — 4 eyewitness accounts that transformed the world. Then read a few chapters of Luke’s account of the history of the early churches in the New Testament book of Acts.

By the way, the “textbook” for this mini-course is the King James Bible. Don’t be satisfied with watered down, error-ridden modern translations. The KJB is the only English translation you can trust. We could prove that to you, but that’s another course!

If you’re still a scorner at heart, I don’t expect you’ve read even this far. Until you open your mind a bit, there is no hope, as the Bible repeatedly attests. “A scorner seeketh wisdom and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.” (Prov 14:6) It is the Lord that “giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” (Prov 2:6) The promise is made to all persons of all ages: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” (Is 55:6) The Lord himself implored, “Seek, and ye shall find.” (Matt 7:7) If the Bible is not true and there is no Saviour, then there is no hope for anyone and life itself is short, mean, and pointless.

But what if God’s word is true? What if there is, indeed, “technology” to overcome death? What if the exclusive license for that technology is in the hands of Jesus, God manifest in the flesh. Is it not worth a few hours of your time to explore and see if there is a God who will keep his promise — namely, that if you seek him, you will find him? At the end of this booklet we will explain to you what you must do if you come to believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not enough, of course, just to believe in the manner of intellectual assent. If Christ is risen, that must change everything. And you have a decision to make. But first let us turn to various evidences for the resurrection and objections raised by scoffers.

1. Did the disciples steal the body?

This objection was dutifully recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, that the idea of a theft was “commonly reported among the Jews.” The absurdity begins with the picture of a band of terrified disciples, having lost their leader (Jesus) to the public horror and humiliation of Roman crucifixion, quickly regrouping and creating a deception to convince the world that Jesus was risen. After scattering in fright the night before the cross, they now somehow sneak past a band of soldiers to roll (noisily) aside a huge tombstone, and steal away the body.

The practical difficulties are not the main issue, although they should suffice to discredit this charge. The truly unbelievable part of this scenario is the moral character on display throughout the New Testament, in the actions and writings of the very disciples who allegedly create a new cult based on a lie. These men condemned deceit and created a church culture of utter selflessness and honesty. Honesty to the point of yielding their own lives to torture and murder in the years following. Men do not die for something they know to be a lie. Men will indeed die for a lie, such as Islamic suicide bombers. But for the disciples (not just the eleven, but the hundreds who claimed to see the resurrected Christ), to avoid martyrdom, all they had to do was admit that they had been lying. They had every motivation to recant their claims, including loss of family, friends, livelihood, home, health, and life. And no credible motivation to persevere unto death, since they knew whether Christ was truly risen or not. These circumstances are unprecedented in history.

Ultimately, the character of the disciples was just an imperfect reflection of their Master, who walked with them for three years. Jesus affirmed to them repeatedly that He and the Father were one. The Jewish leaders understood that Jesus claimed deity. They tried to kill him several times before he willingly yielded to the cross. Importantly, Jesus told his disciples that he would rise from the dead. This was the preeminent sign that he attached to his life on earth. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, his entire life’s testimony would be negated, and it is incredible that his followers would create a new cult from the ashes of a false teacher.

In short, without a resurrection, there would have been no Christianity, no New Testament, no Bible, and the last two thousand years of world history would have been entirely different.

2. Did the Jewish or Roman leaders steal the body?

Let’s dispense with this one quickly. To destroy the credibility of Peter, James, John, and the rest of the disciples, and to squash the new movement at its start, Jewish or Roman leaders had merely to produce the body or circulate the facts of its relocation. By the way, the historical record is vacant of any objections to the fact of the empty tomb. The problem is in the disposition of the body. That leads us to point 3.

3. Why was Jerusalem the focal point of this new religion?

Why not in the friendly neighborhood of Galilee — the spiritual home base of the Lord and his disciples? If the resurrection were a scam, nothing would be harder than to make the case publicly and at the risk of liberty and life in Jerusalem, within a tee shot of the garden tomb. And what of that tomb . . .

4. If the resurrection was bogus, why wasn’t Christianity split?

In the three plus years that Jesus preached in Israel, there were many thousands that followed him from venue to venue and loved his teaching. Multitudes would have been grateful for his healings and compassion. Even if you discount the healings, it is undisputed by historians of all stripes that Jesus had enormous impact on the minds and hearts of the people of Israel. So then . . . if a small cabal formed to claim that a resurrected Christ was behind their leadership, would not many — probably a majority of those thousands mentioned above — have continued to love the memory of Jesus and his teachings, while simply disbelieving the claims of Peter, etc.? The garden tomb would doubtless have enjoyed many pilgrimages to commemorate the life and unfortunate death of Jesus. Rumors of alternative burial sites would have abounded. But there is no record in history of any such splits among the early Christians. The testimonies of the resurrected Christ were evidently so powerful that they overwhelmed any possibility of an alternative faith based on the life of Jesus. In fact, we find the miraculous events recorded in the book of Acts to represent stamps of God’s approval on the testimonies of the apostles.

It was only in the centuries to follow, right on up to modern times, from the gnostics of the 2nd century to the denominational modernists of the last few centuries, that we see splits over the virgin birth, deity, and resurrection of Christ. In the times of the eyewitnesses, church faith, doctrine, and polity were unified on the simplicity of the Biblical record.

5. Maybe Jesus didn’t die on the cross.

No serious student of history and of Roman crucifixion takes the so-called “swoon” fantasy seriously. The scourging that Jesus suffered before he was forced to carry his own cross was sufficient to have killed most men outright. The prophet Isaiah reports that “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” The beatings, the scourging, the crown of thorns, climaxed by the bloody horror of crucifixion — it is simply not credible that Jesus survived the cross. The Romans were indeed experts in meting out death. Please re-read the Gospel accounts. The spear in the Lord’s side produced water and blood. The heart’s sack was already distended with water, a clear indication of death before the soldier thrust his spear.

Admittedly, Pilate was a touch surprised that Jesus had died as soon as he did. Crucifixion was intended to be drawn out as miserably long as possible. But it was Jesus who “gave up the ghost.” He laid down his life when the sacrifice (for you, for me, for the world) was “finished.” The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves crucified that day to accelerate asphyxiation and death. They merely used the spear to doublecheck in the case of Jesus. If this band of soldiers was somehow incompetent up to that point, the spear settled the issue.

A Biblical aside . . . Note that there were three hours of darkness before the final moments of life. That period was doubtless when Jesus became sin itself, and the wrath of God was visited upon him. The darkness is a kindly veil over what was truly the most horrific period in the universe’s history — when the eternal Son of God suffered hell on the cross for the sins of those who put him there: you and me.

But back to the physical. Suppose that somehow he survived all that no man could survive. How did he recuperate from such deadly wounds to unwrap himself from many yards of tightly bound cloth, head to foot, and escape from the sealed tomb? And in such a pitiable state, how did he fool his followers into thinking that he was resurrected, when he would have required help beyond any conceivable medical technology to recover his strength? And then what — did he hide out until he died, while his disciples risked their lives to spread the lie that he ascended bodily to heaven?

6. Were the disciples a likely group to overturn the world?

Note first that the eleven were unanimous in their testimony. Considering the danger (remember that their leader had just been crucified), isn’t it interesting that there were no defections? (Judas Iscariot was out before the crucifixion.) And then quickly a band of 120 were in fervent prayer together. And then 3000 converts in a day, and then thousands more, to spread, as Frank Morrison termed it: “Only from an intensely heated center of burning zeal could this vast field of lava have been thrown out from a tiny country like Palestine to the limits of the Roman world.”

What a motley band, including simple fishermen, a tax collector, and women of various reputations. We know these people better than we know anyone in ancient history, including kings. These lives were utterly transformed, as were the lives of those who believed their testimony in the years ahead. Over the next three centuries the Romans instigated ten distinct decades-long periods of intense persecution, while the churches grew stronger and stronger. The first major Roman persecution, under Nero and just three decades after the resurrection, was launched not because of threatened Christian insurrection, but because of mere refusal to worship the emperor as a god. Persecutions were systematic and widespread, attesting the pervasive spread of the Gospel. Yet ancient writings (by enemies of the Christians!) admit that the believers were loyal citizens, honest, monogamous, and kind to one another.

The New Testament doctrines center on the love of God manifested through the cross of Jesus Christ, the victorious resurrection, the preaching of this Gospel, and the love of the brethren for each other and for their neighbors. Christianity did not spread through the sword, as Islam did centuries later, and continues to do so today. The Gospel has always spread through the love of God shone through the lives of the followers of the carpenter born in Bethlehem.

The character of the apostles is reinforced by the bald openness of the New Testament accounts. We see the lives of these men displayed warts and all: Peter’s impetuousness, anger, and actions provoking rebuke from the Lord; Thomas’ embarrassing doubts; the cowardly flight of the eleven upon the Lord’s arrest; and the painful details of Peter’s three denials. James, the Lord’s half-brother, was once one of the skeptical siblings of Jesus. But after the resurrection, we see him born again and taking the principal leadership of the church at Jerusalem. If the Bible were merely of man, the flaws of the founders would be covered up or at least “spun”! Compare the revisionist histories associated with the founders of Mormonism, the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially Islam.

Christianity did not suffer significant weakening or corruption until Constantine married it to paganism and established it as the state church. That produced far more trouble over the centuries to follow as the Roman Catholic Church came into existence in the 4th and 5th centuries, and in turn began to persecute the true Bible-believing local churches. By the way, the crusades launched by the pagan Roman Catholic Church against Islam (and vice-versa) were fully matched in intensity by the persecutions of the RCC against true Christians for the next 1500 years after Constantine. But back to our main topic . . .

7. Perhaps it was a small plot and the rest can be explained by emotionalism.

Please take the time to study the book of Acts carefully, especially chapters 2 and 17. An emotional following might have been more credible with a launching point in Galilee, as already suggested. But the Jewish center of the universe, Jerusalem, demanded much reasoning and, dare we say it, proof, to create converts. Peter’s sermon in chapter 2, of which we most certainly have the barest outline, is a reasoned argument based on Jewish history and Scripture. Furthermore, if there was any doubt about the tomb being empty, or any serious challenge to the credibility of the disciples, the results would have been failure at best, or imprisonment and death at worst.

Turning to Paul in Acts 17:22-31, we see him making a case for God — the one and only Creator — to a mix of atheists/evolutionists and multi-theistic pagans. Throughout Paul’s ministry we see him reasoning and disputing, working to turn the minds of intelligent men and women to the true God. (Acts 18:4, 17:16-17)

8. Just who was Paul, once Saul of Tarsus?

Glad you asked. As you read the book of Acts and the letters of Paul in the New Testament, you’ll see a highly educated Roman citizen, and yet a zealous Pharisee, of the strictest Jewish sect, a hater and persecuter of the Christians, and a murderer by his own admission. His confrontation with the resurrected Jesus Christ, as recorded in Acts 9 and amplified in chapters 22 and 26, produces a 180 degree turnaround. Paul becomes the lead missionary for the western world, suffering repeated persecution and ultimately giving his life for the testimony of the resurrection. Paul’s conversion must be explained by the skeptic. His legacy is merely the rapid growth of the Christian churches in Asia Minor and Europe during the 1st century.

Two young, well-connected British philosophers of the early 18th century determined to attack the foundations of Christianity, specifically the resurrection of Christ and the miraculous conversion of Paul. Gilbert West committed to undermine the resurrection through extensive historical analysis and Lord Lyttleton explored the case of Paul. Meeting after some time had passed, they sheepishly (and disturbingly) admitted to each other that they had come to conclusions opposite to their presumptions. In 1747 West published the book Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the flyleaf he quoted “Blame not before thou hast examined the truth.”

9. Isn’t it “unscientific” to believe in the resurrection?

It is true that medical science has no means of reviving a body dead for three days. And that no one outside of the records of Scripture has seen someone so revived. Science is the application of known physical laws to observations in the present. Science involves hypothesis, experimentation, modeling, and synthesis to establish theories and laws that allow us to make sense of this present world. Operational science, however, does not claim to embrace all truth for all time. There are no laboratory instruments, for example, to measure truth, beauty, morality, and all those qualities that make human life meaningful. More importantly, man’s operational science says nothing about the Creator God who made this universe. If you have a fundamental difficulty in believing the resurrection, you likely disbelieve Genesis 1:1 . . . “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Given Genesis 1:1, why is it so inconceivable that God could raise the dead? And given the reality of God as presented in the Bible, why imagine that God has no purpose in his creation? In fact, God invested you as a living soul, made in His image, so that you might live with him in fellowship and glory forever. If you choose.

By the way, arrogance is inbred in the scientific community. The simplest of all physical systems is the hydrogen atom — one proton and one electron. Yet there is no scientist, no PhD, no Nobel prize winner who can tell you just what that electron is doing in that atom. Quantum theory gives us a probabilistic method to make some useful predictions, but the theory is certifiably incapable of specifying what is really going on between the two particles. At the other end of the complexity scale, consider human consciousness. After over a century of intense research, no one has a clue how interactions of neurons, synapses, and the configuration of the brain relates to the “blueness” you perceive when you look at the sky. Or worse, your awareness that you enjoy the blue sky. Could it be that mind — and by extension soul and spirit — go beyond the pitiful limits of human science?

10. Is the resurrection credible to intelligent, well-educated people?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ, not to mention the rest of his life, is the most vigorously investigated topic of ancient history. The greatest of scholars have examined it and many have been converted from skepticism to an active faith in the risen Lord.

Simon Greenleaf, the distinguished professor who put Harvard law school on the map in the 19th century, has been called the greatest authority on legal evidences in the history of the world. When he tackled the case of the resurrection, he concluded without reservation that the event was historical and the Gospel accounts utterly reliable.

Frank Morrison was a British lawyer who set out to write a book repudiating the resurrection. During his research, he became a born again believer, and published the book Who Moved the Stone? to recount his personal transformation and the evidence that convinced him. Lew Wallace similarly intended to write a book to deny the deity of Christ and eventually published the novel Ben Hur, defending the Biblical accounts.

In recent times, Lee Strobel, a skeptical and cynical investigative reporter, was challenged by his newly converted wife to apply his talents to see whether the Bible stands up to reason and criticism. Strobel was first impressed by the awesome changes (for the better) that came over his wife through her conversion. That prompted him to follow the same path that Morrison, Wallace, and many others have taken through history. Strobel became a Christian and has published several books in defense of the faith once delivered to the saints.

This author, too, was once an atheist, a determined skeptic, certain that the Bible was fantasy and that life was to be lived only for self-gratification. When challenged as a young man with the transformed lives of a Christian family who befriended him, he was open to explore the foundations of Biblical belief. He became a Christian whose faith has only been strengthened as he eventually acquired five academic degrees, including a Ph.D. in engineering, and enjoyed a long and successful career in scientific research.

11. Finally, is the resurrection relevant to you?

Perhaps at this point you are willing to believe “the facts” of the resurrection, and the truth of the New Testament record itself. Is that enough? No — intellectual assent just adds to your accountability before God. You see, if you truly believe, your life will change. If you believed that your house was on fire, you would flee. Now, if you truly believe that you are a sinner, one heartbeat from hell, you will do whatever you need to do to escape.

Consider this — in the next 24 hours, your heart will beat about 100,000 times. You don’t control one of those heartbeats. When you die . . . and that’s guaranteed . . . where will you be? Heaven? Hell? Or are you foolish enough to think that you (mind/soul/consciousness) have no reality apart from your present flesh? If you “believe” that, you enter into a contradiction immediately: the atoms of your brain have no capacity to reason. How is it even possible for you to decide between truth and error, logic and illogic, right and wrong? Let’s at least assume that there is a YOU, and you can find out what the truth is about the greatest question facing any man, woman, or child: What lies beyond your death?

What are the facts of your case?

You are a sinner in rebellion against the God of the universe. God is holy, just, and righteous, and must punish sin. Does a good judge let a convicted murderer go free just because the murderer asks sweetly? A good judge must deliver judgment. Read the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) to see whether you stand innocent or guilty in God’s courtroom. Have you been angry without cause or called someone a fool? Jesus pronounces you a murderer at heart. Guilty multiple times? Then you are a serial murderer on God’s books. Murderers are condemned to hell.

Ever tell a lie? Liars will have their part in the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). Ever look on a woman with lust? Pornography is included. Jesus calls that adultery. Adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11).

Face it: You have broken God’s laws thousands of times and you deserve hell. You might say, “Hell — that’s pretty severe, isn’t it? It doesn’t sound reasonable.” God didn’t create hell for you and me, but for the devil and the angels that rebelled against him (Matt 25:41). Satan’s sin was simply rebellion — wanting to “do his own thing.” When you sin against God, thousands and thousands of times, you are in the same rebellion. If you die in your sins, you share the devil’s eventual fate. Why should you get any other consideration? God holds together the very atoms of your body (Col 1:17) while you use those atoms to sin against him.

Here is some good news, the very Gospel itself: God loves you so much that Jesus died for your sins, becoming sin itself on the cross. He paid the penalty for your crimes, satisfying fully the infinite justice of God himself. Jesus was buried, then three days later rose from the dead, proving that he is the very source of life, and has power over death.

Your only way out is to humble yourself, confess your sins to God, repent (turn from your sins, seeing them as rebellion against God), and trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If you repent and believe, God will save your soul, give you the gift of everlasting life, and write your name in his book of life. Your sins will be cast into the depths of the sea, to be remembered no more. You will begin to live a life in service to Jesus Christ, a life that shows the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God, who will take residence in your body. This fruit includes love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. When you die, you are assured an instantaneous trip to heaven, to the very presence of the Lord. You will escape the fires of hell, your only alternative.

Are you willing to let Jesus be Saviour and Lord? It’s a package deal. There is no “fire escape” without a change of heart. Repentance includes a willingness to let God begin to change your mind and heart. You see, we have no strength in our flesh to put away the sin out of our lives and live righteously in a wicked world. We need the power of God to change our desires, give up our addictions and fleshly desires, and add good things to our daily lives. Does salvation end temptation and make you perfect? No, in this flesh we will always battle temptation. But salvation puts you on a different road, one that leads to life. Right now, you are on the broad road that leads to eternal destruction.

What is it going to be? “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Is 55:6-7)

Please contact us if we can be of help to you. Not one of us came to the Lord without someone sharing the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s just what we want to do with you. Jesus wants you to be “born again” into his family. Once you are, he will never leave you nor forsake you. If you come to Christ, we want to meet you and befriend you as the brother or sister you are to us, once you too, are part of the family of God.

Bibliography

1. King James version of the Bible
2. Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone, reprint of the 1930 edition, Faber & Faber, London, 1971.
3. Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1999.
4. Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists, Kregel Classics, Grand Rapids, 1995, originally published J.C. & Co., New York, 1874.
5. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1998.
6. D. James Kennedy, Why I Believe, Word Books, Waco, 1980.

– Dr. Dave

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