The Bottom Line.
So where does all this get us?
We can show that the New Testament documents are historically reliable, that their writers were men of the utmost sincerity and integrity, and that secular sources confirm the broad facts of Christianity's origins and the nature of its claims.
But what do we make of the key claims concerning Jesus' death and resurrection?
There are no reasonable grounds for denying that this was indeed a central plank of Christian teaching from its very beginning. We have also shown that there are no reasonable grounds for denying that Jesus really did die on the cross.
If that were all, few if any would ever suggest that all this was not an undisputed historical fact.
But it isn't. The record also says that He rose from the dead. That record comes from the same impeccable sources that record all the other facts concerning Jesus' life and death. In order to explain this away, we have to dismiss a wealth of evidence which they cite - evidence that changed these very witnesses from frightened sceptics to men who would rather die than deny its truth. Every theory that can be advanced falls significantly short of accounting for all of the facts that they mention. Let's briefly recap:
- Body snatchers drugged the guards, unwrapped the body and disguised it as a sick friend.
- Highly improbable, lacks a sufficiently convincing motive and fails to explain the positioning of the graveclothes. And we still have to account for the resurrection appearances.
- Authorities moved the body or it was the wrong tomb.
- Non-starters. Why didn't they subsequently produce the body, etc., etc...?
- Disciples took the body.
- Totally at odds with their character and subsequent actions.
- He faked his death.
- All the evidence says he was dead. Such a deception would have been totally at odds with his character, and his torture on the cross quite pointless, as he could have achieved his ends without it.
- He almost died, but recovered.
- Not plausible, given the care taken to kill him. Even if he had, how did a half-dead man get out of a sealed tomb, and manage to convince his followers he was now immortal, let alone appear in a locked room, disappear into thin air, ascend into the clouds, etc.?
- He died: but the disciples couldn't accept it, so they began to suffer delusions.
- It was the resurrection that they initially could not accept. The appearances do not fit the pattern of delusions. There are too many witnesses, too many sceptics, and instead of becoming more frequent the appearances stop abruptly 40 days after his death.
- His resurrection was 'spiritual' rather than physical. The disciples aren't the only ones to have seen such things.
- The accounts are adamant that this was both spiritual and physical. The body disappeared; and when he reappeared it was in a form that they could physically handle. He even ate and drank with them!
- He rose from the dead.
- This is the only version of events that fully fits the facts.
And when it comes down to it, that really is the bottom line. There is nothing wrong with the evidence: it all points one way. But if it is true, then it means you are going to have to change your entire world-view.
But, to cite the words of Paul when, several years later, he confronted a crowd of sceptics in Athens: 'Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?' If there is no God, then perhaps it is incredible: but if there is, should He not be perfectly capable of such an act?
The choice is up to you. You can refuse to accept the possibility that there is such a God. In that case you will have to accept whatever alternative explanation you can find, no matter how implausible it may seem. Or, you can start asking yourself whether God may not indeed have intervened in human history in the person of Jesus Christ.
The evidence is there, exactly as we should expect it to be. Nor is this all the available evidence on the subject by any stretch of the imagination. For if God did intervene in this manner, we may be sure that it was for a very important reason, and should expect it to have dramatic and far-reaching effects both on the lives of those early disciples and on those who claim to know the risen Jesus today.
These are some of the issues we hope to look at in the future. But in the meantime, if this has got you thinking, we would welcome your feedback.
Click here to return to Jesus Christ, the History Maker, or on any of the other topics below:
- Authenticity of the New Testament
- The Character of the Witnesses
- Corroboration from Non-Christian Sources
- Did Jesus Really Die?
- The Resurrection Accounts
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