Evidence For The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

By Brannon S. Howse

Roman executioners were very good at their job—too good to overlook a major point like leaving a capital criminal alive after being crucified. They were so brutally thorough, in fact, that it was common practice for them to break the legs of any victims who wouldn’t die fast enough. With legs broken, they could not push themselves up to breathe and would at last die of suffocation. 

The Bible reports that when these Roman death experts examined Jesus, intending to break His legs, He was already dead. To confirm their observation, a guard stabbed Jesus with a spear, and blood and water poured out, the sure sign of a victim’s demise. Nevertheless, there are skeptics whose predispositions against the possibility of resurrection compel them to argue that Jesus might not really have died on the cross. So it becomes necessary for us to recognize exactly how untenable that argument really is.

Numerous medical experts agree that the description of Jesus’ crucifixion presents unmistakable medical evidence that Jesus was dead when He was taken down from the cross. In The Journal of the American Medical Association, W. D. Edwards, W. J. Gabel, and F. E. Hosmer describe the pertinent medical factors:

[quote] Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripe-like lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes) his feet were nailed to the stipes. 

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross. [end quote] 


The Edwards/Gabel/Hosmer article concludes:


[quote] Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge. [end quote] 


Besides this evidence to the contrary, it is hardly plausible that if Jesus had not died and was revived by the cool air in the tomb (as some suggest) that in His condition He was able to roll away a stone from the tomb’s opening that took more than twenty healthy men to put into place. Further, if others—the disciples, for instance—had somehow moved the heavily guarded stone, allowing Jesus to walk out, would they have been inspired by this half-dead man? Would such a weak and near-death Jesus have caused the disciples to snap out of their fear and depression and run about advocating a strong and mighty Savior? Again, the contention simply isn’t believable.

Some claim the disciples stole Jesus’ body to make it look as though He had risen from the dead, but that raises some pretty hard issues: 


1. How could the disciples have moved a stone away from the tomb without waking up the guards (assuming they were sleeping—which they probably weren’t, since guards could be executed for falling asleep while on duty)? 

2. Disturbing a tomb was punishable by death, so it is unlikely the disciples would risk being killed for raiding the tomb just to pull off a fake resurrection. At the point of Jesus’ death, the disciples were a discouraged group. 


3. Even if the disciples had wanted to steal Jesus’ body and if they could have gotten by the guards, how would they have moved the stone that blocked the tomb? In his Biblical studies, Josh McDowell discovered an early copy of the Bible says the stone was so big that not even 20 men together could move it! Scripture indicates the stone was moved by an angel from heaven, not by the disciples or the women. 


4. If the Jewish or Roman leaders really believed the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, they would have had the disciples executed for disturbing a grave. If the body of Jesus was still in the tomb and the disciples were lying about the resurrection, the authorities would have put the body on display to end the story. Or if the rulers had taken the body of Jesus to a secret location, they could have brought it out for everyone to see.


5. If the body of Jesus had been stolen, why were the grave clothes still in the tomb, folded neatly, just as you would expect if Jesus had slipped out of them supernaturally? They wouldn’t be.

Perhaps the greatest evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that more than five hundred eyewitnesses saw Him. And Jesus not only appeared to His followers but to one of the first century’s greatest enemies of Christianity, Saul of Tarsus.

Saul was a Jewish leader who was responsible for killing numerous Christians for their faith. Yet, when Jesus, after His resurrection, appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, Saul was transformed and became one of the all-time greatest defenders of Christianity.

In Acts 26:4-5, 9-23 Saul (who upon his conversion became known as Paul) gives his own testimony:

[quote] My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee….

Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damas­cus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday…along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against goads.” 

So I said, “Who are You, Lord?” 

And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” 

Therefore…I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. [end quote] 


It is a fact of history that Saul of Tarsus was a leader of his day who persecuted Christians. It is also true that Saul changed radically, became known as Paul, and was a pivotal leader of the early church. So what would cause a man to change from hating, persecuting, and killing Christians to becoming a Christian and a defender of Christianity? Paul’s own answer is the most logical conclusion: an encounter with the risen Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul directed skeptics or critics to ask the eyewitnesses who had seen the resurrected Christ. Those who saw Jesus were changed and became willing to die rather than to say they had not seen Him alive after His crucifixion. Those who did die for their faith would have only had to say, “Jesus really is dead,” and they could have lived.

Former skeptic and critic Frank Harber correctly points out that people are not willing to die for something they know to be a lie:

[quote] Many people have died for a cause they believed was true even though it was false; however, no one ever eagerly dies for a cause knowing it to be false. Christianity could have never endured had these first Christians not believed in the Resurrection. The tenacity of these early eyewitness in the face of death testifies to the truth that the Resurrection must have occurred. [quote]


Ten of  Jesus’ original disciples died a martyr’s death (Judas betrayed Jesus and killed himself; of the remaining eleven only John was spared martyrdom). Peter, for example, was crucified upside down at his own request because he considered himself “unworthy” to be crucified in the same way his Lord had been. Thomas, who had been a “doubter” until he saw Jesus alive after death, carried the gospel all the way to India, where he ministered for many years before being martyred. After several long imprisonments, Paul—a latecomer to witnessing the resurrection—died a martyr’s death in Rome.

Would these men die for a known lie or a hoax they orchestrated by stealing the body of Jesus Christ and then reporting Him as risen from the dead? It is simply not credible that all of the disciples would willingly die as martyrs for a lie. The disciples and eyewitnesses spoke the truth and refused to change their story in the face of persecution, torture, and death. As author Tim LaHaye has said, “They signed their testimony in blood.”  

Copyright 2006 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative. 

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