The strongest evidence for the truth claims of Jesus Christ is His resurrection from the dead. In Matthew 12, the Pharisees ask Jesus to give them a sign that everything He says is true. Jesus replies by saying, “no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” (vv. 39–40).
Jesus foretold His own death, which anyone could do if he were willing to arrange his own death, but Jesus also foretold His resurrection. Then He actually did rise from the dead.
Skeptics and critics have tried to explain away the resurrection by offering a variety of alternate explanations. One such scenario alleges that the women and disciples went to the wrong tomb. Think about this for a minute. How could it be the wrong tomb if the women and the disciples found the burial clothes lying there? Tim LaHaye writes, “The grave clothes of Jesus were still there and in perfect order, lying undisturbed as if enclosing a mummy—yet no body was inside! Everything was still intact. He Himself was gone, but somehow He had left behind His grave clothes. John knew instantly that the only thing that could cause such a miracle was the transformation of Jesus’ dead body into a new, resurrected body that was no longer subject to time and space.” (Footnote #32)
And by the way, did the Roman soldiers and Roman authorities also forget where the tomb was? The tomb was closed with a Roman seal that had been broken. This provides another clue that it was the correct tomb. If the women and the disciples had been at the wrong tomb, the Jewish authorities and Romans would have stopped the spread of the resurrection story simply by pointing the women and the disciples to the correct tomb, where they would have found the still-dead body of Jesus.
And consider this: The tomb that was borrowed for the body of Jesus had been provided by a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible says the tomb was brand new. Do you think that Joseph, after spending the money to have someone carve out a small cavern in stone, would just forget the location of this new tomb?
Dr. Tim LaHaye entombs the absurd excuse that the women and disciples were at the wrong place: “It would have been impossible to challenge people to worship a ‘resurrected’ Savior if His body were still in the tomb! His disciples might have managed the deception for a time if they had moved to a city several hundred miles away from where the events in question took place. But that is not what they did. Immediately they began preaching right there in Jerusalem that He rose from the dead. And they used the empty tomb as ‘exhibit A,’ their first piece of evidence.” (Footnote #33)
But maybe someone stole the body. Critics have long claimed that the disciples stole the body to give the appearance that Jesus had risen from the dead. This raises the question: How could the disciples have moved a stone away from the tomb without waking up the guards, assuming they were sleeping? Disturbing a tomb could get you the death penalty, and the punishment for a guard falling asleep at his post was also death. Don’t you think the fear of death would have kept at least one of the guards awake, if not all of them? Do you think the disciples would risk being killed for raiding the tomb just to pull off a fake resurrection? Remember, the disciples were a band of depressed and defeated men who had just witnessed Jesus’ very public crucifixion. They did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. It is not plausible that demoralized, scared men would risk being killed themselves for a dead Jesus.
Not only that, to move the stone would have required more than eleven men. Remember, Judas had betrayed Jesus and hung himself, leaving only eleven disciples. Even if these had wanted to perpetrate a hoax, where would they have found others willing to assist in rolling away the stone at the risk of death? Josh McDowell made a compelling discovery as part of his research: “In the Mark 16:4 portion of the Bezae manuscript in the Cambridge Library in England, a parenthetical statement was found that adds, ‘And when He was laid there, he (Joseph) put against the tomb a stone which 20 men could not roll away.’” (Footnote #34)
The Bible states clearly that the stone was moved by an angel from heaven and not by the disciples or the women. Note, too, that the enemies of Jesus never acknowledged that the body of Jesus was missing. In fact, they sought to hatch a plan to explain what the overwhelming evidence, which they saw first hand, revealed—Jesus had risen from the dead. Matthew 28:11–15 recounts: “As they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them, ‘Say this, “His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.” If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.”
If the authorities really believed that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus, they would have had them killed (the punishment for disturbing a grave, remember?). If the body of Jesus was still in the tomb and the disciples were lying about the resurrection of Jesus, the authorities would have put the body of Jesus on display to end the resurrection story. And if the authorities had taken the body of Jesus to a new and secret location they would have produced it. Finally, if the body of Jesus was stolen, why were the grave clothes still in the tomb in the orderly condition one would expect if Jesus had left the graves clothes supernaturally and without unwrapping Himself? They wouldn’t be.
But wait—the skeptics have more. What if Jesus didn’t really die?
The Swoon Theory
The swoon theory is the belief that Jesus did not die from being crucified. He simply passed out and was taken down from the cross, unconscious, and the cool air in the tomb revived him.
Pardon me, but this is one of the stupidest theories ever.
Anyone that knows anything about Roman crucifixion is aware that Roman executioners were very good at their job. In some cases, the guards would break the legs of any victims that would not die fast enough. With legs broken, they could not push themselves up in order to breathe, so the condemned person would finally die from suffocation. When the guards came to break Jesus’ legs, He was already dead. To verify this, one soldier pierced the side of Jesus, and blood and water poured out.
Numerous medical experts agree that the description of Jesus’ crucifixion points to the unmistakable medical evidence that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross. In an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, W. D. Edwards, W. J. Gabel, and F. E. Hosmer conclude:
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. (JAMA 1986; 255:1455–63)
The article also notes: “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.”
Besides, is it plausible that if Jesus did not die and was revived by the cool air in the tomb that He was able to roll away a stone from the tomb’s opening—a stone that took more than twenty healthy men to put into place? If others moved the stone and Jesus walked out, it is equally implausible that the disciples would have been energized and 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 declaring a strong and mighty Savior? Even
nineteenth-century skeptic David Strauss wondered the same thing:
It is impossible that one who had just come forth from the grave half dead, who crept about weak and ill, who stood in need of medical treatment, of bandaging, strengthening, and tender care, and who at last succumbed to suffering, could ever have given to the disciples that impression that He was a conqueror over death and the grave—that He was the Prince of Life—which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death—or at the most could have given it an elegiac voice—but could by no possibility change their sorrow into enthusiasm, or elevated their reverence into worship. (Footnote #35)
No, Jesus didn’t faint on the cross to pass for dead.
The Hallucination Theory
The hallucination theory is the belief that everyone who reported seeing Jesus was hallucinating. According to the Bible, there were more than five hundred eyewitnesses that saw the resurrected Jesus and yet the skeptics suggest all five hundred-plus had the same hallucination—many of them at the exact same moment. Medical evidence suggests, to the contrary, that hallucinations are highly individual experiences and not duplicated from one person to another. Furthermore, Jesus appeared to the disciples many times over the course of forty days, and He ate meals with them. After Jesus ascended into heaven (while His disciples watched), none of them continued to speak of seeing Jesus. So in order to accept the hallucination theory, someone would have to believe—against all reason—that the hallucinations of the disciples were identical and started and stopped at the same time.
The Eyes Have It: Eyewitness Testimony
Perhaps the greatest evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that, as we noted earlier, more than five hundred eyewitnesses saw Him. In addition to Jesus’ followers, He also appeared to one of the greatest enemies of Christianity, Saul of Tarsus.
Saul was a Jewish leader who saw to the martyrdom of many Christians, the first of which was Stephen (Acts 7:54–60). Yet, when Jesus Christ appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, Saul was transformed and became one of the greatest defenders and preachers of Christianity. In Acts 26:4–5 and 9–23 Saul, who upon his conversion became known as Paul, gives his own testimony:
[Quote] All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. . . . In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. This I actually did in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. Being greatly enraged at them, I even pursued them to foreign cities.
Under these circumstances I was traveling to Damascus with authority and a commission from the chief priests. At midday, while on the road, O king, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
But I said, “Who are You, Lord?”
And the Lord replied: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of things you have seen and of things in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”
Therefore, . . . I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. Since I have obtained help that comes from God, to this day I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place—that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles. [End quote]
It is a matter of recorded history that Saul was a leader of his day who persecuted Christians. It is also recorded history that Saul went through a radical change in his life, became known as Paul, and was a foundational leader of the early Christian church. What would change such a man from hating, persecuting, and killing Christians to becoming a Christian and defender of Christianity unless it was as Paul said—an encounter with the risen Lord?
Who Wants to Die for a Lie?
It was Paul himself, in 1 Corinthians 15:6, who told any skeptics to ask the eyewitnesses who were still living at the time if they believed they had seen the risen Lord. Those who saw Christ were changed and were willing to die rather than to say they had not seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion. The ones who ultimately died for their faith only had to say, “He is dead,” and they could have lived.
With the exception of John, every one of the disciples died a martyr’s death. Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down at his own request, for he thought himself “unworthy” to be crucified in the same way his Lord had been. Paul the apostle, the one “born out of due time,” after several long imprisonments, died a martyr’s death in Rome. Thomas, who had been a “doubter” until he saw the resurrected Christ, carried his Lord’s Great Commission all the way to India, where he ministered for many years before he was finally martyred. (Footnote #37)
Would these men die for a known lie or for a hoax they had orchestrated by stealing the body of Jesus Christ? Even if one or two determined to “stick to their guns,” it is unreasonable to think every one of them would have died rather than confessing to the lie. We can only conclude that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection told what they believed to be true 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.”
The Transformed Life Is Proof!
When was the last time you heard a humanist say, “As soon as I accepted the fact that I was god, my life was transformed; I was able to overcome the destructive habits and behaviors in my life; I desired to do good; I wanted to serve others, love others; I wanted to put others ahead of myself; I now have a peace in the midst of the storm I cannot explain, and I don’t fear death”? You never hear a humanist say that. On the other hand, the worst of sinners who repent and come to Christ are transformed in an amazing way.
One-time slave trader Charles Wesley wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Saul the killer of Christians became Paul the evangelist. Chuck Colson, the arrogant White House attorney who went to prison for Watergate, is now the humble, reserved leader of the nation’s largest organization that ministers to prisoners.
The power and validity of truth can be seen through the transformed life.
MinCaye is one of the Auca Indians who killed missionaries Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Peter Fleming in 1956. MinCaye now travels the world with Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint, preaching salvation through Jesus Christ alone. There are untold lives that were once filled with evil but made righteous through their encounter with, acceptance, surrender, and practice of the Truth. Only Truth can totally transform a life.
Our Final Answer: Christianity (True Conservatism)—the Truth; Humanism (Modern-day Liberalism)—a Lie
Dr. Erwin Lutzer is the pastor of the historic Moody Church in downtown Chicago. He has spoken for the Worldview Weekend and is an outstanding author who speaks on many topics. In 1994, he attended in Chicago a major symposium on the religions of the world. Dr. Lutzer walked the convention center, visiting with some of the seven thousand individuals in attendance. In his superb book Called, he describes his experience:
[Quote] I walked through the display area in search of a sinless prophet/teacher/Savior. I asked a Hindu Swami whether any of their teachers claimed sinlessness. “No,” he said, appearing irritated with my question, “If anyone claims he is sinless, he is not a Hindu!”
What about Buddha? No, I was told, he didn’t claim sinlessness. He found a group of ascetics and preached sermons to them. He taught that all outward things are only distractions and encouraged a life of discipline and contemplation. He sought enlightenment and urged his followers to do the same. He died seeking enlightenment. No sinlessness here.
What about Baha ullah? He claimed he had a revelation from God that was more complete and more enlightened than those before him. Though he was convinced of the truth of his teachings, he made few personal claims. He thought his writings were “more perfect” than others, but he never claimed perfection or sinlessness for himself.
When I came to the representatives of the Muslim faith, I already knew that in the Koran the prophet Mohammed admitted he was in need of forgiveness. They agreed. “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed was not perfect.” Again, no sinlessness there.
Why was I searching for a sinless Savior? Because I don’t want to have to trust a Savior who is in the same predicament as I am. I can’t trust my eternal soul to someone who is still working through his own imperfections. Since I’m a sinner, I need someone who is standing on higher ground.
Understandably, none of the religious leaders I spoke with even claimed to have a Savior. Their prophets, they said, showed the way, but made no pretense to be able to personally forgive sins or transform so much as a single human being. Like a street sign, they gave directions, but were not able to take us where we need to go. If we need any saving, we will have to do it ourselves.
The reason is obvious: No matter how wise, no matter how gifted, no matter how influential other prophets, gurus, and teachers might be, they had the presence of mind to know that they were imperfect just like the rest of us. They never even presumed to be able to reach down into the murky water of human depravity and bring sinners into the presence of God.
What did Jesus have to say about His sinless life?
“Which of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?” (John 8:46). He pointed out hypocrisy in the lives of His critics, but none of them returned the compliment.
Judas, an apparent friend turned enemy, said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4).
Pilate, who longed to find fault with Christ, confessed, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4).
Peter, who lived with Him for three years, said he “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22).
The apostle Paul said that God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus was either sinless or the greatest of sinners for deceiving so many people about His sinlessness. As C. E. Jefferson put it, “The best reason we have for believing in the sinlessness of Jesus is the fact that He allowed His dearest friends to think that He was.” [End quote] (Footnote #36)
That difference, my friends, is what makes Him the Savior of the world. Jesus Christ was and is the sinless Savior. That astounding difference is what makes Him exactly what He is—a member of the Triune God who is the Creator, Savior, and final Judge over all the earth.
Humanism is a lie because Christianity is the truth. Remember, I admitted at the beginning of this chapter that both could be false, but I also pointed out that only one can be true. Christianity is the truth because Jesus Christ is the risen, sinless Savior—the embodiment, the very Truth Himself. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and all other ways to salvation are wrong. All ideas, values, beliefs, and worldviews that contradict the nature and character of God are wrong and are a lie. They come from Satan, the father of lies.
32 LaHaye, Jesus Who Is He?, 259.
33 Ibid., 245.
34 Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981), 6, 8.
35 David Strauss, The Life of Jesus for the People, E.T., 2nd ed. (London:, 1879), 412.
36 Erwin Lutzer, Christ among Other Gods (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 62–64.