Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? – Part Two: The Explanation

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? – Part Two: The Explanation
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It’s a matter of historical record that
Jesus of Nazareth died and his body was placed in a tomb.
It’s also been firmly established that after his death and burial, his tomb was
found empty. Various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive,
and his disciples somehow became absolutely convinced that Jesus had
risen from the dead. These are the historical facts. How do you explain them? Down through history, various naturalistic explanations have been
offered to explain away these facts. Let’s examine the four most popular ones.
First, the conspiracy theory. According to this view, the disciples faked the
resurrection. They stole Jesus’s body from the tomb and then lied about seeing
Jesus alive, thereby perpetrating the greatest hoax of all time. However, this
theory faces overwhelming objections. It’s hopelessly anachronistic; it looks
at the disciples situation through the rearview mirror of Christian history
instead of from the standpoint of a first century Jew. Jews had no concept of
a messiah who would be defeated and executed by Israel’s enemies, much less
rise from the dead. In Jewish thinking, the resurrection of the dead was a
general event that takes place only after the end of the world and has no
connection at all with a messiah. The conspiracy theory also fails to address
the disciples’ obvious sincerity. People don’t willingly die for something they
know is not true. An honest reading of the New Testament
makes it clear these people sincerely believed the message they proclaimed and were willing to die for. For these and other reasons no scholar
defends the conspiracy theory today. A second attempt to explain the facts is
the apparent death theory. Jesus didn’t really die; he revived in the tomb somehow, escaped, and managed to convince his disciples he
was risen from the dead. This theory also faces insurmountable obstacles. First,
it’s medically impossible. The Roman executioners were professionals. They
knew what they were doing and made sure their victims were dead before taken
down. Moreover, Jesus was tortured so extensively that even if he was taken
down alive, he would have died in the sealed tomb. Second, this theory is wildly
implausible. Seeing a half-dead man who crawled out of the tomb desperately in
need of bandaging and medical attention would hardly have convinced the
disciples that he was gloriously risen from the dead. As a result, no New
Testament historians defend this theory today. A third explanation is the
displaced body theory. Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’s body in his
tomb temporarily because it was convenient, but later he moved the corpse
to a criminal’s common graveyard, so when the disciples visited the first tomb and
found it empty, they concluded that Jesus must have
risen from the dead. Once again, this theory cannot make sense of the facts. Jewish laws prohibited moving a corpse after it was interred
except to the family tomb. What’s more, the criminals graveyard was located
close to the place of execution so that burial there would not have been a
problem. Also, once the disciples began to proclaim Jesus’s resurrection, Joseph
would have corrected their mistake. So once again, no current scholars endorse
this theory. Finally, the hallucination theory. The
disciples didn’t really see Jesus, but just imagined that he appeared before
them. They were all hallucinating. This theory also faces considerable problems.
First, Jesus appeared not just one time, but many times; not just in one place, but
in different places; not just to one person, but to different persons; not just
to individuals, but to groups of people; and not just to believers, but to
unbelievers as well. There is nothing in the psychological case books on
hallucinations comparable to these resurrection appearances. Second,
hallucinations of Jesus would have led the disciples to believe at most that
Jesus had been transported to heaven, not risen from the dead, in contradiction to
their Jewish beliefs. Moreover, in the ancient world, visions of the deceased
were not evidence that the person was alive, but evidence that he was dead and
had moved on to the afterworld. Finally, this theory doesn’t even attempt
to explain the empty tomb. Thus, the four most popular naturalistic theories fail
to explain the historical facts. Where does that leave us? Another possibility is the explanation given by the original eyewitnesses, that
God raised Jesus from the dead. Unlike the other theories, this makes perfect
sense of the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus alive, and the disciples’
willingness to die for their belief. But is this explanation plausible? After all,
it requires a miracle, a supernatural act of God. Think about it; if it’s even possible
that God exists, then miracles are possible, and this explanation cannot be
ruled out. And surely it’s possible that God exists, so how do you explain the
resurrection?

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