Dead people don’t come back to life. They just don’t. Once you die, that’s it. The circle of life goes round and round in one singular direction – like a clock. All of life is constantly moving toward the end of their time. Once the clock stops, it’s discarded, back to the earth from where it came. Nobody ever picked up a dead clock that had reversed itself and started ticking again. The same is true for a man. No one ever died to live again. Or did they?
Now, there is a distinction to be made between the four R’s of re-birth: resuscitation, revivification, reincarnation, and resurrection.
Resuscitation is when a body that has been dead (or dying) for a very short time has life restored to it. This is most commonly seen in CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) when a person is undergoing cardiac arrest, and is dying or “dead” i.e. their pulse and breathing has ceased, for a few seconds or minutes. CPR alone is unlikely to restart the heart, which is why a defibrillator is necessary within 3-5 minutes in order to increase a person’s chances for survival (up to 30% from a mere 4% survival rate for only CPR). People who are resuscitated may have out-of-body experiences, or claim to have seen into heaven. These people have life restored to them only temporarily. They will die again at some point.
Revivification is when a dead body, that may have been dead for some time, has life restored to it. In the Bible, the most famous example of this is Lazarus in John 11 (“When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (verses 43-44)). Other examples in the Bible include Elisha and the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37); Jesus and a little girl (he calls her Talitha – Mark 5:22-43, Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56); Peter and Tabitha (aka Dorcas – Acts 9:36-42); Paul and Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12); and at Jesus death, the tombs of many “broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” (Matthew 27:52-53).
That last one honestly sounds a bit like zombies to me – though not quite so Holllywood. Zombies are probably the most widely known “example” of revivification – though revivification doesn’t turn people into mindless, brain-and-flesh-craving monsters. Still it provides a slightly workable “example” to understand dead-turned-back-to-life. In any case, any revivified bodies will return to death again – whether through natural causes like those in the Bible, or shotgun blasts like zombies. Revivified bodies don’t stay alive.
Reincarnation is the idea that after death, the soul migrates to another body to live again, to die again, to migrate and be reborn again, to die again, and so on, until the soul ultimately reaches complete purification and is united with the divine reality. Pretty New Age sounding, but this stuff is classic Buddhism and Hinduism. The basic idea here is still that you live, and die, live and die, and always die. Death is not the end, and death may not have an end either. You live and die, live and die, forever pursued by death.
Resurrection is when a dead body is returned to physical life forever. Jesus is the first, best, and primary (in fact, at this time, the ONLY) example of this. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Yet, this doesn’t mean that resurrected bodies are identical to the first bodies. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” The resurrected bodies will never see decay, never again die, and never perish.
In fact, I’ve read one interesting comment regarding Jesus’ words in Luke 24:39: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Here, Jesus uses the term “flesh and bones” rather than the more common “flesh and blood.” And besides, why was his body not still oozing blood from his wounds on the cross? And how was Thomas able to put his fingers into Jesus’ hole-y hands and side without getting some blood on him (John 20:27)? Perhaps Jesus’ perfect body literally had no blood in it. After all, we know that a creature’s life is contained within its blood, and if there is no blood, there is no life. If Jesus’ body truly had no blood in it, that would mean that something else was sustaining his resurrected life, and that would also help explain Paul’s words about new bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. God is the creator and sustainer of life. He has created the world according to certain physical laws – one of which is that life requires blood within the body. But, who is to say that God cannot rewrite the rules of his creation after resurrection? This is a great mystery.
So, is there really any evidence to support Jesus’ bodily resurrection?
So, how can Christians claim that Jesus’ resurrection was actually a true and historic event? After all, it can seem a bit far-fetched. Some have even argued that the culture at the time was too primitive and easily persuaded by stories. C.S. Lewis calls this “chronological snobbery” – or basically the idea that our culture today is far more advanced, scientific, and intelligent than any culture in the past. It would have been easy to fool “primitives” but our “modern” culture would not be so easily fooled. Except for the fact that people today are just as easily fooled – if not more so, and still believe stories over science. Consider for example how many people say they believe in ghosts, aliens, super powers, karma, or even deny the Holocaust – despite volumes of science contrary to those beliefs. People may even be easily fooled by watching the news. Consider the fact that in 2009, 11% of Americans believed Obama was a Muslim, and that number increased to 18% of Americans by 2010 – despite large amounts of evidence to refute those allegations.
What arguments are there against Jesus’ resurrection?
So, what evidence is there to refute Jesus’ resurrection? We might as well start there to see if any allegations against the resurrection hold any water. We’ll only look at two (this post is long enough already).
Argument: Jesus didn’t die on the cross, he merely “swooned.”
The first allegation is that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross – he merely swooned. This is a belief held by Muslims and documented in the Qur’an, fourth surah, verses 157-158: “That they said (in boast) ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”; – but they did not kill him, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they did not kill him; – Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise…”
But consider the facts (the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry – CARM – has references to support each of these points):
- (First off, the Qur’an was written six centuries after Jesus lived. Compare that to the eyewitness testimony the Bible gives in its gospels).
- Jesus endured six trials in front of various officials for at least most of the night after the Last Supper. He was beaten in many of them.
- Jesus was scourged with a multi-thonged whip with sharp objects in the ends – a process that in and of itself could kill a man – many men had their intestines and organs falling out after such an ordeal. He was beaten and bloodied, and then…
- A crown of thorns was pressed into his skull…
- A purple robe to wear (sending shockwaves of additional pain through his body as it rubbed against his raw flesh when he moved)…
- He was forced to carry his own cross (70-170 pounds) through the streets of Jerusalem to a location outside the city for his execution (this was not a quick walk to the corner market)…
- And he was finally NAILED to the cross through his hands and feet to die.
- All this was after he was so stressed out in the Garden of Gethsemane that he literally sweat blood: Luke 22:44 (“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”).
- Then, after he “died” by a combination of asphyxiation, dehydration, and shock from all his pain, the Roman guard under him shoved a spear up into his side, through his lung and heart to be sure he was “dead” (John 19:34 “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”)
- Then, after all that, IF he’d survived, his friends wrapped him in about 75 pounds of burial linens and perfumes: John 19:39: (“Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.”)
- And then, he’d still have to survive in the cold, dark tomb for three days – without medical attention…
- He’d need to recover enough to rip his 75 pounds of grave clothes off…
- He’d need to stagger over to the stone door and open it (and even if someone did it for him, the whole idea is preposterous)…
- He’d have to slip past or fight past the Roman guards that were stationed outside (who were likely very alert and had a strong motivation to not let him go – they would held directly responsible if anything “crazy” happened and would suffer severely for a neglect of their duty)…
- And finally, he’d need to walk out of the cemetery, over dusty paths, back into the city, and present himself to his disciples on pierced feet and without dripping blood.
- In fact, when he presents himself to Thomas, he says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27). Now, if his body is a normal human body at this point, it’s probably in no condition to have other people touching it – it’s probably still oozing blood and pus and the like.
So, yes, Jesus died. Non-Christian historians even confirm it. “The historian Tacitus said Jesus ‘suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius.’ The Jewish historian Josephus reports that Pilate ‘condemned him to be crucified.’ Lucian of Samosata, who was a Greek satirist, mentions the crucifixion, and Mara Bar-Serapion, who was a pagan, confirms Jesus was executed. Even the Jewish Talmud reports that ‘Yeshu was hanged.’” (from Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus, page 113).
Argument: Jesus’ body was relocated and remained dead
The second allegation is that Jesus’ body was relocated and was not in fact raised from the dead. Some people say that his family moved the body to a family tomb. Others say that they moved his body to a cemetery for the condemned. Others say that they just moved it into a shallow grave and covered it over with dirt, and wild beasts were able to eat it away. Still others say that the disciples stole it and hid it, and this is the original story the Bible lays out: Matthew 28:12-15: “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
The problem with each of these is that they can’t deny that Jesus’ tomb was empty. In fact, no credible source can deny the empty tomb. Additionally, if the family moved the body, shouldn’t someone have set the disciples straight when they started preaching his resurrection? Why would they let the lie continue? If anyone else had moved the body, they could have just produced the body – even decaying – to squelch the new Christian religion. And if the disciples stole the body, and started preaching the resurrection, what would they have to gain from it? All of the men were Jews, many very religious, and in the First of the ten commandments, God instructs his people, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Why would the disciples preach Jesus as God, and risk their own damnation for breaking the first commandment if Jesus wasn’t resurrected? Why would they preach and spread a lie that would surely condemn everyone who believed it? What would be the motivation?
Additionally, some people claim that the disciples were confused about which tomb was Jesus’ and that mistake convinced them that he was resurrected. However:
- Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-60: “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.)
- A guard was posted at the tomb (Matthew 27:63-64: “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”)
- And if Jesus was indeed a “great prophet” and “great teacher” as so many have claimed, then surely his tomb would have been enshrined, visited often, and remembered – unless it was empty. Therefore, it is impossible to say that the disciples merely got “lost along the way.”
- If Jesus died
- And his tomb was empty
- And his body was nowhere to be found
- And eyewitnesses claimed he was resurrected
- And Christianity exploded directly out of the city that murdered Jesus (Acts 2:41) into the largest world religion today
…I’d say that presents a pretty solid case for historical fact.
Revive Us Again!