From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
Last night I passed along five facts on which historians are solidly agreed.
- Jesus was crucified
- The disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them after his death
- Paul (Saul) was converted to faith in Christ after Jesus’ death
- Jesus’ half-brother James was likewise converted to faith in Jesus after the crucifixion
- The tomb in which Jesus was buried was empty that first Easter morning
Knowledgeable consensus is virtually unanimous on the first four of these, and just slightly less so on the fifth. These facts have been accepted on the basis of standard historical methods that give no special place to the New Testament as inspired literature, and do not take into account any broader biblical information on why Jesus died and rose again.
These facts demand an explanation. If Jesus died that Friday (and he did), and if the disciples were convinced he was with them again physically after his death, what convinced them? Various theories have been proposed; only one stands up to the test of other information.
- Some skeptics think Jesus’ followers might have hallucinated the experience in their grief, but community hallucinations don’t happen, and Paul would not have shared that grief.
- Some think it’s possible he didn’t really die, but fell into a coma and was buried that way; but that fails to take into account the brutality of crucifixion, the executioners’ professionalism, and the disciples’ joyful affirmation that Jesus had conquered death. Neither does it explain why Paul and James would have decided to follow Jesus.
- Some take it that the Resurrection was a fable that developed over time, but that does not explain why Paul accepted its truth so early.
- Some have proposed that it was a case of mistaken identity. Muslims, for example, say it was actually Jesus’ brother who died on the cross. That theory never appeared anywhere in the first half-millennium after the events, though, so this idea we can safely set aside as being a made-up fable.
- Then there’s the other mistaken-identity theory: everyone went to the wrong tomb. But Paul and James would not have believed just because Jesus’ tomb was supposedly empty.
- Some suppose that the disciples were lying, but this runs against the knowledgeable consensus. Multiple independent accounts indicate that they died for their conviction that the resurrection happened. Sure, many people have died for things that were not true, but nowhere in history will you find even a small group of people who died for an untruth that they themselves made up.
Christians are convinced the best explanation is that Jesus genuinely rose from the dead, making himself known as the Lord of life itself.
What’s your explanation?