I trust that you had an inspiring worship experience with your local church family last Sunday and that the truth of the resurrection of Jesus is still ringing in your mind. We all know that this biblical truth is a reality every day of the year, but this is the season to give ourselves to special reflection on it. It is also the season for Christian critics to attempt to convince us that it is all a religious fairy tale. I have observed that the History Channel promotes many programs that attack the integrity of the Bible and its version of history, although there are also at the same time programs that seem to defend it. I guess that is the role of historians. My own observation, though, is that the HC slants toward skepticism. One of the latest attacks on the historicity of the Bible is a work by author Bart Ehrman in his book, How Jesus Became God. World Magazine published a very helpful article by New Testament scholar Michael Bird and some of his colleagues that addresses Ehrman’s suggestions in their work, How God Became Jesus. (I haven’t read either of these books yet, but plan to get them as soon as I can.) My point is this: the debate on the historicity and reality of the resurrection of Jesus goes on. I bring up this debate in order to introduce the topic of my posts this week. I would like to share some of the most common attacks on the resurrection and give a short suggestion on how we might respond.
Let’s start with the original spin on the empty tomb: the disciples stole the body during the night.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Mat 28:11-15 ESV)
Let’s examine the practical reality of this possibility.
Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Mat 27:65-66 ESV)
Roman guards were the most disciplined soldiers in history. Falling asleep on the job was punishable by death. That is why the Jews had to assure them that if word got to the governors, they would be their advocates.
Further, the Gospels record how Peter denied Jesus and how the other disciples (except John) fled in fear of the Romans. Are we to believe that they would risk their lives by attacking Roman soldiers and pulling off the robbery of the body of the most publicized “criminal” in the land? Virtually impossible!!
There are two variations of this idea. One is that the Romans and Jews removed the body. The second is that the women disciples went to the wrong tomb. But both of these suggestions are absurd, given the upheaval that the preaching of the disciples caused to the country. A simple way to squelch this new religion would be to produce the body!
Another proposed explanation, known as “the Swoon Theory,” is that Jesus was not really dead, but when he was placed in a cool tomb, he became revived, freed himself from the burial cloths, rolled away the tomb, overpowered the Roman guard and escaped. This explanation is almost more impossible than the first. Notice the evidence that Jesus was actually dead by crucifixion.
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (Joh 19:31-34 ESV)
Two facts attest that Jesus was dead. First, the soldiers verified it. These men were vocational executioners. There is no way that they would ever pronounce one of their prisoners dead if there was any doubt. Second, but just to make sure, they thrust a spear in Jesus’ side and out came blood and water, the separation of which is a medical proof of death. John, not having pathology training, would have no idea of this medical phenomenon, which gives confirmation that it was an accurate testimony and not a fabricated spin in order to promote a hoax.
Now, notice a detail about Jesus’ burial.
Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (Joh 19:39-40 ESV)
Seventy-five pounds of burial spices. That’s a lot of burial spices. To suggest that Jesus could free himself from this cocoon is incredibly naïve.
Finally, historians tell us that when a victim is crucified, many of his bones are dislodged from their joints (see Psalm 22:14). Have you ever had a bone go out of joint – a shoulder, an elbow, a knee? Even if he would somehow be revived – he would be virtually immobile!
In my next post, I will share one more theory and then draw some practical applications related to the truth of the resurrection.