Today is Resurrection Day. There is, of course a sense in which, for the true disciple of Jesus, every day is Resurrection Day. We who seek to follow Him do not confine our thinking of His resurrection to one day in the year. It is, of course, the central teaching of the Christian faith. Paul wrote to the early believers in Corinth that "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." (15:17-20).
So is there any real evidence for the resurrection of Jesus - or is the whole story just a load of old bones. Sadly, there are many, even within the ranks of the Christian clergy, who seem to think so! However, if we approach the question reasonably, and logically, we find that there is ample evidence to support the claim. Let's look at some of the attempts to explain the resurrection away as less than it was.
1. Jesus didn't die, but merely swooned. He then revived in the cool of the tomb, and made His way out, convincing His disciples that He had risen from the dead.
Those who advocate this scenario have totally ignored a number of facts. The first, and most obvious is that crucifixion was a means of executing the death penalty. The whole point of the exercise was that the victim would die - as surely as if beheaded. People simply did not survive crucifixion. Secondly, the Roman soldiers were men who knew a dead body when they saw one. All of them, and particularly the centurion in charge of the execution squad, were battle-hardened men who had killed others, and seen comrades fall dead beside them. However, when Pilate, the Roman Procurator, was asked for permission to take the body down, he insisted that a check be made that Jesus was well and truly dead. Anyone who believes that Roman soldiers would send back a false report needs to do some studying in history! The, again, there is an eye-witness account that, when the soldiers started to break the legs of the three victims - in order to hasten their demise - they discovered that Jesus was already dead. Hammering at the knees to break them was not easy with the object being above head height. So they contented themselves, as a precaution, with one of them stabbing his spear into the body of Jesus - upwards, and at an angle. This means that the heart would have been pierced. The eye-witness records that "... at once there came out ." (John 19:34). Now this was not two substances flowing beside one another like a Mr Softee two-flavoured ice-cream. It was, according to modern pathologists, a clear serum that contained clots of blood - and that is incontrovertible proof that the body is dead!
But let's give the sceptic the benefit of the doubt. Let's imagine that, having already endured hours of questioning, and being pushed around; being flogged by a Roman soldier with a whip of multiple thongs that had bits of bone and metal tied into them; having His head pierced with the long, hard thorns of the mock crown forced down on it by the Roman soldiers; and having carried the horizontal beam of the cross to the extent that the soldiers - who were not renowned for having any excess of "the milk of human kindness" - realised that He was physically unable to carry it any further, and hauled a man from the watching crowd to carry it for Him; He was then tied and nailed to the cross and left there, naked, subject to the verbal abuse of His enemies. The rough wood of the cross would have caused agonising pain against a back already lacerated by the whipping. His body would have sagged. This would have constricted His breathing. He would try to raise His body by pushing with His feet (the reason why the breaking of legs speeded up the dying process), and the pain from the nailed feet would have shot through His body. The blood would have risen in His throat, choking Him. Eventually (according to this far-out suggestion!) He faints. The soldiers are fooled; the body is taken down from the cross - and wrapped in sheets with spices - before being laid in the tomb. We must now assume that Jesus revived; managed to extricate Himself from the binding; rolled the heavy stone away - from inside the tomb (requiring it to be moved with just His hands on the inner surface); walk away, naked, without the Roman guard noticing anything amiss; find some suitable clothing; make His way to where the disciples were in hiding; and convince them that He had arisen from the dead! As one might say in certain parts of Scotland: "Aye, right!"
2. It wasn't Jesus Who hung on the cross; that one of the disciples took His place so that He could appear as if He had risen from the dead (the usual Islamic explanation)!
This requires a number of factors to come together. Jesus was not some non-entity. He was well known to the authorities. Accordingly, His ‘substitute’ would have had to be identical in build and appearance. This man would also have to be one of the disciple band. However, at this stage, the number of followers was relatively small, and most of them would have been known by others. Certainly, if there had been a ‘double’ that man would already have been marked out. Such a man would also have had to agree to take the punishment and death that was ahead. People at that time were all too aware of what crucifixion involved – let alone the previous flogging and other suffering – and it would have been an unusual man who would have volunteered to take another's place. Finally, there is the matter of the empty tomb – one aspect of the record that appears never to have been seriously questioned! Where was the body of this amazing ‘substitute’ going to be hidden while Jesus went around claiming to have risen from the dead? No, once again, the proposed ‘solution’ requires a greater leap of faith than does accepting the Biblical claim.
3. The disciples stole the Body of Jesus, and then went about with these wild stories of His alleged appearances.
This does have, at first sight, a measure of feasibility that is missing from the previous suggestions, and is the story which the Roman guards were bribed to repeat. They were even assured that they would not suffer the usual penalty for having ‘lost’ a prisoner (their own deaths) as the chief priests would square things up with the governor! (Matt.28:11–15).