Evidence for the Resurrection
Evidence for the Resurrection
“Some of the spectators are on their feet, they think it’s all over! It is now!” Kenneth Wolstenholme, who uttered those famous words whilst commentating at the 1966 World Cup Final, was for several years ‘the voice of football’ and yet he will always be remembered for those words: “They think it’s all over…”
As I write this article on the Monday of Easter week, I’m struck how those words are an appropriate way to start thinking about the biblical account of that first Easter Sunday. In Mark 16:1 we read how three woman; the two Marys and Salome rushed over to Jesus’ tomb. These women had seen Jesus die (Mark 15:37-41). They thought it was all over. All that was left for them to do was to anoint his dead body. They thought it was all over but were in for the fright of their lives! They arrived at the tomb only to find that it was empty. A young man dressed in white explained the mystery to them in three glorious words: “He has risen!”
Christianity stands or falls on the veracity or not of those words. The Apostle Paul was very frank about this in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 and it’s true that for any non-believer who wants to disprove Christianity this is the jugular to go for. As a clergyman, if someone could convince me of an alternative explanation to the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday then I would throw my dog-collar in the bin and head down to the job centre. However, so far the alternative theories have left me far from persuaded.
Some people say that Jesus did not actually die on the cross but collapsed unconscious and then, in the cool of the tomb, revived and got his strength back before escaping and fooling the world that he had risen. To my mind this does not stack up. The Romans were good at lots of things but one thing that they really excelled in was killing people! In John 19:32-35 we read that the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the first man who had been executed with Jesus because this would quicken death but when they came to Jesus they saw that he was already dead and yet, maybe just to make sure, they thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. That detail of the flow of blood and water is fascinating and all the more so because the writer would not have understood its medical significance but any doctor now will tell you that the separation of blood into clot and serum is one of the surest indications of death. The evidence is conclusive: Jesus died.
Remember too that he had first been whipped to within an inch of his life. He was so weak he couldn’t carry the cross. He had then had iron nails hammered through his hands and feet into the cross, where he had hung in agony for 6 hours. To say that he had endured all that but had then recovered sufficiently to break out of the linen cloth he had been wrapped in is inconceivable. What’s more he would then have had a big boulder and a Roman guard to deal with (Matthew 27:62-66). To say that Jesus had recovered enough from all he had endured to roll away the huge sealed boulder that was rolled against the entrance and then pull some big right hooks and deal with the Roman soldier guarding the tomb and then appear to his disciples and proclaim that he had risen from the dead, does not add up.
Another theory is that the disciples stole the body and then proclaimed that he had risen. But that was why the Roman guard was placed there (Matthew 27:62-66). The chief priests knew that Jesus had spoken of rising again and they had taken precautions. So the tomb was guarded to stop any attempt by the disciples to steal the body but also, if somehow the disciples had taken out the guard, a very basic understanding of psychology shows that again this does not add up. If you look at the disciples from Christ’s betrayal till his crucifixion, they are a pathetic bunch. They run away in terror and Peter disowns him. The only convincing explanation for the transformation in the disciples into those who were willing to die for the message of Christ’s death and resurrection which they preached was that Christ had actually risen from the dead.
Others have claimed that the Jewish authorities stole the body. They knew that Jesus had claimed that he would rise again and so to stop his disciples stealing the body and claiming that he had, they got in there first and stole it. Again it does not add up because if they had stolen it, they would have only had to produce the body to prove once and for all that Christianity was a hoax.
Another theory that people have come up with to try to disprove the resurrection is that the disciples hallucinated when they saw Christ’s resurrected body. But there are some major problems with this theory too. Hallucinations almost always come to those who are longing for something to happen and the disciples by their own admission had not been expecting the resurrection. They should have been but they weren’t. They were devastated, distraught and fearful for their own lives when Jesus was executed. Also, hallucinations are very individual; they are not shared in every detail by groups and sometimes the risen Jesus appeared to very large groups (1 Corinthians 15:6). Furthermore the risen Jesus could be heard and touched; he had detailed conversations with people and he even ate some fish. Like the others, the hallucination theory does not add up.
Other people have argued that the accounts of the resurrection in the gospels are fabricated. Again, I’m not convinced. As I read them they have a ring of truth to them, not least due to the fact that in each gospel account it is women who were the first eye-witnesses of the resurrection. In the heavily male-dominated world of the 1st Century, a woman’s testimony in the court of law was invalid; it carried no weight. If the gospels are fabricated why on earth would they record that the first people to witness the resurrection were women? Quite simply they would not have done so unless of course it was after all true and those women who turned up that first Sunday thinking it was all over, were indeed the first witnesses.
So for the time being I wont be throwing my dog-collar into the bin as I remain intellectually convinced that Christ is indeed risen from the dead. I would love to chat to anyone though who could persuade me otherwise and can assure you that a listening ear, an open mind, a cup of tea and, who knows, maybe even a bit of chocolate cake will await your visit to 44 Nunsgate!