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The Resurrection: Hoax or Hope?

by Ron Matsen

Historically, the proclamation of the Christian evangelistic message contains the twins of the Gospel which are the Cross and the Resurrection. When my family and I were living in England, I was shocked by an article in the local “Portsmouth News, 13 April 2001.” It reported that it asked 50 clergy of churches in the area what they thought their congregation’s belief was regarding Easter. These professional pastors admitted that 48% of their church members did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and 60% believed that the spirit of Easter had been lost in favor of bunnies and Easter eggs. Needless to say, I was horrified by this dismal report of the Biblical illiteracy of the church members around me.

The apostle Paul makes it quite clear that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian Faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 he states,

“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

The claim of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead makes the Christian Gospel totally unique in comparison to all other religions. In fact, it is at the heart of the evangelistic message. It is sited by:

  1. Peter on the Day of Pentecost – Acts 2;22-24
  2. Peter after healing the lame man – Acts 3:15
  3. Peter before the Jewish Sanhedrin – Acts 4:10
  4. The testimony of the Church in Jerusalem – Acts 4:33
  5. Peter’s sermon before the house of Cornelius – Acts 10:40
  6. Paul’s standard method of preaching – Acts 17:2,3
  7. Paul before philosophers in Athens – Acts 17:31

Luke begins his account written in the Book of Acts by stating that the resurrection provided infallible proof.

“To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:”

Acts 1:3

The facts concerning the disappearance of the body of Jesus has been under attack since the day after it happened. Many fanciful attempts have been made to undermine this “infallible proof.” Here are a few of the excuses that are still being promoted today. I have grouped these scenarios into four categories, all starting with the letter “F.”

1) Foul Play

The story that the disciples stole the body of Jesus dates back to the day after the resurrection.

In Matthew 28:11-15, we read,

“Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

The big problem with this scenario is that the Temple guards were fully armed and more than capable of resisting any attempt by the disciples of Jesus to steal the body. Especially given the fact that the disciples were not really very good with the sword. We know this because of the incident during the arrest of Jesus when Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest as recorded in John 18:10. Please also remember that all the disciples of Jesus fled during his arrest, trial, and execution. Therefore, if they could not stand by him when he was alive, why would they now risk their lives to steal the body of their dead leaders?

2) Faked His Death

Some have gone so far as to suppose that Jesus merely swooned or fainted during the crucifixion so convincingly that the Roman guards thought that he was dead. They then removed him from the cross and allowed him to be taken away by Joseph of Arimathea to be laid in a new tomb. During the cool of the next morning, Jesus awoke and was able to escape. Those who propose such nonsense disregard the fact that the Romans were experts with the art of public crucifixion. Jesus was beaten without mercy and nailed to a cross. He ultimately suffocated as a result of the trauma of being hung on a cross. It is simply ridiculous to think that anyone could have survived this kind of torture let alone recover enough to awake in a tomb, throw off his grave clothes, single-handedly defeat the guards and then escape without a trace.

3) Fabricated Report

This scenario proposes that after the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples got together and fabricated the story of the resurrection. Some suppose that because the disciples had invested the better part of 3 years of their lives to following this man from Galilee, they now needed to create a story that would allow them to continue to trade on the former fame of Jesus. But wait, if this was a hoax, then it required more than the original disciples of Jesus to all agree with this subterfuge. We are told in Acts 1:22 that following the crucifixion, to be an apostle the candidate needed to be a “witness of the resurrection.” The list of co-conspirators is even larger as the apostle Paul tells us. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 he states, “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” Now, given the ever-increasing number of witnesses, it would be impossible for everyone involved to keep this lie, especially because many of them would face martyrdom for holding such a tale as truth.

4) Forgot the Location of the Tomb

This proposed objection must be the strangest one of all. The whole idea is that in the confusion that followed the crucifixion of Jesus, everyone forgot the place where his body was laid to rest. When you consider the grief-blurred minds of the women who went early to the tomb after the Sabbath, it is conceivable that they could have been confused and lost their way. Thus, they entered the wrong tomb, reported this to the disciples, and this foundational fact of Christianity turns out to be nothing more than a mistake gone horribly viral. As plausible as some think this scenario might be, in order for this to be true, it would mean that not only the women forgot, Joseph of Arimathea (the owner of the tomb) forgot, and the guards who protected the tomb forgot. If this mistake were true, then all the opponents of this new Jewish sect needed to do was produce the un-resurrected body of Jesus, and that would have forever closed this contrived mystery. But they didn’t. Instead, the disciples of Jesus used His resurrection as the cornerstone of their public presentations of the Gospel. When Peter stands before the Jewish Sanhedrin, he drives home this single point as he stood before them in their tribunal. Here Peter states in Acts 4:10,

“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.”

You can choose one of these four options:

  1. There was Foul Play – The Disciples stole the body
  2. Jesus Faked His Death – He fooled everyone
  3. The disciples Fabricated the Report – It is big fat lie
  4. Everyone Forgot the location of the Tomb

But wait. There is another solution that is constant with history and the Bible.

5) Fantastic Fact

The Church built its foundation on the declaration that the resurrection of Jesus was the irrefutable proof that would compel all mankind to consider the case of Christ.

Romans 4:24,25 says,

“But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification.”

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 says,

“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 1:3-5 says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

According to these founding patriarchs of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus proves that debt of our sins was paid in full. It proves that the penalty of death was defeated. The resurrection of Jesus Christ provides all Believers HOPE.

May God bless you as you seek Him through Jesus Christ alone.