If he didn’t there are only four options:
- The whole thing is a made up story
- The disciples made an honest mistake
- Jesus didn’t really die
- Jesus died, but something else happened to his body.
The whole thing is a fiction: In this group are the academics who think the early Christians like the pagan stories of gods dying and rising and decided to adopt them and adapt them for their hero Jesus. Problem: The early Christians were Jews and for both the Jewish and Gentile Christians the pagans were the big problem. The weeded out every scrap of paganism and died rather than offer even a grain of incense to the pagan gods. We’re supposed to believe they happily wove pagan stories into the story of Jesus?
Also in this category are the academics of the ‘de-mythologizing school’ who say, “In some beautiful way the teachings of Jesus continued to believed and lived by his followers after his tragic death, and isn’t this really what the resurrection is all about? Problem: the New Testament says it really happened. There were terrified, bewildered, confused and amazed working class people–not the sort who go around constructing meaningful fairy tales.
The disciples made an honest mistake: In this group are the people who say the disciples had a dream or thought they saw a ghost, or overcome by grief they imagined that Jesus was really alive again. Maybe they had a hallucination. Whatever happened, they made an honest mistake. Problem 1: These are hard headed working class people who know dreams from reality. Fishermen, a tax collector, a prostitute…C’mon. These people may have been weak and dumb, but they weren’t dreamers and visionaries. Problem 2: The enemies of Christ were intent on his death. They came to the execution to make sure. Had there been stories of a resurrection they would have produced the body. “Sorry guys. You were dreaming. Here’s your dead master, and he’s starting to smell bad.”
Jesus didn’t really die: This is the craziest alternative theory. The man was flogged with leather cords with bits of pottery and glass woven into them to tear great hunks of flesh out of his body. Then he was crucified in public by professional executioners (who’s own life could be risked if they didn’t kill their victim). The spear thrust entered the heart cavity and modern medical science says that water and blood only come out after death has already occurred. If the person was still alive only blood would flow. We’re supposed to believe that the first century author of the gospel had that kind of medical knowledge in order to fake it? Problem: Even given the possibility that somehow Jesus survived the flogging, the beatings and the crucifixion, we’re supposed to believe that, once wrapped in linens and placed in a tomb with a 2 ton stone in place he woke up, unwrapped his linen, folded them neatly, put his shoulder to the stone and rolled it back from the inside and stepped into the garden to meet his friends. So the man’s body is broken and wounded he’s staggering naked and barely alive and his disciples say, “Look! It’s the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ!” Uhh. I don’t think so. Wouldn’t they say, “Geesh! Yuck! He’s survived. Let’s get him to a doctor!”
Something else happened to the body: According to this theory they threw Jesus body on the trash heap and dog ate it or the disciples went to the wrong tomb or they stole the body. Problem: the Jews were (and still are) very meticulous about burying their dead. There is no evidence that they threw the body away. Just the opposite–all the evidence is of a hasty, but careful and respectful burial. If this were not the case the eye witnesses would have corrected the fudged gospel account. Problem 2 the disciples stole the body? We’re to believe that these men who were too cowardly to follow their Lord to his death suddenly found their courage and organized a conspiracy in which they side stepped the Jewish leaders, outfoxed Pilate and overwhelmed the guards at Jesus’ tomb? Problem 3 If they stole the tomb they went on to suffer torture and martyrdom themselves to perpetrate a hoax? What was in it for them? They were going to be the founders of a new religion and make lots of money? They were going to become world famous by creating a hoax to get people to follow an executed criminal as their Lord and Savior?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the turning point of human history. It is the fact around which everything else revolves. Decide again today to make it the turning point of your life and the fact around which your whole life revolves.
Your life could depend on it!
UPDATE: Go here for a more exhaustive defense of the Resurrection by Peter Kreeft