The Resurrection: An Historical Fact
CCC 643 claims the Resurrection to be an “historical fact.” This is following in the footsteps of the New Testament, where we see St. Paul, St. John, St. Peter and many others claim to have been “eyewitnesses” of the resurrection. And St. Paul sums up the importance of the resurrection as an historical event when he says ever so bluntly in I Cor. 15:14-19:
 If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise…  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
The Resurrection is the central event in salvation history that gives rise to the Highest of all High Holy Days in the Church, the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday and the Octave of Easter. Indeed, every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. It should be no surprise then that Jesus began predicting his own resurrection, at least in a more concerted and frequent way, we find, beginning in Matthew 16:21, shortly after promising the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter and his successors. This promise of the keys of the kingdom to ensure the unity of belief among Christians depicted as the foundation of the Church is fittingly and immediately followed by Christ beginning to prophesy the resurrection, the most important event in the ministry of Christ that would become the foundation of the foundation! And please take note that Matt. 16:21 begins with the words: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Thus, we know Jesus predicted this often, many more times than what we find recorded in Scripture. So much so, in fact, that in Matthew 27:63 we find Pilate’s advisors recalling his claim after his death and suggesting that he put a guard at the tomb lest someone steal the body and claim he was resurrected. His claim was no secret!
Mark 9:9-10 is another example where Jesus reminds the apostles of his impending death and resurrection shortly after the glory of the Transfiguration. Jesus reminds St. Peter here who wanted to remain with Jesus on the Mount and set up tabernacles that the glory Jesus revealed to them and that awaits all the faithful, can only be attained through the suffering of the cross. Not only Jesus’ cross, but the cross of the disciples as well (Luke 9:23; Romans 8:17).
We also find a very important mention of the resurrection placed early in Jesus’ ministry, according to John’s Gospel, in John 2:18-22:
The Jews, therefore, answered, and said to him: What sign dost thou shew unto us, seeing thou dost these things? (He had just emptied out the temple moneychangers) Jesus answered, and said to them: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spoke of the temple of his body.
Yes, the future resurrection of Jesus was and is central and essential for the Catholic Christian Faith. Without it, as St. Paul said, we have no Catholic Christian Faith. And the apostles are all liars! The good news is: the resurrection can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt as an historical fact!
Eyewitness Good News
In order to accomplish the task at hand, I would like to return to some of the texts of Scripture I alluded to earlier where the inspired authors claimed to be eyewitnesses of our resurrected Lord. These are extremely important for our purpose here:
II Peter 1:16 – “For we have not followed cunningly devised myths (Greek – muthois) when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
Acts 1:3 – “To them he [Jesus] presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.”
I John 1:1-3 – That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life —  the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us —  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Notice, the emphasis on the apostles as “eyewitnesses?”
And then we also see how right from the beginning, the apostles appeal to the knowledge of their hearers, friend and foe alike, with regard to the life and ministry of Jesus. In Acts 2:22-27, St. Peter, in his first sermon after Pentecost says:
Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him, in the midst of you, as you also know this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore, my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will dwell in hope. For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption.
Acts 26:24-28: In this text, St. Paul appeals to the knowledge of the Roman Governor Festus and the Jewish King Agrippa “These things were not done in a corner ….” And Agrippa was so moved by Paul’s testimony and challenge that he responds: “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!”  And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am — except for these chains.”
No wonder 3,000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost. And thousands and thousands more would follow! And the same can be said for the ministry of St. Paul. Peter and Paul appeal to at least some of the people they are speaking to as being eyewitnesses of these things! And very importantly, even if they were not eyewitnesses of the resurrection, they were, many of them, eyewitnesses of at least some of the miracles of Christ. This too becomes crucial from an apologetics perspective because the miracles of Christ prove his divinity! If he can perform miracles, and by his own power, which requires infinite power, then the resurrection is a not a problem for him! St. Paul and St. Peter are setting up their listeners!
And I should note here that we should do this as well! And not only with the miracles of Christ, which can be verified by both friend and foe alike as we will see later, but with the miracles that have been and continue in the Church in every generation until the end of time. Jesus said, in Mark 16:17, “These signs shall follow them that believe, they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover…” The Eucharistic Miracles like Lanciano, the Incorruptibles like St. Bernadette and St. Catherine Laboure, the physical healings like the 70 approved by the Church at Lourdes, the many miracles of St. Padre Pio, and the hundreds and hundreds of miracles approved by the Church during the process of the canonization of saints over the centuries. And, by the way, for the skeptic who asks how saints could perform miracles when, as I said earlier, a miracle requires infinite power, the saint who can be said to “perform” or “cause” a miracle, is merely an instrumental cause. That means, the saint has no power to actually “create” the miracle. The saint is the instrument God chooses to use to perform the miracle. Jesus made very clear he has the authority to forgive sins and heal in Matthew 9:6: “That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he then said to the paralytic—Rise, take up your bed, and go home!”
At any rate, back to the resurrection and the eyewitnesses of our resurrected Lord. As I said before, everything with regard to Christianity hinges on his point. St. Paul said it best when he in essence declared the apostles’ very lives and reputations are staked on this one point.
Now, unfortunately, we do not have space here to consider the historical reliability of the biblical manuscripts. For that, I recommend you get a hold of my CD set/digital download set available at https://shop.catholic.com/jesus-lives-the-historical-truth-about-the-resurrection/ or amazon.com, called “Jesus Lives.” It contains everything I am covering with you today and a whole lot more, including the historical reliability of the Gospels and the New Testament. But for now, let’s just say the evidence is overwhelming that we can trust the New Testament as an historical document.
The Skeptical Apostles
What we find in the historical record is this: the apostles and disciples of the Lord first believed Jesus was the Messiah and were persuaded as such through his life, teaching, and miracles. But what we also find and equally as clearly is up until the very end of Jesus’ earthly sojourn, they struggled with the nature of what that really meant. In other words, who was the Messiah to be? When Jesus first began to tell the apostles—at least in a more concerted and continual way as I said before—that he was to be crucified and rise again on the third day, and he began with Peter himself in Matt. 16, the apostles either rejected the idea altogether as Peter did in Matt. 16, or they just could not comprehend or even consider the idea (cf. Matt. 16:21ff). In fact, at one point, in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus was teaching them quite plainly about his coming death and resurrection, yet check this out:
[Jesus] was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.
This sounds strange on the surface, but not when you understand that the idea of Jesus being crucified and resurrected was so far afield from the apostles’ thought process that it would have sounded like a foreign language to them! “What did he just say?” Right? And this is no surprise. Peter and the apostles would have been very much affected by the popular conception that the Messiah was to come and immediately establish a kingdom that would bring peace to the entire world under his rule and under the rule of the kingdom of Israel. “What is this death and resurrection stuff?” In fact, this notion was so foreign to the disciples that even just before our Lord’s ascension, in fact, we find the apostles saying to Jesus, in Acts 1:6: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They still didn’t get it! At least, not completely!
I think modern skeptics failure to understand this mindset among the apostles leads to another failure. A failure to understand the fact that when Jesus was crucified the apostles and disciples’ world effectively came crashing down upon them. I know many say that when the apostles all fled in the Garden of Gethsemane, they were cowards. I beg to differ. They were not cowards. Clearly, St. Peter was willing to wield the sword in defense of Christ and his kingdom when he cut off Malchus’s ear in John 18:10. I have no doubt that if Jesus were to have called the apostles to arms, they would have answered the call. The fact is, it was Jesus who told St. Peter to sheathe his sword in John 18:11! That was both unexpected and would have been disconcerting to Peter and the apostles to say the very least! And even more so it was Jesus who willingly surrendered himself to be taken to his death on the cross! This Peter and the apostles just could not fathom! This just did not fit their understanding and the common understanding of the Jews for what the Messiah was to be. Again, the apostles were not cowards; it was much worse than that. They were disillusioned! They were devastated, upended, and confused. This is what led to St. Peter denying Christ three times. The entire psychology of the apostles could be summed up in one verse from Matt. 26:56 I mentioned earlier after Jesus was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” Only John would collect himself enough to come back with the Blessed Mother and a few holy women to be present at the foot of the cross. The rest had been completely disillusioned and ran.
The Paradigm Shift
“Something happened” seems an understatement to the point of near absurdity. But I will say it again… something happened. According to the record, each and every one of the apostles who had pledged their lives to Jesus fled when he was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane—Peter even shortly thereafter denying Jesus Christ three times—as really each of them had also done at least once in abandoning Jesus. They all, in essence, denied him. Yet, each one of these who fled would be so transformed in a matter of just a few days, that each of them would eventually become martyrs for the faith except St. John. And, according to tradition, that was only because he was delivered miraculously from an attempt on his life.
What happened? According to the historical narrative, each of these same apostles who had denied Christ and fled saw the resurrected Lord. That is what happened! Even though the apostles also saw Jesus perform miracles and fulfill prophecy during his ministry, and objectively speaking, these also proved he was who he said he was, those miracles were not the reason for their change. And understandably so. That was in the past. The apostles’ heads were spinning! They were probably calling everything into question at this point. The bottom line is: it was the sight of the resurrected Lord that was the game changer that would inform everything Christ had done and said before and would be the impetus for the apostles’ faith to be restored and vivified.
Here now comes a crucial point, folks. The truth is, the apostles seeing the resurrected Lord is the only reasonable explanation for the facts of history recorded in the New Testament. That is, the resurrection and the appearances of the resurrected Lord to the apostles. There is nothing else that can explain what we find in the historical record. These men went from being doubting and disillusioned to being transformed into men who would be willing to die for what they claimed to have seen! And this happened in a matter of a few days! Let’s look at some of the evidence from Scripture of what happened, most of which happened within days, some just a matter of weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ where the apostles had been completely disillusioned. St. Paul’s unique encounter with the risen Lord is the outlier. He saw our resurrected Lord ca.one to at most 4 years after the resurrection.
In John 20:1/Matt. 28:1/Luke 24:10/Mark 16:1 – Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, “the other Mary,” mother of James, Joseph, Simon, Jude, and Salome, and “other women” after three days in the tomb early on Easter morning.
John 20:11-18 – He appeared again to Mary Magdalene alone on that same day.
Luke 24:34 – He then appeared to Peter, first among the apostles also on Easter.
Luke 24:13-35 – He appeared to Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus, also on Easter Sunday.
John 20:19-24 – To the apostles without Thomas.
John 20:26 – Then to the apostles with Thomas present.
John 21:1-17 – To seven of the disciples (named anyway) by the Lake of Tiberius.
I Cor. 15:6 – To over five hundred at one time about whom St. Paul would very importantly say: “Most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”
I Cor. 15:7 – He appeared to James.
Matthew 28:16-17 – He appeared to “the eleven.”
I Cor. 15:8 – He lastly appeared to St. Paul.
Why They Continued to Doubt
I said earlier that the apostles, some of them, were transformed from completely devastated and running away, to being willing to die for our Lord within days. That may have been true for a few of them. And there is no doubt there was a radical change. But what is also noteworthy here is the fact that the apostles were so downtrodden that even after the resurrection, and even up until the ascension of our Lord, according to Matt. 28: 17, many of the apostles and disciples believed, “but some doubted” even then! Even of St. Peter and St. John it is written in John 20:9: “… for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead,” even after they saw the empty tomb!
When we look at St. Luke’s version of events in the latter part of Luke 23 and then Luke 24, we see Mary Magdalene and the holy women coming to the tomb on Easter morning and finding an empty tomb and heavenly messengers who proclaimed to them the message of the resurrection. But remember this, folks: they were coming to anoint his body for burial because it had been done hastily because of the onset of the vigil of the Sabbath, according to Luke 23:50-24:1. They, like the apostles did not believe Jesus was going to be raised from the dead! It is only after they hear the message of the angels, they then run and tell the apostles and disciples Jesus was risen, but they did not believe them (Luke 24:11). The apostles thought this was just some “idle tale” told by these “silly women!”
Then, in verse 13, Jesus appears to Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus, and it took a long time and the eventual “breaking of bread” with Jesus until they came to believe in verse 31. Then, when they returned to Jerusalem and began to relate their story to the apostles Jesus himself appeared to all of them, and yet, verse 41 says, “They still disbelieved for joy, and wondered…” Moreover, apparently, Jesus appeared to St. Peter even before Cleopas and his companion related their story because in Luke 24:34, before they relate their story, the other disciples declare, “the Lord has risen, indeed, and has appeared to Simon (Peter)!” This is extremely important! It seems the disciples, at least many of them, were still walking in a fog of doubt and unbelief. We know this because even after all of this, at least some of them, probably most of them, still did not really believe because in Mark 16:14, after these events when Jesus appears in the midst of the eleven, we read, “Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” This would, most importantly, include them not believing even Peter!
And again, I must emphasize some did not believe even by the time of the ascension of our Lord after 40 days of appearances according to Matt. 28:17!
Responding to the Skeptics
Keep all of what we have said in mind as we attempt to answer the skeptics. But before we go there, we must consider the fact that we also have a hostile viewer of the resurrected Lord by the name of Saul of Tarsus. Here was a man who was antithetical to the claims of Christ and of the resurrection and was persecuting those who made those same claims. It would be his encounter with the risen Lord that would so transform him that he, too, would become a martyr because of what he claimed he saw! The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ!
The bottom line here is this: the historical record of all of these hundreds of people who saw the Lord after the resurrection is so certain from an historical perspective that even the most skeptical of skeptics over the centuries have not been able to deny the historical facts of the case. The real questions have basically been reduced to various forms of these four below-listed scenarios in order to try and explain away the historical record:
1. Were the apostles and disciples so wanting the Lord to have been the Messiah that they experienced some sort of a mass hallucination driven by mass hysteria? In other words, they thought they saw the Lord, but they didn’t. It was an hallucination.
2. Did the apostles steal the body of Jesus, discard it, and then make up the story we know today? And that is the story the Jews are recorded in Matt. 27 to have used in the first century.
3. Did Jesus pass out due to loss of blood and after his body was placed in the tomb it revived and he was then able to walk out of the tomb?
4. Was this a matter of a mishap? Perhaps these disciples were mistaken somehow? Maybe Jesus was placed in the wrong tomb or a different tomb than what the apostles thought?
Response to #1: The hallucination claim is untenable when we consider the fact that Jesus appeared many times to literally hundreds of people over a period of 40 days! And very importantly, these were people who were not expecting a resurrection! That is the historical record! So why would they hallucinate something they did not expect? Moreover, if we consider the angle of hallucinations from a scientific perspective, a one-time event to one person, perhaps could be explained by hallucination. But hundreds of people over 40 days and many different occasions? According to history, he even appeared in “different forms” as well (see Mark 16:12). That is more than just unlikely! It is virtually impossible! And this is not to mention the appearance to St. Paul who at the time was an enemy of the Faith and persecuting Christians. I will speak more to that in #2 below. But to say these 100’s of souls with different backgrounds who had very different experiences of the same resurrected Lord that changed each of their lives dramatically and at different times had some passion-driven “hallucination,” is more than a stretch. The fact that none of them were expecting a resurrected Lord is significant, as I said, but the case of St. Paul is even more radical. He was not only not expecting, seeking, or even desiring a resurrected Jesus Christ, but he was persecuting Christians! Even if one argues the rest were so desiring Jesus to be the Messiah and to be resurrected that they had this untenable mass “hallucination,” what would be the source of St. Paul’s hallucination? Again, he was persecuting the followers of Jesus! Sorry, this just does not hold water!
Response to #2: They stole the body? Really? Even the famous Jewish scholar and skeptic of the Resurrection Joseph Klausner could not buy this one. The apostles, said Klausner, were men of impeccable character. Flawed? Yes! And very importantly, they were admittedly flawed. One of the really impressive things about the Gospel accounts that lends more credibility to the apostles and authors of the New Testament is that the apostles present themselves with all of their flaws! They were remarkably honest men! We could talk about all of the apostles from “the sons of Thunder,” James and John, selfishly desiring glory, to all of the apostles fleeing in the face of the confusion and disillusionment in the Garden, and more. But just consider how their leader, Peter, is so honestly portrayed. He puts his foot firmly in his mouth on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matt. 17. He is called “Satan” by Jesus just after he is promised the keys of the kingdom in Matt. 16. He denies Jesus three times! And again, there is much more we could consider here, but these men, the apostles, were brutally and beautifully honest, folks!
No, the idea that the apostles could commit such a colossal fraud, even for a skeptic like Joseph Klausner, would be to claim something so far out of character for the apostles and disciples that this is simply out of the question. And this is not to mention Mary and the holy women! And the sheer numbers of people that would have had to be involved. Over 500 eyewitnesses would have to keep their stories straight! If you are going to attempt a lie of this magnitude, you don’t include 100’s of people in the know. The fewer the better. This scenario is not only unbelievable; it is unworkable.
But beyond considering this scenario from the perspective of the character of the players involved, let’s consider it as a possibility for a moment even if we were dealing with scoundrels. Beyond the fact of the sheer numbers of people involved here, the problems with this scenario are manifold. First, the apostles were hardly characters sophisticated enough and equipped for the task at hand. Let’s just say Jesus did not go to the university of Jerusalem to find his apostles, folks. Remember the story in Acts 4:13, where we find the Jews hearing the power and boldness of St. Peter and St. John? What did they say?
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Again, these were country bumpkins who, as I said before, had become completely disillusioned and who literally ran away and deserted Jesus after our Lord Jesus gave himself to the soldiers who came for him. In fact, in Matthew 26:56, St. Matthew includes himself when he wrote, “they all (the apostles) fled.” Is anyone going to seriously think that these guys would be able to somehow collect themselves and do all that would be necessary to create this elaborate hoax? And not just in three days. They would have effectively had one full day, Saturday. This group who were shattered and fled? I would say that would require more faith than belief in the resurrection!
Remember, these men were completely disillusioned and upended to the point of being in hiding for three days until Jesus began appearing to them. Meanwhile, the chief priests and Pharisees had gone to Pilate and asked him to place a guard at the tomb lest the disciples come and steal the corpse and feign a resurrection! In Matt. 27:65-66, Pilate gave them a formal, Roman guard unit, who both sealed and guarded the tomb. And by the way, these were obviously Roman guards because after the Resurrection, the chief priest paid them to lie and say the disciples as stolen the body. The Chief priests told the soldiers that if this got back to “the governor” (Roman), they would take care of it and “keep them out of trouble” with their governor (28:12-14).
Are we to believe that this rag-tag band of disillusioned disciples overpowered a Roman guard unit and stole Jesus’ body? This too is unthinkable. First of all, as the later Jews would find out in uprisings in both A.D. 67 and A.D. 135, the ending was never good when it came to these rebellions. The Romans would have crushed their feeble attempt and we would probably all know about it today. Second, these Roman guards’ lives were on the line here. Failure was not an option for them! Remember the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 who was charged with guarding the imprisoned Paul and Silas? When at midnight God caused an earthquake that crumbled the walls of the prison and loosened their chains, verse 27 says: “When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.” If these soldiers guarding the sealed tomb failed in their task, they knew it would be their heads, literally! There is just no way this could have happened, folks.
And there is another very large problem here, folks. These disillusioned apostles who fled in the Garden of Gethsemane and were in hiding, again, did not, as a matter of record, expect a resurrection! So why would they have faked one? This is very clear in the record. The whole idea of death and resurrection flies in the face of their preconceptions of what the Messiah should be. If they were going to make up a story it wouldn’t have had anything to do with death, crosses, and resurrection! That was not even in their minds as a possibility! They so resisted that notion as we’ve seen that they never got it fully until after Pentecost! That is precisely why they were so devastated when Christ told them to put up their swords and surrendered himself to be crucified! If the apostles and disciples were going to make up a story, it would have been a story that would call the disciples to arms! That was their tendency.
And remember, not only did Jesus proclaim the truth of his own death and resurrection as core to the Gospel, and the apostles did not exactly like that idea. But he also called his disciples to be prepared to take up their crosses as well! “Unless you take up your cross daily and follow me you cannot be my disciple” in Luke 9:23. In John 16:2 Jesus prophesied of his disciples that after his own crucifixion and death: “They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Or, in Matt. 10:22: “You shall be hated of all men for my sake, but he that endures until the end shall be saved.” No, folks, this is not what the apostles would have “made up” as a fabrication! If anything, the apostles would have created a scenario of Jesus calling them to arms after what was then his impending death! This was much more in keeping with the Jewish mindset of the day like history would later record with the uprising of the Jews in the “First Jewish-Roman War” of A.D. 67 and the “Second Jewish-Roman War” in A.D. 135 led by the famous pseudo-Messiah, Simon Bar Kokhba. The first led to the destruction of the Temple, or the prophetic “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, which represented the razing of the temple to the ground and the massacre of the Jewish people, and the second led to the Jews being expelled from Jerusalem and also being massacred.
If overpowering the guards and stealing the body of Jesus was the plan, we would be reading of another massacre of the Jews today! But again, the apostles and disciples of the Lord were far too busy running for their lives and hiding than to be able to plan and execute such an involved plan! They were completely disillusioned and in no position to create any kind of conspiracy. In fact, John 20 tells us, when Jesus appeared to the apostles in the upper room, they were hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews!”
But what about those who would say “the guards just fell asleep and the apostles stole the body. There was no uprising involved,” as we see was the story told by the Jews in the first century, according to Matt. 28:11-15. The Chief priests paid the soldiers and told them to tell this story and if the governor comes after them, the Chief Priests would back up their story to “keep [them] out of trouble” as Matt. 28:14 says.
Folks, this has got to be one of the worst attempted cover-ups in history! Right off the bat one has to ask the simple question: “If the guards were asleep, how do they know the apostles stole the body? They were sleeping!”
End of Story!
But if one is inclined to argue, you have the same problem with regard to the guards as we saw in answering #1, the hallucination theory: These Romans guards knew very well that their lives were on the line here. “They fell asleep?” Moreover, they put a Roman seal on the tomb over which was placed a massive stone that was rolled upon the entrance. That would be quite some thievery to accomplish with Roman soldiers right in front of it, sleeping or not! And remember, this stone was so heavy that all of the holy women who came to the tomb could not roll it away together, according to Mark 16:3. This is hardly something you could do without waking up a guard or two, folks!
But then we have more problems. What did the apostles do with the body? They discarded it? That would be unthinkable for a Jewish people who had great respect both for the body due to a belief in the resurrection at the end of time and they had a great respect for Jesus himself. And if this were true, all the Romans and Jews would have to do is find the corpse to expose the hoax!
And most importantly, this kind of lie doesn’t make sense because it does not explain why not a single one among all of the eyewitnesses ever denied it. On the contrary they died for it. With this theory we are asked to believe that these disciples of the Lord, who lived exemplary lives of virtue and fidelity up to and including, many of them, being martyred for what they professed. We are asked to believe they did this not just for a lie, but for what they knew what a lie?
Once again, these scenarios created by skeptics end up requiring more faith than the truth of the resurrection, folks! In fact, this scenario makes no sense at all!
What about claim #3? It has come to be known as “the Swoon Theory.” Remember this one? This was suggested by Friedrich Schliermacher in the 19th century. This is the claim that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross; He only passed out. All involved thought he was dead. But after being placed in the tomb the coolness of the evening and night served to cause him to recover enough to awaken and leave the tomb. Thus, he was able to appear to his followers and begin the deception that became Christianity.
The problems with this theory are many of the same as we saw in #2 above. This too would require lying on the grandest of scales by not just the apostles, which is unthinkable, but also by Jesus this time as well! The same Jesus, mind you, who challenged his listeners in John 8:46, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” And even his enemies could not do so. That Jesus? Yes! He would now be knowingly involved in what would have to be considered the greatest lie and swindle in the history of mankind! He would have had to have known he was not who he said he was, and that he had not been resurrected and then he would have had to convince hundreds of his followers to lie and claim he was the Messiah and that he was resurrected! And not one of the hundreds involved could ever or would ever give up the scam and many, including all of the apostles would be willing to die for this lie? To say this is farcical given the character of the man, Jesus Christ, and the disciples, is an understatement.
But this also fails markedly to be able to explain the facts surrounding Jesus’ death. The Romans, who were masters of crucifying and torturing malefactors in general knew when a person was dead. In fact, they would pierce the heart of the crucified just to ensure he was dead. And this is precisely what we see recorded of Jesus. The Roman soldier, later converted to the Faith, St. Longinus, pierced Jesus’ side and “blood and water” gushed forth from the side of Jesus. This indicates that that pericardium—the sac that surrounds the heart of every human being—was pierced. That sac includes a clear fluid that serves to both lubricate and protect the heart from infection as well as the roots of what are called “the great vessels” or the veins and arteries that bring blood to and from the heart. This having been pierced, there is no possible way Jesus could have lived.
Also, we know from the historical record that Jesus was severely beaten and scourged over a two-day period, on Holy Thursday night and on Good Friday, then forced to carry his own cross to be crucified and where he hung dying for three hours before he died. This theory asks us to believe that this man could have revived and then appeared multiple times to multiple people on Easter Sunday, and none would have noticed his wounds? Moreover, he would had to have hid somewhere over a period of 40 days in between his visits where he appeared to well over 500 people? And again, no one noticed his severe wounds and weakened state?
And then this theory would also have to account for Jesus’ whereabouts for the rest of his life and his death at a time when all his enemies would have had to do is produce his body, either dead or alive.
It would also have to explain the eyewitnesses not only of the resurrected Lord, but the crucified and deceased Lord as well, including, most importantly, his mother, but all of the holy women and Joseph of Arimathea who witnessed his corpse, prepared it for burial and saw to it that he was properly buried.
And perhaps most importantly, all of these devout and most holy people, along with Jesus Christ himself would have had to be part of the scam. And that, even the great Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner said was too much for him to accept as true. And that leads us to theory #4, which is actually two theories I will call 4a and 4b, which were posited by Kirsopp Lake in 1907 (4a) and the aforementioned Jewish scholar, Joseph Klausner (4b), in 1922:
#4a: Perhaps it was a mishap? The holy women who returned to the tomb went to the wrong tomb! Jesus’ body was placed in a different tomb than the one they approached on Easter morning! Then, things got carried away!
#4b: Perhaps it was a different mishap. Joseph of Arimathea came unknown to the holy women and moved the body to a different tomb. It was just a misunderstanding!
Now, seriously, I would not have even brought these up because neither has really gotten any traction since they were raised, but I do think these are excellent demonstrations of the futility of attempting to deny the facts of history concerning the resurrection. I have basically already included most of the problems with these theories in dealing with #2 and #3 above. But think about it: This was not a matter of just the apostles losing Jesus! They found him! And resurrected! And so did Mary and the holy women, the apostles, and 500+ eyewitnesses. So, once again, we are talking about an enormous hoax, or worse, a deception of a colossal magnitude made by all of these men and women many of whom would die confessing, and all of whom gave their every waking moment professing to be true.
This would have been much more than just a “mishap” that got out of hand!
Moreover, it does not explain the appearances of Jesus to all of these eyewitnesses or the changed lives of all who claimed to see him.
But rather than re-hashing what I said above, in numbers 1-3, there are more problems with these theories that are, perhaps, the reasons why they have never caught on.
- Where the tomb of their Lord was located was not something these holy women would forget as if they misplaced a dollar or something. But when you consider that according to the historical account, the women had planned on returning to the tomb after the Sabbath right from the start to finish the preparations for burial they could not complete because of the approaching Sabbath, this becomes even more of a stretch (see Mark 15:47-16:1; Luke 23:50-24:1).
- The enemies of Christ, the Jews and Romans alike, were present when Jesus was crucified, buried and when the tomb was sealed. The tomb’s location was not a secret. All involved knew where it was located. They could have and would have easily ended everything by just walking over to the tomb and confirming the presence of Jesus’ corpse!
- If this was just a matter of a misunderstanding, all the Romans and Jews had to do is locate the body. That would be a piece of cake! Just ask Joseph of Arimathea for starters!
Now, I should note that Klausner’s idea of Joseph of Arimathea having moved the corpse without the holy women’s knowledge still does not explain the appearances and changed lives of the eyewitnesses, but it does explain why the enemies of Christ may not have known either. However, the problem is it could still be easily verified. Just ask Joseph of Arimathea! Or, just search the tombs in the area for the body of our Lord! But even more importantly, when could Joseph of Arimathea have moved the corpse? As a devout Jew, he would not have done it on the Sabbath. And because the holy women only paused their preparations of Jesus’ body in order to have it placed in the tomb before the Sabbath, there was no other time he could have done it. And the holy women came to the tomb just after sunrise on Easter Sunday.
Now, if Joseph was being devious here and breaking the Sabbath, this does not explain how he and his servants could have accomplished this. I say “and his servants” because he was a wealthy man and he would have needed help to move the massive stone and move Jesus’ corpse. And this does not explain how he did so when you have a unit of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb at the cost of their lives if they fail as we saw before.
The fact is: none of these skeptical hypotheses explain the historical facts surrounding the resurrection of our Blessed Lord. In fact, a deeper dive into the skeptical claims seems to always end the same: pointing back toward the truth of the resurrection because the resurrection ends up being the only way to square the facts of history!
The bottom line, folks: Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.
Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!