Jesus Christ rose from the dead!
This is the message which we proclaim, celebrate, sing and preach about each Easter. Of course, not everyone believes that this statement is true. Since the very first Easter Sunday, the rumor mills have been working overtime cranking out dozens of alternate theories to explain away this treasured Christian belief. As we think of the resurrection, let’s examine and respond to some of these popular ideas.
The Stolen Body Theory
Premise: Someone broke into the tomb and removed the body of Jesus. Proposed thieves include: the Romans, the Jews, and the disciples.
Response: This notion is the oldest alternate theory of the resurrection. This idea even made its debut in the gospels as recorded in Matthew 28:11-15. After reporting what happened to them, the soldiers were told to report that, “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”
What is intriguing about this theory is that it actually proves a major piece of resurrection evidence. Jesus’ own contemporaries knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the tomb was empty! The question was not “Is the tomb empty;” the question was “Why is the tomb empty?” These leaders knew that others could simply walk to the garden and see it for themselves. Thus, they had to start a rumor to explain it.
If the Jews or Romans had stolen the body, all they had to do was to then produce Jesus’ corpse. There would have been no advantage to steal and hide it. Parading Jesus’ rotting cadaver through the streets of Jerusalem would have destroyed the church instantly and definitively. But, neither group did, because they couldn’t.
If the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, why were they willing, then, to die for a message which they knew to be a lie? This theory does not adequately explain their subsequent behavior and boldness. If they had Jesus’ decaying carcass hidden in a closet, why would they endure persecution, imprisonment, and death? Preaching the resurrection certainly did not bring any fame or fortune to them. Granted, people do die for lies – but not usually for ones that only hurt them and that they invent.
The Legend Theory
Premise: Jesus’ followers fabricated a “larger-than-life tale” in the centuries following including a myth about His resurrection (i.e. Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan).
Response: The argue that a myth or legend evolved over a few centuries after Jesus’ life, fails to explain the fact that the resurrection account was believed and preached immediately by the disciples. The earliest known portion of Scripture (1 Cor 15: 3-7) reliably states who the eyewitnesses were. This passage, which speaks of the resurrection, can be confidently dated to the mid 30’s AD. Furthermore, alternate theories (see the “Stolen Body” above) were also proposed the very same day as the resurrection. Thus, a basic timeline of historically verifiable data proves that the legend theory is nothing more than a legend itself.
The Wrong Tomb Theory
Premise: The reason that the disciples found the tomb to be empty is because they mistakenly went to the wrong location and looked into an open, unoccupied grave
Response: This theory creates more problems than it solves. For starters, the women saw exactly where His body was buried on Friday. It’s obviously possible for one or two people to be mistaken, but there were nearly a dozen people (men and women), in different groups and at different times, who all went to the same empty tomb. Furthermore, this theory does not explain the bewilderment of the soldiers who were, no doubt, at the correct tomb. Additionally, if they had gone to the wrong tomb and began preaching that Jesus rose, the leaders could have easily pointed them to the right tomb, opened it, and exposed Jesus’ dead body. The wrong tomb theory is wrong.
The Apparent Death Theory
Premise: On the cross, Jesus did not actually die; he merely fainted or swooned. As His catatonic body laid in the cold tomb air, He soon regained consciousness, opened the tomb, overpowered the soldiers, found His disciples and showed Himself as risen.
Response: First of all, Jesus was put to death by professional executioners; men who knew a dead body from a live one. Also it’s improbable to think that anyone could survive the scourgings, beatings, and crucifixion (not to mention having a spear jabbed into one’s heart). Furthermore, there are numerous historical statements (outside the Bible) which speak of Jesus dying by crucifixion. Additionally, if this theory were true – it’s outrageous to think that the disciples would have seen Jesus’ bloody, bruised, beaten, appearance with open wounds and oozing scabs and been amazed or wowed by it. Seeing Him in that condition, they would have thought He needed medical attention, not that He had conquered death. Basic logic puts the swoon theory to rest.
While these theories are the most popular, dozens more exist. As the years pass, though, it seems the skeptics continue to shout these same old, tired theories as proof that Jesus did not rise. But, as a wise man once said, “Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.”
No amount of shouting these theories will make them true. There is one and only one explanation that makes sense of the evidence and has stood the test of time – the simple message that: Jesus Christ rose from the dead! Let’s rejoice and celebrate: He is Risen!!!!!!