In 1 Corinthians 15:14 it says that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Then in verses 17 & 18 it says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
So essentially it all comes down to this. Did Christ rise from the dead or not? If he did, then that proves that he was the Messiah and therefore God in the flesh.
To determine whether or not He did, we need to know what theories are out there that attempt to explain the resurrection.
- The disciples stole the body
- Jesus never actually died on the cross
- The disciples lied or hallucinated
- Christ rose from the dead
The disciples stole the body
In order commit such an act, the disciples would have needed to go through as many as twelve trained killers that were set at the tomb to protect it from such an event happening. Then proceeded to roll a 4,000 pound stone away from the grave opening. How would timid, untrained, cowardly disciples muster up the courage to attempt this act?
In an effort answer that question, some skeptics have said that perhaps the guards were sleeping when the disciples came. If they were, besides being a action punishable by death, the moment a group of men tried to move a 4,000 pound stone would certainly make enough noise to wake just about anyone in the immediate area.
Besides, what motive would the disciples have to steal the body of a man who, if he had not risen from the dead on his own like he promised, was nothing more than a hoax? Especially if the preaching of that message would bring them persecution and eventually death?
I believe we can safely conclude that it is quite unlikely that the disciples stole the body of Jesus.
Jesus never actually died on the Cross
There are various religions that try to point out that Christ never even died on the cross. That his death was either faked or that it wasn’t even him on the cross in the first place, but someone else who only looked like him.
This simply could not have been the case. The soldiers who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus were trained killers. They were quite educated to know when someone was officially dead. To make sure that Jesus had in fact died, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear. When he did this, out came blood mixed with water (John 19:34), which in the medical field is the result of hypovolemic shock. Even if by some remote chance Jesus was not yet dead, the spear piercing through his lungs and into his heart would have certainly killed him.
Also, if Jesus was not yet dead when they took him down from the cross after his crucifixion, the soldiers would have been put to death for not doing their job.
The claim that it was not Jesus on the cross in the first place can quickly be laid to rest in light of where Jesus told Thomas to put his finger in his hands, and his hand in Jesus’ side. Upon Thomas doing so, he cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-29)
The disciples lied or hallucinated
In attempt to explain away the multiple accounts where Jesus ate, talked, walked with, and ministered to people after his resurrection, skeptics have raised that argument that perhaps all those who saw him merely hallucinated.
In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul gives an account of the people Jesus appeared to, Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred at one time (most of whom were still alive during the time that 1 Corinthians was written), then James, then all the apostles, then finally he appeared to Paul.
First of all, how do five hundred people spontaneously hallucinate the appearance of the same man, in the same place, speaking the same things, at the same time? It is almost funny to even think about!
But even if, by some unimaginable chance, Jesus’ followers were in fact hallucinating; all the authorities would have needed to do, was produce the body of Jesus. Surely if he was dead, there was a body in the tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea which could have proven it, but there’ is no record of them doing this anywhere. In fact Matthew 28:11-15 actually tells us that when the guards came and told the chief priests what had happened, the council paid them to tell people that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus during the night. Now why would the Jews need to pay the guards to say this if it was true?
Of course one would also have to ask, what would be the motive for the disciples to lie about something that brought many of them persecution and eventually death?
Also, if the disciples were trying to make up a fabricate a convincing story, they would have said that it was men who first saw the risen Christ, not two women (Matthew 28:1). The reason being that during those times, a woman’s testimony was not even recognized in the court of law. So if a story were going to manufactured, it would have been two men who first discovered the empty tomb, because that was more believable.
But finally, how would someone explain the rapid growth of the church if Jesus had not risen? After the Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity started to spread like wildfire throughout the entire region. As many as 3,000 Jews a day were putting their faith in Christ and changing the practices that had been instilled in them since birth.
We know that Jesus was a historical person, not only from what the Bible says, but also from several outside sources which confirm the events that took place. If the claims that the members of the early church was making were mere fabrications, those who knew the truth would have surely spoken out and written about it, and as a result we would have record of it. But we don’t.
Christ rose from the dead
The final existing option that has yet to be successfully refuted, is the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. This would prove that Jesus is God, just like the Bible claims. To further aid this hypothesis, historian C.B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use for determining what is the best explanation for the historical information that is available.1 The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead passes all six of these tests. Every other explanation we have examined fails on one or more of the following.
- Does the explanation have great explanatory scope? Yes, it explains why the tomb was found empty, why there were post mortem appearances of Jesus and why the Christian faith came into being.
- Does the explanation have great explanatory power? Yes, it explains why the body of Jesus was missing, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive, despite his public execution.
- Is the explanation plausible? Yes, given Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims to be God in the flesh, the resurrection would prove that his claims were valid.
- Is the explanation ad hoc or formed for a particular purpose? No, it requires only one additional hypothesis; that God exists. Which doesn’t need to be an additional hypothesis if you already believe in God.
- Is the explanation in accord with accepted beliefs? Yes, the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead does not in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. Because God has the ability to overrule what we think of as natural law.
- Does the explanation far outstrip any of its rival theories in meeting conditions 1 - 5? Yes.
- C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 19