"Answering Objections" part 6
Obstacles to Belief in the Resurrection
by Greg Hanson

Today is the single most important day on the calendar. No other day even comes close. Today is the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important event in all of history. Everything hinges on whether it really happened or if it is just a made-up fantasy.

And that's not just true for Christians, because it's not just a matter of faith. The Resurrection is a matter of fact. Either it really happened at a real time and place in history or it didn't. If it didn't happen, then all of Christianity is a lie, Jesus was a con artist, and we have no real hope for the present or the future.

But... if the Resurrection really did happen it proves that Jesus is who He said He is, that He does hold power over life and death, and that He's alive and well today offering forgiveness and life to all who will come to Him.

That's a pretty big "if," though. "If it happened..." "If it didn't really happen..." Is the Resurrection just a matter of faith that you either believe in or not, or are there good reasons to believe in it? Because let me tell you, skeptics will tell you that you're free to believe in it if you want to, but there's no reason for them to believe it, too.

But is that accurate? Is there no real reason to believe, or are there actual reasons?

We've spent the past month here at Sunrise talking about reasons to believe in the accuracy and the authority of the Bible. Along the way, we've looked at several of the objections that people might raise when it comes to the Bible, and we're tried to respond to it with reasonable answers. What we don't want to do is resort to answers like, "Well, you've just got to have faith." Because our faith is not a blind faith; it's a reasonable faith.

That's the way we've tried to approach the objections people might have about the Bible, and that's the way we're going to try to respond to the objections people might have about the Resurrection of Jesus.

And let's be honest -- at first glance it might seem like there are several reasons to object. People could say, "It's just a book... don't take it seriously." "Dead people don't come back to life." "Maybe someone stole the body. "Maybe Jesus was never dead in the first place." "Maybe it was just wishful thinking leading people to hallucinate." "Surely there are better conclusions regarding the empty tomb than concluding that Jesus rose from the dead."

How do you respond when people make those kinds of comments? Do you have real answers? Something better than, "you've just gotta believe"?

Let's start with the facts. Let me give you three facts that are accepted by the vast majority of all New Testament historians, whether they are believers or not-yet-convinced, more conservative or more liberal. There are probably others we could talk about, too, but I'm just going to give you three. I'll give you three facts, and then we'll backtrack and talk about some of the objections related to each one. Okay?

Three Widely Acknowledged Facts:

A.    The body of Jesus was missing from the tomb.

B.    Witnesses claimed to have seen Jesus alive even after his death.

C.    Jesus' followers believed in the Resurrection so much they were willing to die for that belief.

Those are three facts accepted by pretty much everyone as being historically accurate. There's no real debate about those three. And what I want to suggest to you is that the most plausible explanation for those three facts is that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead.

Not that He had naturally risen from the dead... because, no, dead people don't spontaneously come back to life. No, He did not naturally come back from the dead; He supernaturally came back from the dead by the power of God.

But I'm fully aware that there are lots of people who will look at those three facts and come to other conclusions. Without being willing to consider the possibility of anything supernatural, they try to come up with other explanations. And since we're in this series on answering objections, I want us to spend some time this morning talking about some of these other explanations... some of the objections people raise about believing that these facts point to a resurrection. So starting with the first one, let's look at some of the other proposed explanations.

A.    The body of Jesus was missing from the tomb.

Here’s the account of the tomb being found empty from the Gospel of Luke…

Luke 24:1-3 (NLT)
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.

That’s what the Bible says… in this Gospel as well as in many other places in the New Testament. But what would the skeptic say?

Objection 1: Couldn't they have gone to the wrong tomb?

If there were any doubt about the location, don't you think the first thing they would have done would have been to turn on the GPS and punch in the coordinates? Don't you think they would have asked directions or confirmed the location? Don't you think they would have asked if the body had been moved?

And even if they didn't, don't you think someone would have eventually piped up... "Hey guys, excuse me, but the tomb's over here, and the body's still there"?

Remember... another widely accepted historical fact is that the body of Jesus was buried in a tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimethea. People knew the location. They knew whose property Jesus was buried on. The location of the tomb was never in question, and even the opponents of Jesus and the disciples never raised that possibility.

Response: The location of Jesus' tomb was never in question.

Objection 2: Could the Romans or the Jewish leaders have stolen the body?

But the real question here is, "why?" Why would they have stolen the body? What possible motivation? What did they have to gain? Nothing. There was no reason for them to steal the body.

Response: There was no reason for them to steal the body.

The Romans and the Jewish leaders both wanted to do away with Jesus and His followers. The best way for them to do that would have been to leave the body buried in the tomb, not hide it and allow the followers of Jesus to believe that He had risen from the dead. That would have been ludicrous.

The Jewish leaders believe that Jesus and His followers were a threat to their authority, so they conspired to have Him executed on trumped up charges. They weren't likely candidates to then go and steal the body after they went through so much trouble to put Him in the grave. As for the Romans, they executed Jesus based on charges that He was instilling unrest, claiming to be king, and even telling people not to pay their taxes! They certainly had no motive for stealing the body and making it appear as if Jesus rose from the dead.

Objection 3: Could the disciples have stolen the body?

That's actually an accusation that spread early on. In Matthew 28, it talks about how the Jewish leaders bribed the guards who had been stationed at the tomb to tell people that the disciples had stolen the body. Which is just a little ridiculous. After all, these were highly trained guards... possibly from the Roman military. Do you really think this ragtag group of distraught disciples would have overpowered them?

Plus, part of the story was that the body was stolen while the guards were sleeping. Okay... so how would the know it was the disciples? Oh, and how about that gigantic rock that was used to seal the tomb? You know, the rock that would have taken 20 people to move. Don't you think the guards would have been awakened by the commotion?

And why were they sleeping? Weren't they supposed to be guarding? If they were sleeping and the body were stolen, why weren't any of the guards reprimanded, especially since they could have even been put to death for failing in that way?

And then, what would the disciples have to gain from stealing the body? Nothing. Remember, they had already conceded defeat by this point. They were going back to fishing or whatever else they used to do. But then they were supposed to have stolen the body, then travelled around as penniless preachers, being hunted and persecuted, imprisoned, and even executed because they refused to admit it? Without even one of them coming clean? Not likely.

Response: The disciples did not have the ability to steal the body, nor was there anything for them to gain from doing so.

Objection 4: Could Jesus have still been alive and simply walked out?

This objection is known as the "swoon theory." It's the idea that maybe Jesus never really died... maybe He just fainted. I mean, that's happened, right? People have been thought to be dead and then buried throughout history. Maybe that's what happened to Jesus.

This theory has made the rounds, but no one really believes it these days. First of all, Jesus was killed at the hands of the Romans. These were professional killers. They know the difference between a dead man and a sleeping man. Jesus had been whipped 39 times with a whip including nine lashes with pieces of glass and hunks of rock tied into it. 39 times nine... that's a total of 351 bows Jesus received during that scourging which literally tore His flesh from the bone.

Then He was nailed to a cross. No small procedure. And to top it off, Jesus had been stabbed in the side to make sure He was dead. And when He was stabbed, blood and water flowed out together. This would indicate that Jesus' lung had been punctured, releasing the fluid that had gathered there during the crucifixion. There's no medical way that Jesus could have still been alive.

Response: There is no doubt that Jesus was dead when He was taken down from the cross.

But even if somehow Jesus had survived, do you think Jesus would have been in any kind of shape to push the rock out of the way, walk out of the tomb under His own power, and then be able to inspire hundreds to believe He had conquered death and to pledge to follow Him? In don't think so.

B.    Witnesses claimed to have seen Jesus alive even after His death.

There were post-mortem appearances of Jesus following His crucifixion. The followers of Jesus believe that people saw Jesus alive because He was in fact alive. One example…

John 20:19-20 (NLT)
That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!

But skeptics have their objections.

Objection 5: Couldn't the disciples have simply made up these supposed appearances?

There were hundreds of people who supposedly saw the resurrected Jesus, but couldn't the followers of Jesus have simply cooked it all up? Well, not when you consider that they also named some of the eyewitnesses who could verify their story and that they were telling the story in the very location among the very people who would know if they were making it all up.

I could stand here this morning and tell you about a major flood that happened rural Kenya this week, and you might have a difficult time verifying if my story were true or not. But if I told you about how downtown Charlottetown was under water, you'd know, wouldn't you?

The disciples were not making claims about something that happened in a far off land. They were talking about something that had taken place in their very community. People were already talking about what was going on. There were eyewitnesses all around. Look at what Peter said in a major public speech he made shortly after the Resurrection...

Acts 2:22, 32 (NIV)
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

How did the crowd respond? Did that accuse Peter of making it all up? No, they knew it was true. It had happened right among them. They had heard people talking about it, or maybe they had even seen Jesus for themselves. And as a result, thousands of people committed that very day to be baptized and added to the Church.

Response: The disciples told their story among the very people who would know if the story was true or not.

Objection 6: Couldn't the appearances be explained away as hallucinations?

If we were just talking about two or three appearances, and to just one person at a time, maybe. But that's not the case. The resurrected Jesus appeared on several different occasions, to hundreds of different people, including groups of people at the same time. One one occasion, 500 people saw Jesus at the same time.

1 Corinthians 15:5-7 (NLT)
He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.

So lots of people saw Jesus. Could they all have been hallucinating?

Response: Hallucinations are not group experiences.

And remember, people didn't just "see" Jesus; they interacted with Him. They talked with Him, they listened to Him, they walked with Him, they ate with Him... No way it was all an hallucination.

Objection 7: Weren't the appearances like some of the apparitions or visions people claim to have today?

Kate Middleton is, of course, scheduled to marry Prince William later this month, so there's a lot of hoopla about the wedding. So maybe you saw this is the news this week... a jelly bean sold for £500 because it had the image of Kate Middleton on it. Here it is...


And this kind of thing happens all the time. People see the image of important people in the strangest places... like in 2004 when a grilled cheese sandwich sold for $28,000 because it showed the image of the Virgin Mary. Every once in a while people will even flock to see an image of the virgin Mary or of Jesus... maybe the whole resurrection thing was like that. It was just an apparition... just a vision.

But again, you don't interact with that kind of vision. With Jesus, people talked with Him and ate with Him and touched Him... no way He was just a vision.

Response: People talked with Jesus, walked with Him, ate with Him, and even touched Him. You can't do those with an apparition or vision.

Objection 8: Couldn't it have been a case of mistaken identity?

On Friday after our Good Friday service, my one-year-old son Noah saw me across the room and so he walked over to me for me to pick him up, but when he looked up he discovered it wasn't me at all. It was Robin. I was wearing black pants; Robin was wearing black pants. So Noah was extremely disappointed. (Sorry Robin.)

So... what if people thought they saw Jesus, but it was really someone else? Or what if it was even an imposter who wanted people to think he was Jesus?

Plausible, until you realize that Jesus appeared to the very people who knew Him the best, and that He spent considerable time with them.

Response: Jesus appeared to and spent time with the people who knew Him best.

They wouldn't have been fooled by an impersonator.

C.    Jesus' followers believed in the Resurrection so much they were willing to die for that belief.

In Acts chapter 5, the leading priests had the temple guards arrest the apostles for preaching about the resurrected Jesus. They ordered the apostles to stop what they were doing. But even knowing that there was a good chance that the priests would have them killed if they kept it up, Peter responded…

Acts 5:29-33 (NLT)
But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.

One of the members of the council—a Pharisee named Gamaliel—talked them out of it at the time. But eventually many of them were killed as martyrs. Acts 12 tells us how James was killed. Paul barely survived a stoning, and is believed to have been later executed because of his preaching. Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down. Does any of this really matter?

Objection 9: Haven't lots of people died for their beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs were true or not?

Yes, they have. Terrorists... suicide bombers... they are often willing to die for their beliefs, even if their beliefs are wrong.

But here's the difference: the disciples were in a position to know whether what they were claiming was true or not.

Response: People will willingly die for their faith if they believe it is true, but people will not die for their faith if they know it is false.

And the disciples were in a place to know.

Objection 10: Weren't the disciples predisposed to believe in the Resurrection?

Weren't the disciples expecting Jesus to rise again? Weren't they anticipating it?

Well, actually, no... they weren't expecting it. In fact, they thought all was lost. They were trying to figure out what went wrong, how Jesus could be dead, and what they should do with the rest of their lives. As I already mentioned, they had already started to go back to their old jobs. So they were not expecting Jesus to come back. In fact... and this is in your notes...

Response: There was no expectation of a bodily resurrection in their Jewish faith.

"[The disciples] were expecting a Messiah who would come and restore the throne of David in Jerusalem and establish His reign over Israel's enemies and would rule forever. They had no concept in Judaism of a Messiah who... would be humiliating executed by His enemies and defeated."
~ William Lane Craig
Reasonable Faith podcast, "Doubting the Resurrection"

So no, they were not predisposed to believe in a bodily resurrection, and there's no indication that they were expecting such a resurrection. At the most, all they would have done would be to claim that Jesus rose spiritually and that He was a spiritual Messiah, but not that He had a bodily resurrection. Apart from that, the only resurrection they would have expected would be at the very end of time when all of the righteous of Israel would be raised together and judged.

Objection 11: Couldn't the disciples have simply convinced themselves it was true?

Maybe the disciples believe Jesus rose from the dead because they just wanted to believe it so much. Maybe they convinced themselves it was true.

This is the idea of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when you hold two conflicting beliefs or points of view, and you become so troubled that something has to give. So to resolve the conflict or the dissonance, you figure out the solution or you come up with some kind of a rationalization that will explain it away, even if that rationalization is wrong.

That's what some people claim happened with the disciples. They were so convinced that Jesus was the Messiah that they simply couldn't accept that He was dead. And so instead of admitting they were wrong, they came up with this rationalization that Jesus wasn't really dead; He had risen.

But people resolve cognitive dissonance over time. It happened within just a few days for the disciples. And not just with one or two of them, but with all of them. And not just the disciples, but people who weren't followers of Jesus previously and therefore had no reason to rationalize away His death.

Response: This belief arose too quickly, in all of the disciples, and to too many others outside the inner circle to just be a rationalization. Plus, there would have been other ways to rationalize it without including a Resurrection.

They could have found another Messiah, they could have claimed a spiritual Resurrection, they could have turned to James the brother of Jesus and claimed he was the Messiah... but they didn't choose any of those more plausible reactions. They claimed Jesus rose from the dead, not because they forced themselves to believe it was true, but because they knew it was true.

Objection 12: Couldn't it all have been a power-grab by the disciples?

Well, first of all, this would have gone against everything Jesus taught them. They had spent three years under the intense training of Jesus, and He taught them about honesty and integrity. It would have been out-of-character for them to do something like that.

But more importantly, what did they have to gain? Okay, so they're trying to start a new religion and their claims might have gained them the spotlight for the first little why. But when they started to be put to death one by one, don't you think they would have confessed? "Hey, hold on, we were just joking."

But instead, they were persecuted and hunted for the rest of their lives because of their claim that Jesus had risen from the dead, and not one of them changed their story. They believed it was true, even as they were being put to death for that claim.

Response: The disciples had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Yet not one of them ever recanted.

Okay, so we have these three historical facts. The tomb was empty, people claimed to see Jesus, and the early believers maintained their claim to the death. Does that prove that Jesus rose from the dead? No, of course not. It’s not proof… you can’t really prove anything. But it is evidence. And I believe the evidence points toward a resurrection. I believe that is the most plausible explanation of the facts… that Jesus had a supernatural resurrection.

The tomb was empty, hundreds of people saw Jesus alive even after He was executed, and many people--not just the disciples--many people were even willing to die for their claim that Jesus had been resurrected.

John Singleton Copley, one of the greatest legal minds in history, three times the High chancellor of England, declared:

“I know what evidence is, and evidence like that for the resurrection has never broken down yet.”
~ John Singleton Copley

And so you and I can have confidence in the evidence for the Resurrection. It's not wishful thinking, it's not a cooked up story, it's not just a matter of faith. It's a matter of fact and of history. Jesus rose from the dead.


Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson