In this study, we will decide based on evidence presented by people in scripture and other testimony whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. You can, by the way, go into much more detailed research through McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict. This presentation is a short overview which will present the general idea. We are examining the last days of a 33 year-old Jew, born in Bethlehem of Judea, raised in Nazareth in Galilee. For 30 years worked as a carpenter, and the last 3 years of his life an itinerant preacher. He had gathered a group of twelve disciples, and through a series of events popular opinion had turned against Him. He was tried and declared guilty of treason. In those days, treason was a capital crime punishable by crucifixion. There is the claim that after the crucifixion, and burial, that on the third day He was raised from the dead and is alive. We are deciding today whether there is sufficient evidence for us to believe this claim.
As background material to this investigation, there are to be noted several popular theories as to what happened:
Theory of Swoon
So the theory goes, Jesus did not really die on the cross, He fell into a coma that the trauma of the scourging had apparently caused. This would have caused His breathing to slow down greatly, creating the illusion of death and therefore taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. The theory would have it that the coolness of the tomb caused a revival, and he somehow slipped out under the cover of darkness and later declared to have been raised. There are a lot of potholes in this which we'll mention later...
Theory of Kidnapping
This Theory says Jesus did in fact die but He was not raised but kidnaped. Matthew 28:11 Now while they were on their way behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' 14 "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." (the guards, in fact, would have been in a lot of hot water if the body had been stolen.) 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed, and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day...
Theory of Hallucination
This theory says that he was put into a grave, but later when the witnesses came to find an open tomb it was the wrong tomb. And later when Jesus was seen, they simply said it could not have been Him because He was raised, and it was some kind of hallucination or image seen in a revelation. Unfortunately for their case, they don't know what happened to the body. There are other theories that are less notable which we won't go into here.
Defense of the Proposition
In defense of the proposition that Jesus did, in fact, die on the cross, was buried, and rose again, we will use what is generally accepted as reliable text: The Holy Scripture. As evidence of His death we refer to the four Gospels:
Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
Mark 15:37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.
Luke 23:46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit." And having said this, He breathed His last.
John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
There are descriptions of the death in all four Gospels to give us the impression that eyewitnesses believed that Jesus had died. There's more...
Mark describes in his Gospel the eyewitness testimony of a centurion, a high ranking soldier of the Roman army. Mark 15:39 And when the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!". Note the past tense was the Son of God. In other words, He has died. Remember, that a centurion is especially well taught in the art of killing. He is an intelligent and alert man and has plenty of experience at recognizing death!
John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
(It should be noted here that the breaking of legs was done to hasten death. An instinctive reaction for one being crucified is to try to prolong life by maintaining breathing by moving oneself up and down the vertical beam of the cross by pushing against the nail through the feet. Breaking of the legs, of course, will prevent this and death follows quickly. It was also an act of mercy, whether intended or not.)
32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him, 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs, 34 but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.
In verse 33 we have the testimony of the soldiers who having seen Him had decided He was already dead. Verse 34 is a very important piece of medical evidence.
...with the foregoing case most anatomists who have devoted their attention to this subject are familiar... death by crucifixion causes a condition of blood in the lungs similar to that produced by drowning and strychnia... The history of the days preceding our Lord's crucifixion effectually excludes the supposition of pleurisy, which is also out of the question if blood first and water afterwards followed the wound. There remains, therefore, no supposition possible to explain the recorded phenomenon except the combination of the crucifixion and rupture of the heart. The rupture of the heart was the cause of death of Jesus.
Two more eyewitnesses, Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus: Verse 38 And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. 39 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
It should be pointed out that in granting Joseph permission to take the body Pilate would have been the last person who would have wanted to see a resurrected Christ.
So Joseph and Nicodemus involved in the preparation of the body were certainly sure of Jesus death. There was no embalming in those days. A body was wrapped from armpit to toe with linen wrappings, mummy-like, with the aloes being used to bind the wrappings to hold the linen together. There was also used a face napkin tied under the chin to prevent the jaw from falling open grotesquely.
After the scourging, which often killed before the crucifixion, the crucifixion, the spear piercing, the body preparation, it would be difficult to believe there was any life left in the body.
Now with the body placed in the tomb, and with the certainty of Jesus death, we have the question of how the body got out of that tomb.
V erse 41 we have read that it was a new tomb and in verse 42 that the preparation was in haste because of the Jewish day of preparation. John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. Which tomb is being referred to? It is the one specified in verse 41? The implication is that it is the same tomb. Mary comes to the tomb and finds the stone rolled away. We should bear in mind that we are talking about a one ton stone, circular in shape, rolled downhill in a groove in front of the opening after the body is placed inside. This was typically done to prevent grave tampering by people or to keep animals out, not to keep the body in! So much for the idea of the Swoon Theory that says Jesus revived and got out of the tomb in the dark of night.
So why is the stone rolled away? We may suppose it was, in fact, rolled away, that people may see that the tomb is empty and the resurrection has taken place.
John 20:2 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple (I believe the other disciple was John), and they were going to the tomb. 4 And the two were running together, and the other disciple stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him and entered the tomb, and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.
What John and Peter saw when looking over the contents of the vault: In verse 7 the face cloth is seen not with the linen body wrappings, since it was not originally attached. The other subtlety is that it is rolled up... suggesting that it was not unwound. The mental picture this conjures up is that of a hollow wrapping with the bodily shape and impressions still left intact. If you were going to kidnap a body would you carefully pull the body out of its wrapping and leave the wrapping behind! Who would stop to do that, and why? Not only that, but how would you roll away the stone that is sealed, with a Roman guard placed in front of it? So much for the Kidnap Theory.
For a closing argument see: I Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time... That puts to rest the Hallucination Theory. Five hundred at one time do not hallucinate!
John 20:9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. How can we conclude anything else but the inevitable, that the prophecy in Isaiah has been fulfilled, and Jesus was raised from the dead?