He was the only disciple who boldly asked Jesus if he could join him walking on the water while the others stayed in the boat, terrified. And he did walk on water if only for a few minutes. He goes down in history for denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, and years later he was beaten and crucified upside down. Jesus completely changed Peter’s life, among millions of others. Why would Peter have sought out forgiveness and then devoted his life to continuing the Gospel message of resurrection if he believed it was all a hoax?
Challenging the validity of the resurrection is challenging the identity of Jesus and the foundation of Christianity. Several theories have been bouncing around for centuries arguing the false claim of Jesus’ resurrection, including that he was never placed in the tomb, and that hundreds of eye-witnesses were hallucinating.
Evidence to support the truth of the resurrection is actually more convincing and logical than any evidence to refute it. This is what former atheist and investigative journalist Lee Strobel concludes in The Case For Easter. Strobel (almost proudly) called himself a cynic and skeptic before doing research and interviews for his book. He approached this book by focusing on three questions: Was Jesus really dead after his agony on the cross, Was his tomb actually empty Easter morning, and Did credible people actually see him alive and well.
William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH, has made a career out of successfully defending Christianity to atheists and agnostics. What Strobel admires most about him is his motivation. Craig isn’t out to railroad his opponents; he’s sincerely seeking to win over people who he believes matter to God.
To explain the empty tomb, Craig says the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection must be compared and analyzed. Although there are some inconsistencies, they do not detract from the main historical core. “The empty tomb story goes back to within a few years of the events themselves. This renders the legend theory worthless. Even if there is some legendary elements in the secondary details of the story, the historical core of the story remains established,” Craig says.
I think people who push these alternative theories would admit them to be implausible, but they’re not as improbable as the idea that this spectacular miracle occurred. At this point, the matter is no longer a historical issue; it’s a philosophical question about whether miracles are possible. As long as the existence of God is even possible, it’s possible that he acted in history by raising Jesus from the dead,” Craig said.
Dr. Alexander Metherell M.D., Ph.D, and expert on the historical, archaeological and medical data concerning Jesus of Nazareth, tackles the swoon theory. This one is most fascinating and theorizes that Jesus simply fainted on the cross. He first endured the brutal Roman flogging that put him in hypovolemic shock from the massive blood loss before the crucifixion started. That’s why he collapsed on the way to Golgotha and then complained of thirst on the cross.
“A person in that kind of pathetic condition would never have inspired his disciples to go out and proclaim that he’s the Lord of life who had triumphed over the grave. After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health,” Metherell said. And once a person is on the cross, asphyxiation ultimately causes the agonizing death.
Next, Strobel probes Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D. on the evidence of appearances. Were the appearances hallucinations? “Hallucinations are individual experiences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in someone else,” Habermas says. He adds that only drugs or bodily deprivation can cause hallucinations.
How would one account for during the course of several weeks, people from different backgrounds, different kinds of temperaments, in various places all experiencing hallucinations? “Sometimes, concluded Habermans, “people just grasp at straws trying to account for the appearances. But nothing fits all the evidence better than the explanation that Jesus was alive.”
Furthermore, the book of Acts is full of references to Jesus’ appearances. The Apostle Peter was especially adamant about it. “The earliest Christians didn’t just endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after his crucifixion. That’s what changed their lives and started the church,” Habermas says.
What impresses Strobel the most is how each expert climbs out of his scientific mind and speaks from his heart about the resurrection. They can all connect personal life experiences to its validity. The facts alone can speak for themselves, but Jesus’ motivation – his unconditional love for us – is what unravels the most twisted of all hearts.
My interest in Strobel’s work has not been to find loopholes in the Gospel message and enlighten other gullible folks. That’s precisely what Strobel originally set out to do. But his determination to find the truth led him to The Truth. On some level, deep down within my bones, I know that Jesus was resurrected, because my own life has been and continues to be resurrected and made new. That’s why those who believe in the resurrection have this mysterious hope and a desire to serve and love others.
“Many skeptics have their minds already committed to unbelief. They have so much invested in their own worldview and lifestyle that they feel they can’t or don’t want to change,” writes Max Davis in The Insanity of Unbelief: A Journalist’s Journey from Belief to Skepticism to Deep Faith, also a journalist, theologian and author of more than 20 books.
Blessed are those who do sincerely search and seek out Jesus, because, as a living God, He will respond. A certain amount of skepticism is even healthy and the Bible actually encourages believers to take their questions and doubts straight to God. But some spend their lives “seeking out” truth and yet refuse to accept or believe anything. What kind of seeker are you?