Verdict on the Resurrection
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict? In these closing statements, I will briefly summarize the evidence that you are asked to weigh. Since this case is one of history, I shall appeal t Verdict on the Resurrection o the primary historical documents. We shall hear the testimony of competent, reliable witnesses of the highest moral character- individuals who would rather die than lie. The case before us: The people [of God] vs. Mr. Cynic concerns the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and demands your most diligent attention.
Four Core Facts
In formulating this case for the defense (Philippians 1:7,17), I am, above all, overwhelmed. Evidence for the literal resurrection of Jesus is more than sufficient to convince any unbiased jury. I trust that you will examine the evidence in an objective manner. For the sake of clarity as well as brevity, I shall not appeal to the great bulk of evidence which supports the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Rather, I will focus on four undeniable facts. Let me remind the court that these four facts are verified and confirmed by virtually all authorities in the fields of history, archaeology, and biblical research. While these scholars do not agree as to the meaning and significance of these facts, the facts themselves are indisputable. It remains up to you, good men and women of the jury, to reach a verdict.
Just as there are four indisputable facts surrounding the events of the case before us, there are also four theories of interpretation. I will discuss each of these, in turn, as we examine the four facts.
Fact One: Jesus' Death by Crucifixion
Although several prejudiced naturalists have proposed theories suggesting that Jesus did not actually die on the cross (The Swoon Theory), but only faked death, such an hypothesis does not hold up under a careful examination of the evidence. The record indicates that Jesus did, in fact, die from the effects of crucifixion (John 19:31-34). According to David Strauss [A New Life of Jesus, 1879] and a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Society, Jesus probably died of asphyxiation long before his body was pierced by the Roman soldier.
Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge [JAMS, March 21, 1986].
Are we to believe that Jesus merely faked death in light of this evidence? Yet for the sake of argument, let us suppose that Jesus was able to convince his disciples, Pilate, the soldiers and the Jews that he was dead. Could he, in such a weakened condition, untie over one hundred pounds of linen cloth and burial ointments (John 19:39)? Could he roll away the huge stone from this newly cut tomb (Matthew 27:60-61) and escape past the Roman guards? If so, what condition would he be in? Would his battered, tattered, and weary body convince his disciples of a victory over death? Lest you remain undecided, kind jury, let us examine the second fact.
Fact Two: Experiences of the Disciples
It is precisely here at this second point that we have an abundance of testimony. Post-resurrection appearances are documented in no less than twelve separate occasions. Below is a list of these appearances in chronological order:
- To Mary Magdalene (John 20:14; Mark 16:9)
- To several women (Matthew 28:9-10)
- To Peter (Luke 24:34; I Corinthians 15:5)
- To the two on Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-33, 43)
- To ten apostles [without Thomas] (Luke 24:36, 43; Joh 20:19-24)
- To eleven apostles (John 20:26-29)
- To seven at Tiberias Lake (John 21:1-23)
- To eleven at the great commission (Matthew 28; Mark 16)
- To over 500 brethren (I Corinthians 16:6)
- To James (I Corinthians 15:7)
- To the apostles at the ascension (Acts 1:3-12)
- To Paul (Acts 9; 22; 26; I Corinthians 15:8)
The court should also acknowledge the following summary statements about these appearances (Acts 1:8,22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:22). Another naturalistic theory postulates that these witnesses were merely suffering from hallucinations. Yet this, too, goes against modern psychiatric research which concludes that two or more people cannot share a common hallucination. Eight of these twelve post-resurrection appearances were witnesses by more than one party. Also, the psychological preconditions for hallucinations are lacking. Another important point to notice, ladies and gentlemen, is the nature of these appearances. The record will show that these witnesses made use of three empirical faculties in witnessing to these appearances: sight, sound and touch. Both Mary and Thomas touched Jesus' resuscitated body (see I John 1:1-2). Not to mention the fact that Jesus ate and digested food with his disciples on at least four difference occasions (see above)! Let me ask you once again, have you reached a verdict?
Fact Three: Disciples' Remarkable Transformation
Perhaps the very first theory proposed attempting to refute the reality of the resurrection is the Conspiracy Theory (or Fraud Theory). This theory maintains that the disciples allegedly stole the body, hid it and subsequently conspired to lie about it. Yet this hypothesis, as all the others, does not stand the test of even the most simple examination. Given the facts of the case, it is highly unlikely that anybody stole the body. In the first place, the Jews made careful precautions to prevent the success of possible body-snatchers (Matthew 27:62-66). Secondly, the Roman guard assigned to secure the tomb also witnessed the events of that resurrection morning (Matthew 28:11-15). Notice that the chief priests of the Jews bribed the soldiers to lie and guaranteed their safety should the Roman governor hear about it (Matthew 28:14).
In light of these historical facts, the fraud theory falls flat! The burden of proof rests upon the prosecution: those who would defame the character of these outstanding witnesses and deny the gospel claim of Jesus' resurrection. Would liars become martyrs? The New Testament records the subsequent suffering and death of many of these early witnesses (Acts 4:13,19-20; 5:28-32,40-2; 7:57f; 8:1-3; 12:2; John 21:19; Revelation 1:9). No naturalistic theory accounts for the utter and remarkable transformation of these whiny, wimpy disciples into bold proclaimers of the risen Christ. The only reasonable explanation of this fact is that these men and women actually had seen, heard and touched the risen Jesus (see I John 1:1-2). Suffering, shame or even death did not matter to them.
Although by now the truth must be most apparent to you, let us proceed to the fourth fact (which readily expands on the third fact).
Fact Four: The Experience of Paul
You have been most kind to listen to three lines of evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I will but mention one more. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus began with a well-documented appearance of Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus (Acts 9; 22 and 26). Here we find a most zealous Pharisee engaging in an expanding persecution of the Christian movement when he, too, encounters Christ. Paul first relates this experience to the Galatians (Galatians 1:16-18) and later testifies to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:3-8).
You will remember, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that Paul suffered terrible things for this cause (II Corinthians 11, cf. extra-biblical sources report that he was beheaded for his testimony; see also II Timothy 4:6-8). Why did this man change? What motivated this remarkable transformation of life? Only a literal resurrection can account for the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul.
While we could explore the evidences of the Christian community [the church], the monuments of the Lord's day, the Lord's supper, baptism and the Bible itself, we have focused our attention on only four facts. These four historical realities are conclusive evidences for the resurrection. Nevertheless, the decision is yours, ladies and gentlemen. Have you reached a verdict?