Vintage Jesus, Part 4: Did Jesus Rise from Death?

This twelve-part series outlines the “Vintage Jesus” sermons of Pastor Mark Driscoll. See part 1 here.

Click here to watch the sermon “Did Jesus Rise from Death?”

“[The resurrection of Christ] is the fact upon which the Christian faith is built. Christianity is not built just on good teaching or moral principles or philosophical inquiries; Christianity is rooted in this historical fact. . . . If you can disprove the resurrection of Jesus, you literally pull the bottom piece out of the Christian Jenga game, and the entirety of our religion crumbles and falls apart.”—Mark Driscoll

To answer the question of Jesus’s resurrection, we have to consider three lines of evidence: biblical evidence, circumstantial evidence, and historical evidence.

6:45: BIBLICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’S RESURRECTION

Jesus repeatedly, clearly, and emphatically said that he would die and rise again (Matthew 12:38-40; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34; John 2:18-22). And according to the biblical accounts, that’s just what he did.

7:50: Jesus died. Some people actually try to refute this fact, holding to what’s called the “swoon theory,” which states that Jesus only fainted on the cross, was buried in this unconscious state, and then was later revived in the tomb in the same mortal body. But this theory is untenable for the following reasons:

  • A professional executioner confirmed that he was dead.
  • Just to be sure, they punctured his heart sac with a spear, causing his heart to explode.
  • He was wrapped in 100 pounds of linen, which would have suffocated him if he were still alive.
  • He was put in a cold tomb without medical attention for 36 hours.

It’s impossible for one to survive under these conditions. And even if he had, he would have been in such bad shape that his disciples would never have put their faith in him as the triumphant one who had the power to conquer death. 

The Dead Christ

Hans Holbein the Younger, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1520-22. Oil and tempera on limewood, 30.5 x 200 cm.

11:36: Three days later, his tomb was empty. Jesus was buried in a well-known, marked tomb that was easy to find. It was an expensive tomb gifted to Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent figure in the Jewish community, and guarded by Roman soldiers. Had Jesus not risen from death, it would have been easy to prove it by opening the tomb and presenting Jesus’s dead body as evidence. None of the original opponents of the resurrection denied that the tomb was empty because it would have been an easily falsifiable claim.

13:10: Jesus’s resurrection was celebrated in the earliest Christian creeds. Very shortly after Jesus’s death (sometime between 30 and 36 AD), Christians developed a creed that articulated the core teachings of the faith: Jesus lived, Jesus died for our sins, Jesus was buried, and three days later he rose from death and appeared to hundreds of eyewitnesses. This creed was codified even before being written down by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8—but either date is far too soon for legend to have developed surrounding the story of Jesus’s resurrection; it was still within the lifetime of Jesus’s contemporaries.

19:12: The Bible provides a list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection, including women. If Jesus’s followers were just fabricating the story, they wouldn’t have listed eyewitnesses who were still living at the time of their writing, who could deny the facts. They also wouldn’t have cited women as the first eyewitnesses, because in that day women’s testimony was not considered credible.

The Empty Tomb

Julia Stankova, The Empty Tomb, 2013. Oil on wooden panel, 35 x 45 cm.

27:35: CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’S RESURRECTION

Now let’s look at the effects of the resurrection. If you doubt the resurrection of Jesus, the burden of proof is on you to explain what caused these things to happen after Jesus’s death:

  • The disciples had a total transformation of character, from doubtful and timid to confident and courageous.
  • Even several of Jesus’s enemies and doubters became his followers after his death. What was it that convinced them?
  • The disciples had no motive to lie. They didn’t get glory or fame; they got tortured and killed.
  • The disciples, who were Jewish, stopped worshipping on Saturday, as had been the tradition for thousands of years, and suddenly started worshipping on Sunday in memory of Jesus’s resurrection.
  • Christianity spread rapidly with the proclamation “Jesus is alive!”, soon overtaking the Roman Empire.
  • Jesus’s tomb is not enshrined, as were those of contemporary religious leaders. We don’t memorialize him at his graveside.

43:15: (NON-CHRISTIAN) HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’S RESURRECTION

Josephus (AD 37-100) was a Romano-Jewish historian who worked for the Emperor Flauvius Domitian. He was the investigative journalist of his day. In his Antiquities of the Jews, he wrote the following:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

(Driscoll does not mention that many scholars consider this testimony to be either partially or completely forged.)

Another historian, Suetonius (AD 70-160), indirectly refers to the resurrection in his biography of Nero: “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” This means that during the time of Nero’s reign (AD 54-68), Christians were proclaiming the resurrection and being punished for it, and they would not recant this claim even if it meant death.

Pliny the Younger (AD 61/62-113) was a Roman lawyer and magistrate. Around 111 AD, he wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan, reporting on what he had found out about Christian worship services. He said that he couldn’t find any evidence of illegal activity, only that Christians “met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god.” The early Christians honored Jesus as God because he rose from the dead!

53:42: ALTERNATE EXPLANATIONS

“The tomb was empty because the disciples stole Jesus’s body.” Not sure how they could have moved the giant boulder from the entrance without the armed Roman guards noticing, but even if they did, this theory doesn’t explain how Jesus came to be alive.

“Jesus didn’t rise physically.” Some say that Jesus rose only metaphorically, in the sense that his teachings live on in our hearts. But this doesn’t explain all the eyewitness testimony. Others say that only his spirit was resurrected, and that the eyewitnesses were really just seeing and interacting with Jesus’s ghost. But the accounts of his resurrection appearances state that he had flesh and bones, that people touched him, hugged him, fell at his feet and grabbed his ankles. The resurrected Jesus ate breakfast and went for walks and had a physical body.

56:40: WHY JESUS’S RESURRECTION MATTERS

If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is the biggest, meanest hoax in history. It would mean that we’re praying to a dead guy, giving our lives to a dead guy, putting our hope in a dead guy. But because Jesus is alive, he hears our prayers and our praises and has the power to act in our lives. The resurrection means that sin, death, and hopelessness do not win; Jesus does. It means that one day we too will be resurrected, body and soul.

Resurrection of the saints

Plaque with three saints rising from the dead, c. 1250. Champlevé enamel on copper, 13 x 23.1 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Read part 5.

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3 Responses to Vintage Jesus, Part 4: Did Jesus Rise from Death?

  1. Pingback: Vintage Jesus, Part 3: What Did Jesus Accomplish on the Cross? | The Jesus Question

  2. Pingback: Vintage Jesus, Part 5: Where Is Jesus Today? | The Jesus Question

  3. nonsupernaturalist says:

    Jesus’ Tomb was not Guarded or Sealed the entire First Night!

    Holy Grave Robbers!

    I had never heard of this until today: How many Christians are aware that Jesus’ grave was unguarded AND unsecured the entire first night after his crucifixion??? Isn’t that a huge hole in the Christian explanation for the empty tomb?? Notice in this quote from Matthew chapter 27 below that the Pharisees do not ask Pilate for guards to guard the tomb until the next day after Jesus’ crucifixion, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb’s door, he had not SEALED it shut!

    Anyone could have stolen the body during those 12 hours!

    The empty tomb “evidence” for the supernatural reanimation/resurrection of Jesus by Yahweh has a HUGE hole in it!

    “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

    The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[a] of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”[b] 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”
    —Matthew 27

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