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Dead Man Walking
The credibility of the New Testament hangs on one event — the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus could have lived a perfect, sinless life and died on the cross, but if He didn’t rise from the dead and walk out of the grave, the entire New Testament unravels.
All 27 New Testament books might as well be thrown into a fire as worthless kindling.
The resurrection of Jesus birthed the Christian church and led to the completion of the Bible as we know it.
If God’s enemies wanted to destroy the church and discredit the Bible, disproving Jesus’ resurrection would have done it.
It should have been quite simple.
Huge crowds followed Jesus for most of His three-year ministry, but by the end of it, His enemies far outnumbered His friends. Few would’ve supported any claim of Him having risen from the dead.
Why So Many Haters?
Jesus’ haters didn’t come together to demand Jesus be crucified over the vast number of people He fed or healed — although a surprising number of Jewish leaders took offense at His good deeds.
His enemies hated Him for His claims and the impact it would have on them.
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
With these six words, Jesus declared He was God.
Jesus also said, “I tell you the truth … before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).
The Jewish leaders understood His claim. No one but God could stand before them and declare he existed before a man who’d lived 2,000 years earlier.
Jesus’ enemies wanted to kill Him because He threatened their religious power and influence over their people. They used His supposed crime of blasphemy — dishonoring God and His name by claiming to be God — as justification.
If Jesus isn’t God, His bold claim is a crime against God of the highest, most offensive order. But He is, so it isn’t.
Most of the Jewish leaders couldn’t see the truth, though. They’d hardened their hearts against Him especially as His miracles stirred up the whole region.
Many of the people who saw His miracles wanted to make him their king.
Jesus — A Blasphemer and a National Threat
Jesus didn’t just threaten the Jewish leaders’ religious power. He also threatened their peace with Rome.
If Caesar suspected mutiny against his rule over them, they knew he’d squash them with his heavy hand.
Even the Jewish leaders who rarely seemed to agree on anything, agreed on this one point: Jesus had to go. And stay gone!
As motivated as they were to kill Jesus, they were even more motivated to keep Him dead. (Executioners rarely face such a concern, but then, Jesus is rare.)
Jesus had said He’d rise from the dead. They couldn’t allow it.
No matter what it took, Jesus simply must remain in the tomb. Stone cold dead.
His resurrection would confirm His claims and indict them for having crucified God’s Son.
After Jesus’ followers laid Him in the grave, the Romans rolled a stone in front of the tomb and sealed it. The soldiers guarded it with their lives.
No one could get in. Or out.
Nevertheless, three days later, reports of Jesus sightings spread across the land.
When word of these eyewitness reports of Jesus’ resurrection reached the Jewish leaders, they tried to squelch them.
Displaying Jesus’ dead body would’ve done it.
For Want of A Body
Jesus’ enemies had everything to lose if He’d risen from the dead.
If His dead body existed anywhere on planet earth, they needed to find it and parade it down the Via Della Rosa for all to see.
They needed to chisel the parade into stone and order a national day of remembrance to ensure the whole world knew Jesus Christ was still dead.
But over 500 people said Jesus appeared to them.
His dead body on display would’ve silenced them.
And yet it never happened.
They never produced a body.
Is it reasonable to believe that the combined forces and resources of Rome and the Jewish leaders couldn’t produce His body if He were still dead?
Or that they could produce it, but simply chose not to?
For want of a body, the leaders resorted to storytelling.
The Disciples — Master Conspirators?
The Jewish leaders concocted a story that the disciples were master conspirators and stole Jesus’ body while the Roman guards slept.
Their conspiracy theory expected everyone to believe that:
- the same men who’d run away when the soldiers arrested Jesus and cowered behind a locked door after His crucifixion only three days earlier suddenly came together after His death and, without anyone seeing, successfully stole Jesus’ body and hid it forever (Matthew 28:11-15).
- that even though the Roman soldiers knew they’d be executed if they failed to perform their duties, they willingly admitted to falling asleep. And apparently without any other motivation than honesty.
- that the guards slept through the rumbling sounds of the massive stone rolling away from the grave, and the disciples carrying Jesus’ body away.
- that despite all the resources the Jewish leaders and Rome possessed, the simple disciples outwitted them all and hid Jesus’ body so well no one has yet to find it.
Is it reasonable for us to believe that Christianity has survived over two thousand years simply because the disciples were able to hide a dead body that well?
And then dedicate the rest of their lives to keeping that lie by enduring persecution (and some even execution) in order to lead others to trust in and believe in Jesus — the dead guy they’d stashed away?
Is it reasonable to believe that not one of the disciples would’ve finally caved and admitted they stole and hid Jesus’ body?
Is it reasonable to believe they could also convince Saul, the infamous Christian persecutor, to join their conspiracy? That he’d accept the lie and give up his position as an esteemed Jewish leader to become Paul, the impoverished, beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked missionary?
And is it reasonable to believe the disciples convinced over 500 people to agree to say they saw Jesus alive again and to take that lie with them to the grave?
It would’ve been so easy to dismantle Christianity before it even got started if His enemies could only have presented His dead body.
Instead, Jesus presented Himself. Alive.
Next Time – Tangible Evidence
So far, abductive reasoning has encouraged us to conclude it’s reasonable to believe God exists, and thus the seemingly wild claims of the Old Testament are reasonable to believe. (See Can We Trust the Bible? Is It Reasonable Part 1.)
Abductive reasoning also leads us to conclude it’s reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which the entire New Testament hinges.
Next, we’ll look at evidence we can hold in our hands that show us we can trust the Bible.