The Resurrection Evidence for Jesus

This is Part 6 of “Why Believe in Jesus.” In this post, we will look at the Resurrection evidence for Jesus as investigated by Lee Strobel which can be found in his book The Case for Christ. Paul stated,

If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then they also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
1 Corinthians 15:17-19

How valid those words are! Today it appears that the world is imploding. Insanity reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of those who have rejected God their Creator. People are unfortunately placing their hope in the next elected individuals. This is the wrong area to look for hope, for our ONLY HOPE is found in JESUS CHRIST, the soon-returning King of kings and Lord of lords.

This is the reason for my blog and the reason why people must believe in Jesus Christ ALONE for Eternal life. Our Creator “Is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9

Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures used are from the Modern English Version translation (MEV).

The Ressurection Evidence Interview of Alexander Metherell, MD., Ph.D.

Was the resurrection of Jesus fabricated?

The idea that Jesus never really died on the cross can be found in the Koran[i] which was written in the 7th century. Certain Muslims believe that Jesus fled to India.

Many have tried to explain away the resurrection by suggesting that Jesus only fainted from exhaustion on the cross or He had been given a drug that made Him appear to die and that He had later been revived by the cool, damp air of the tomb.[ii]

The following are excerpts from an interview between Strobel and Metherell.

The Medical Ressurection Evidence

Lee Strobel interviewed Metherell because he possessed the medical and scientific credentials to explain the crucifixion and this man could discuss the topic dispassionately as well as accurately. The following are excerpts from the conversation.

The Torture Before the Cross

Strobel asked Metherell to paint a picture of what happened to Jesus. Metherell replied:

“It began after the Last Supper when Jesus went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives specifically to the Garden of Gethsemane. Since He knew the amount of suffering, He was going to have to endure He was quite naturally experiencing a great deal of psychological stress.

“There is a known medical condition called hematidrosis it’s not very common but it is associated with a high degree of psychological stress.

“Severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that breakdown the capillaries in the sweat glands as a result there’s a small amount of bleeding into these glands and the sweat comes out tinged with blood, we’re not talking about a lot of blood it’s just a very small amount.

“This also sets up the skin to be extremely fragile so that when Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldier the next day His skin would be very sensitive.”

The Flogging

Metherell went on to explain the flogging.

“Roman floggings were known to be terribly brutal. They usually consisted of 39 lashes but frequently were a lot more than that, depending on the mood of the soldier applying the blows.

“The soldier used a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which could cut the flesh severely.

“The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs.

“One physician who has studied Roman beatings said, ‘As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.’ A third-century historian by the name of Eusebius described a flogging by saying, ‘The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.’

“We know that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified. At the least, the victim would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock.

“Jesus was in hypovolemic shock as He staggered up the road to the execution site of Calvary, carrying the horizontal beam of the cross. Finally, Jesus collapsed, and the Roman soldier ordered Simon to carry the cross for Him.

“Because of the terrible effects of His beating, there’s no question that Jesus was already in serious to critical condition even before the nails were driven through His hands and feet.”

The Agony of the Cross

Next, Metherell describes what happened when Jesus arrived at the site of His crucifixion.

“He would have been laid down and His hands would have been nailed to the outstretched position to the horizontal beam called a patibulum and at this stage it was separate from the vertical beam which was permanently set in the ground.

“The Romans used spikes that were five to seven inches long and tapered to a sharp point. They were driven through the wrist.

“Nailing through the wrist would lock the hand. If the nails had been driven through the palms His weight would have caused the skin to tear and He would have fallen off the cross. Keep in mind that this was considered part of the hand in the language of the day.

“It’s also important to understand that the nail would go through the place where the median nerve runs. This is the largest nerve going out to the hand, and it would be crushed by the nail that was being pounded in.

“The pain was absolutely unbearable and in fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word: excruciating. Literally, excruciating means ‘out of the cross.’ Think of that; they needed to create a new word, because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion.

“At this point Jesus was hoisted as the crossbar was attached to the vertical stake, and then nails were driven through Jesus’ feet. Again, the nerves in His feet would have been crushed and there would have been a similar type of pain.

When Strobel asked Metherell what stresses this would put on Jesus’ body he replied:

“First of all, His arms would have immediately been stretched, probably about 6 inches in length, and both shoulders would have become dislocated…this fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22:14.

The Cause of Death

“Once a person is hanging in the vertical position crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.

“The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diagram put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so that the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.

“After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again, he’d have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore.

“As the person slows down his breathing he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis, the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid causing the acidity of the blood to increase which eventually leads to an irregular heart beat. In fact, with His heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that He was at the moment of death, which is when He was able to say, ‘Lord into your hands I commit my spirit.’ And then He died of cardiac arrest.

“Even before he died… the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure, resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion, as well as the lungs, which is called a pleural effusion.

Why Is This Significant?

“When the Roman soldier came around, and being fairly certain that Jesus was dead he confirmed it by thrusting a spear into His right side… the spear apparently went through the right lung and into the heart, so when the spear was pulled out, some fluid, the pericardial effusion and the pleural effusion came out. This would have the appearance of a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large volume of blood, as the eyewitness John described in his gospel. There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.”

Alexander Metherell, MD., Ph.D.

Three Questions by Strobel and Answers for the Skeptical

  • The gospels say the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals being crucified with Jesus. Why do that?

“The Jewish leaders wanted to get the crucifixion over with since the Sabbath and Passover would begin at sundown. Therefore, the Romans would use the steel shaft of a short Roman spear to shatter the victim’s lower leg bones which would prevent them from pushing up with their legs so they could breathe. Death by asphyxiation would result in a matter of minutes. Since the soldiers had already determined Jesus was dead, they just used the spear to confirm it, fulfilling another Old Testament prophecy.”

Alexander Metherell, MD., Ph.D.

  • Some skeptics say that there is astonishingly little evidence that the feet of the crucified person were ever pierced by nails.

“Archaeology has established that the use of nails was historical although at times ropes were used instead. In 1968 archaeologists in Jerusalem found the remains of about three dozen Jews who had died around A.D. 70. One of the victims had a 7-inch nail still driven into his feet with small pieces of olive wood from the cross still attached confirming the gospel’s description of the crucifixion.”

Alexander Metherell, MD., Ph.D.

  • Could the Roman soldiers have been mistaken concerning Jesus’ death?

“There was no doubt in the Roman soldier’s mind that Jesus was dead. These soldiers were experts in killing people it was their job and they did it very well. Moreover, if one of their prisoners somehow escaped the responsible soldiers would be put to death themselves. Therefore, they had a huge incentive to make absolutely sure that each and every victim was dead when he was removed from the cross.”

Alexander Metherell, MD., Ph.D.

The next section has excerpts from an interview between Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH. discussing the evidence of Jesus’ missing body.

The Ressurection Evidence Interview of William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH.

Stroble knew that history tells us that as a rule, crucified criminals were left on the cross to be devoured by birds or were thrown into a common grave. Therefore, this has prompted various people to conclude that Jesus’ body probably was dug up and consumed by wild dogs.

The Burial Evidence

Craig agreed that based on customary practices this could have been probable. However, he went on to say, “But that would ignore the specific evidence in this case.” Craig continues:

“The apostle Paul passes on a very early creed of the church in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. Then He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain to this present time, though some have passed away. Then He was seen by James and then by all the apostles.’

“This creed is incredibly early and therefore trustworthy material…The first line refers to the Crucifixion, the second to the burial, the third to the Resurrection, and the fourth to Jesus’ appearances. As you can see the second line affirms that Jesus was buried.

“This creed is actually a summary that corresponds line by line with what the gospels teach. When we turn to the gospels we find multiple independent attestation of this burial story, and Joseph of Arimathea is specifically named in all four accounts. On top of that, the burial story in Mark is so extremely early that it’s simply not possible for it to been subject to legendary corruption.

“First, Mark is considered to be the earliest gospel. Second, his gospel basically consists of short anecdotes about Jesus, more like pearls on a string than a smooth, continuous narrative.

“But when you get to the last week of Jesus’ life…then you do have a continuous narrative of events in sequence. This passion story was apparently taken by Mark from an even earlier source, and this source included the story of Jesus being buried in a tomb.”

John A. T. Robinson, the late Cambridge University New Testament scholar, said the honorable burial of Jesus is one of the earliest and best attested facts that we have about the historical Jesus.”

William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH.

Was the Tomb Secure?

To Strobel, it seemed important to know how secure the grave of Jesus was from outside influences. The tighter the security, the less likely the body could have been tampered with. So he asked Craig to describe how this kind of tomb looked, as best as archaeologists have been able to determine from excavations of 1st-century sights. Craig stated:

“There was a slanted groove that led down to a low entrance and a large disk-shape stone was rolled down this groove and lodged into place across the door. A smaller stone was then used to secure the disk. Although it would be easy to roll this big disk down the groove, it would take several men to roll the stone back up in order to reopen the tomb. In that sense it was quite secure.”

William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH.

Is the Empty Tomb a Historical Fact?

Strobel asked Craig to convince him with four or five reasons that the empty tomb is a historical fact. Below are Craig’s reasons.

  1. “The empty tomb is definitely implicit in the early tradition that is passed along by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, which is a very old and reliable source of historical information about Jesus.”
  2. “The site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Christians and Jews alike. So, if it weren’t empty, it would be impossible for a movement founded on the belief of the Resurrection to have come into existence in the same city where this man had been publicly executed and buried.”
  3. “We can tell from the language, grammar, and style that Mark got his empty tomb story, actually, his whole passion narrative from an earlier source. In fact, there’s evidence it was written before A.D. 37, which is much too early for legend to have seriously corrupted it.”
    1. A. N. Sherwin-White, the respected Greco-Roman classical historian from Oxford University, said it would have been without precedent anywhere in history for legend to have grown up that fast and significantly distorted the gospels.”
  4. “Fictional apocryphal accounts from the 2nd century contain all kinds of flower narratives, in which Jesus comes out of the tomb and glory and power, with everybody seeing him including the priests, Jewish authorities, and Roman guards. Those are the way legends read, but these don’t come until generations after the events, which is after eyewitnesses have died off.
    By contrast, Mark’s account of the story of the empty tomb is stark in its simplicity and unadorned by theological reflection.”
  5. “The unanimous testimony that the empty tomb was discovered by women, argues for the authenticity of the story. This would have been embarrassing for the disciples to admit and most certainly would have been covered up if this were a legend.”
  6. “The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the historicity of the empty tomb. In other words, there was nobody who claimed that the tomb still contained Jesus’ body. The question always was, ‘What happened to the body?’”
    “The Jews proposed the ridiculous story that the guards had fallen asleep. Obviously, they were grasping at straws. But the point is this: they started with the assumption that the tomb was faked! Why? Because they knew it was!”
William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.TH.

The Resurrection Evidence Interview of Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D. D.

Lee Strobel states that he began this interview with prosecutorial bluntness. He came right out and said, “Isn’t it true that there are absolutely no eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection?”

Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Appearances

Habermas replied, “That’s exactly right there’s no descriptive account of the resurrection.”

Strobel then realized what he was saying: Nobody was sitting inside the tomb and saw the body start to vibrate, stand up, take the linen wrappings off, fold them, roll back the stone, wow the guards, and leave.

Strobel then asked Habermas: “Doesn’t this hurt your efforts to establish that the Resurrection is a historical event?” Habermas response in one word, “No.”

“Science is all about causes and effects. We don’t see dinosaurs; we’ve studied the fossils….Maybe nobody witnesses a crime, but police piece together the evidence after the fact. So, here’s how I look at the evidence for the Resurrection: First, did Jesus die on the cross? And second, did He appear later to people? If you can establish these two things, you’ve made your case, because dead people don’t normally do that.”

Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D. D.

What Evidence is There?

Habermas indicated that he would start with evidence that virtually all critical scholars would admit as evidence.

Evidence #1 – Paul’s affirmation

“Paul affirmed in two places that he personally encountered the resurrected Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:8.”

“Moreover, when Paul visited Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after his conversion Paul was playing the role of an examiner, someone who was carefully checking this information that he had out. Paul personally confirmed matters with two eyewitnesses who are specifically mentioned as seeing the resurrected Jesus, Peter and James.

“Later in 1 Corinthians 15:11, Paul emphasizes that the other apostles agreed in preaching the same gospel and message about the resurrection. This means that the eyewitness Paul is saying is the exact same thing that the eyewitnesses Peter and James are saying.”

Evidence #2 – Jesus’ Appearance to 500 People

1 Corinthians 15 is the only place in ancient literature where it claimed that Jesus appeared to 500 people at once. The gospels don’t corroborate it and no secular historian mentions it. Therefore, it raised a yellow flag in Strobel’s mind. He asked, “If this really happened, why doesn’t anyone talk about it?”

The atheist Michael Martin stated. “One must conclude that it is extremely unlikely that this incident really occurred and that this therefore indirectly casts doubt on Paul as a reliable source.”[iii]

Habermas’s reply:

“It’s just plain silliness to say this casts doubt on Paul.

First, even though it’s only reported in one source it just so happens to be the earliest and best-authenticated passage of all!

Second Paul apparently had some proximity to these people. He says most of them are still living though some have fallen asleep. Paul either knows some of these people or was told by someone who knew them that they were still walking around and willing to be interviewed.

“If you stop and think about it, you would never include this phrase unless you were absolutely confident that these folks would confirm that they really did see Jesus alive. Paul was virtually inviting people to check it out for themselves! He wouldn’t have said this if he didn’t know they’d back him up.

Third, when you have only one source you can ask why aren’t there more. But you can’t say, this one source is crummy on the grounds that someone else didn’t pick up on it. You can’t downgrade this one source that way. So, this doesn’t cast any doubt on Paul at all! Martin would love to be able to do that, but he can’t do it legitimately.”

Evidence #3 – Jesus’ Appearance in the Gospels

There are several different appearances of Jesus to different people in the gospels and the book of Acts. Sometimes Jesus appeared individually and at other times in groups. The text teaches that He was physically present. Moreover, these people touched Jesus or ate with Him. The appearances occurred over several weeks and Habermas states that there are good reasons to trust these accounts because they are lacking in many typical mythical tendencies. The following is a list of where you can read about His post-Ressurection appearances.

  • Matthew 28:8-10 – The women at the tomb saw Him.
  • Matthew 28:16-20 – Jesus’ commissioning of the eleven disciples.
  • Luke 24:13-32 – Jesus talked to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus.
  • Luke 24:33-49 – Jesus appears to the eleven and those who were with them in Jerusalem assembled together.
  • Luke 24:50-52 – At the Ascension, “While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”
  • John 20:10-18 – Mary Magdalene saw Him at the tomb.
  • John 20:19-23 – “On the evening of that first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
  • John 20: 26-30 – “After eight days His disciples were again inside with the doors shut, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.
  • John 21:1-14 – Jesus revealed Himself again to the [seven] disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
  • Acts 1:4-9 – The disciples at the Ascension.

We have already seen in a previous post the eyewitness accounts of Peter’s and Paul’s testimony of Jesus appearing after His Resurrection. Habermas stated:

“The Resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning. 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. Certainly, since this was their center-most conviction they would have made absolutely sure that it was true.”

Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D. D.

The Circumstantial Evidence Interview of J. P. Moreland, Ph. D.

Strobel wanted to know if there was any supporting circumstantial evidence of the Resurrection. For that evidence, Strobel asks Moreland to provide five pieces of circumstantial evidence not in dispute that convince Moreland that Jesus rose from the dead.

Circumstantial Evidence of the Resurrection

Listed below are excerpts from Moreland’s answers.

Circumstantial Evidence #1 – The disciples died for their beliefs.

“People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but they won’t die for their beliefs if they know their beliefs are false.”

Circumstantial Evidence #2 – The conversion of skeptics

“James the brother of Jesus and Saul of Tarsus were hardened skeptics who didn’t believe in Jesus before His crucifixion and dead set against Christianity, who turned around and adopted the Christian faith after Jesus’ death. There’s no good reason for this apart from having experienced the resurrected Christ.”

Circumstantial Evidence #3 – Changes to key social structures

First, the Jewish people had been taught ever since the time of Abraham and Moses that they needed to offer an animal sacrifice on a yearly basis to atone for their sins. After the death of Jesus, these Jewish people no longer offered sacrifices.”

“Second, Jews emphasized obeying the laws that God had entrusted to them through Moses yet within a short time after Jesus ‘s death, Jews were beginning to say you don’t become an upstanding member of their community merely by keeping Moses’ laws.”

“Third, Jews scrupulously kept the Sabbath by not doing anything except religious devotion every Saturday. However, after the death of Jesus, this 1500-year tradition is abruptly changed. These Christians worship on Sunday because that’s when Jesus rose from the dead.”

“Fourth, they believed in only one God. While Christians teach a form of monotheism, they say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. This is radically different from what the Jews believed.”

Fifth, these Christians pictured the Messiah as someone who suffered and died for the sins of the world, whereas Jews had been trained to believe that the Messiah was going to be a political leader who would destroy the Roman armies.”

Circumstantial Evidence #4 – Communion and Baptism

“All religions have their own rituals and practices. However, what’s odd is that these early followers of Jesus didn’t get together to celebrate His teachings or how wonderful he was. They came together regularly to have a celebration meal for one reason: to remember that Jesus had been publicly slaughtered in a grotesque and humiliating way.

“They realized that Jesus’ slaying was a necessary step to a much greater victory. His murder wasn’t the last word, the last word was that He had conquered death for all of us by rising from the dead. They celebrated His execution because they were convinced that they had seen Him alive from the tomb.

“The baptism was a celebration of the death of Jesus, just as communion was. By going under the water, you’re celebrating His death and by being brought out of the water you’re celebrating the fact that Jesus was raised to newness of life.”

Moreover, Moreland replied that these were not adapted from so-called mystery religions.

First, there’s no hard evidence that any mystery religion believed in god’s dying and rising until after the New Testament. So, if there was any borrowing they borrowed from Christianity.

Second, the practice of baptism came from Jewish customs and the Jews were very much against allowing Gentile or Greek ideas to affect their worship.”

Third, these two sacraments can be dated back to the very earliest Christian community. Too early for the influence of any other religions to creep into their understanding of what Jesus’ death meant.”

Circumstantial Evidence #5 – The emergence of the church

 “When a major culture shift takes place, historians always look for events that can explain it. Thinking about the start of the Christian Church there’s no question it began shortly after the death of Jesus and spread so rapidly that within a period of maybe 20 years it had even reached Caesar’s palace in Rome. Not only that, but this movement triumphed over a number of competing ideologies and eventually overwhelmed the entire Roman Empire.”

One Last Piece of Circumstantial Evidence

Moreland brought to Lee Strobel’s attention that there was one other category of evidence that he hadn’t asked about. It was the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world.

  • In every culture,
  • To people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities,
  • Well-educated and not,
  • Rich and poor,
  • Thinkers and feelers,
  • Men and women…

Testify that more than any single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them. Moreland said, “To me, this provides the final evidence, not the only evidence but the final confirming proof that the message of Jesus can open the door to a direct encounter with the risen Christ.”

To Moreland, the conclusion is clear. He stated,

“Look, if someone wants to consider the circumstantial evidence and reach the verdict that Jesus did not rise from the dead, fair enough. But they’ve got to offer an alternative explanation that is plausible for all five of these facts. Remember, there’s no doubt these facts are true, what’s in question is how to explain them. And I’ve never seen a better explanation than the Resurrection.”

J. P. Moreland, Ph. D.

In Closing, Take a Moment to Ponder Why…

Let’s take a moment to ponder the following.

  • Why would Jesus intentionally walk into the arms of Judas?
  • Why didn’t He resist arrest?
  • Why didn’t He defend Himself at His trial and willingly subject Himself to a humiliating and agonizing form of torture?
  • Why would a person do that and agree to endure this sort of punishment?

Jesus knew what was coming and He was willing to go through it all. Why? The answer is so simple we tend to shrug it off.  

  • Jesus LOVED us and still loves us.
  • This was the only way He could REDEEM us.
  • Jesus was our SUBSTITUTE and PAYED the PENALTY of DEATH that WE DESERVED, because of our REBELLION AGAINST GOD.

So, if you wonder what motivated Jesus, the only answer can be summed up with one word and that would be…

Resurrection Evidence

Therefore, I need to ask, do you have a relationship with Jesus?

Maranatha! Until next time, I am Passionately Loving Jesus, the Anchor of my Soul.

ABC’s of Salvation – Repent and be saved from the Wrath of God to come.

Read the complete series here.


End Notes

[i] Surah IV: 156-157.

[ii] Craig, Reasonable Faith, 234.

[iii] Martin, The Case Against Christianity, 90.

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