Things I’m Asked: Did Jesus’ resurrection really happen?

Is the resurrection of Jesus a reality we can hope in, or is it just a myth – something that has meaning only because we give it meaning? Is talk of resurrection just a projection of our need to feel that we have meaning after death? What do you think?

It’s worth giving the subject some serious thought. The American Episcopalian minister, John E. Large, wrote: ‘The entire character of a [person’s] whole life depends on whether he [or she] answers “Yes” or “No” to the historic fact of the Resurrection.’ That’s a bold statement. Whether or not you believe Rev Large, it highlights the fact that how you respond to the resurrection is a key life decision.

There is little doubt that the subject of the resurrection has been central and definitive of Christianity from the very first (Acts 4:33; 13:30-33). All but the smallest New Testament writings testify to it. The apostle Paul spoke of it as being of ‘first importance’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). It was the subject central to his preaching. The apostle Luke reports that when Paul was in Athens, he ‘was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection’ (Acts 17:18).

The Anglican theologian, Michael Green says: ‘The Resurrection is therefore no tailpiece to Christian doctrine. It is the centrepiece.’[i] But can you believe it?

There can only be a few alternative explanations for Jesus’ resurrection:

1) The swoon theory. This suggests that Jesus didn’t die but was in a coma from which he recovered. This claim is fanciful. Jesus was flogged savagely, crucified, speared in the side, wrapped from head to toe in embalming bandages, and left in a tomb for two days. It can’t seriously be said that Jesus was fit enough to unwrap himself, pull back the heavy stone over the tomb entrance, dodge the soldiers who were on guard, and then persuade the disciples that he had risen from the dead! If he had swooned on the cross, he would have suffocated and had irreparable brain damage within nine minutes. We can therefore conclude that the resurrection was not the survival of death but the overcoming of death.

The New Testament records don’t read like a myth. Rather, they read like eyewitness accounts.

2) The disciples all had hallucinations or visions of Jesus. The fact that over five-hundred people in different places should have had such simultaneous hallucinations or visions makes this highly unlikely (1 Corinthians 15:6).

3) The disciples stole the body. This is not credible. The disciples were as surprised about Jesus’ resurrection as anyone. Another key reason why this claim is not credible is that following the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples exploded onto the world stage with missionary zeal. All of them had to overcome enormous odds, and all but one of them was martyred. No one can seriously believe that the disciples would be prepared to suffer martyrdom if they knew their message was based on a lie.

4) Jesus’ resurrection was just a myth that developed in the first few years after Jesus’ death. C.S. Lewis doesn’t think it was. He was one of the world’s leading experts on myth literature, and he said that the New Testament records don’t read like a myth. Rather, they read like eyewitness accounts. In fact, he says that they are one of the earliest existing eyewitness accounts in literature. He wrote: ‘I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this.’[ii]

It is chronological arrogance to suggest that the disciples were a primitive people unable to tell the difference between myth and reality. The Apostle Peter said: ‘We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16). Peter makes the point that Jesus was seen by: ‘witnesses who God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead’ (Acts 10:41).  John (another of Jesus’ disciples) writes similarly: ‘That … which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have touched – this we proclaim…’ (1 John 1:1).

Paul’s teaching on the resurrection

The apostle Paul was not one of Jesus’ original disciples, but he was highly significant in the early history of the church. He was responsible for planting Christian churches amongst non-Jews living in modern-day Turkey, Greece and Italy. He made it clear that his teaching on the resurrection was not something he had worked out independently. It was something that he had “received” within just a few years of Jesus’ death, and now ‘handed on’ to others (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

The resurrection of Jesus was the central theme of Paul’s preaching, and Paul always insisted that it be correctly understood. The young church in the Greek city of Corinth contained some people who doubted the resurrection, so Paul wrote to them, assuring them of its reality (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)…

…a reality which I pray gives you great hope.

[i]    Michael Green “Why the Resurrection Matters” Christianity Today Vol.33, No.5, 29.

[ii]   Clive S. Lewis, Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity, (Collins, Font Paperbacks, 9th Imp, 1986), 109.

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net

Nick told his life story to Eternity https://www.eternitynews.com.au/good-news/deadly-storms-heroin-addicts-cancer-and-my-faith/