What If the Resurrection Really Happened?

JOURNALIST FRANK MORISON was bewildered by the fact that “a tiny insignificant movement was able to prevail over the cunning grip of the Jewish establishment, as well as the might of Rome.”

Morison further wrote, “Within twenty years, the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish church….In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire. When we have said everything that can be said…we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all. Why did it win?”[1]

By all rights, if there were no resurrection, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But instead the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.

J.N.D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication….That simply wouldn’t make sense.”[2]

The story of the resurrection, as astounding as it is, sounds more and more plausible. Or so it seemed to Morison.

A Surprise Conclusion

With myth, hallucination, and a flawed autopsy ruled out, with incontrovertible evidence for an empty tomb, with a substantial body of eyewitnesses to his reappearance, and with the inexplicable transformation and impact upon the world of those who claimed to have seen him, Morison became convinced that his preconceived bias against Jesus Christ’s resurrection had been wrong. He began writing a different book—entitled Who Moved the Stone?—to detail his new conclusions. Morison simply followed the trail of evidence, clue by clue, until the truth of the case seemed clear to him. His surprise was that the evidence led to a belief in the resurrection.

In his first chapter, “The Book that Refused to Be Written,” this former skeptic explained how the evidence convinced him that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual historical event. “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out.”[3]

Morison is not alone. Countless other skeptics have examined the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and accepted it as the most astounding fact in all of human history. C. S. Lewis, who once had even doubted Jesus’ existence, was also persuaded by the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. He writes,

“Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.”[4]

Let’s consider just one more skeptic who was persuaded by the evidence.

A Stunned Professor

One of those who originally thought the resurrection was simply a myth, only to reverse his position like Morison, was one of the world’s leading legal scholars, Dr. Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf helped to put the Harvard Law School on the map. He wrote the three-volume legal masterpiece A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which has been called the “greatest single authority in the entire literature of legal procedure.”[5] The U.S. judicial system today still relies on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf.

While teaching law at Harvard, Professor Greenleaf stated to his class that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend. As an atheist, he thought miracles to be impossible. In a rebuttal, three of his law students challenged him to apply his acclaimed rules of evidence to the resurrection account.

After much prodding, Greenleaf accepted his students’ challenge and began an investigation into the evidence. Focusing his brilliant legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf attempted to prove the resurrection account was false.

Yet the more Greenleaf investigated the record of history, the more stunned he was at the powerful evidence supporting the claim that Jesus had indeed risen from the tomb. Greenleaf’s skepticism was being challenged by an event that had changed the course of human history.

Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behavior of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them. Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict.

In a shocking reversal of his position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion. To this brilliant legal scholar and former atheist, it would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.[6]

In his book The Testimony of the Evangelists, Greenleaf documents the evidence that caused him to change his mind. In his conclusion he challenges those who seek the truth about the resurrection to fairly examine the evidence.

Greenleaf was so persuaded by the evidence that he renounced his atheism and became a committed Christian. He believed that any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence as in a court of law will conclude what he did—that Jesus Christ has truly risen.[7]

But some may wonder, “What does the fact that Jesus defeated death have to do with my life?” The answer to that question is what New Testament Christianity is all about; Jesus told us that it has everything to do with us and our eternal future.