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5. Did the resurrection really happen?
Having eliminated the main arguments against Jesus’ resurrection due to their inconsistency with the facts, Morison began asking himself, “did it really happen?” Instead of looking for evidence against Jesus’ resurrection, he wondered how strong the case was for its actual occurrence. Several facts stood out.
Each eyewitness account reports that Jesus suddenly appeared bodily to his followers, the women first. Morison wondered why conspirators would make women central to the plot. In the first century, women had virtually no rights, personhood, or status. Morison reasoned that conspirators would have portrayed men, not women, as the first to see Jesus alive. And yet we read that women touched him, spoke with him, and were the first to find the empty tomb.
The disciples claim they saw Jesus on more than ten separate occasions. They say he showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him. He ate with them and later, on one occasion, appeared alive to more than 500 followers.
In Caesarea, Peter told a crowd why he and the other disciples were so convinced Jesus was alive.
“We apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Israel and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by crucifying him, but God raised him to life three days later … We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
Morison realized that these early sightings of a risen Jesus by so many of his followers would have been virtually impossible to fake.
Consistent to the End
As Morison continued his investigation, he began to examine the motives of Jesus’ followers. He reasoned that something extraordinary must have happened, because the followers of Jesus ceased mourning, ceased hiding, and began fearlessly proclaiming that they had seen Jesus alive.
As if the eyewitness reports were not enough to challenge Morison’s skepticism, he was also baffled by the disciples’ behavior. These eleven former cowards were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and death. All but one of Jesus’ disciples were slain as martyrs. If they had taken the body, would they have sacrificed so much for a lie? Something happened that changed everything for these men and women.
It was this significant fact that persuaded Morison the resurrection must have really happened. He acknowledged, “Whoever comes to this problem has sooner or later to confront a fact that cannot be explained away … This fact is that … a profound conviction came to the little group of people – a change that attests to the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave.”
Professor J. N. D. Anderson and author of “Evidence for the Resurrection” concurs, “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.”
Why Did it Win?
Finally, 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. He explains,
“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?”
By all rights, if there were no resurrection, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.
Whatever one believes about the validity of Jesus’ resurrection, clearly “something happened” after his death that has made a lasting impact on our world. When world historian H. G. Wells was asked who has left the greatest legacy on history, the non-Christian scholar replied, “By this test Jesus stands first.” What is that legacy? Let’s look at just some of Jesus’ impact:
• Time is marked by his birth, B.C.– before Christ; A.D. – in the year of our Lord
• More books have been written about Jesus than about any other person
• About 100 great universities were established to spread his teaching — including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Oxford
• Jesus’ teaching that all people are created equal laid the bedrock for human rights and democracy in more than 100 countries
• The high value Jesus placed on each person regardless of sex or race led his followers to promote the rights of women as well as abolish slavery
• Humanitarian works such as the Red Cross, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, Mercy Ships and the Salvation Army were founded by his followers
A Surprise Conclusion
In the book he finally wrote, Who Moved the Stone, Morison documents the evidence that led him to a belief in the resurrection. Morison is not alone. Numerous other skeptics who examined the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, also became convinced and accepted it as the most astounding fact in all of human history.
Oxford professor and former skeptic C. S. Lewis, who had once doubted Jesus’ very 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.”
But there is even more. . .
Jesus on Trial
Dr. Simon Greenleaf decided to put Jesus’ resurrection on trial by examining the evidence. Greenleaf helped Harvard Law School gain widespread credibility. He also 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.” The U.S. judicial system today still relies on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf.
Greenleaf wondered if Jesus’ resurrection would hold up in a court of law. Focusing his brilliant legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf began applying his rules of evidence to the case of Jesus’ resurrection. The more Greenleaf investigated the record of history, the more evidence he discovered supporting the claim that Jesus had indeed risen from the tomb.
He documents his case for Jesus’ resurrection in his book, Testimony of the Evangelists. So, what was that evidence? Greenleaf observed several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behavior of the disciples. He argues, “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.” Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, he accepted the resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion.
Many other legal experts, including former Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, agree with Greenleaf’s verdict on the case for Jesus’ resurrection. Darling writes,
“There exists such overwhelming evidence…factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”
So what does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you and me? Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus explained why his resurrection is so important to us. He told one of his followers, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, his words wouldn’t have any meaning to our lives. But if his resurrection really happened, then Jesus is the only one who can answer life’s most important questions:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
Where am I going after I die?
Did Jesus Say What Happens After We Die?
If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then he alone must know what is on the other side. What did Jesus say about the meaning of life and our future? Are there many ways to God or did Jesus claim to be the only way? Read the startling answers in “Why Jesus?”