Jesus rose from the dead. Well, Christians believe this anyway (those who don’t, aren’t Christian. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true according to Scripture). And yet, you may find it surprising that there are a number of people, atheists leading the way, who don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. They say that it’s all fairy tales, that it’s better to believe in the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (to use the words of Richard Dawkins) than to believe in Jesus rising from the dead. Richard Dawkins believes that Jesus probably lived (see page 122 of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion , first full paragraph), but Jesus was just a poor Jewish prophet, many would say. He wasn’t considered by them to be anything more than a Jewish rabbi, not the Son of God who was Deity and humanity in one person, not one who could do miracles of any kind.
In this article, we take a look at the resurrection of Jesus and answer the question of whether or not the resurrection of Jesus is “fact or fiction.” As Christians, we believe it is fact, and there are good reasons to support the factual nature of the resurrection.
To discover the facts, let’s examine the Gospel accounts themselves.
The Crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew
Jesus dies on the Cross, a fact attested to by the Gospel writers themselves. In Matthew 26, we read that Jesus “gives up the ghost,” (He dies), and His body is placed in the tomb of a rich man, a follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea:
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” 48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.
49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
55 And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 26:45-61)
We know that Pilate died because His body was taken down and Pilate gives the body to Joseph (Matthew 26:58). Joseph himself handled the body, “he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb.” He appears to have made the tomb himself, since the text says “he had hewn [it] out of the rock” (v.60). Joseph took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, placed it in his new tomb. With all of that exposure to the body of Jesus, Joseph would’ve had no choice but to validate whether it was Jesus or not. Verse 60b tells us that Joseph placed the stone over the door of the tomb.
The death of Jesus caused the chief priests and Pharisees to stir up trouble even after His death. They remembered His words and warned Pilate and company about the fear that His disciples would steal His body and claim He rose from the dead:
62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”
65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. (Matthew 26:62-66)
The chief priests and Pharisees are told to place their own guard at the tomb. They “seal[ing] the stone and set[ting] the guard” (v.66), which tells us that there’s no way Jesus could’ve gotten out of the tomb by normal means unless He faced a battle with the guard and subsequent death. Jesus had no weapons, but the guard at the tomb would’ve had a weapon to arm himself in the event of a fight or a robbery attempt. The stage is therefore set for a supernatural resurrection. From what we see here, the Pharisees wanted to make sure Jesus didn’t get away from the tomb, that He “stayed dead,” so how would He have risen if it wasn’t by supernatural means?
The Crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke
44 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.
47 So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”
48 And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. 49 But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
50 Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. 51 He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. 54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.
55 And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:44-56)
Luke’s Gospel attests to the same record about Joseph of Arimathea as the Gospel of Matthew. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, wrapped it in a new cloth, and placed it in his tomb — a tomb that had never been lain in before.
Crucifixion in the Gospel of Mark
33 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” 36 Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”
37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.
38 Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
40 There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, 41 who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
42 Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. 45 So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. (Mark 15:33-47)
“Pilate marveled that He was already died,” which seems to indicate that Jesus died rather quickly. “Summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time,” a way of ensuring that Jesus had died and was truly dead. This confirms that Jesus did die; His death wasn’t a hoax, a scam, or a hallucination. Jesus’ death was not a cover-up; He wasn’t alive but “faked His death,” then woke up in the tomb and rolled the stone away. No, He was truly dead when He was placed in Joseph’s tomb. Even Pilate inquired of how long Jesus had been dead (Mark 15:44).
The Crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel of John
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
31 Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby. (John 19:28-42)
In John 19, we discover that Jesus’ legs were not broken, but that His side was pierced to fulfill the Scripture that says “They shall look on Him whom they pierced,” a verse that comes from Zechariah 12:10. Joseph of Arimathea gets the body of Jesus. What differs here in John’s Gospel is that we read that “Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (vv.39-40).
The tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea lays Jesus (John doesn’t say the tomb belongs to Joseph) is in a garden, and the garden is near the place where Jesus was crucified. Where John also differs from the other three Gospels (the Synoptics) is that he mentions that Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus by night in his Gospel (John 3), comes and brings spices for Jesus’ burial. When the text says that “they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen” (v.40), and “there they laid Jesus” (v.42), we see that Nicodemus assisted Joseph of Arimathea in the burial preparations for both Jesus’ body and the tomb.
What we’ve learned from the four Gospel accounts of Jesus is that Jesus died, His body was placed in the tomb, that Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus from Pilate and was given Jesus’ body by the centurion (Roman soldier). He was buried in a tomb that was claimed to be owned by Joseph himself, and we read that even Nicodemus helped wrap the body of Jesus and anoint His body with spices.
This tells us that Jesus died, that His body was placed in a tomb, and that the soldier placed at the tomb by the chief priests and Pharisees, Pilate, Nicodemus, and Joseph, could all say with confidence that Jesus died. Jesus would have let no one place Him in a tomb if He was alive. He would’ve never been wrapped in a sheet for fear of suffocation unless He were already dead. And the fact that Pilate was even shocked at how quickly Jesus died in Mark 15 shows that Jesus had was “deader than dead” when He was placed in the tomb.
With the centurion guard at the tomb, and the tomb sealed, how would Jesus have arisen? The chief priests and Pharisees, in Matthew’s Gospel, wanted to prevent “His disciples from stealing His body,” but how could they steal the body with a guard at the tomb? The Pharisees helped add a guard to the tomb to prevent the claim that “Jesus has risen” from coming true. So, there was no way that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. There are those in the atheist community who still believe that today, Jesus’ body was stolen by His disciples. And yet, if Scripture is true, the Pharisees remembered Jesus’ words (they called Jesus “that deceiver”) and wanted to prevent Him from being perceived as the Son of God through some “hoax” of the disciples. Of course, Christians believe that Jesus did rise from the dead, but this account alone testifies to the idea that Jesus’ body was not stolen, that His body was not hidden somewhere.
There’s another point to make regarding Jesus and the tomb: why would Jesus have a guard at His tomb? After all, according to the Gospel accounts, He was treated as a criminal and “was numbered with the transgressors,” a verse from the Old Testament that Mark uses in his own Gospel (Mark 15:28, quoting Isaiah 53:12). He had a guard at His tomb because of the uproar Jesus had caused during His life. He was one who taught of the Kingdom of God and did miracles to confirm who He was — and crowds followed Him. Jesus was such a popular favorite of the crowds that even the wicked authorities had to change their strategy on how to get Jesus because they feared the crowds:
27 Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. 28 And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?”
29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 30 The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.”
31 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. 33 So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.”
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33)
9 Then He began to tell the people this parable: “A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. 10 Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him.’ 14 But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.”
And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!”
17 Then He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone’?
18 Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
19 And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people —for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. (Luke 20:9-19)
If Jesus had a guard at the tomb, then He must have been a criminal of some suspicion to have a guard. It was rare for a “criminal” to get such “honor” after his or her death.
The guard at the tomb, as said before, sets the stage for a divine resurrection because there is no way Jesus could’ve escaped without fighting the guard. The fact that Jesus rises, despite the guard at the tomb, tells us that He must be the divine Son of God.
The Resurrection in the Gospels
The Gospels tell us of Jesus’ death, but they happily report on the resurrection as well.
In Matthew’s Gospel, after Jesus rises from the dead, the chief priests bribe the elders to say that His disciples stole His body:
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”
8 So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.
9 And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
11 Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:1-15)
“Some of the guard” reported what happened (Matthew 28:11), though we read of only one guard after His death in Matthew 27. The chief priests meet with the elders, pay the soldiers (v.12), and then give them what I call a rehearsed script: “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure” (Matthew 28:13-14).
Let’s think on these words. The whole point of putting a guard at the door of the tomb was to prevent the disciples from coming to get Jesus out, since the Pharisees feared Jesus’ reputation before the people. Well, how could the disciples have beaten up the Roman centurion guard? They couldn’t have. Thus, if Jesus made it out of the grave, there could only be one explanation: Jesus rose from the dead. Matthew 28 tells us that “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it” (v.2). The cause of the resurrection had to be divine, not human.
And yet, despite the fact that things happened just as Jesus said they would, and that the strategy the chief priests and Pharisees had planned beforehand (which wasn’t true), the chief priests and elders still paid off the soldiers and told them to propagate the lie. And then, they promised to protect the soldiers if news of Jesus rising from the dead traveled back to the governor. Of course, to have gone to sleep on the job, resulting in an escape or a body theft, would cause the soldiers at the tomb to be in danger of losing their job. They would’ve been removed from employment, and, in some cases, could lose their very lives. In the case of the Philippian jailer, the Lord caused an earthquake that shook the jail and removed the shackles of Paul and Silas; the jailer, knowing the trouble he’d face for Paul and Silas going free, almost committed suicide. And by the way, the Lord freed Paul and Silas after the Philippian jailer “put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (emphasis on Acts 16:24; see the full story in Acts 16:16-34).
The claim that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while the guards slept made no sense. In fact, what we see from the text is that Jesus had to tell the women to tell the disciples that He’d risen (Matthew 28:7). They didn’t know of His resurrection until the women told them, then they meet in Galilee to see Jesus face-to-face. And even then, some still doubt though they see Him with their eyes (Matthew 28:16).
Now, on to the women and their observations. When the women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1) arrive at the tomb, they notice that the stone is rolled away. It’s not said whether or not they see the guards, who “shook for fear of him (the angel), and became like dead men” (v.4). There was more than one guard at the tomb, according to Matthew 28; with two or more Roman centurions present at the tomb, how would the disciples have been able to ward them off? And again, with the angel having to tell the women to “go quickly and tell His disciples,” we get the feeling that the disciples were still in ignorance as to Jesus’ prophesied resurrection; they didn’t really believe He’d rise from the dead. So, on account of these things, the old “the disciples stole His body while the Roman guards slept” theory makes no sense whatsoever.
Let’s talk about the guards “becoming like dead men.” This phrase in Matthew 28 refers to these humans seeing the divine, for only in the case of mankind seeing God or a divine being such as an angel would this type of reaction occur. There are a number of humans who didn’t pass out when they saw angels (such as Mary the mother of Jesus, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, and others such as Manoah, the father of Gabriel, and others). The Roman centurion guards passed out because they were afraid, they didn’t understand. Remember, fear is a normal human reaction when one encounters angels:
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:8-13)
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:26-30)
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” (Acts 10:1-4)
Zacharias, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Cornelius, a Gentile God-fearer, are but three examples (apart from the Roman centurions) who saw angels and were afraid, but this is a natural reaction to seeing divine beings before one’s very eyes.
While fear is a very natural reaction in an angelic encounter, passing out isn’t. This is the part of the story that we see that is unique but genuine. If the Roman centurions were “merely sleeping,” as the lie goes in Matthew 28, they wouldn’t have been able to sleep through an angelic appearance when an angel rolled the stone away; no guard could’ve slept through that. Thus, while Roman soldiers could’ve been sleeping due to the time of the day (“as the first day of the week began to dawn,” Matthew 28:1), it doesn’t explain how they could have lost sight of the stone to the tomb entrance — and how an angel could’ve gotten ahold of it and “sat on it” (v.2).
In verse 8, we see that the women “went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy,” which tells us that they were of mixed emotion. While they were likely happy that Jesus had risen from the dead, they were also afraid as to what exactly happened to Him. Perhaps they didn’t believe that a human could die and then return from the grave. Perhaps they didn’t know if someone had taken Him (and, if they had, where He was), and they didn’t know what had happened to Him since they last saw Him dead on the Cross.
9 And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:9-12)
Remember, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” who left the tomb with “fear and great joy” in the previous verse, verse 8? We now see that, while they’re on their way to perform the command of the angel at the tomb, Jesus meets them. He tells them in verse 10, “Do not be afraid,” reminding us that they were afraid of all that they had seen and heard. They didn’t have time to process it all: on one hand, they were glad Jesus had arisen, but on the other hand, they wanted to see Him alive. Jesus, knowing their thoughts and hearts, appears before them: “So they came and held Him by the feet and worshipped Him” (Matthew 28:9). They “held Him by the feet,” likely wanting to cling to Jesus after having lost Him for some time. They didn’t want to let Him go this time. It’s likely the case that they held Him by the feet, the same feet that had nail scars from Jesus’ crucifixion, in order to observe for themselves that the Jesus before them was the Jesus they had seen die on the Cross just three days earlier. As we can see here, it’s likely that the women were told by Jesus to “rejoice” because, perhaps they doubted that He had risen. Perhaps this is why the angel tells the women at the tomb just a few verses earlier, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6).
We often point to Doubting Thomas (Thomas the Twin, as some call him), and his doubting (we’ll cover this in John’s Gospel later on in this article), but Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted. Not only is it likely the case that the women doubted (yes, the women who went to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and “another Mary,” who remains unspecified in Matthew’s Gospel), but it is also the case that some of the disciples (Thomas included) doubted as well:
16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16-17)
The disciples met Jesus in Galilee, so we know the women appeared to them (though we’re not explicitly told “the women appeared to them”). When the disciples see Jesus, the text says that “they worshiped Him; but some doubted” (v.17). Even though Jesus had told them that He would be crucified and in three days He would rise from the dead, they still doubted that it was Jesus who had appeared to them:
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” (Matthew 17:5-9)
22 Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful. (Matthew 17:22)
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, 2 “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2)
Jesus told them “the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2) and that “the third day He will be raised up” (Matthew 17:22), but they still didn’t believe Him. They didn’t think it was true, nor did they think Jesus would rise. If they did, they wouldn’t have scattered the way they did and even avoided going to the tomb. After all, the women appear at the tomb without any of the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel. The women were going to Jesus’ tomb to anoint Jesus’ body (we’ll get to this in the Gospel of Mark). They weren’t going to “witness Jesus alive again” because they didn’t believe Jesus, whom they believed to be human, would return to life.
The Resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”
8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)
In Mark 16:1, Salome (a woman not mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, along with Mary Magdalene (mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew) and Mary the mother of James (another not mentioned in Matthew) all come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. This tells us that the women presumed Jesus would stay dead, that, despite His sayings that He would rise from the dead, despite His teaching, the women didn’t understand what it meant and likely didn’t believe He’d rise from the dead. If they believed He would rise on the third day, why would they come and anoint His body? Bringing spices for ointment was an action by the women that demonstrated their grief over Jesus’ death. They believed Jesus was dead for good, that He was dead and, like all humans, dead permanently. They didn’t believe that He would rise, and they didn’t come to the tomb in anticipation that He would be alive and resurrected from the dead. This is believable, because, if the account of the resurrection of Jesus was doctored in the Gospels, we’d expect the women to go to the tomb to see Jesus alive — that would prove that Jesus was the real deal. Instead, like many, they went to the tomb accepting of what they perceived to be Jesus’ permanent death. They went to honor Jesus in His death and burial, but what they saw when they went to the tomb was totally unexpected.
They went to the tomb at sunrise (“when the sun had risen,” verse 2) and then wanted someone to roll the stone away from the tomb entrance. They asked, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?,” a question that tells us the tomb stone at the door was rather heavy. The women couldn’t lift it, and apparently, only an angel could open the door. We don’t know if the Roman centurion soldiers could, but the tomb was of some significant heft and size. Verse 4 says that the tomb stone was “very large,” presumably a stone that few humans could remove from its place.
Upon entering in, they saw a young man in a long, white robe sitting in the tomb. “And they were alarmed” is the same as saying that they were afraid. The angel tells the women “Do not be alarmed” (v.6). We’ve covered this in the Gospel of Matthew, referring to the normal human fear when seeing an angel. The angel knows that they’ve come to find “Jesus of Nazareth,” and the angel tells them that Jesus was once laid in the tomb but that “He is risen,” reminding them that He said He would resurrect from the dead and fulfilled that promise.
The angel then tells the women, “But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (v.7). First, let’s note that Peter is singled out from the apostles in Mark’s Gospel, which could be indicative that the Gospel of Mark is really Peter’s words written down by John Mark (presumed to be a scribe for Peter but also the one whose house the early church was gathered at praying for Peter when he was imprisoned; see Acts 12:12, 25; 15:36, 37). Peter is singled out in the Gospel to help Peter stand out from the other apostles, as a “trademark signature” of the Gospel that could really, in some ways, be called “the Gospel of Peter.” In verse 8, we read that the women “said nothing to no one, for they were afraid,” but this doesn’t mean that the women didn’t tell the disciples. There are verses 9-20 in Mark 16 as well, verses that tell us that the women disciples who saw Jesus told the original eleven but that the original eleven didn’t believe them:
9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. (Mark 16:9-11)
12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. (Mark 16:12-13)
The Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene and two other disciples (unknown), and these three witnesses told the rest of the disciples “but they did not believe” (Mark 16:11, 13). So, as we can see here, the women did tell the others, which is what we’d expect them to do. After all, they were all followers of Jesus and they would want to know if Jesus was alive. They loved Jesus and longed to see Him again, and yet, they couldn’t believe the news even when they were being told what they wanted to hear. Their unbelief is not something the Gospels would report if it were untrue. Even atheists such as Bart Ehrman, one of the most renown textual critics in the world and one who has been leading the way in increasing skepticism about the veracity of the Gospels, has said that the disciples’ failure to understand and believe Jesus’ mission must be true because its truth makes Jesus and the church “look bad,” to some extent (followers who still lack understanding, despite all Jesus’ teaching and preaching, is not something that the church looks good to publicize).
Finally, Jesus appears to the original eleven disciples:
14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. (Mark 16:14)
Jesus appeared to the eleven in a room (likely a house, since it had a table) and “rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (v.14). In other words, the reports that He had risen, coupled with memories of what Jesus Himself had told them, should’ve been enough. And yet, it wasn’t; even being told by the women that they’d seen Jesus, the disciples didn’t believe it. Isn’t that something? Who did they think would go around making up that Jesus had risen and reappeared? If the Gospels are right, and none of Jesus’ disciples truly understood His message and believed He would rise from the dead, then what would motivate the women to forge or fabricate such an account?
The same question can be asked today: why would believers, why would the Gospels, forge the resurrection of Jesus if He did not rise? If He was still in the grave, then the disciples could’ve gone to the grave to verify that Jesus was still dead. The guards didn’t steal His body, and the disciples didn’t believe He’d rise, so they had no need to steal His body and forge a lie. And then, they didn’t even believe the women who said He’d risen — so that tells you the condition of their grief such that they would never have propagated a lie.
Jesus rebuked the disciples for their unbelief. Yes, the same disciples that spread the gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world after He died are the ones Jesus rebuked for disbelieving the truth, the observation of those to whom Jesus appeared.
The Resurrection of Jesus according to Luke
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”
8 And they remembered His words. 9 Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. 11 And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened. (Luke 24:1-12)
The word “they” in Luke 24:1 along with “certain other women with them” can often confuse, but Luke doesn’t list the women here; he waits until a few verses down to tell us some of the women who were present at the tomb: “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James” and other women whose names were unknown (v.9). The women brought the spices they had prepared, which matches Mark’s account of the event. These women had prepared spices with which to anoint Jesus’ body.
In verses 2 and 3, they find the stone rolled away from the tomb and enter into the tomb to find Jesus’ body missing. Verse 4 says that the women “were greatly perplexed about this,” showing that they didn’t believe that Jesus had risen, or they didn’t know what had happened to Him. Perhaps they didn’t know if someone had stolen His body, but it’s likely that they weren’t thinking, “Jesus is risen; what He said has come true!” It would have been excellent if they were thinking that, but it’s unlikely. Jesus rose from the dead forever, and that was hard to fathom among human beings — even those He’d spent some significant time with, sharing that He would indeed rise from the dead. They’d never seen any human die and return to life; of course, Jesus was more than just a man, but they assumed He was a man (that’s all). They believed in His message, sure, but in their belief, they didn’t understand it all.
Two men were in the tomb “in shining garments,” reminding us of the “young man” with the “long white robe” in Mark’s Gospel; this time, though, there were two angels instead of the one angel of Mark. Perhaps there was only one angel in Peter’s experience (I’m presuming Mark is writing on behalf of Peter here), or one angel as told by Peter when he went to the tomb. Verse 5 tells us that the women “were afraid” and “bowed their faces to the earth,” language indicative of angels or encounters with angelic/divine beings. The women bowed to the earth, a gesture customary for humans who encounter divine beings or messengers sent by God. John, one of the original eleven disciples, did the same thing when he was shown how the end of the world would come in the Book of Revelation:
8 Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.
9 Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9)
In verses 6-7, the angels reminded them that Jesus had told them He’d rise from the dead when He was with them: “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again’” (Luke 24:6-7). Jesus had already told them what would happen, but they had forgotten His words. Only after the angels remind them do they recall what Jesus had said (v.8). In verse 9, they tell “the eleven and all the rest,” but the apostles found it difficult to believe. Luke calls them “apostles,” despite the fact that at this point in the narrative, the eleven were “disciples,” nothing more. “Apostles” (Luke 24:10) is an anachronistic term that didn’t arrive until the birth of the early church — which is noted by Luke the physician in Acts 2. Luke uses this term to make a connection with his work, titled the Book of Acts, that would follow his Gospel (Gospel of Luke).
The apostles (the eleven original disciples) didn’t believe the words of the women, seeing them as nothing more than “idle tales,” that which they made up. It was typical in these days that a woman’s testimony wouldn’t be believed. Even in John’s Gospel, when Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well, the disciples return to Jesus shocked that He was speaking with a woman:
Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), 3 He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. 4 But He needed to go through Samaria.
5 So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He. ”
27 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” (John 4:1-27)
In verse 12, we see new details recorded that aren’t found in Matthew and Mark: Peter goes to the tomb and sees the linen cloths that Jesus was wrapped in (but no body). He marvels at what happens, though we don’t know if he believes Jesus now that he’s at the tomb; after all, he didn’t believe the female witnesses. We haven’t seen Peter at the tomb in Matthew and Mark, but we do see Peter here in Luke. Perhaps he goes to see the tomb after the women tell him, despite his unbelief. By going to the tomb, Peter has to “see it to believe it,” a mindset similar to “Doubting Thomas” who had to see the nail scars in Jesus’ hands and feet to believe.
Jesus appears to two disciples (including one Cleopas) as they talk on the way to Emmaus, and He asks them about the events that have transpired in Jerusalem (the two disciples don’t know that the person they’re talking to is Jesus Himself). Jesus asks them what has happened, and Cleopas explains who Jesus was, what He did, and what He said:
19 And He said to them, “What things?”
So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22 Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23 When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”
25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:19-27)
Jesus questions Cleopas and another disciple, who tell Him about Himself. Yes, they’re talking about Jesus of Nazareth, “a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” He was delivered up and crucified, but notice what else is said: “But we were hoping that it is He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). The phrase “we were hoping” shows that Cleopas and the other disciple didn’t know for sure that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied; they had a hunch, perhaps, and they wanted to believe it to be true, but they didn’t know. When Cleopas mentions “the third day since these things happened” (v.21), he’s referring to the third day since Jesus died; he’s referring to the time in which Jesus said He would rise from the dead, thus proving that Jesus told not only the original eleven but also the other followers that constituted the seventy disciples that followed the Lord around.
Cleopas also provides some insight into Mark’s own Gospel as well as Matthew’s regarding the testimony of the women who’d been to the tomb before the original eleven: Cleopas, one of the followers but not one of the original eleven, tells Jesus what the women had seen and told the rest:
22 Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23 When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” (Luke 24:22-24)
“Certain women” went to the tomb, and found that Jesus had risen (the angels told them), then they returned and told the original eleven and all the rest. Then certain others who heard the testimony went to the tomb and verified the events of the women but didn’t see Jesus. In verse 25, Jesus chides them for being “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken.” This statement alone shows that when Cleopas said “we were hoping,” he meant it: they were “wishing” Jesus was the Messiah, though Cleopas didn’t say it with much confidence that he and the others really believed Jesus to be all that He had spoken and said concerning Himself. Jesus started with Moses and the Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, Jonah, etc., you name them) and showed all the things in Scripture concerning the Messiah. The text says that “He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (v.27), meaning that He, knowing the Word of God (He is God, after all; who’d know The Word any better than God Himself?), could tell the disciples what it said concerning Himself without having to read it and check it to make sure He was accurate about the events and statements. They received what I called a “Messianic crash course” from the Messiah Himself.
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:28-43)
Cleopas and the other disciple are hospitable to Jesus, whom they believe to be a stranger; they ask Him to lodge with them because it was evening. He comes in to stay with them that night, and at the table that evening, the text says that “He sat at the table with them, He took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (v.30-31). He “vanished from their sight,” meaning that He disappeared. He’s blessed, broken, and eaten bread before their very eyes, a sign that He is a living person, but He then vanishes from them — which is a sign of something other than being human. Humans don’t just vanish in thin air that way. Sure enough, a glimpse of Mark 16 shows that Jesus appeared to “two of them,” whom we’re assuming are Cleopas and another disciple (in this, Mark and Luke confirm each other), and that He appeared to them “in another form” (Mark 16:12).
What was “this other form”? We don’t know if Mark is saying that Jesus appeared dressed as if He were someone else, or if He appeared as a ghost, etc. We simply don’t know, but we know that, even with a glorified body, one that the women could touch (they handle Jesus’ feet), and one that could eat, touch, speak, and break bread, Jesus is still something “other” that even the Gospel writers themselves can’t describe.
In verses 33-35, we see Cleopas and the other disciple with Him return to Jerusalem to meet up with the original eleven and others, and there Cleopas discovers that the Lord had also appeared to Simon Peter, the leading disciple of the original eleven: they “found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (v.34). So, we see from this statement that the Lord also appeared to Peter. Even as Cleopas and the other unknown disciple tell how the Lord appeared to them, they discover with the original eleven that Peter, the leading disciple, had seen the resurrected Lord, and how He had broken bread among them (v.35).
In verse 36, Jesus appears to them all as they’re gathered together: “Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you’.” The result is that they’re “terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit” (v.37). They believed they had “seen a spirit,” a phrase that tells us that Jesus, though eating, speaking, walking, talking, etc., there was something “otherly” about Him. He had some spiritual aspect to His body that made them believe they were seeing a spirit. They didn’t believe they were seeing a vision, had a trance, or a dream, but that Jesus was something familiar but something unfamiliar. Of course, He had a glorified body, but what that meant was a mystery to His followers. But the fact that He ate, drank, spoke, and prayed among them is enough to let us know that Jesus was truly alive. He had died on the Cross, but He was alive before them. They were frightened and terrified, afraid of Jesus, doubting that it was Him. We know that their fear was of doubt because Jesus said to them, “Why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (vv.38-39). Jesus shows them His hands and feet in verse 40, a physical sign that He was really alive. He had the nail scars in His hands and feet to prove that He was the one who had been crucified three days earlier, but even showing them His hands and feet, “they still did not believe for joy, and marveled” (v.41). Jesus tells them to “handle My hands and My feet” because He perceives they think He is a ghost, a spirit of some kind, not the Messiah they had walked and talked with days earlier.
In verse 41, Jesus asks for food. They give Him a broiled fish and honeycomb (v.42), and He eats it among them (v.43), further proof that He had risen and that He wasn’t an apparition or a ghost eating among them (ghosts and apparitions can’t eat). What caught the believers off-guard was that He was alive, and eating again, after having died. No one died and came back to life on their own, and those who died “stayed dead.” Except for Jesus. Jesus was the exception to that rule. They’d seen Him die on the Cross, give up the ghost, but three days later, appear before them, and eat bread, broiled fish, honeycomb, and speak to them. They believed that a ghost could do it (they clearly believed in the supernatural), but they didn’t believe that a flesh-and-bone human being could. And yet, Jesus was standing before them: “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have,” a statement from Jesus that yes, He was human, alive, and really back. What human had died, come back to life, and reappeared after having died days earlier? The disciples are anything but blind sheep just “taking Jesus’ word for it,” as some skeptics and atheists would say. Everything they knew about human life told them that no one dies and comes back to life; if it does, it is an apparition or a spirit, not the deceased person. And yet, despite human understanding, Jesus was among them, flesh and bone.
Jesus was an appealing figure in His day on earth, one that preached a message of the Kingdom of God and the necessity of repenting and believing in the gospel message. And yet, He wasn’t just a good Jewish rabbi, or a powerful prophet whose words could pierce the human soul; He was also the Son of God, God in the flesh, God incarnate, and He had the power over all of creation — including power over life and death. He taught His disciples about the Kingdom as well as the events that would happen to Him: how He would be betrayed, arrested, convicted, and crucified. And yet, for all the things He said to them, they still didn’t truly understand the events leading up to His death; they didn’t grasp His resurrection, either, which indicates that these believers were as human as we are. They are credible, believable because they, like us, wouldn’t understand.
They were grieved over Jesus’ death, as any believer and follower would be. When Jesus is arrested, Peter denies Him three times (an act done out of fear of losing his own life). Jesus is beaten, given a crown of thorns, and made to carry His own cross up to Golgatha (the place of the skull), a place we know as Calvary, where He was hung between two thieves. Jesus was treated as a common criminal, hanging between two thieves (criminals, I know), and He dies as if He were nothing more than a common criminal.
His message, though, was anything but criminal: He was a man of good, who did good deeds, preached the kingdom, healed the sick, and even raised Lazarus from the dead (Lazarus gets premium stage attention in John’s Gospel; time doesn’t permit us to cover John’s Gospel in this article).
But His death was common in that people were crucified every day; it was nothing new to Jesus’ followers that He would be crucified, though they were sad because their Master, their Lord, was the one who died a criminal’s death. But after His death, His own followers didn’t expect Him to rise from the dead. They didn’t expect Jesus to come back to life because no human had ever died, come back to life, and stayed alive. Sure, people were revived medically a lot, but there was no one to come back to life without medical aid and return to life among them. This explains why the women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body — because they believed He was still dead and wanted to anoint His body out of love for Him and grief over His death. This explains why the angels have to remind the women that “He is risen, just as He said.” This explains why, when the women return to the original eleven and other followers and announce His resurrection, that they were not believed until Jesus appeared among them. Even when He appears and shows His nail-scarred hands and nail-scarred feet, they don’t believe Jesus is alive (they believe He is a ghost or an apparition). Everything within human reason told them that Jesus was just a man (He was human because He looked like them, walked like them, and talked like them). Even though He prayed to God, was verified by the Father, did miracles such as heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, feed the masses with two fish and five loaves of bread, etc., He was still a human in their minds. Sure, they believed He was a prophet, since the prophets could perform miracles through their connection to God, but they’d seen prophets before. They had Hebrew Scriptures full of them. But Jesus, divine? It was the divine with which they struggled.
And that was what Jesus wanted them to see: that He was more than just a man. In all He said, taught, and preached, He wanted them to see that He wasn’t just a prophet but that He was God Himself. We can tell that they didn’t believe what they’d heard because of how His followers respond when He died. Even the women come to the tomb marveling at what had happened to Jesus. We didn’t get time to cover it in this article, but even in John’s Gospel, the women claimed “they have taken our Lord, and we don’t know where they have laid Him,” a statement that tells us they didn’t believe He had risen, either. In their minds, if Jesus was missing, it was because someone had came and taken His body. This is the same assumption that the chief priests and Pharisees told the Roman centurion soldiers to spread as a lie after He’d risen from the dead. The Pharisees feared the disciples would take Jesus’ body and feared that the masses would believe He had risen, and, in their fear, placed Roman soldiers to guard the tomb of Jesus. Think of it: a “common criminal,” a “deceiver,” as the Pharisees called Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, having Roman soldiers guarding His tomb.
From beginning to end, we see elements of credibility and believability. First, we see that the Pharisees had a fear that the masses would interpret Jesus’ body being stolen as a “resurrection,” so they staged Roman guards to guard Jesus’ tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing His body. The only problem with this view is that the disciples were nowhere to be found near the tomb because they didn’t believe He’d rise from the dead (even when the women tell them, they don’t believe it). And if Roman soldiers guard Jesus’ tomb, then how is it that the disciples could’ve broken through, battled the soldiers, and then ran off with the body of Jesus? Sure, the soldiers could’ve been sleeping on the job, but they couldn’t have slept through the descending of angels to heaven to sit on the tombstone, nor could they have slept while Jesus’ female followers came to the tomb and talked with the angels. The only way for Jesus to have risen would’ve been by the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the angels would’ve come down to verify and testify of it to His followers. And this is exactly what happens.
Atheists and skeptics doubt the resurrection of Jesus, or that He was ever God, and when they do, they usually say something akin to, “It makes no sense for a human to die and come back to life.” And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus’ own followers believed. They thought that the resurrection of a human was absurd as well. And yet, Jesus did it. The Gospels tells us of Jesus’ resurrection, but they also show us the unbelief of His closest and dearest followers, those we would expect to have heard Him and believed Him. And yet, they didn’t. Why? They didn’t fail to believe because they weren’t thinking, but because they were thinking!
They used their reasoning skills to the best of their ability, to see Jesus through the eyes by which they saw every human: He was a human; humans die and never come back to life; therefore, Jesus died and would never come back to life.” It just seemed to fit their naturalistic mindset, a view that is so typical of humanity in general, that a human, once dead, was permanently dead, never to return to the land of the living. And they applied their reasoning skills to Jesus. Despite what He told them, they had their naturalistic mindset: all they’d ever seen was the human, so that’s all they had to go on. When they see the linen cloths in the tomb, the women tell what the angels told them, but the rest, thinking naturally, thought, “there’s no way Jesus could’ve risen. That’s unheard of!”
Of everyone in the story, whether it be Peter, Thomas, the women who go to the tomb (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, etc.), Cleopas, etc., none of these individuals believed from the outset that Jesus would rise. Even Cleopas “hoped” the third day would lead to something, that Jesus would be the one to restore Israel’s former glory, but Cleopas nor any of the others had assurance. When Jesus sees Cleopas, He calls them “foolish ones” and “slow to believe.” This doesn’t sound like a fairy tale where everyone believes what they’re told without questioning. What we see with all those who follow Jesus is that they, like atheists, found the claims of Jesus to be absurd as well. They followed Jesus because somewhere, deep down, they believed Him, even in their doubt.
And that theme, faith in the midst of doubt, is one of the most credible experiences in human life because it shows how there are times when we believe things, though the evidence doesn’t surface and it seems as if we’re crazy to even believe the positive. And yet, that’s what Jesus called His followers to: a faith that couldn’t explain the supernatural but didn’t discredit it or blow it off, either. That’s what atheists and skeptics fail to understand: they fail to understand that, if the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus show us anything, they show us that the Lord, and the Gospel writers, are aware of what doubt is. They understand the normal human tendency to believe the observable and disbelieve all else. They get what it’s like to believe the unbelievable, to hope against hope, to get to a place where normal human reasoning runs its course and Jesus calls us to faith beyond what we can see. Faith, after all, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), is it not?
At this point, atheists and skeptics would say, “but to have faith is to violate reason, is it not?,” but that’s not the case. Rather than violate reason, faith works with reason. Let’s consider the facts. First, we know that the Roman guards were set up at the tomb to prevent Jesus’ body from being stolen — and yet, Jesus still rose and appeared to the disciples in living form. The women at the tomb went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, but they discovered by way of angels that Jesus had risen. They went back to tell the disciples, who didn’t believe it either. Jesus appeared among them, and even showing His hands and feet, they still didn’t believe it. And all of this tells us that there’s no way that Jesus could’ve risen from the dead unless He really is God and He really has power over life and death.
If the disciples didn’t steal His body because they didn’t even believe He had risen (and were nowhere near the tomb to be found when He arose), there were Roman guards at the tomb, and none of the disciples believed it to be true, then what does this tell us? It tells us that their belief, their rational view, was opposed to reason. Without the disciples, there would be no friends to steal Jesus’ body. And if someone wanted to propagate a lie (that He had risen), it would be hard to do because, after a while, someone would want to see Jesus appear in the flesh. How long could anyone keep up a hoax or scam if Christ was in fact still dead? And when Jesus appeared to them, He showed them His nail-scarred hands and feet, blessed the bread, broke the bread in half, and ate broiled fish and honeycomb among them. Could a dead human being do that?
Some would say “Well, we believe He was alive, but we question His death.” If Jesus hadn’t really died, then don’t you think the Roman guards, Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus (one of those who wrapped Jesus’ body for burial) would have known that? Do you think that Jesus could’ve survived the beating, torture, and nail scars? No human could survive that and escape, especially if he or she was pierced in the side along with the nail scars in his or her hands and feet. So, Jesus was dead, because He was placed in the possession of the Roman guard (who would’ve killed Him if they’d suspected He was alive). And if He was alive, why is it that He stayed in the tomb for three days? And how could the piercing in His side, the torture He suffered, and the nail scars have healed so quickly? He shows His hands, feet, and side when He appears to His followers: why do that, except to confirm that He was the one who had died that was now truly alive?
When it comes to the tomb, and being in the tomb for three days, if Jesus wanted to escape and come to His disciples, then why wouldn’t he have done that before the third day? The Romans made sure that everyone was dead. They were known for breaking the legs of every individual, but, despite the fact that Jesus’ legs were not broken, His side was pierced. If the side of a human were pierced today, do you think that any human (even Jesus) could’ve survived that? So, there’s no doubt that He died, neither is there any doubt that, on the third day, He appeared to His followers.
From this reasoning alone, we can conclude that the resurrection is plausible, very much so. And yet, atheists and skeptics find it reasonable to a fault. They believe that Jesus died, but their issue is with Him rising from the dead. And yet, if Jesus died, and then He was seen alive by many witnesses, what else can one conclude except that He rose from the dead?
The problem for atheists and skeptics comes in when one discusses the idea of resurrection. The resurrection is the problem, because “no man has died and come back to life.” Well, they’re right. And if Jesus were merely a man, then they’d be right to conclude that the idea of a human man coming back to life after dying is crazy. The followers of Jesus believed Jesus was an apparition or a ghost precisely because they agree with the atheists and skeptics in that no one dies and comes back to life as a mortal man.
And yet, Jesus wasn’t just a man. He wasn’t a mere mortal man. He was divine, He was the Son of God. And, to ask a neutral question of atheists and skeptics, if God exists, then wouldn’t He have power over life and death? And if Jesus has power over life and death (if He raised Lazarus, for example), then wouldn’t that make Jesus God? At the very least, it would make Him a prophet who heard from God (after all, Elijah prayed to God for the widow at Zarephath’s child to come back to life in 1 Kings 17:17-24).
And yet, Jesus was the one who called Lazarus to come forth. Lazarus had been dead for four days, and there was only a certain amount of time a human could be unconscious before being declared dead. Lazarus had been dead for four days. Considered to be dead, he was abandoned (no medical help was given).
At that point, he had begun to stink (a sign that he was dead). Remember when the women come to the tomb? They come to anoint Jesus’ body because, after so many hours, the body of the deceased person would begin to stink. Everyone assumed Jesus was dead, including the authorities: the Roman centurion soldiers, Pilate, the Pharisees, etc. Everyone presumed Jesus to be dead, and the women believed Jesus’ body was giving off a foul odor. When they entered the tomb and see the linen cloths, they only believe what they do because the angels tell them. All they believed was that Jesus’ body had been taken and laid somewhere else outside of the tomb. All they knew was the natural. They were mortal women, and, as mortals, wouldn’t know how the supernatural works.
But everything within reason says that Jesus died and then was verified to be alive. And think about it: Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, to the other ten original disciples, to Cleopas, Mary Magdalene, and the other women and disciples. We know that Jesus died, and we know that He was seen alive.
So, what do we gather from these two things? If He was dead, then alive, then it stands to reason (see, there’s that wonderful word again) that Jesus truly rose from the dead, that the resurrection of Jesus is fact and not fiction. How else can it be explained? Jesus was crucified as a common criminal; no strangers would’ve helped Jesus heal if they’d seen Him getting out of the tomb, crawling out, or if they’d seen Him elsewhere. And if He’d been seen alive, don’t you think that someone would’ve reported Jesus to the authorities in order to “look good” or “save the empire” from a criminal? Jesus’ reputation was such that He died in dishonor among the Jews. He wasn’t a fan favorite at His death; look at how they let Him die and freed Barabbas, a true criminal? The crowds that had loved Jesus during His ministry were now saying, “crucify Him! Crucify Him!” He wasn’t beloved by the crowds in the end, but was instead seen as an enemy of the state. He would’ve had virtually no one on His side. Think about it: even His disciples denied Him and fled in terror to save their own lives. Jesus didn’t have one earthly friend on earth when He died by crucifixion. His followers were grieved over His death, but they had no way to help Jesus. They believed He was dead, had seen Him dead, had seen His body go in the tomb.
Jesus was more than just a man, so He performed a miracle that validated He was more than just a mere mortal. No mortal had ever died and then returned to life, and this miracle could only be done by someone who was more than just a man. Jesus did it. His miracles performed during His life proved His power: He turned water into wine, a feat that science still can’t prove; He opened the eyes of one man born blind from His birth, a feat that no man on earth had ever attempted until Jesus, a feat that demonstrated His power to correct birth defects; He cast out demons, with the demons validating who He was (the Son of God) and His power over them; He multiplied the two fish and five loaves of bread to feed 5,000 men, not counting the women and children, to show that He could meet the needs of the disciples, no matter what those needs were; He calmed the wind and the waves, to show that even nature had to obey His voice; He blessed the lame to leap, healed a man that had been sitting at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years who had been looking for a miracle — to show that He had power over the human condition.
And when He resurrected Lazarus and called him forth, He said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall He live.” Jesus proved that He had power over life and death when He brought Lazarus back, and the miracle of resurrecting Lazarus should’ve been enough. But it wasn’t; that is, until Jesus Himself rose from the dead. Keep in mind that Lazarus had been dead for four days and Jesus rose Him; if He could raise Lazarus, then isn’t it just as reasonable that He was able to get up out of the tomb because He wanted to, that He could resurrect Himself, that He could “lay down His temple” (His body) and raise it in three days?
From his supernatural birth (born of a virgin), to His ministry of miracles, to His resurrection, Jesus proved that He was more than just a man. And those who witnessed His miracles knew they weren’t hallucinating; they know what they saw. And even when His followers didn’t get it, He showed once more who He was.
Now, we can either look at the life of Jesus and His resurrection and see it as fiction, a good story, or we can look at the facts and admit that the evidence is undeniably in favor of Jesus as God. His final miracle, the resurrection, defies human understanding when we believe Him to be nothing more than just another man; but when we look at the resurrection through the lense that perceives Jesus to be the Son of God, God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, then we see that the resurrection wasn’t something unexpected with regard to the one who has power over life and death.
Jesus died. Jesus was seen alive three days later. I don’t know how atheists and skeptics care to answer it, but I know how I can answer it: Jesus died, and arose on the third day because He is God. He is divine, and the resurrection was a divine act. Therefore, it was just right for God (Jesus) to do it. The resurrection of Jesus will always be hard to digest or swallow (metaphorically speaking) as long as we give in to the naturalist tendency to make Jesus nothing more than a mortal man. If we view Him as God, and we leave room open for the supernatural, then our rational faith can see the resurrection as fact instead of fiction.
What do you choose to believe?