Brandon Vogt

Resurrection Series – Part 5 – If Jesus Died on the Cross, Did He Rise Again?

This week I’m blogging on the most climactic event in all of history: the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Is it true? Did the Bible get it right? Are there other plausible alternatives? Wading through Flannery O’Conner, myth-spinning fishermen, Homer’s Iliad, legendary body-snatchers, a crucified Judas, the Battle of Waterloo, and hallucinating ghost-whisperers, I’ll seek to convince you, before Holy Week, that the Resurrection is not just a good story, but a literal, historical reality.

Part 1 of 7 – Two Messiahs
Part 2 of 7 – To Hell With It
Part 3 of 7 – Is the Bible Just a Myth?
Part 4 of 7 – Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross?
Part 5 of 7 – If Jesus Died on the Cross, Did He Rise Again?
Part 6 of 7 – The Bible-less Resurrection
Part 7 of 7 – What the Resurrection Means

*This series is a revamped version of the one we did last year during Holy Week*


If Jesus Died on the Cross, Did He Rise Again?

So far we’ve covered two possible scenarios regarding Jesus’ death: first, that the Bible is a myth, or legend, and second, that Jesus never really died on the Cross. If either of these two scenarios are true, then the reality of the Resurrection collapses. However, by exploring and rejecting the most popular theories under each scenario, we’ve shown how unlikely they are.

Now we’ll turn to the third scenario. This one accepts that Jesus was tortured, nailed to the Cross, and most definitely killed, but then claims that he remained that way. Like Confucius, Lao Tse, Buddha, and Mohammed, this scenario professes that Jesus is still dead, that he has spoken his last word, that the Cross was the end of his story.

This scenario is probably the most popular one today, but it takes one of four distinct forms. So let’s look at each of them.

The first theory actually appears in the Bible and is known as the “Stolen Body Hypothesis.” In his Gospel account, Matthew records the Jewish leaders approaching Pontius Pilate to request extra guards at Jesus’ tomb (that is, in addition to the normal ones at every tomb.) The Jewish leaders make it clear that they want to prevent any of Jesus’ followers from stealing his body before claiming that he had risen.

Pilate grants their wish and allows the added defense. But even this wasn’t enough. For after the guards settle at the tomb, we see an explosive turn of events: an angel descends from heaven, rolls away the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb, and tells the guards that Jesus is risen. And his body is no longer there.

Full of terror, the guards run back to the Jewish leaders and report what just happened. The leaders tell the guards not to worry. They concoct a story describing how it was in fact Jesus’ disciples who really stole his body, and the leaders bribe the soldiers to go along with the lie.

The soldiers are assured that if anyone questions the tale, the leaders would “satisfy [the skeptics], and keep [the guards] out of trouble.” According to Matthew’s account, “The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.”

So what’s wrong with this tale? First the guards. In ancient Rome, gravesides typically had some sort of armed protection. And these guards weren’t just ordinary men: they were trained warriors, experts in guarding the tombs. On top of that, Roman law held that the penalty for leaving the post or falling asleep at the job was death, a penalty that was rigorously enforced which is why the guards at Jesus’ tomb were so terrified. Anyone considering stealing a body from a tomb would first have to overtake these alert, armed warriors.

Second, the stone. If other first-century tomb stones provide example, the one in front of Jesus’ tomb weighed about two tons and stood more than seven feet high. It would have required at least two strong, burly men to move, maybe more.

The stone was rolled across the threshold of the door by way of a pitched track in the floor, which slanted downward and ended in a slight groove. This made it easier to roll the stone in place and lock it there, but much more difficult to roll it up and out. Even if someone made it past the guards, moving this stone would be a monumental task.

Third, the seal. In the Roman world, a string was stretched across the tomb stone and affixed on either side of it the tomb with a wax seal. If the seal was broken–or even tampered with–the guard would be punished with death, along with the culprit if he was found.

To assume that the body was stolen is to believe that the scared disciples of Jesus would risk their lives by tampering with the seal, attempting to overpower the armed guards, move the gigantic stone, and escape, body in hand, without anyone noticing. And they would do all of this to capture the dead body of their leader whom they already began to doubt.

But there’s one more interesting detail. The Gospel of John explains that when the “beloved disciple” entered the empty tomb, he looked around and saw nothing but Jesus’ folded burial cloths. Yet, “he saw, and he believed.” What was it about the tomb, or about these cloths, that convinced him Jesus was risen from the dead?

The Church fathers loved this little detail. Here’s what they wondered: if you were going to steal a body from the tomb, why would you remove the burial cloths, fold them neatly, and leave them inside? Remembering that Jesus’ skin was torn from his body during his beatings, the burial cloths would have stuck to his mangled torso. It would have been a messy, bloody job to remove the cloths, so why do it there? Why wouldn’t you instead go in, grab the body, and carry it out, cloths-in-tact?

Regardless of the guards, the stone, the seal, and the cloths, the “Stolen Body Hypothesis” still doesn’t account for the later Resurrected appearances of Jesus, which we’ll cover in a bit.

The second major theory under this scenario is the “Wrong Tomb Theory.” Like the “Wrong Person Theory” we looked at before, this one supposes that there was a mix-up with Jesus, but it involved tombs instead of bodies and happened on Easter Sunday instead of Good Friday. Believers of this theory claim that when Mary Magdalen and the other disciples found the empty tomb, they were at the wrong spot. They suffered a case of mistaken geography and went to the wrong grave.

Now, Matthew and Mark both report that at least two women, Mary Magdalen and another Mary, were at the tomb when Jesus was first placed in it. It can be assumed that this tomb was deeply important to them, perhaps the most important place in their eyes. The Master that they had given their life to was now buried in this place.

Which means it would be hard to imagine that they could somehow forget the location just two days later. Also, its incredibly difficult to believe that all the other disciples, along with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, the Romans, and Jesus’ other friends and enemies would have all been mistaken as well.

The most damaging problem comes if you assume the theory is true. If the first witnesses really did go to the wrong tomb, then the Romans and the Jews–those desperate to end the troublesome Jesus movement–would have quickly exclaimed, “Uh, guys, over here! You’re looking in the wrong place!”

The leaders would have rushed over to the real tomb, unearthed Jesus’ corpse, and paraded it around town. They probably would have nailed it back up on a cross, taunting the early Christians by saying, “Is this the man you think is risen from the dead?! Look at him! He’s just as dead as he was a few days ago! And that’s what your fate will be unless you stop worshiping this dead fool!”

All these antagonists had to do to crush the Christian movement was produce the body of Jesus. But we have no record of anything like this ever happening. Why not? Because they couldn’t. Because they, like the surprised witnesses at the empty tomb, didn’t know where the body was.

The third major theory under this scenario is the “Hallucination Theory.” This one holds that all of the disciples were merely hallucinating when they saw visions of the Resurrected Jesus.

What are the problems with this one? First, psychologists tell us that hallucinations generally only come to people conditioned to expect them. Think of the man crawling across the desert, dying of thirst, who imagines an oasis or spring at the end of the horizon.

Yet we have no reason to believe that any of the disciples expected anything like the Resurrection. After Jesus was killed, the disciples huddled into a locked room and were disheartened, terrified, and hopeless. This wasn’t a group who expected their leader to come back to life in a couple of days. It was simply not on their radar.

Also, it’s impossible to physically interact with visions that are mere products of the mind. You can’t touch what isn’t real. But the Bible has Jesus walking for miles alongside the journeyers to Emmaus, and once there he eats and drinks with them. Later we see Jesus begging doubters to feel his wounds–he even asks the doubting Thomas to stick his hand into the hole in his side. And then we see Jesus having a beach-side fish-fry with his closest disciples. None of these things would be possible with a mental projection or hallucination.

Lastly, psychologists also point out that hallucinations are generally private and personal. But Jesus didn’t appear to just one or two people. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul boldly proclaims that the risen Jesus appeared to more than 500 people, a number that probably only included men.

“You don’t believe that Jesus is risen?” Paul essentially asked. “Then go and talk to these people who have seen him with their own eyes, many of whom are still alive. Go ask them what they saw; ask them what really happened!”

The final major theory under this scenario is the “Spiritual Resurrection Theory.” This one is quite popular among theologians and academics today. It suggests that Jesus’ “Resurrection” was just a spiritual awakening among the disciples, and that the “appearances” of Jesus were really just the spirit of Jesus or a collective vision of him. Alternatively, some say that Jesus’ Resurrection means simply that he was “resurrected in the minds of and hearts of his followers.”

The most immediate problem with this theory is this: where is the body? If the Resurrection is just a vision, just a symbol, or just a great memory, then the body of Jesus must have still existed. This theory would therefore require that the “Stolen Body Hypothesis” must also be true.

The other problem is the later appearances of Jesus. If he was just a ghost or a spirit–which the disciple Thomas initially believed him to be–then we’re faced with the same problems as in the “Hallucination Theory”: how could a ghost interact with the physical world, eating with, drinking with, and touching other human beings?

For the “Spiritual Resurrection Theory” to hold sway, Jesus’ body must have been stolen and his after-death appearances were not physical. However, both of these requirements have already been shown to be untenable. Therefore this theory is empty as well.

Next we’ll turn to Part 6 – The Bible-less Resurrection where we show how the Resurrection can be proved even without recourse to Scripture.


Sources for the Series
Fr. Robert Barron’s work influences pretty much everything I write or teach. So if I didn’t get something from any of the sources below, I probably got it from him.

Articles

Books

Videos

Audio

  • Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions guards at the tomb. John’s Gospel says nothing about guards. If John was an eyewitness, as Christians claim, isn’t that a pretty important detail to leave out of your story? The missing Roman guards in the Book of John raises an important issue. Christians often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead. A stolen body hypothesis is impossible.

    This argument completely collapses in John’s account, however, because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occurred! Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story.

    To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corpse. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.

    But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

    (John 20:11-13)

    Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.

    When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher.

    (John 20:14-16)

    It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every Christian must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we see that we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are reading two entirely different stories!

  • The only author in the Bible who mentions anything about guards being at the tomb, Matthew, says that the guards were not posted until the next day after Jesus body had been placed in the tomb, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb, he had not sealed it. So, the tomb of Jesus was left unguarded and unsealed the entire first night, in the darkness, and probably part of the next day. That would provide ample time and ample opportunity for someone to have moved or stolen the body.

    So even if the biblical account of the “guards at the tomb” story is correct, the fact that there is a time period when the tomb was left unguarded, blows a hole in the Christian claim that a resurrection is the best explanation for the empty tomb and the disciples’ belief that Jesus had been resurrected. For instance, if grave robbers had taken the body, the Jews would say that the disciples took the body and the disciples would say that Jesus had fulfilled his prophecy and had risen from the dead.

  • Glarryb

    I am not convinced. I cannot get past Marys private revelation of her giving birth to the messiah. Nor can I get past that the Jewish tradition which was being taught in christ time, was ever about Jesus being the messiah. Nor can I ever get past God requiring human sacrifice, for the good of man. Geesh

    • Jerry 93

      (1) Mary’s “private revelation” was consistent with other angelic annunciations in the Old Testament. Moreover, unlike all other previous encounters where the angel is a terrible and cryptic figure, the “Do Not Be Afraid” that Mary hears ends the fear between angels and men, and institutes a friendship. The angels serve God, and when He becomes one of us, they now do the same. So at the birth of a babe, they gather around and sing “Peace on Earth!”
      (2) I find it hard to believe that you have an adequate understanding of “Jewish tradition at the time.” There were many, many different kinds of theories that were circulating at the time, and not until centuries after Christ did there ever become something like standard Jewish doctrine. Even this is based on particular rabbinical schools of thought.
      That being said, the one title the Gospels present Jesus as using the most often with respect to himself is as the “Son of Man.” Research this term’s usage (as divergent as it may be). Jesus is the Messiah in a way characteristic of an apocalyptic Son of Man.
      (3) Strictly speaking, God doesn’t “need” anything from us. If he did, He’d be lacking in some respect, and God couldn’t be God if he’s deficient. God is perfectly transcendent. And it is that perfect transcendence that also makes him so omnipresent. To say that God “required sacrifice” is a way of saying that God meets us where we’re at. Christ had to die because of man’s fallen anthropology, which, spanning many diverse cultures, felt the need to sacrifice. God enters that history and frees us from it, so at once we still have sacrifice (the Mass) and yet it requires no blood (save that of Christ). God could have saved us in any way He saw fit; and indeed, He didn’t need to save us at all. When Jesus says he “must” take up his cross, it’s because of the way he enters human history to redeem us from its sinful proclivities. The prophets of the OT make it clear over and over again that the essence of what God asks from men (for the sake of OUR relationship to Him) is not sacrifice but a pure and gracious heart.

  • Shoopdawoop

    Sorry, maybe I could get on board with your speculations if I could just figure out which story it is we are supposed to interpret? The witnesses hardly corroborate eachother:

    1. Matthew 28:1 states two women (Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary) came to the tomb; Mark 16:1 states it was three women (Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome); Luke 24:10 agrees it was three women but gives a different list of three than Mark (Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James); John 20:1 states it was only Mary Magdalene.

    2. Mark 16:2 states “the sun had risen” at the time of this visit, while John 20:1 states “it was still dark.”

    3. Matthew 28:2 says “an angel” “came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it”; Mark 16:5 says the women encountered “a young man sitting at the right” of the tomb (rather than upon the stone); Luke 24:4 says they saw “two men” who “suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing”; in John 20:1, Mary Magdalene saw nothing other than a moved stone.

    4. There is also a discrepancy as to whatever dialogue occurred between this angel(s) or man (men) and the women: Matthew 28:5-7 and Mark 16:6-7 generally agree the women were told that Jesus (peace be upon him) had risen, and instructed to advise the disciples that “He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him” (Matthew 28:7), and ; Luke 24:6-7 contains no instruction to advise the disciples about an appearance by Issa in Galilee.

    5. To whom did Jesus (peace be upon him) appear first: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as Matthew 28:9 claims? Mary Magdalene only as Mark 16:9 claims? Cephas (Peter) and then the other disciples, as 1 Corinthians 15:5 claims? Matthew 28:9 claims that Issa (peace be upon him) appeared before the women even had reported to the disciples what the found (or didnt) at the tomb. Also in Mark 16:9 the appearance to Mary Magdalene was before Mary made any report to the disciples. However, John and Luke report no appearance before the women reported an empty tomb to the disciples.

    6. Which disciples went to the tomb: Peter alone (Luke 24:12)? Peter and John (John 20:2-8)? Did the disciples believe the reports of the women (or woman) and proceed to Galilee, as Matthew 28:16 claims? Or did they disbelieve these reports as Mark 16:11 and Luke 24:11 claim?

    7. In appearing to the disciples, to whom did Jesus (peace be upon him) first appear: All eleven together (Matthew 28:17-18)? Two of them on the road, then to all eleven together (Mark 16:12-14 and Luke 24:13-31)? To ten of the eleven (minus Thomas) together (John 20:19-24)? To Peter, then the others (1 Corinthians 15:5)? The story recounted in John 20:25-29 is all premised on an appearance of Jesus (peace be upon him) before the disciples at which Thomas was not present! Matthew 28:17-18, Mark 16:12-14 and Luke 24:13-31 all disagree with John about any such meeting taking place in the absence of Thomas!

    8. In Acts and the Gospel of Luke, the disciples were commanded to stay in Jerusalem and, in fact, met Jesus (peace be upon him) there (see Acts 1:4 and Luke 24:33, 47, 49). In Matthew 28:10 and Mark 16:6-7, the disciples are commanded to go to Galilee, and in Matthew 28:16-18, we are told they see Jesus (peace be upon him) there, not in or near Jerusalem!

    9. Mark says that after appearing before the eleven disciples together in Gallilee, Jesus (peace be upon him) ascended to Heaven (Mark 16: 14, 19). Luke says Jesus (peace be upon him) ascended to Heaven at Bethany after walking with the disciples some time (Luke 24:50-51). John says Jesus (peace be upon him) appeared to the disciples at three times and that some of these appearances were near the Sea of Gallilee (Lake Tiberias) (John 21:1, 14). According to Acts the disciples were at Mt. Olivet, a days journey from Jerusalem, when the ascension occurred (Acts 1:9-12).

    10. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, it is claimed that Jesus (peace be upon him) appeared to more than five hundred witnesses before his ascent to heaven – a claim directly contradicted at least by Mark, who says the ascension occurred immediately after an appearance before the eleven disciples (Mark 16: 14, 19).

    • Angel

      When you are citing all these verses, you are showing all the different opinions, which makes the ressurrection account believable. Don’t read the Bible like a newspaper. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are different people, so they are not going to write the ressurrection story in exactly the same way. Let’s take your stupid point #2, for what is the true account( ‘the sun had rise’ or ‘it was still dark’)? Guess what genius- when the sun rise it still could be dark in another area. I could comment on your other nine objections, but then again I’m not a troll wasting my life away trying to dismiss the ressurrection. The Church has been around for 2000 years even when stupid people within and without tried to destroy her. This shows that the Catholic Church is not some man made religion or else it would have collapsed long time ago. This shows that the Catholic Church is truly the Bride of Christ. For Christ does protect His Bride.

      • Shoopawooop

        Definitely the reply of an Angel!

        If somebody told me that murder happened at dusk, and another person told me that same murder actually took place at dawn, I would be very confused and would require more information to figure out what happened.

        Your other points are a mix of ad hominem and red herrings, so I’ll save words that would otherwise scandalize your holy ears!

        • shoopawoop

          I’m not sure which fallacy it is when you say that something must be true, because it’s been around a long time. Appeal to tradition I suppose, but you guys would have no problem with that 😉

          • shooooooped

            Okay, last one, really. So somehow I’m supposed to suspend all judgment because “it’s not meant to be read as a newspaper”. This is obviously exceptionalism, where the rules apply other places, but not here, because here is ‘special’. The Gospels voice themselves that they are rendering fact, it becomes problematic believing them when the facts are all different. If they were merely reporting different phenomena, that wouldn’t be a problem, but instead, they directly contradict eachother (over details that would presumably be extremely important to the early church)

          • Angel

            Dear Shoopdawoop the Clown Troll,
            Concerning your objection #3, there were different people there at the tomb witnessing different things. Obviously, they went to the tomb at a different time. Different things were revealed to them at different hours. Do you need to be a genius to figure that out?

        • Angel

          Hey genius,
          Did one verse said “dawn” and the other verse said “dusk”? No, so don’t start making up nonsense. You are not a student of the Bible, you are just a troll attacking the faith. I know what you are about. And what stupid words will you use to scandalize my ear?

© 2019 Brandon Vogt

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