It's that time of year again - Spring is coming and with it, the retelling of the Biblical story of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. You might be tempted to believe it's all a religious tale, but history gives some compelling evidence that there is more to it than that. From the crucifixion to the resurrection, it's worth looking at this narrative in further detail.
Here are five historical reasons why you should believe the resurrection of Jesus actually happened:
Multiple Ancient Historical Sources Talk bout Jesus' Crucifixion
Jesus Definitely Died on the Cross
The Empty Tomb
People Saw Jesus Alive After He Died
People Don't Willingly and Eagerly Die for Things They Know Are Lies
Want more details? Feeling skeptical? Keep reading.
1. Multiple Ancient Historical Sources Talk About Jesus' Crucifixion
The Gospel accounts found in the Bible are not the only place where the crucifixion is discussed. Some historians and scholars argue that "the crucifixion is one of the best attested events in the ancient world." Multiple ancient historians refer to some aspect of Jesus' death on the cross, but there are two that specifically speak about Pontius Pilate sentencing Jesus to death by crucifixion.
Cornelius Tacitus [Roman Historian: Born 52-54 A.D.]
Flavius Josephus [Jewish Historian: Born 37 A.D.]
Neither of these men were Christians, and they came from very different backgrounds. Neither of them had any motivation to make up a story about a man who was crucified. They were simply writing down things that happened. The fact that they were born within years of Jesus' death gives a lot of credibility to their writing. Why? Because the things that they wrote down gave specific details like names: Pontius Pilate and Tiberius.
People who witnessed this history would've been able to easily discount what they were saying about Jesus as false; because, they were alive when it happened. But they didn't. It was commonly accepted historical fact that Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate and was crucified during the reign of Tiberius.
Of course there's also the accounts found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which also tell of the crucifixion. Before you go and discount them - keep in mind that just because someone believes in something does not automatically discredit them. In fact, each of these accounts tell basically the same story, but have slightly different details in them - which gives them as a whole, more credibility. Why? Because, if we ask four people to describe an event we should get the same overall story, but details should be slightly different since four different people are telling the story. They each have their own perspective and their own thoughts. If the story is the exact same down to the intricate details, then it begs the question "Did they plot this out - was this a rehearsed story?". Law enforcement use this same thought pattern when questioning witnesses today.
Another thought worth considering: historically speaking, across many cultures and time periods, being hung has always been one of the most dishonorable ways to die. This can be seen in Jewish culture dating back to Mosaic times, in Roman culture with crucifixion of the worst criminals, in Western culture with spies during the American Revolution, and beyond. In each of these situations, the person being hung was being used as a warning to others that if they continued their behavior, they would receive the same penalty.
Why would early Christians choose to use this as their starting point to convince people to follow them? Why would they want to make up a story about their leader receiving the most dishonorable death sentence possible? The answer that makes the most sense: that's what actually happened.
All that to say - Jesus' crucifixion is well documented and historically very believable.
2. Jesus Definitely Died on the Cross
Some people think that perhaps Jesus didn't really die on the cross; therefore, the resurrection was also faked. Perhaps, he faked his death or maybe the Roman soldiers didn't realize he was still alive? A quick look at history will tell you this is not a realistic stance.
First off - Jesus was flogged before he made it to the cross. Flogging was the typical legal procedure before Roman crucifixion. And by flogging, I mean they had braided leather whips with metal and bone at the tips that they repeatedly beat him with until his back was raw and exposed... causing him to lose an excessive amount of blood and become very weak. Those who received this type of beating often died as a result of it or died soon after. The Biblical accounts refer to this beating, and then mention that because Jesus was unable to carry his own cross the Romans had a man in the crowd carry it for him. (Another historical fact that gives credibility- the Romans often had them carry their own cross.)
The Romans did not invent crucifixion...they perfected it. In other words, they weren't experimenting with how to kill someone, and accidently let someone sneak through. They had it down to a science of how long it would take for someone to die like this ,and they knew exactly what to do to make it as tortuous and long drawn out as they could.
With the victim's wrists and feet nailed to the cross- he would be required to pull himself up against the rough wood on his raw back in order to exhale and then sink back to take another breath in. He would have to do this over and over with huge loss of blood from the previous flogging. Eventually, he would no longer have the strength to keep doing this and would die from asphyxiation.
Third - When the Romans wanted to quicken the process they would simply break the legs of the victim. Biblical accounts show that Jesus' legs were not broken; because, he was already dead. The Bible also indicates that Roman soldiers put a spear through his side just to be sure he was dead. His death is further proven by modern medical knowledge that explains the description of separated blood and water as a sign of pericardial effusion - a medical condition that you cannot fake.
Historically we know that Roman soldiers who were in charge of criminals were staking their life on their job. If a criminal lived and escaped, they would pay for it with their own lives. With that in mind, there is no reason to believe that the Roman soldiers would casually mistake him for dead. They knew it. This was the best military in the entire world. They knew when someone was dead.
All that to say, the process of crucifixion is well documented and Jesus' death is historically very believable.
3. The Empty Tomb
The empty tomb narrative is either truth or the worst. cover-story. ever. There is no in between.
First off, the biblical narrative states that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in his own tomb. Now, this wasn't some no name guy. He was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. He was wealthy man, and was a leader in the Jewish community. People knew who this guy was. The burial site would've been known to Jews and Christians alike. It would be easy enough to go check out the tomb and see whether or not the body was still there. It would be easy enough for Joseph or his family or anyone to deny that this is where Jesus was buried. But no one denies this historical fact. You don't give specific facts like that if you are lying.
In fact, the Jewish response to the early Christian claim that Jesus was resurrected wasn't: "That's the wrong tomb!". It was: "The disciples stole his body!". In other words, they were trying to give some explanation as to why the tomb, that once held Jesus, was empty.
And perhaps this claim would be plausible, if it weren't for the fact that Pilate's seal was on the tomb, and the best soldiers in the world were guarding his tomb to make sure that no one was able to steal the body. Oh, and those soldiers would be killed if they let someone steal the body.
Now here's the real clincher: we know what the Jewish explanation for the empty tomb was, but what was the early Christian narrative and explanation for the empty tomb? The male disciples were hiding in fear of being found and killed while some women found the empty tomb and came to report what happened: that Jesus had risen from the grave. Yep. That's the explanation that these men in this highly patriarchal society went with. Women saw it all ,and that's what happened.
HISTORY ALERT: In that culture, if you were trying to add credibility to your story you wouldn't have women be the ones to explain the resurrection. Women were seen as unbelievable and emotional. They were second class citizens, and their word held little credibility. The only reasonable explanation for why this was the early Christian narrative is because that's what actually happened.
All that to say the empty tomb is well documented and historically very believable.
4. People Saw Jesus Alive After He Had Died
And I'm not just talking about "overly-emotional women" or 12 "zealous disciples".
The biblical accounts say Jesus appeared to several different groups of people: women, travelers, disciples, a crowd of 500 people, even a super zealous Christian killer. That's a lot people who saw Jesus, and we have no evidence that they deny this narrative. (Again, it is important to remember, the Biblical narrative was written so close to the actual event that people could easily dispute it as not real.) Which means that all of these people believe that they actually saw Jesus.
Let's just pretend for a minute that we don't believe the women, or the travelers or the disciples...what do you do with the crowd of 500 people? Here are 3 options:
Option 1: They were all crazy and hallucinating
This explanation doesn't really make sense. Much like dreams, hallucinations are not a group activity.
Option 2: They were all tricked
Forget the fact that there is no historical evidence for this, I'm not sure how that would even work in 1st century culture. What the disciples broke through the Roman guard, stole Jesus' mangled up body, rigged up a ventriloquist to throw their voice to look like he was talking, and then somehow made his body fly away and disappear? Or better yet, they just happened to have a secret, previously undiscovered, look-a-like stand in for Jesus (who wouldn't mind having the Jewish leaders and Roman government out to get him) who happened to have the same scars as man who had been crucified and magically made him disappear into the sky? No. That doesn't make sense.
Option 3: They actually saw Jesus
Out of the three options, this option makes the most historical sense.
Still feeling skeptical? Don't forget, a super zealous Christian killer saw Jesus too. A powerful Pharisee named Saul was systematically tracking down Christians and killing them when he claims to have seen Jesus. This event radically changed Saul's life, and he became a most ardent Christian who was tortured and killed as a result of it. Which leads us to the final point:
5. People Don't Willingly and Eagerly Die For Things They Know Are Lies
Sure, people die all the time for things that are lies. The difference being this: people can be tricked into believing something and then be willing to die for it. People don't make up lies, then eagerly and willingly get tortured and die for the lies they knowingly made up.
Multiple ancient historical records indicate that the disciples and early Christians were tortured and killed in brutal ways: crucified, beheaded, skinned alive, boiled alive, flogged, stoned, stabbed, and more.
These are the same men who were hiding in fear that they would be killed when Jesus was crucified while the women visited Jesus' tomb. Somehow now they were all willing to repeatedly and openly proclaim their connection to Jesus and their belief that Jesus rose from the grave as they faced these consequences?
What could possibly explain this change? What could possibly explain their endurance through horrific torture? The disciples actually witnessed Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, and they were willing to stake their lives on it.
History Is Relevant and #HistoryMatters. What are you going to do about it?
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