Lee Strobel has interviewed many people, but perhaps his most unusual interview was with Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy magazine. As Strobel sat with Hefner in the living room of his luxurious Los Angeles mansion he asked him some pretty direct questions about his spiritual beliefs. Hefner referred to God as the ‘beginning of it all’ but did not believe in the God of Christianity.
But when Strobel brought up the resurrection of Jesus, Hefner stated, “If one had real evidence that, indeed, Jesus did return from the dead, then that is the beginning of a dropping of a series of dominoes that takes us to all kinds of wonderful things. It assures an afterlife and all kinds of things that we would all hope are true.”
Yet, Hefner is a doubter. He said, “I don’t think that Jesus is any more the Son of God than we are.” But admitted he never investigated the historical evidence for it.
So, let’s investigate and ask 3 questions. If the answer to these three questions is yes, then Jesus did rise from the dead, He is the Son of God, and Christianity is true.
Virtually every scholar, secular and Christian, agrees that Jesus actually lived in the first century. But now with the internet and immediate access to both facts and fiction, many claim that Christianity is a copycat religion.
This idea was popularized by The Da Vinci Code, which said “Nothing in Christianity is original.” They got this from Lenin and became the dogma of the Soviet Union. He said a mythical god named Mithras lived before Jesus, was born of a virgin on December 25, traveled as a teacher, had 12 disciples, was sacrificed for world peace, buried in a tomb and rose 3 days later.
Sounds a lot like the story of Jesus. But when you research the evidence you will discover that in the original story of Mithras, no virgin is mentioned, no birth date is mentioned, he was a god not a teacher, he didn’t die but killed a sacrificial bull, and no mention of resurrection.
The truth is that there are no examples of any mythological gods dying and rising from the dead that came before Jesus. These myths came after Christianity.
What about those who deny that Jesus ever lived? Bart Ehrman, is an agnostic New Testament scholar and said “the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground.”
For the resurrection to be true, Jesus had to really die. The Bible says he was executed by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. But some deny the death of Jesus, including most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
In the study of ancient history, you are lucky if you have 1 or 2 solid sources to confirm a fact. In the case of Jesus’ execution, we have four biographies, each written within the lifetime of His contemporaries. But we also have five sources outside the Bible: Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Talmud.
So consider if Jesus could have survived the brutality of Roman execution. Before crucifixion, the criminal was tied to a post and beaten dozens of times with whips that had jagged bones and balls of lead woven into them. A witness said “the sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles and tendons and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”
Jesus was in hypovolemic shock from a great loss of blood and in critical condition after the beating. Spikes were driven through his wrists and feet. Crucifixion is an agonizing slow death by drowning, accurately asphyxiation, because the stress of the chest locks the lungs into the inhaled position. To exhale, the victim has to push up to lessen the stress. Finally, the victim is too weak to push himself up and dies. The soldier plunged a spear between Jesus ribs, puncturing His lungs and heart, and the expert Roman executioners pronounced Him dead.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association… “clearly the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”
We have two strands of evidence that establish that Jesus came back to life: His tomb was empty and He appeared to people.
The Empty Tomb
How do we know the tomb was empty? The site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Christians and non-Christians alike. If the tomb was not empty, Christianity would not have gotten very far in the same city where Jesus had been publicly executed. All the critics of Christianity, Jew & Roman, would have had to do was open the tomb and show the body of Jesus, if it were still there.
Who saw the empty tomb first? Women. In 1st century society, women were not considered a reliable testimony. If the Gospel writers were going to make up a story about an empty tomb, they would never have had women discover it empty. They would have John or Peter discover the empty tomb.
The enemies agreed that the tomb was empty. The critics made up a story that someone had stolen the body. Why would you say someone stole the body if it was still in the tomb? How did the tomb get empty? The Romans wanted Jesus dead. The Jews wanted Jesus dead. The disciples didn’t have the motive, means or opportunity to do it. If they knew Jesus didn’t rise, why would they die for a lie?
Jesus appeared to many people after He died.
- In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul reported a list of people who saw the resurrectedJesus. This was written within 25 years after Jesus’ execution. About 500 saw Him at one time.
- Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, met Jesus within 1-3 years after Jesus’ death. He was arresting and killing Christians, but when Jesus appeared alive and well to Him, he became a believer.
- All four gospel writers and the messages in the book of Acts all confirm that Jesus came back to life.
Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus lived again. This series of events give proof that He was who He claimed to be – the Son of God. It means His teachings have authority for our lives today. And it means He has opened Heaven to everyone who will receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life He purchased for us on the cross.
Why did He do it? In a scene in the movie, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel was looking at a replica of the Shroud of Turin, and asked the priest this same question. The answer given was love. God loves you and me with such intensity and power that He willingly entered our world and endured torture and death in order to redeem us.