“It’s very simple: have your head cut off, rise from the dead the third day, and the whole world will believe in you!” This is the ironic counsel that the Emperor Napoleon gave to his Deputy La Revelliere who was upset about the failure of the cult of the god of reason (or of the humanitarian god) launched by the Revolution (1797).
The Risen Jesus
Only God can resurrect someone who has died. Therefore, if Jesus is risen, He is truly the Holy One sent by God. Now it is historically certain that:
1. Jesus died crucified,
2. His tomb was found empty,
3. Numerous witnesses assert they had seen Him alive (risen).
1. He died suspended
Jesus Christ in History
The life of Jesus is known by four contemporary accounts (the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John), some letters (the epistles of Peter, Paul, etc.) and by:
* The Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus (37-97): Jewish Antiquities, 18,3 and 20,8;
* The Roman Historian Tacitus (55-118): Annals, 15,44;
* The Pagan Polemists Luke of Samosate (125-192) and Celsus (around 178);
* All the converts who up until the 2nd Century had been contemporaries of Christ or who were close to them; the historian Suetonius (69-125) signals their presence in Rome under Claudius (Life of Claudius, 25,11) and under Nero, who delivered them up to tortures in 64 (Life of Nero, 16,3); Pliny the Younger (61-114) recounted them in Bithynia (Letter to Trajan, in 112); several have left writings: Clement of Rome, († 97), Ignatius of Antioch (35-107), Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155).
Jesus died suspended on a cross
* Crucifixion recounted in the Gospels (Matt. 27, Mk. 15, Lk. 23, Jn. 19), the Acts (2.23); St. Paul (1 Col. 1.23), etc.
* Tacitus (who was proconsul of Asia): Jesus “was condemned in the reign of Tiberius, by the procurator Pontius Pilate”.
* Flavius Josephus: “Some chiefs of our nation, having accused him before Pilate, this one had him crucified.”* Luke of Samosate: “The crucified sophist”.
* Justin (who had lived both in Judea and in Rome): “You can be assured that the facts are accurate in consulting the Acts which were registered under Pontius Pilate.” (Apology addressed to the Emperor Antoninus around 150, paragraph 35.)
* Celsus (anti-Christian polemist, around 178): “You say he’s God, and he finishes by dying miserably”.
* The Shroud of Christ, conserved at Turin, attests in detail to all of the Passion (His image, resembling a photographic negative, remains unexplained by science).
2. His body disappeared
Friday evening: Jesus is placed in the tomb
Dying Friday (the eve of the Sabbath), Jesus was buried immediately:
* According to Jewish law, the burial must be accomplished before the beginning of the Sabbath (holy day of the Jews), meaning before sunset on Friday evening.
* This burial – authorized by Pilate – occurred in public, so it was easily verified by everyone. It has always been held as certain, including at Jerusalem, from the First Century, before numerous witnesses, without being able to find a single objection raised.
* The Four Evangelists relate it, each one making their sources clear (Matt. 27.61; Lk. 23.55; Jn. 19.35). – Their accounts are sober, without trace of embellishments (the pitiful absence of the Apostles at the sepulcher would be inexplicable if the story had been invented).
* This narrative is confirmed by archeology (the tomb carved out of the rock, the stone which was rolled), the Roman law (authorizing the deliverance of the body to near relatives), the customs of the Jews (their respect for the dead and the renown of Jesus requiring burial).
* The location of the sepulcher has always been known, according to the testimony of Eusebius of Caesarea (Construction of a Church towards the end of the persecutions, in 325).
* We even know the owner of the tomb: Joseph of Arimathea, member of the Sanhedrin (unexpected detail, too easy to verify to be invented).
Sunday, at daybreak: he’s no longer in the tomb
Sunday morning (the day following the Sabbath), the tomb is found empty:
* The fact was noticed as soon as it was dawn (Mk. 16. 2-4). It was necessarily verified by the authorities and by many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, considering the controversy it sparked (the Apostles were arrested, Stephen was stoned, etc.).
* The disappearance was tacitly confirmed by the enemies of Christianity (if they had been able to, obviously they would have shown the body of Christ to silence the rumors of any Resurrection).
* The disappearance was confirmed factually by the development of Christianity in Judea (this would have been impossible if the tomb hadn’t been found empty).
* Finally, the disappearance was confirmed by the controversy with the Jews in which Matthew is visibly engaged (Matt. 27 and 28): 1. Accusation of the Jews: the Apostles took the body. 2. Response: the tomb was guarded. 3. Reply: the guards were sleeping. Etc. — this polemic would never have taken such a turn if the tomb had not been found empty.
The thesis that the body was stolen by the Apostles is untenable because it gives rise to the Apostles having:
1. Audacity, boldness, being coldblooded, and being organized. (But instead they were distraught, terrorized, without a leader);
2. A diabolical perfidy. (Directly contrary to the teachings of Christ);
3. Deliberately violated both a sepulcher and the Sabbath. (Things extremely sacred to the Jews);
4. Become extremely lucky. (Despite the guards, the stone that needed to be rolled, and the investigation of the authorities …);
5. And all that without it profiting them personally, but at the price of their own lives, with the sole end being to assume a hypothetical posthumous triumph of an impostor, of whom they would be, in reality, the first victims!
The other theses of the rationalists are just as absurd (They got the wrong tomb, the body was swallowed up in an earthquake, – taken by Mary Magdalene – or by the Jews, etc.).
What must unbelievers not come up with in order to justify their unbelief!
3. Witnesses saw Him
They saw, heard, touched, and accompanied Him. They gave their lives in order to testify to the same.
* Dozens of men and women categorically affirm they have seen the resurrected Jesus, several times and in divers manners, at Jerusalem and then in Galilee, during 40 days.
* On Pentecost (less than 2 months after the death of Christ) the Apostles testified publicly in Jerusalem: “This Jesus hath God raised again, whereof all we are witnesses.” (Acts 2.32). Which witness was asserted before the Sanhedrin as well (Acts 4.10 and 4.33).
* Towards the year 34, Paul, having been converted, received from the Apostles at Jerusalem a formula of Profession of Faith which he transcribed in the Epistle to the Corinthians: “For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins,…..and that he rose again the third day…..” (1 Cor. 15.3-5, etc.).
* In this same Epistle, written before 55, St. Paul mentions six apparitions of the Risen Christ, of which…. – One “with more than 500 brethren, of which most are still alive” (a clear invitation to get information from the witnesses). – And that which he himself had while he was persecuting the Christians (related in detail in the Acts of the Apostles, written before the year 64)
.* The Holy Gospels (written before the year 70) relate nine apparitions (7 at Jerusalem and 2 in Galilee), stating also that there had been others.
* If they had made it up, would the Evangelists have: — resisted the urge to describe the Resurrection itself in detail? – given to the women the honorable role, at the expense of the Apostles? – reduced the apparitions to such banal and commonplace scenes? – delivered narrations that were hard to reconcile, like pieces of a puzzle (which in the end, actually reveals that they were independent witnesses of a complex event)?
* If they had made it up, would all the Apostles have maintained their false testimony even under torture, as much in Jerusalem (James), as at Rome (Peter), and at Madras in India (Thomas), etc.?
1. Myth? – The Apostles never preached the Resurrection as if it were a myth (as an allegory), but rather as an historical fact. The word ‘myth’ doesn’t explain their conviction at all.
2. Legendary deformation? – The historian Sherwin-White showed that a story doesn’t disfigure the hard nut of an historical fact before 3 or 4 generations pass. Now, the Resurrection, central point of the Christian Faith, was preached immediately (Peter at Pentecost – the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, written before 55 – etc.)
3. Hallucination? Hallucination requires a mental weakness or nervousness that is not to be found in these fishermen of Galilee, and which would have prevented them from being believed. It can’t explain such varied apparitions during the space of 40 days (the disciples of Emmaus talking to him and walking with him for miles; Thomas who doubted his Resurrection, placing his fingers in his wounds; Jesus preparing a fire on the banks of the lake; etc.).
4. Autosuggestion? – “Expectation ordinarily creates its own object” (Renan, denying the apparitions). – Other than the fact that that is false (except for the mentally ill), the Apostles weren’t expecting anything! Mary Magdalene, not expecting to see Jesus at all, took Our Lord to be a gardener; the disciples of Emmaus thought at first that he was a stranger; Thomas refused to believe; etc.
4. The real solution is something higher!
1. – The disappearance of the body of Christ.
2. – The testimony of dozens of witnesses who categorically affirm having seen him again alive (resurrected).
3. – The sudden metamorphosis of the Apostles: cowardly, fleeing, demoralized and disorganized due to the death of Jesus, and then all of a sudden proclaiming His Resurrection and heroically braving death so sure are they of rising with Him.
4. – Despite all the persecutions, the progressive conversion of the Roman Empire to the cult of a crucified Jew.
Considered individually, each one of the above facts is an enigma. But when we put them all together, they tend towards the same and unique rational solution: Jesus is truly resurrected.
If one refuses to believe in the Resurrection, then one has four insoluble enigmas. If one admits the truth of the Resurrection, everything comes together and receives a crystal clear explanation. This explanation imposes itself then on our reason, under pain of absurdity:He is Resurrected!
Objection: Wouldn’t it be lapsing into the irrational to admit the Resurrection?
Reply: Reason demands that the world has a first Cause: God. It’s logical that God can directly intervene in His own Creation (like a watchmaker can, with his finger, move the hands of the clock, independently of the mechanism). The miracle has then nothing irrational about it. – Here, it even becomes the only rational explanation.
Objection: But why this miracle?
Answer: If God sends messengers, it’s logical that He will guarantee their mission by incontestable signs (prophesies and miracles). – Now, Jesus has presented Himself as the great Messenger of God (the Messiah) and He announced that His Resurrection would be the great proof of His Mission.
Let us compare:
The legendary deformation requires:
1. Someone who is already well-known.
2. Some time (several generations).
* Buddha already has the reputation of a master of wisdom while his philosophy transforms into a religion and a very late biography attributes miracles to him.
* Mohammed and his successors have already imposed themselves by the force of the sword when the Sira (biography of the ‘Prophet’) lends him (a century after his death) some curious wonders (the moon split in two, etc.), all the more surprising because, according to the Koran (13, 27-32; 17, 90-109; 29, 50), he refused to prove his mission by miracles.
* The cult of Jesus was already well spread when the Apocryphal Gospels (coming after the year 100, and not recognized by the Church) attribute extravagant miracles to Him.But the situation was quite different when the Apostles began to preach the Resurrection of the crucified Jesus who was nothing but one more false Messiah to the crowd (there had been a whole series of them who came and went ignominiously). It was precisely the affirmation of His Resurrection which rendered His name famous throughout the entire world! It was preached as the central and essential fact of Christianity from the very first sermon of Saint Peter (Acts 2) and the first Epistle of Saint Paul (1 Cor.), and cannot then in any manner be brought down to the level of developing legends affecting the lives of Buddha or Mohammed.