Christian belief boils down to one thing: The literal, bodily resurrection of a man named Jesus, who lived in first century Palestine.
If Jesus of Nazareth did not die on a Roman cross, if he was not buried, and if he did not rise again on the third day, alive, then you have no reason to give him or Christianity another thought. But if he did, then he deserves your full attention. As C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
To keep it short(ish), this post assumes that Jesus actually existed. There is a fringe group of atheists and others who argue that he never lived at all, but the “Jesus is myth” theory is rejected even by reputable secular historians and scholars.
Some theories claim that Jesus never actually died on the cross but merely fainted (the “swoon” theory), or that he was drugged and later revived. I believe those theories to be quite a stretch, so for this post, let’s assume that Jesus did truly die on that cross (a pretty safe assumption considering how good the Romans were at executions). If he truly died on that cross, then there are two possibilities (if we discount a “mass hallucination” of thousands of people for weeks):
1) He stayed dead, but his disciples pretended he rose.
2) He rose from the dead.
Let’s go with the first option. It seems okay until you think it through and consider human nature. Remember, the disciples’ hero and leader had been very publicly, brutally executed, and they knew they could be next. They were understandably fearful in the aftermath of the crucifixion. Their hopes were crushed, and their dreams had died with Jesus. They hid. They locked themselves away. They sat in mourning and defeat, hoping to stay unnoticed. They were not brave. They did not want to die.
So far so good, and in keeping with what we all know of human nature. Any reasonable person would have done the same. Human nature.
But now here’s where Option #1 goes a little wonky:
On the third day after Jesus’ gruesome death, one of the fearful, cowering disciples suddenly has an idea: “Let’s pretend Jesus didn’t stay dead! Let’s pretend he rose from the dead!”
Can you see the problem? What are the odds that someone would say that or even think that? Oh, probably… zero.
But let’s say that for some inexplicable reason, it happened that way. The next thing we would have to believe with Option #1 is that everyone else thinks that is a great idea! Yep, even though everyone saw Jesus die a public death, and even though his body is decomposing in a heavily guarded tomb, all these frightened, demoralized folk think that a (literally unbelievable) hoax would be a fine idea right about now!
The followers of the dead man, somehow excited about perpetrating this lie, suddenly shed their massive fears, come out of hiding and boldly begin to tell people, with straight faces, that their friend’s corpse has just risen from the dead!
Are you still with me?
Okay, so even though the disciples know they are deceiving everyone, they go all over the place acting like Jesus really did rise from the dead despite all evidence to the contrary, and thousands of folks just naturally believe them! Can you imagine that such a thing could happen in real life? (Correct answer: No. It would never happen.)
But let’s keep going. That original group is actually starting to make people mad again. In fact, people want to kill them now for spreading this obvious lie and triggering mass conversions among the people (who are apparently not too bright).
So, the imprisonment and executions of the liars begin. Beatings, stonings, beheadings, crucifixions (upside down, even), and all sorts of ugliness awaits the perpetrators of the hoax. You can think of lots of folks who would keep up a hoax when facing those conditions, right?
Wrong. You can’t think of any. Because it’s illogical and unreasonable that any one person would consent to be tortured and killed for a known lie, and impossible that an entire group would agree to it, with not a single defector shouting, “Wait, we were just kidding! It’s a lie and I don’t want to die a brutal death for a crazy lie!” (Which is what a reasonable person would do.)
Again, it’s what we know of human nature. We might be willing to suffer, bleed and die for a loved one, or a nation, or a great cause. But no one would willingly die for, or convince his or her friends to die for, a lie.
It’s unreasonable. It’s illogical. It doesn’t happen. Option #1 is impossible.
Turns out, Option #2 is the only option that reasonably explains the actions of the disciples. It’s the only option that doesn’t fly in the face of human nature.
Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead. And they saw him.
The only reason that they were changed in an instant is because Jesus did rise. They were not lying when they proclaimed this good news to the people. There was no hoax. Jesus Christ had truly risen.
He is risen.
There is no other reasonable explanation, is there?