Did Jesus really rise from the dead? It’s a question that has followed people for centuries and a claim that unbelievers have been trying to find a way to disprove and deny since the first day of the resurrection.
[S]ome of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day (Matthew 28:11b-15, NIV).
The stories used to try to explain away, debunk, and belie the resurrection of Jesus Christ have only multiplied in circulation and become more complex. And Lee Strobel, an award-winning investigative journalist with the Chicago Tribune, unraveled every one of them in hopes of finally finding a way to disarm Christianity for good.
His story hits the big screen on April 7 in The Case for Christ, a drama that tells the human side of his struggle to defend his atheist beliefs and resist his wife’s conversion. The weakness he believes can quickly crumble the whole belief system of Christianity is the central tenet that Jesus Christ arose from the dead. “If the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen, Christianity is a house of cards,” he is told. The thought echoes Scripture itself: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, HCSB).
The questions with which he peppers his arguments to uncover any and every possibility that Jesus did not die and rise from the dead exactly as described by the biblical account end up underscoring the mystery and wonder of the resurrection, as well as the suffering which Jesus endured and the victory with which His truth triumphs against all odds. By the end of the movie, Strobel is faced with only one final question: When is enough evidence enough evidence?
In one of Strobel’s many books, The Case for Easter, which closely corresponds to many of the questions raised in the movie, Strobel recounts six reasons to believe the resurrection story of the Bible as laid out by apologist and Christian scholar William Lane Craig:
- The empty tomb is implicit in early Christian tradition – from the very oldest and most reliable historical sources.
- The site of Jesus’ tomb was well known; if it had not been empty, everyone would have known that.
- There’s evidence the earliest account in the gospel of Mark was written before AD 37 – much before the facts could have been corrupted.
- The simplicity of Mark’s account makes it almost stark – unadorned by theological reflection or the flowery details of legend.
- The testimony of the empty tomb first made by women, considered unreliable witnesses in first-century society, argues for authenticity; such an embarrassing detail would never have been made up.
- The earliest Jewish rebuttal presumes that the tomb was empty; nobody claimed the body was still there but only tried to answer what happened to it.
“The Jews proposed the ridiculous story that the guards had fallen asleep,” Craig said. “Obviously, they were grasping at straws. But the point is this: They started with the assumption that the tomb was vacant! Why? Because they knew that it was!”
Finally, one of the most convincing arguments is that the disciples’ lives proved they had had a life-changing experience, one that compelled them to go willingly even to their deaths.
As Craig said: “When you read the New Testament, there’s no doubt that the disciples sincerely believed the truth of the resurrection, which they proclaimed to their deaths.”
As many Christian apologists have pointed out, men do not consent to die for what they know to be a lie. And they would not have been convinced to die just because a dead body mysteriously went missing and could not be found again. Even the biblical accounts show that the disciples did not at first believe the story that Jesus rose from the dead or grasp the significance of the empty tomb. Something more happened; they actually saw Him in the living flesh.
“The issue with Jesus isn’t that he was nowhere to be seen,” Strobel writes. “It’s that he was seen, alive; he was seen, dead; and he was seen, alive once more. If we believe the gospel accounts, this isn’t a matter of a missing body. No, it’s a matter of Jesus still being alive, even to this day, even after publicly succumbing to the horrors of crucifixion.”
Click here to find a theater near you that is showing The Case for Christ, opening nationwide April 7.