As we approach Easter, I thought it would be beneficial to look at the theories surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. So, for the next few weeks we will look at the major theories that have been proposed to explain Jesus’ whereabouts after His death and then we will conclude on Easter. As we do, let’s keep in mind the central role that the Resurrection plays in Christianity according to the Apostle Paul. Everything hinges on the Resurrection.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.” -1 Corinthians 15:14
Apparent Death Theory
The first theory we will look at is “The Apparent Death” theory. This theory attempts to say that Jesus did not actually die on the cross. He was taken off of the cross seemingly dead, but was actually just unconscious. After being placed in the tomb, His wounds somehow healed, and He somehow freed Himself from His burial cloths and the tomb itself. Thus, when He appeared to the disciples, it wasn’t because He had risen from the dead, but because He had never died in the first place. This theory also assumes that Jesus would allow this lie to continue and that no one would expose this lie until the 18th century by some liberal German theologians. So, did Jesus only seemingly die, or did he actually die?
Crucifixion originated with the Babylonians, but it was perfected by the Romans. The odds of survival are not good. A criminal condemned to crucifixion is nearly guaranteed to die of asphyxiation. With hands and feet nailed to the cross, Jesus would hang in a position that makes it hard to breathe. In order to catch a breath, He would have to push up on the nails to a position that makes it easier to breath, but obviously, excruciatingly painful. He couldn’t stay in this position for very long and would have to release Himself back down to the position that is hard to breathe. Eventually, He would be too exhausted to push Himself up for another breath, and would suffocate. If this isn’t enough, the historical record says that the guards penetrated His side with a spear for good measure.
The odds of surviving this are not good. The most likely scenario is that Jesus died on the cross. Even if he had been buried barely alive, the most likely scenario would then be that he would die in the tomb. The odds of healing from these normally fatal wounds, and escaping the tomb unnoticed by the guards before Mary and the rest of His followers came to visit must be fantastically improbable. So at the very least, this theory is improbable, if not, impossible.
When the women approach the stone they ask, “Who will roll away the stone?”(Mark 16:3) This at least shows that moving the stone from the outside by a few healthy women would be difficult, if not, impossible. How then could Jesus, one man, who had just taken the beating of a lifetime, roll away the stone from the inside? This would seem to require a miracle, which is what this theory is trying to avoid.
The soldiers who put Jesus to death on the cross were good at their jobs. They were good because their lives depended on it. History says that the soldiers at the tomb ran to the chief priests in fear after they realized the body was missing from the tomb. Imagine if these soldiers had failed to crucify Him in the first place! For a soldier to unsuccessfully crucify a condemned criminal would be a death sentence itself. This is why they made certain their criminals were dead before taking them down.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples they were amazed. They responded with worship; recognizing Him as Lord. Now, if Jesus had showed up in the condition that this theory would have Him in, no one in their right mind would think He had risen from the dead. He wouldn’t appear as a conqueror, but as weak and defeated. Even less likely is that the disciples would give their lives for such a person. They might consider Him lucky to have survived, but they would not have thought Him to be the resurrected Lord.
Given the nature of crucifixion, the perfectionism of Roman soldiers, and the tomb in which He was placed, it is highly improbable, if not altogether impossible, that Jesus not only didn’t die on the cross, but somehow escaped the tomb a few days later. The evidence for Jesus’ death is strong. And the fact that he died is part of our argument for the Resurrection. After all, in order for a resurrection we must first have a death. And I think it is safe to say that Jesus died. The question is: did he stay dead?