In my last essay, There Is A God, I argued that belief in God is not only reasonable and logical but that it’s also totally natural. Belief in a Creator, or Divinity, has been the natural order of things throughout man’s history, and in spite of the temporary aberration called Marx-Darwinian Atheism, the majority of mankind has always defaulted back to a common and natural belief in God.
So the next logical question is this. If we are to believe that there is a God, can this God be known, and who or what is he?
Deism, popular in the 18th century, and growing in popularity today, asserts that there is a God of nature, but that this God cannot be known outside of nature. A good number of today’s scientists subscribe to a belief similar to this. Their belief in some kind of Creator God, or First Cause, is necessary to cope with certain mathematical improbabilities in physics, chemistry and biology. The Creator, or First Cause, is their “religion” and natural science is their “Bible.” Thomas Jefferson, himself a Deist, made references to the “Creator” and “Nature’s God” in America’s Declaration of Independence, avoiding any mention of the Christian creeds. It was a bold move, considering the Declaration was addressed to the monarchy and parliament of England, both of which were (and still are) Protestant Christian establishments. Jefferson undoubtedly used such general terms to garner universal support in the colonies, both from the Christians and the Deists alike. As best as we can tell from history, his tactic seemed to work. Jefferson had introduced the idea of Secularism and Pluralism into the establishment of the United States. The wisdom of this move has yet to be seen, as America’s history has not yet played out in full. However, it can be said that over the centuries, most Americans followed Jefferson’s lead in the idea that while religion itself is good, one religion is no better than another, and so long as people were religious in general, it really doesn’t matter what religion they choose. Later, the Catholic Church would condemn this notion under the heresy of “Americanism.” Today, we see this playing out in the “I’m spiritual but not religious” Deism that is making a resurgence in North America. The idea that faith can be separated from religion is a form of religion itself, based entirely on individualist thought which is the product of Americanism. It is, in its essence, a form of self-ecclesiology wherein the practitioner of “I’m spiritual but not religious” can be a church unto himself. He presides as pope, bishop, priest and faithful. Since God must also be subject to this kind of self-church, the practitioner of “I’m spiritual but not religious” places himself above God too. The practitioner of “I’m spiritual but not religious” now tells God what he should be, who he is, and what his demands are.
In the Hindu religion, and it’s variant offshoots, many sectarian leaders have claimed divine origin. Among all of them, none have garnered much support outside of their immediate followers, nor have they produced miraculous events to prove their divine claims. These Eastern religious variants tend to gravitate either toward Paganism that confuses nature itself with divine persons, or a philosophy wherein the practitioners simply focus on improving their lives in the hope of a better reincarnation or graduation into becoming one with the universe. All of these Eastern religions operate on a form of Pantheism — the belief that the universe itself is God. Of course, from a modern scientific perspective, we know this cannot be, as I pointed out in the previous essay, astronomer and physicist Fr Georges Lemaître demonstrated that the universe has a definite beginning in the “Big Bang,” or “cosmic inflation,” and there once was a “time” (if time can be said to exist at all before the universe) when the universe did not exist. This scientifically disproves pantheism and its many variants. It also disproves polytheism, wherein gods are comparable to forces of nature, because if nature itself cannot be God (since it is not eternal and must have a First Cause outside of it), then no aspect or force of nature can be a god either. If there is a God, and it’s logically probable that there is, then logic dictates that this God must be something outside of nature and the universe, acting upon it as its First Cause and Creator.
This narrows the concept of God down to the idea of a Creator who exists outside of nature and the natural universe. Among the popular religions of the world, we see this concept explored in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Deism. Judaism claims that God is revealed in the Law he gave to Moses — the Torah. Christianity claims that God revealed himself as a man — Jesus Christ. Islam claims that God is unknowable outside of his prophet — Mohammed. Deism claims that God is unknowable outside of the study of nature. Historically speaking, there is a definite progression and regression of thought here. The “knowability” of God progresses under Judaism (founded some 3,800 years ago), starting with the Torah which was later elaborated upon by the prophets and the history of Israel. The culmination of the knowability of God reaches its zenith in Christianity (founded about 2,000 years ago), wherein God makes himself physically known to us in the form of the man — Jesus Christ. From there we see a regression, or a retreat, from that idea. Islam (founded about 1,400 years ago) takes it a step backwards, downgrading Jesus to a mere prophet who is subordinate to the Prophet Mohammed. Under Islam, God no longer walks among us. He is distant and aloof from the problems of man. If a man wants to know God, he must seek that knowledge through his prophets, and none are greater than Mohammed. Then Deism (founded about 320 years ago) walks it back a step further, asserting that prophets and written revelation are irrelevant and that God is knowable only by nature itself. Deism makes all organised religions “obsolete” and places the scientist in the role of priest and prophet. Under Deism, organised religion is useful, in that it teaches a system of morals through which human beings may govern themselves. This is why Deists in the 18th century were friendly to Christians and respected their institutions. To the Deist mind, they were “useful.” The closest thing to a “church” under Deism was, and remains, the Masonic Lodge. But under Deism, however, the Creator God simply cannot be known on any kind of a personal level. Under Deism, God simply makes things. He cares not for the affairs of man, other than man fulfilling the destiny of what God created him for, which itself is a mystery.
So from Judaism to Christianity, God becomes more knowable. Then from Islam to Deism, God becomes less knowable.
Of all the major Western religions, Christianity makes the most startling and uncomfortable claim. It’s a claim that the Creator of the Universe, “Nature’s God” (as the Deists would say), came to visit humanity and walked among us as a man. The history of Judaism leads us up to this startling claim, made by Jesus of Nazareth, culminating in the Jewish leadership’s rejection of it, and every Western religion since then has walked us back away from it. Since Christianity makes the most startling and unsettling claim, it stands to reason that if we are searching for the real Nature’s God, who is the Creator and First Cause of the universe, we should either confirm or rule out the claims of Christianity first.
Both Moses and Mohammed claimed to be mere emissaries of God’s message. Mohammed has nothing to show for it except for some tribal victories at warfare. The religious-legal system he created was favorable to the supremacy of men over women and justification of barbarism. Still, he had no provable miracles to show for it. It’s just the testimony of one man and his book. Moses at least had some apparent miraculous events to show for his connection to God. But his revelation of God was incomplete and he admitted as much (Deuteronomy 18:15). This led to many Hebrew prophets following in his footsteps. Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, did something no Jewish or Muslim prophet ever did. He didn’t claim he had some divine connection to God. Rather, he claimed that he was/is God! Let me make this crystal clear. Jesus said he is God. Yes, he said it, using Jewish expressions, which any Jewish rabbi will tell you is a clear reference to himself as divinity…
Jesus made reference to himself and God the Father being united as one. He said there was a clear distinction between he and the Father insofar as their persons, but their nature was one in the same. In other words, Jesus is saying here, I am God…
Jesus answered, “You know neither me, nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” — John 8:19
The Jews therefore said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” Therefore they took up stones to throw at him… — John 8:57-59
Note: the phrase “I AM” is a Jewish expression of divinity. It’s like saying “I am God.” It hearkens back to when Moses asked God his name, and God said: “I AM that I AM” (Exodus 3:14). This is why the next verse says the Jews took up stones to throw at him, because he had just committed blasphemy in their estimation, by claiming to be God.
“I and the Father are one.” Therefore Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of those works do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We don’t stone you for a good work, but for blasphemy: because you, being a man, make yourself God.” — John 10:30-33
“But if I do them, though you don’t believe me, believe the works; that you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” — John 10:38
“He who sees me sees him who sent me.” — John 12:45
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very works’ sake. Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.” — John 14:8-12
The apostles, the very men he was closest to, go on to plainly teach the Jesus is God. This is so important to understand, because some Muslim teachers will make the blatantly false assertion that Jesus never claimed to be God. As we can see above, he most certainly did, and his apostles made the exact same claim about him. Are we to seriously believe that Jesus’ closest associates would betray the teaching of their Master by claiming something about him that he didn’t claim about himself? It’s preposterous! Anyone who believes that is saying that Jesus’ own apostles, who lived with him for years, didn’t know their own Master. Of course they knew him, and they knew he claimed to be God, so that’s what they taught in their ministries…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. — John 1:1-3
The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about him. He cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me, for he was before me.’” From his fullness we all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son,[b] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. — John 1:14-18
“Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us…” — Titus 2:13-14
And if that were not enough, Jesus himself accepted worship as God. Yes, that’s right, when men worshiped him, he accepted it. He did not stop them, but he blessed them for doing so. Here we have one such Biblical example, wherein the Apostle Thomas worshiped Jesus as God, proclaiming that he is God, and Jesus fully accepted both his worship and proclamation…
Then he said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” — John 20:27-29
If we are to take our search for truth seriously, we must consider this claim. In other religions, when a man claims to be God, he usually garners no more than a handful of followers. These are usually a few troubled and desperate souls looking for help in all the wrong places. In the case of Jesus of Nazareth however, he managed to gain the support of not only 12 apostles and 120 disciples, but also half of the Jewish nation, as well as hundreds of thousands of followers around the Mediterranean. That’s just in the first century! What came in the centuries after was tens of millions of followers, including princes, kings, queens, doctors, lawyers, peasantry and nobility alike. Today, Christianity has no less than 2 billion adherents, of which 1.2 billion (over half) are members of the Catholic Church. No man, who claims to be God, has ever come close to this kind of a following. It’s unprecedented in world history. It is, dare I say, unnatural. Human beings don’t normally gravitate toward a man who claims to be God. Human nature is much more likely to take the Jewish, Muslim or Deist approach, allowing God to remain somewhat distant and a bit unknowable. This presents a certain level of comfort to the human mind.
It’s unmistakable that Jesus claimed to be God. There is ample evidence of this written by the men who were with him and their immediate associates. This was the primary reason for his trial and execution by the Jewish Sanhedrin. They didn’t kill him for being a “good teacher” or even a “prophet.” The charges against him were clear. He claimed to be the Son of God, which according to the Jewish understanding of God, means that he claimed to be God in the flesh. He was found guilty of this by the Sanhedrin, but because they feared repercussions from the populace if they tried to execute him themselves (by stoning him), they sought the help of the Roman procurator at the time — Pontius Pilate. To entice Pilate into doing this nasty deed, they had to change the charges against him. They instead claimed that Jesus was asserting a kingship over Caesar. There was a certain degree of truth to this charge, as Jesus did claim to be the Divine King of Israel, but as he said to Pilate, “my Kingdom is not of this world” and Pilate found no guilt in that reply. He was executed eventually, by Roman crucifixion, but only because Pilate gave charge of his soldiers over to the Sanhedrin and they demanded it. Pilate, in a cowardly attempt to keep the peace, effectively made himself their puppet. The official record of crime that hung over Jesus’ read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” but the real reason (the secret reason) why he was executed was that he claimed to be God. Had the story ended there, it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning today.
A man who claims to be God can only fit into one of three categories…
- He’s a Liar, on par with a monster. He’s a man who’s telling people he’s God but he knows he’s not. Such a person is dangerous because he’s preying upon the weak-minded and emotionally insecure, in order to manipulate them. He should be exposed for the fraud that he is.
- He’s a Lunatic, on par with a man who says he’s a poached egg. He thinks he’s God but he’s not, and that means he’s nuts and shouldn’t be listened to at all.
- He’s Lord. In other words, what he’s saying is true, and he is God.
That’s it. Logic dictates that when a man claims to be God, he must be one of these three things — liar, lunatic or Lord. It can’t be anything else. He’s either (1) a liar, (2) a lunatic or else he’s (3) Lord. To say that Jesus was a “good teacher” and not God is to contradict one’s self. Good teachers don’t tell their students that they’re God — unless of course, it’s true. So what was Jesus? Was he a liar, lunatic or Lord?
The Sanhedrin believed Jesus was a liar. Pontius Pilate believed he was probably a lunatic. Jesus’ followers believed he was Lord. Who was right? Let’s examine the historical and material evidence.
If any man claims to be God the burden of proof is on him. It can’t be any other way. We can’t just assume he’s God until proven otherwise. No. If a man says he’s God then he needs to prove it. Now granted, he doesn’t have to prove it right away. If he really is God, then he can do it whenever he wants, but he does need to prove it eventually, no matter what.
The fact that Jesus of Nazareth existed is not in contention here. He most certainly did exist and only a fool would say otherwise because we have more historical evidence of the existence of Jesus than we do of Plato, Socrates and Julius Caesar. Nobody denies their existence! We have plenty of writings about Jesus, not just religious writings, but secular writings as well, both from Jewish and Pagan sources. The existence of Jesus of Nazareth is beyond dispute. The fact that he claimed to be God is beyond dispute as well, except by those people who choose to ignore both the writings of those closest to him and the theology of the Church founded by him. Yet the burden of proof is on Jesus. He said he was/is God. So what makes him different from the countless liars and lunatics who have said the same about themselves throughout history?
For starters, we have the miracles of Jesus which are clearly recorded in the New Testament. In addition to that record, there are references to him being a miracle worker among secular (non-Christian) sources as well. Nobody in the ancient world contested the claim that Jesus was a miracle-worker. The evidence was plain to see at the time. But miracles alone do not prove divinity. Israel’s prophets were known to call down fire from the sky. Moses parted the Red Sea. Just because a man does a miracle doesn’t automatically mean he’s God. Granted, however, neither Moses nor Israel’s prophets claimed to be God either. It is highly peculiar for a man who claims to be God to perform miracles. One would think that the real God, who is the author of miracles, wouldn’t support such a thing by allowing miracles of a man who claims to be God unless there might be some truth to the claim. Healing the sick? That’s a big plus but not proof. Feeding a crowd of over 5,000 people with just two fish and five loaves of bread? That’s impressive, but still not proof of divinity. Walking on water? Wow! But still not proof of divinity. Raising somebody else from the dead? Israel’s prophets had already done that. Dying and coming back to life again? Wait… That’s different. No prophet of Israel had ever done that before. In fact, nobody had ever done that before. Prophets don’t raise themselves from the dead. If it could be rationally believed, beyond all reasonable doubt, that Jesus of Nazareth really did raise himself from the dead, his claim to divinity would need to be seriously examined. He would have provided evidence that demands a decision.
It may be shocking for non-Christians to hear that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most probable event in all of world history. Both religious and secular sources claim that he was seen walking around after his death and burial. It’s not that people haven’t tried to dispute it. They have since the day after it happened. It’s just that none of their arguments seems to stick. No matter the conspiracy theory, they all fail. Let’s explore two of them just for fun.
The Disciples Stole The Body
The Jewish leaders at the time were no fools. They knew that Jesus has prophesied he would return from the dead to prove his divinity. So they requested a Roman Guard to watch over the tomb. They wanted a Roman Guard because not only did they know there would be no chance of Christian sympathizers among them, but also because they knew what kind of training and discipline Roman Guards had. They specifically asked for a Roman Guard to prevent any chance of somebody stealing the body of Jesus and claiming his resurrection.
Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. — Matthew 27:65-66
A Roman Guard consisted of 16 highly trained Roman soldiers. They were charged with guarding whatever had a Roman seal upon it. The seal was a sign that Rome’s authority backs whatever has been sealed. In other words, since it was a tomb that had been sealed in this case, it means the tomb is occupied, by the body of a man (convicted criminal) certified as dead by Rome, and any attempt to break the seal would result in torture and death. The 16-soldier Guard was charged with watching over the tomb and a making sure nobody dared to go near it without supervision. The soldiers would watch over the guarded tomb in 4-hour shifts, four at a time. This gave the other 12 men time to eat and sleep in an encampment they made near the tomb. Four men would guard the tomb, while 12 men ate, slept, told stories and gambled. This went on around the clock. It was a pretty cushy assignment for a Roman soldier, albeit a boring one at times. At all times, four men stood at the entrance of the tomb, and while they were guarding, each was charged with defending six-square feet around him with his life. He was highly trained and capable of doing this. One Roman soldier could easily hold of a dozen bandits, four could hold of four dozen. While that’s going on, the other 12 soldiers encamped near the guarded tomb would rise to assist their comrades. The long-story-short is this. Nobody could break through that Guard to get to the tomb. It was logistically impossible.
Part of the discipline of the Roman Guard was the penalty paid for sleeping on the job. Remember, only 4 men needed to be on duty at a time, but the other 12 are nearby, usually within just a few dozen feet. So while the other 12 are taking care of their human needs (eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.) the 4 on duty were expected to stand at attention, ready to give their lives defending the seal on the tomb if necessary. So it wasn’t like any of these men weren’t well rested. On the contrary, the 4 on duty were always in a top ready state. While on their 4-hour shift, these men could not sit or lean on anything. They were to stand at attention, and if any one of them dared to lay down and take a nap, the penalty was a cruel and torturous death. Should the commanding officer discover one asleep on the job, he would light his toga on fire with a torch and wait for him to wake up. Upon waking, he would execute him. Furthermore, the entire Guard (the other 15 soldiers) would be held liable for this sleeping derelict and could likewise face execution. Sleeping on the job just never happened with a Roman Guard and everybody knew it.
On the morning after the resurrection, the women made their way to the tomb, hoping the guards would roll the 2,000 pound stone away from the tomb for them so they could properly embalm the body of Jesus with spices. It is possible the soldiers might have allowed this, provided moving the stone didn’t break the seal. However, upon arrival, the women saw something they didn’t expect…
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. — Matthew 28:1-4
According to the gospel account, the soldiers were taken by surprise and left in a catatonic state following what happened. This is the only explanation that actually makes sense when you stop and think about it. If you know what a Roman Guard is, and what it’s charged to do, the only way the body of Jesus could have ever left that tomb is if something miraculous happened, leaving the soldiers in a state of complete shock. A common theft of the body is just not possible. Nobody would dare challenge these men in a fight, and nobody would win either. The burial site was very close to the city’s outer wall. If those soldiers got into a battle fending off robbers, the whole city would have woke and heard. Reinforcements would have been sent immediately. Theft simply wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. Instead what we have is an earthquake, the 2,000-pound stone rolled away by an angel, an empty tomb, and an angel sitting atop the stone, all of this leaving the soldiers in a catatonic state of shock.
Terrified of what might happen to them, some of these soldiers immediately when to the Jewish leaders (not the Roman leaders) to report what they saw. Remember, this is a Jewish matter, and Pilate has put one of his Roman Guards under Jewish direction over this tomb.
While the women were on their way, some 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 28:11-15
It’s very curious that the author of this gospel, Matthew, doesn’t even bother to waste ink refuting this claim. That’s because, in his time, everybody knew the claim was absurd. In a Roman Guard, soldiers do not sleep on the job. It never happens. It’s stupid to even suggest it. So Matthew doesn’t even bother refuting it. This was, however, the official cover story at the time, and when word of it got back to Pilate, we can be sure the Jewish leadership explained that if he didn’t allow the story to stand, more people would start to believe in Jesus’ resurrection.
The Swoon Theory
The death of Jesus was undisputable. He died on the cross after about 3 hours of suffering. It was a fairly quick death for somebody crucified. Most of the time it would have taken a day or two. But Jesus was badly beaten and bloodied before he was even nailed to the cross, and he hadn’t slept in days. His body was exhausted. So when they put him up on the cross, the stress of trying to breathe on that torture stake was just too much. According to the Biblical account, Jesus died of congestive heart failure and pulmonary oedema. His heart failed and plasma backed up into his lungs. He literally drowned to death in his own bodily fluids as his heart puttered out.
Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. — John 19:31-34
To make sure he was dead, a soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ side. What burst out was separated water and blood which is characteristic of the diagnosis described above. By this time Jesus was “dead as a doornail” as the saying goes. There is no mistaking it by 1st century medical standards, or by 21st century medical standards. He was gone. People don’t come back from that.
Nevertheless, a popular theory that arose just in the last few centuries is that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but that he was just in a coma. When they placed him in the tomb, the cool air slowly resuscitated him, thus making it possible for him to be seen alive again after this crucifixion. Of course, in order for this version of events to be true, one would have to completely discard the above reference to blood and water leaving his body separately. And if one is going to discard that portion of the record, why not just discard the entire record of his crucifixion all together? If we need not believe the part that says he died, why should we believe the part that says he was crucified in the first place? The whole swoon theory becomes a moot point.
Let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s assume Jesus was only swooned on the cross, and placed in a tomb where he was resuscitated and came back to life. So now we have a broken and bloodied Jesus, barely able to walk or stand after his horrible ordeal, surely he was anemic as well having lost so much blood, with holes in his hands and feet, with a gaping hole in his side as well, having been without food or water for three days, in a pitch black tomb, with a 2,000-pound stone blocking the way out, and a Roman Guard of 16 men on the other side. How’s he gonna get out of this one? The whole theory is a little ridiculous when you really stop and think about it.
Okay, so let’s keep playing the devil’s advocate. Resuscitated Jesus somehow manages to stand up and feels his way around the dark tomb. Now what? Does he start pounding on the stone and yell “Hey, let me outta here!” He couldn’t possibly move a 2,000-pound stone himself, especially in his condition. Let’s assume the soldiers hear his cry, and while a but unhinged that a supposed dead man is talking, they move the stone for him. There they find a battered and bloody Jesus. “Hey look, he’s not dead!” they yell. Hardened soldiers might be a little disturbed at the sight of this, but it’s hardly enough to frighten them away or put them into a catatonic state of shock. They would simply drag him back to Pilate saying: “Look what we found! He’s not dead after all, even though he looks horrible. The gods must have favoured him.” Even if we are to believe that Jesus only swooned on the cross, the possibility of him escaping the tomb without the notice of the Guard is not within the realm of reason. Indeed, Jesus would need their help to escape the tomb in the first place, and then he would have found himself right before Pilate again.
But the persistent swoon theorist would reply that the earthquake moved the stone, and when it did, there was Jesus standing there. This is what frightened the soldiers into a catatonic state of shock. Once again, this directly denies the gospel accounts, for all record that Jesus wasn’t there at all. That his resurrection was announced by an angel. Again, we have a case of believing one part of Scripture while denying the next part. It’s really kind of sad actually. One would be more consistent to just dismiss all of Scripture and say neither the crucifixion nor his death ever happened, rather than trying to explain away the resurrection with a ridiculous swoon theory. This is what the Muslims do. They deny the crucifixion of Jesus outright.
Evidence that Demands a Decision
The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the most document event from the ancient world. No other event has clearly as much documentation. I’m not just talking about the New Testament here. I’m talking about non-Christian sources too…
When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned [Jesus] to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease [to follow him], for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. — Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, chapter 93, written in AD 94
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian working for the Roman Empire. While this above passage may seem sympathetic to Christians at first glance. In another place, Josephus refers to Jesus as the “so-called Christ.” It’s apparent that Josephus himself did not believe in the Christian gospel, but he makes mention of the resurrection here in such a way as to indicate that it was widely believed and accepted by many.
Then there is the material evidence of the resurrection. The first, and the most obvious is a lack of the body. If the resurrection of Christ was faked, surely something would have turned up eventually. Maybe a rotted corpse, or some body parts. You can’t expect 120 disciples to keep a secret for long. The fact that the Jewish leadership was unable to produce a body to counter the claims of the resurrection is telling in itself. They didn’t even try to produce a fake body, which again is telling. They feared that producing a fake corpse would only demonstrate the desperation of their argument. They simply paid off some soldiers to circulate a bogus story, about the disciples stealing the body, that everyone knew couldn’t be true, and they themselves never bothered to prove with any evidence.
Then we have the Shroud of Turin. It seems unlikely that God would perform a miracle like the resurrection and then leave us with no physical evidence behind to show for it. However, it appears he did just that. The Shroud of Turin is the alleged burial cloth of Jesus Christ. It’s a long strip of linen about 14 and 1/2 feet in length. It was laid as a cloth between the body and the stone upon which the body was laid. Then the remainder of it was folded and draped over the top of the body. The shroud remained after the resurrection and taken into possession by the apostles. The shroud contained a faint image of the body of a man, both front and back side of the cloth, with some blood stains where the shroud made physical contact with the body. It was carefully preserved during the last 2,000 years but nearly destroyed in a fire in AD 1532. Melting silver, from the silver box it was kept in, dropped onto the cloth and burned holes into it. Nevertheless, the part with the image of Christ remained intact and the holes were carefully patched by nuns. The patches are triangular in shape — 24 in all. While many have claimed the image on the shroud is a fake, 20th and 21st-century science has proved otherwise.
It turns out the image on the cloth is a perfect photographic negative. When the colours are inverted, it produces a perfect image of a crucified man’s body and face.
A tremendous amount of scientific and forensic evidence has been gathered from this cloth. From this image, we have been able to determine that the man in the image was
about 5 feet, 10 inches tall — which is unusually tall for a Semitic man living in that time period. However, his facial features were definitely Semitic. He was about 30 years old. His hair was about shoulder length, which was considered the typical short haircut of a Semitic man in that culture and time period, particularly in the Galilee area around Nazareth (Roman and Greek men cut their hair much shorter). His build is semi-muscular, indicating a life of strenuous work but not hard labour — typical of a carpenter at that time. He displays fairly solid upper body strength needed for the lathes and chisel work commonly used in 1st-century carpentry methods. His wounds are consistent with a crucified man using Roman methods in the 1st century. There are holes in his feet and wrists (the wrist was considered part of the hand in the Aramaic language used by Jesus and his apostles at the time). The palm of the hand would not support the weight of the body during a crucifixion, which is why Romans always nailed their hands that the point of the wrist. There is a wound on his right side of his chest, consistent with a penetration hole made by a spearhead. The body is covered in lacerations, consistent with a Roman “cat of nine tails” whip. The head is completely covered with small puncture wounds, consistent with a crown of thorns. The nose is apparently broken. The beard appears to be missing hair as if it were pulled out forcibly. DNA evidence was recovered from the shroud blood stains and tested positive for human blood type AB. A three dimensional model of the crucified man was created using 3D printing.
In spite of all this, many have claimed the Shroud of Turin is a mediaeval forgery. Critical examination of the shroud, however, reveals this to be unlikely. Medieval art techniques did not portray the human body accurately, and there is no evidence of medieval artists depicting the crucifixion in the way we see on the shroud. As we have seen from many paintings of the time, crucifixion is always depicted with nails through the palm of the hands, not the wrist, and in all cases, the human body looks abnormal (almost childlike) in its artistic representation.
Soil samples, pollen samples and the most recent radiographic carbon dating all place the Shroud of Turin’s origin in 1st-century Palestine. Only one carbon dating test, done in 1988, dated the Shroud in the Middle Ages, and this was later found to be a sample of one of the patches used to repair the shroud by nuns in the 16th century after the fire that damaged it. What is most interesting about the shroud image is the nature of the image itself. No paint or pigments have ever been found on the shroud. It appears to be a burned image, but not burned in a manner typical of any technology from the past. Rather, the only thing that can explain this type of a photographic negative would be a burst of radiation coming from the body itself, evenly spread through every square millimetre. In other words, the light source for the image was the body itself, and it was glowing brightly at the time the image was made. Could it be that this image was burned into that cloth, as a perfect photographic negative, by a light emitting from the body of Christ, just at the very moment of his resurrection?
Then we have the spread of the gospel itself as evidence of the truth of the resurrection. If the apostles were liars, then they were the dumbest liars ever, because all but one of them was killed for it. And the one who wasn’t killed was tortured severely by being boiled in hot oil.
As any modern government will tell you, keeping secrets is hard. You can threaten to kill people if they leak, but amazingly, the truth still gets out somehow. Just give it enough time. There were 12 apostles of Christ and 120 disciples. Beyond that, there were over 500 witnesses (at one time) to the resurrected Christ walking and teaching in Palestine. If it was all a fake, somebody would have cracked, especially when the pressure was put on. The Jewish leadership in 1st-century Palestine put the pressure on hard, with their persecution of early Christians, putting them out of the synagogue, flogging them, leaving them in poverty, eventually hunting them down and having them executed by stoning. Surely if it was all a hoax, somebody would have cracked and spilt the beans. They didn’t. Then the Greek Pagans jumped on board, beating and stoning Christians whenever they could. Again, nobody cracked. Finally, the Roman imperial government got into the action, crucifying Christians, turning them into human torches, and throwing them to the lions in the circuses. Still, nobody cracked. If it was all a lie, an elaborate hoax, surely somebody would have cracked, and to think that all these people went to their graves for what they knew to be a lie? They must have been the dumbest people in the history of the world. Unless of course, the resurrection was true.
Finally, we have the boldness of the apostles themselves, who went from cowering men in a hideout shortly after the crucifixion, to fiercely bold and public preachers of the resurrection just 50 days later. Something miraculous must have happened to them during those 50 days. Something that transformed their fear into ferocious bravery. What was it? Could it be proof of the very thing they were preaching? That Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead and alive!
Jesus Christ was either…
- a liar,
- a lunatic,
- or Lord.
Logically speaking, he couldn’t have been anything else. If the resurrection is true, then he is Lord. He claimed to be God, and he proved it. He performed a miracle only God could do. He raised himself from the dead. If he’s not God, then we have a lot more explaining to do. Such as, for example, why did he gain so many followers? No other man who claimed to be God can compare. How did he manage to fool everyone he rose from the dead after he was dead? How could the apostles pull it off considering the Roman Guard? Why would anyone suffer torture and die for a lie? Why didn’t the Jewish authorities just put the matter to rest by producing a body, or at least a confession from one of Jesus’ followers? Why do we have this bizarre photographic evidence of Christ’s body from the Shroud of Turin, when photographic techniques would not be invented for another 1,800 years! How do we explain the light source coming from the body itself? How do we explain the photograph on a 14-foot sheet of linen, a technique still not mastered even today? How do we explain the endurance of a religion, to over 2-billion souls today, that should be so easily refuted by just disproving the resurrection?
Jesus Christ is either (1) a liar, (2) a lunatic or else he is (3) Lord — that is to say, God in the flesh. He can be nothing else. It must be one of these three. The burden of proof was on him. He gave us that proof with his life. What say you? Was he a liar, a lunatic or is he your Lord and God?
Once we have accepted that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, then the most natural thing to ask next is what did he do while on earth, and how does he expect us to respond? I answer this question in my next essay entitled: Jesus Christ Founded the Catholic Church.