As Easter approaches, I am reminded that there are many who do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is pinnacle to our faith. As Paul stated to the Corinthians, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). It is our commission to spread this good news, making disciples who believe and follow a resurrected Christ.
Despite our best efforts, there are those who remain skeptical of this supernatural account. Why wouldn’t they be? After all, people do not typically come back from the dead. None of us expect to see our loved ones, who have passed, to make physical appearances before us. It sounds ludicrous! However, consider the following thoughts with me.
Jesus' Death & Post-Death Appearances (Non-Biblical Accounts)
History has shown that not only the crucifixion of Jesus took place, but that He made appearances after His burial. Honest skeptics, such as historian John Crossan, acknowledge the crucifixion as a historical fact. Crossan wrote,
“That Jesus was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact” (Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 145).
Josephus and Tacitus were both 1st Century historians; Josephus was Jewish, while Tacitus was Roman. Both of them documented non-biblical accounts of both Jesus’ death and post-death appearances. However, people throughout the centuries have developed theories to reconcile these facts, with high hopes of debunking the resurrection. One theory that someone once asked me to consider was the Swoon Theory.
Could Jesus Have Just Passed Out?
I had a conversation with a man who challenged my belief of the resurrection by telling me that Jesus only passed out, and that is why He appeared to others after His crucifixion; He wasn't really dead. What the man was articulating was the Swoon Theory. This theory claims that Jesus fell unconscious on the cross and simply gained consciousness after resting in the tomb.
Although this theory could seem plausible for some, it is not realistic in light of the events of Jesus' crucifixion. Let us examine Jesus' physical condition, as recorded by eyewitnesses. First of all, He was under a tremendous amount of emotional stress in anticipation of what was to come, while He was in the garden of Gethsemane. This resulted in Him sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:44). This condition is known as hematidrosis, when extreme stress causes the blood vessels and capillaries to burst. Jesus' stress and lack of sleep started to weaken His body. But, that was only the beginning.
After Jesus was arrested, He walked for miles back and forth from His trials, all the while being beaten along the way (Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63). Soldiers continued to beat Him on the head with reeds, scourging, and tearing His flesh open, which left Jesus a bloody mess; He was almost beaten to death. Mark recorded the fact that Jesus was so badly beaten and weak that He could not even lift His cross; it had to be carried for Him (Mark 15:21).
If that wasn't enough, Jesus had His hands and feet nailed to the cross. He was dehydrated from the distress and excruciating torment, and soon after, He breathed His last breath (Mark 15:36-37). The soldiers, as customary, began to break the legs of the other crucified men in order to speed up their deaths. However, they noticed that Jesus was already dead. So, they pierced His side with a spear to make sure, as blood and water came out of His side (John 19:32-34). The blood and water indicates that Jesus' heart ruptured once He was stabbed in the side.
When Jesus was finally buried, per Jewish custom, He was wrapped in linens and covered in myrrh and aloes, weighing about 100 pounds (John 19:39-40). The Pharisees wanted to make sure that no one would steal the body, so they hired Roman soldiers to guard the tomb, which was sealed by a gigantic stone (Matt 27:64-66).
Now, let us assume for a moment that Jesus did actually swoon, and He did not die. After examining Jesus' physical condition prior, during, and post crucifixion, Jesus would have to accomplish the following:
1) He would have to unwrap Himself from 100 pounds of weight.
2) He would have to roll away a massive stone that took several men to put it into place to begin with.
3) He would have to fight and kill the trained soldiers, or sneak by them unnoticed.
4) Finally, He would have to convince His disciples and hundreds of other people that He conquered death in His half-dead state, as well as attempt to ensure that they all kept the story straight to avoid the accusation of a conspiracy.
It would take more faith to believe that Jesus survived the beatings, endured the cross, having no food or water for days, a stab wound up through the heart, having no medical attention at all, broke through the weight, rolled the stone, and overpowered those soldiers. That would be ludicrous for a mere man, as some would call Him. Not only that, the soldiers would have known the difference between a dead man on the cross or not. They were experts at crucifixions, especially by the time they crucified Jesus. This was not a new practice for them. The very purpose of Jesus' crucifixion was to kill Him. If the Romans would not have made sure He was dead, the Pharisees would have caused a political uprising that the Romans were trying to avoid.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus truly died, He was buried, and He resurrected three days later. The resurrection illustrates the true power that Christ has over death. This is why we celebrate Easter! Jesus is alive!