Psalm 22: 1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?
2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent. …
14 I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;
17 I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me.
18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.
24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.
25 My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever!
The most descriptive account of the crucifixion of Christ was written over 1,000 years before Jesus was born. This vivid detail of the anguish of Jesus as He bore our sins leaves little doubt that the crucifixion was a part of God’s plan from the beginning. As a part of this Easter season, let us take a closer look at the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will look at the resurrection account in light of both scripture and history. What evidence outside the Bible validates the biblical account? Obviously, in a short study like this, we can only hit the highlights of this subject; therefore, let us take a brief look at history and the biblical account that gives reasonable evidence to believe. The purpose of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of the crucifixion and equip saints for sharing faith among a skeptical world. It is frequently argued that there is no evidence outside the Bible to verify the Bible’s claims. Thank God this is far from true; history, archaeology and science are filled with irrefutable proofs that validate the scriptures. In this study we will look at historical accounts that are widely accepted as credible by both biblical scholars and secular historians. Let us take a brief look at the Life, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.
The Life of Jesus
Some time back, I had a discussion with an atheist who stated that he would not believe Jesus existed unless he saw irrefutable proof. He claimed that the authors of the Bible made up the whole story of Jesus. It is ironic that he needs no proof to believe in the conspiracy of the disciples but he needs irrefutable proof that the conspiracy does not exist. How do we know that Jesus really existed? How do we know that Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or the founding fathers who signed our declaration of Independence existed? How do we know any historical event is true and not a fairy tale made up to shape history? We know they existed because historical documents, artifacts, the testimonies of eye witnesses and other evidences are examined and accepted as credible by those who have examined the evidence. We either believe the generation that lived through the events or we have to believe there is a massive conspiracy to fabricate historical events. As individuals, very few of the men in our past are mentioned in detail; instead most of their names show up in history as having been at an event but little is known about them as individuals. Where is Jesus mentioned in history? Obviously, the Bible will give the detailed description of Jesus because He is the central figure of the Bible; however, Jesus is accounted for in many other historical documents as well.
First look at the testimony of the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud is a historical document that includes commentaries on the Jewish books of the law, civil and religious records. The Talmud is not supportive of Christianity and is very hostile to Jesus. The Talmud praises the trial, conviction and execution of Jesus. The Talmud also refers to Jesus as a bastard son of Mary. The account of Jesus in this historical document was indisputably written by those who were enemies of Jesus. In a court of law, if your enemy testifies on your behalf, willingly or unwillingly, it is a highly credible testimony. The Talmud testifies on behalf of many of the Bible’s claims about Jesus; it verifies the existence of Jesus, states that Jesus was a teacher, verifies the trial of Jesus as instigated by the religious leaders, the conviction and crucifixion of Jesus. Even more importantly, the Talmud verifies that Jesus performed many healings and miracles. It claims that Jesus performed these miracles through the power of sorcery; however, the key evidence is that even though the enemies of Jesus are hostile witnesses, they do not dispute the miracles but verify them and validate the Biblical account. Jesus’ very enemies validated His works and even though their intentions were malicious, they provide a strong testimony for the scriptures.
Josephus, the great Jewish historian wrote about Jesus. Josephus also claimed that Jesus was a teacher that wrought many surprising feats. Josephus states that by miracles, Jesus won over many Jews and Greeks. Josephus testifies that Jesus was condemned under Pilot, crucified, and then He appeared restored after three days. Josephus states that Jesus’ followers were called Christians after Him.
Roman governor Pliny the Younger produced writings, which also testify on behalf of the Bible. He stated that Christians were sent off to be executed for their “stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy that ought not to go unpunished. …they would not recant and they worshipped and honored Christ as if he were a god”.
There can be no reasonable doubt that Jesus did in fact exist and other historical documents hold testimonies that do not contradict the biblical account. We have testimonies that verify Jesus’ miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and the fact that His followers believed He was God. Two of these three witnesses are hostile to the gospel, yet verify the gospel. There is no shortage of proofs for those who will be open enough to see it.
We have already seen that Josephus, Roman historians, and the Talmud validates the crucifixion. Lets look at the picture of the crucifixion. In an essay on a popular atheist website, the writer makes the comment, “On the cross Jesus’ last words were, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ That doesn’t sound much like Jesus’ plan went as he expected”. Of course, this was not Jesus’ last words. After this quote, Jesus then said, “It is finished” and finally, “Father into your hands I commit My spirit”. Even so, as we have seen from the opening passage of this study, not only was the crucifixion foretold a thousand years before this torturous method of execution was invented, but even Jesus’ words and thoughts were foretold as well. It is clear by reading Psalm 22 that God’s plan was completed exactly as expected. The historical account of Matthew 27:46 matches the prophecy of Psalm 22. Matthew 27:
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
To add to the historical significance of the crucifixion, look at the following passages:
Luke 23:44 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.
Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,
There is also a plethora of historical evidence that validates this event in scripture. Two witnesses to this scripture are Thallus and Phlegon. Although they did not witness the crucifixion, they were both eye witnesses to the events surrounding the crucifixion. Look at their accounts:
Thallus finished his historical account of the world since the Trojan war in 52 A. D. His work was destroyed but quoted by Julius Africanus in AD 221. Julius gives a commentary on Thallus’ AD 33 record of the darkness across the land. “Thallus in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun – unreasonably as it seems to me.”
Thallus testified that this event occurred on the exact day of the crucifixion but explained it away as an eclipse of the sun. Why did Julius Africanus state this explanation seems unreasonable? The reason is because the feast of the Passover was ALWAYS celebrated on the new moon during the Jewish month of Nisan. The new moon occurs when the lunar cycle has been completed, and the new cycle begins. At the beginning of the new lunar cycle, the moon is not visible. Each day, more of the moon becomes visible until it reaches a full moon, and then begins to fade each day as it approaches the next new moon. This is an approximate 30 day cycle. On the new moon, the moon has no visibility at all in the sky because it is on the opposite side of the earth, thus making it impossible to have an eclipse. Therefore, to attribute this event as an eclipse is truly an unreasonable assumption. Traditionally people credit this darkening to clouds; however, this is not the case at all. Look at the testimony of a Greek historian named Phlegon.
A Greek author from Caria named Phlegon wrote about the darkness that occurred in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad (equivalent to 33 A.D.). “There was the greatest eclipse of the sun. It became as night in the sixth hour of the day (noon) so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia and many things were overturned in Nicaea”.
Thallus’ account did not mention an earthquake but Phlegon did, however both reported the same darkness and both believed it to be an eclipse. Thallus was not close enough to feel the earthquake but Phlegon was. The earthquake was regional, but the Bible says that the darkness was over all the land. It is no wonder that they chose an eclipse as the reason since there was no other logical explanation without understanding the scripture’s claim that the sun refused to shine. How this occurred will never be known, but the evidence clearly shows that this event was witnessed throughout the Roman Empire on the date and time stated in the scriptures.
The darkness reported was not consistent with a normal eclipse and was referred to as ‘the greatest eclipse’. Consider how an eclipse occurs. A full eclipse is a rare event and it can only be seen in a specific region. If Atlanta gets a full eclipse, Texas will only get a partial eclipse; therefore, the same applies in this historical event. If two records of the same event occurred thousands of miles apart, an eclipse cannot explain it. Add to this the fact that never is an eclipse so dark that the sky is darkened and all the stars can be clearly seen. Though many have sought natural causes to explain the darkness, they clearly validate the Bible’s account.
Two other pieces of significant evidences are the account of the pierced side and the tomb of the prominent rich councilman, Joseph of Arimathea. After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph went to Pilot and asked for the body so he could bury Him with honor. Pilot sent a soldier to verify that Jesus was already dead. The soldier verified Jesus was dead and pierced His side. The spear clearly went through to the heart and John 19:34 says that blood separated from the water poured out. The only way the blood could separate is if circulation has stopped and the blood begins to clot and separate. It is highly unlikely that John could have known this to be evidence of death and fabricated it. This era had little medical knowledge and those present would not have understood the significance of this statement at the time.
Isaiah 53:9 foretells that Christ would die with the wicked but would be buried in the rich man’s tomb. John’s account is fulfillment of this prophecy. (See Mark 15:43 and Luke 23:50-51) Joseph of Arimathea was a rich, prominent member of the council that condemned Jesus to die. Fabricating the story of Joseph would have been a fatal blow to any ‘conspiracy’. If the disciples were going to make up a story to fulfill this prophecy, as some have claimed, they would not have picked someone out of the council that tried Jesus. If it were a lie, they would be the first to protest and would have the public platform to dispute the claim. There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried in the councilman’s tomb.
The resurrection is the most controversial part of the biblical account of Jesus. If Jesus was not bodily resurrected, He was not God, He was not a Savior and Christianity is a lie. Symbolic resurrection is not compatible with the Christian faith. The resurrection is the evidence that Jesus proclaimed to be a sign that He was who He claimed to be. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus conquered death. It is also what gives Jesus the authority to claim that He is the resurrection and that we all will be partakers of the resurrection if we are found in Christ. This alone separates Christianity from mere religion.
The apostle Paul states that if the resurrection is not a fact, then we are false witnesses before God. He sums it up this way, “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” 1 Corinthians 15:17. If Jesus could not rise from the dead, He is not our savior and our faith is a lie. However, if Jesus were God in the flesh as He claimed to be, then taking up His body would be a small thing. Lets finish this study by examining the proof of the resurrection.
To clarify the resurrection, let us first look at the arguments against it. There are many alternative views used by critics to claim that the disciples conspired to make Jesus look like more than a man. Out of all the dozens of alternate stories, only two are even remotely worth examining. Most conspiracy stories are so weak that no one who uses reason would consider them valid. Even the two more common views are so weak that only those desperate for another answer would even give them credibility. Most skeptics try to argue Jesus out of history in order to avoid the debate all together. History does not support them, but that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent to those determined to disbelieve. Let us examine the two most popular conspiracy stories about Jesus.
The Swoon Theory. This alternative explanation has been repackaged with many variations. The most popular variant was ‘The Passover Plot’ published in 1965. The basic argument is that Jesus and His disciples conspired to fulfill messianic prophecies by faking Jesus’ death on the cross. They managed to manipulate the Jewish leaders into trying and convicting Jesus, the people into demanding the crucifixion and the Roman government into executing Him. The legal manipulation would have been a miracle in itself. Before being nailed to the cross, Jesus was supposedly given a drug that appeared to make him look dead and trick the soldiers into removing Him from the cross while he was still alive. The cool damp air of the tomb revived Him and He appeared alive to His followers. By just using simple logic, this argument fails miserably. The first obvious flaw that jumps out is the question ‘how did they know Joseph would offer his tomb?’ If you can believe that Joseph and Pilot were a part of this conspiracy, there are plenty of other flaws to fight through. Jesus was beaten so badly that He was too weak to carry His own cross and a bystander was commissioned to carry it for Him. He had nails driven through His wrists and feet. The blood loss is hard to escape. The blood poured out His feet, hands, back from the beating, and finally a mortal wound was inflicted between His ribs when the spear pierced His heart.
If someone has faith enough to get past the impossible odds of survival, there are a few more problems to deal with. How does a man who has had spikes driven through his limbs get up and walk and appear as a victorious leader to the people? Somehow Jesus revived, untangled himself from the burial cloths wrapped around his body, pushed a massive stone away from the entrance of the tomb, passed through a squadron of soldiers guarding the site, and ran away without anyone noticing. Not only did he escape, but he also walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two travelers who did not notice he was wounded.
How is it that most people can’t walk with minor pain in their feet, but Jesus was able to walk with holes in His? He had full use of His hands because he took over the evening meal and broke bread. We could come up with dozens of functions that would cause Him excruciating pain if this was a faked resurrection. If by some miracle Jesus and the disciples pulled this off, He would have looked so weak and anemic that no one would have been amazed. It seems a little hard to believe the disciples were able to get the multitudes fired up by seeing a half-dead Jesus