Did the resurrection of Christ really happen?
Lee Strobel didn’t think so. When his wife started attending church, Lee set out to debunk this audacious claim of Christianity. Using his investigative reporting skills, he interviewed theologians, pastors, archaeologists, medical doctors and professors. In the end, he came to a conclusion he wasn’t expecting: it happened. Christ really did rise from the dead.
Of course, skeptics dismiss this by claiming there is no proof. Interestingly, there is proof – 5800 ancient New Testament manuscripts written in the original Greek, far greater than any other works of that era, including those composed by Homer, Plato and Julius Caesar. And the New Testament records unanimously agree on the pivotal event that gave birth to the Christian movement – the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.
So what? some might scoff. It’s still just a story – a myth. True – it reads like a myth. And it is true that there are plenty of ancient stories that attest to dying and rising gods. Yet this one — the story left for us in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — has the ring of truth, pointing to a real teacher who lived in a real country in a real period of history. The great literary professor, C.S. Lewis, noted that the Gospels “appeared to be simple, eye-witness accounts of historical events primarily by Jews who were clearly unfamiliar with the great myths of the pagan world around them.”
Let’s not forget that the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb were women. All four Gospel accounts point to this fact, though the details differ (this should not bother believers. If the stories seamlessly mirrored one another, then we should really be suspicious). A casual reader might gloss over this tidbit. But back up the truck, because this is significant. Really significant.
In those days, in that part of the world, women were dismissed as inferior creatures. In Greek and Roman culture, a wife was under the absolute authority of her husband. She could not even eat with male guests in her own home. She had to silently serve them and then retire to her own quarters. Women were treated no better than slaves.
Hebrew women didn’t fare any better. They were segregated in the synagogue and not allowed to publicly speak. Hillel, a famous rabbi, taught that a man could unilaterally divorce his wife for something as simple as burning his dinner. An old Jewish prayer goes like this: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman.”
Given their second-class status, women were not trusted to be credible witnesses in Jesus’ day. In fact, Luke tells us that the disciples dismissed the women when they rushed to them with the resurrection news: “And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11). The reaction of the women at the tomb also seems credible. They came to grieve, burial spices in hand (Luke 24:1). They were concerned that they would not be able to roll away the heavy stone sealing the mouth of the grave (Mark 16:3). When they discovered the tomb to be vacant, they were filled with confusion and fear (Mark 16:8, Luke 24:5), which soon turned into joy (Matthew 28:8).
You would think that the Gospel writers would have “cleaned this up” when they were recording their accounts. After all, wouldn’t the testimony of women harm their narrative? Wouldn’t they risk becoming a laughingstock by reporting that females were the first witnesses of the Risen Jesus? Indeed, a 2nd-century AD Greek philosopher, Celsus, mocked the gospel accounts for their portrayal of the witness of “hysterical female[s]…..deluded by sorcery.”
The writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John took the chance, anyway. They reported the facts. The women saw the stone rolled away. They peered into the tomb to find Jesus gone and men in dazzling robes telling them that He had risen. Some, like Mary Magdalene, even encountered the Resurrected Christ, though she did not recognize Him at first (John 20:14).
Skeptical at first, dismissing the incredible story as nonsense, even the closest followers of Jesus eventually had to bow to the truth:
The tomb was empty. The women were right, after all.
“…the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7).
He has risen. He has risen, indeed.