The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: How Can We Know It’s True?

That’s the theme of the talk I gave last Wednesday. You can see the whole talk here (I’ve also embedded the video, in four parts, below). Here’s a copy of the materials that I handed out: it’ll be easier to follow the talk if you watch (or listen to) the video while reading along:

KNOW YOUR FAITH!: The Resurrection 
Joe Heschmeyer, June 4, 2014 
I. The Importance of the Resurrection 

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he spoke of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22) 

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21) 

“12 Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;[a] 14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.  
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-22) 

II. Objections to the Resurrection 

  • A. Jesus didn’t exist (the Apostles made Him up) 
  • B. Jesus existed, but wasn’t Crucified (Muslim Position)
    “And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.” (Qu’ran 4:157) 

  • C. Jesus was Crucified, but Didn’t Die (Resuscitation Theory) 
  • D. Jesus Died, but Wasn’t Buried in the Tomb (Body left on the Cross, mass grave, etc.) 
  • E. Jesus Died, but the Apostles hallucinated His Resurrection. 
  • F. Jesus Died, but the Apostles lied about His Resurrection (Stealing the Body, etc.). 
    III. Answers to these Objections 
    1. The Sweat Turning to Blood (Luke 22:44) 

    – A medical condition called hematohidrosis, which the Indian Journal on Dermatology described as “very rare.” 
    – St. Luke is the only one to mention this detail; he was a doctor (Col. 4:14). 
    – Suggests that the account in true. (Discredits Objection A) 
    1. Blood and Water Flowing from the Side of Christ (John 19:31-37) 

    – Shows a familiarity with Crucifixion – it’s not being nailed that kills you, but asphyxiation.  
    – Shows familiarity with Jewish religious customs 
    – Scriptural fulfillment (Zech. 12:10). 
    – Comports with medical evidence. (Body no longer metabolizes water). 
    – Refutes Objection B and Objection C, and those versions of Objection D that involve Christ’s Body being left on the Cross. 
    1. The Tomb was Guarded (Matthew 27:62-66) 

    – Shows that the Tomb was well-known and guarded.  
    – This account is giving specific names and dates: Pilate, the chief priests (who were identifiable at the time), and the Pharisees; and the day is the one after Preparation Day (that is, Passover). So Matthew is publicly accusing both the religious and political authorities of his day of having posted a guard outside of the tomb of Jesus. 
    – This answers Objection D. 

    1. The Empty Tomb (Acts 2:29-32) 

    – The Book of Acts is written too early for St. Luke to be making this sermon up. 
    – St. Peter’s sermon is too early to be lying. 
    – Even the earliest opponents of Christianity seemed to concede the Empty Tomb. St. Justin Martyr, in Chapter 108 of Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, says: 

    “And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. 

    This suggests (consistent with Matthew 28:11-15) that the Jewish argument against the Resurrection was that the Apostles stole the Body, which suggests that there was an Empty Tomb. 

    1. Jesus Appeared in the Flesh, and Ate in the Apostles’ Presence (Luke 24:36-43) 

    – Shows that the Apostles aren’t hallucinating: they’re either lying, or actually ate with the risen Lord. 
    – For them, this appearance served to prove that He wasn’t a ghost. For us, it serves to prove that He wasn’t a hallucination. 
    – This shows the impossibility of Objection E. 
    1. Hundreds of Resurrection Witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6) 

    – Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”  
    – St. Paul is practically begging his readers to fact check this detail, by mentioning that most of these hundreds of witnesses to the Resurrection are still alive. 
    – If Paul is lying, this would be easy for his audience to discover. 
    – Strongly suggests that these hundreds of witnesses aren’t all crazy or lying, discrediting Objection E and Objection F. 
    1. The Ultimate Witness: Martyrdom  

     The earliest Christians, including the Apostles, went to the death for the faith. We know this from the Bible, from other Christian writings, and from non-Christian writings (see next section). 
    – Supports the reliability of the Apostles’ witness (contrast with Mormonism) 
    – Shows that they believed their own account, disproving Objection F. 
    1. The Success of the Church (Matthew 13:31-32) 

    – One of the ways that the Jews knew that they were the Chosen People was they survived throughout history, while competing religions and nations fell. 
    – Christianity goes beyond even this. Christ promised not only that the Church would survive (Mt. 16:17-19), but that it would thrive enormously, comparing it to the growth of the mustard plant from the smallest of seeds to the largest of shrubs. 
    – It’s a bold claim that came true in history: Christianity, reduced to a small handful of Disciples after Good Friday, not only survived, but immediately exploded. As both the Book of Acts and the non-Christian evidence shows, Christianity spread like wildfire. Today, there are a couple billion adherents, and it’s by far the world’s most popular religion. The oldest government in the world is the papacy, because Christianity has outlasted every worldly power. 
    – Jewish historian and rabbi Pinchas Lapide writes 

    “When this scared, frightened band of apostles which was just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee; when these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master and failed him so miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspectivep.125) 

    – This is a rejection of Objection E and Objection F. 
    IV. Important Non-Christian Testimonies 

    The Roman senator and historian Tactius, a non-Christian, wrote a history of the Roman Empire called Annals. The book dates to 116 A.D., and in it, he describes the aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome (60 A.D.), which Nero blamed on the Christians. Here’s what he says in Book XV, Chapter 44:  

    Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.   

    Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.   

    Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.  

    This provides non-Christian confirmation for the fact that Christ (“Christus“) existed, and was Crucified (“the extreme penalty”) under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius (see Luke 3:1). Tacitus’ testimony also shows that Christianity began in Judea, but spread quickly. It was already popular in Rome, and distinct from Judaism, by 60 A.D. (the date of the great fire). Finally, he says that these early Christians were willing to die for the faith, even undergoing humiliating deaths.  

    Pliny the Younger (61-113) was the Imperial Magistrate under the Emperor Trajan, who reigned from 98-117. We have letters between the two men discussing Christianity. Pliny wrote Emperor Trajan, explaining how he was dealing with the rise of Christianity: 

    Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome. [….] 

    For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.” (Pliny, Letters 10.96-97) 

    The Emperor Trajan responded: 

    You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age. 

    V. Conclusion 

    In sum, we know that (1) there was [or is] really a Jesus Christ who was crucified; (2) he really died on the cross; (3) there were rumors of a resurrection, and so guards were posted outside his tomb; (4) his disciples claim to have seen, spoke with, and touched him in risen form shortly after his death, and watched him eat; and (5) his tomb was empty.  

    All of this points heavily to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Certainly, it’s the answer that the disciples swear up and down is true. And they’re willing to go to their deaths for it, which suggests they at least think it’s true. That is, they’re not lying. (Note: Being willing to die for a claim doesn’t ensure the claim is true, but it does strongly suggest one thinks it’s true.) None of the disciples recant after Jesus’ death, even though all but John are martyred for it. And remember: these men were one and all pious Jews, claiming that Jesus Christ is the One True God. If he’s not, and they know he’s not, they’re about to be ripped apart by animals and go straight to Hell. 

    Here’s Part I of the video:

    Part II:

    Part III:

    Part IV:

    Like what you see? Come out to Mother Teresa Catholic Church in Topeka, Kansas tonight: I’ll be talking about the Bible (how we can trust it, which Books belong in it, etc.) from 7:00pm – 8:00 pm.

    [Update: in the original post, I got the time wrong – sorry to anyone who shows up a half hour late!]


    1. On (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover, Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, “Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defense may come and state it.” But since they did not find anything in his defense they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover.

      Ulla said: “Do you suppose that Jesus the Nazarene was one for whom a defense could be made? He was a mesit (someone who instigated Israel to idolatry), concerning whom the Merciful [God] says: Show him no compassion and do not shield him (Deut. 13:9). With Jesus the Nazarene it was different. For he was close to the government.

      –Sanhedrin 43a

      There it is folks: the biggest critics at the time of Christ concede his historicity and his supernatural faculties.

    2. Joe: Thanks for posting this! I look forward to watching the talk when I have time.

      On a related note, are you familiar with this talk by Lawrence Feingold on the motives of credibility?

      (I’m also curious: do you, or have you at any time, read any of the older manuals on the subject of the truth of Christian revelation? I’m thinking of works like Garrigou-Lagrange’s De revelatione per ecclesiam catholicam proposita (which I am at present reading/translating) and the Jesuit manual Sacrae Theologiae Summa, which in Vol. I, Tractatus II (De revelatione christiana sive de vera religione) has a very systematic and extensive discussion of the question. It strikes me that systematic works like these are in sore need of being read/translated for the benefit of contemporary Catholics.)

    3. Joe, this is a gold mine. I am going to watch this tonight. Also going to pass this link onto the men’s group chat. Thank you for defending the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless.

      1. That might well be the case. But I’m not arguing that these Books are inspired, or even that they’re free from all errors. My argument is much narrower: that we have reason to believe these specific details (I explained why for each one in the talk). A blind refusal to consider any evidence for the Resurrection from witnesses who believe in the Resurrection is circular and irrational.



    4. If I wasn’t entrenched on the West Coast, I’d be there.

      Saw the first few minutes, and it looks like a good video, I’ll look at it in its entirety later on.

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