The F-E-A-T that Demonstrates the FACT of Resurrection
by Hank Hanegraaff
When they had crucified him, above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders mocked him — and the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Then Jesus, knowing that the Passover plot was nearing completion, cried out, “I am thirsty.” As if on cue, an unidentified friend of Joseph of Arimathea ran, filled a sponge with a sleeping potion, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. When he had received it, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and swooned.
Because the Jews 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. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was apparently already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear.
As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.
There Joseph and the unidentified Jew worked feverishly to nurse Jesus back to life.
Tragically, the Roman spear led to the death of Jesus and the virtual destruction of the Passover Plot. Jesus regained consciousness only long enough to cry out, “Do not let me die in vain. Deceive my disciples into believing I have overcome death and the grave.” With that, he bowed his head and died. Immediately Joseph and the unidentified Jew took the body of Jesus and disposed of it.
During the next forty days the unidentified Jew appeared to the disciples and through many convincing fabrications deluded them into believing that he was the resurrected Christ. Beginning with Moses and all the prophets he explained to them everything that the Scriptures had taught concerning the Messiah — how he should suffer, die, and be raised again. The hearts of the disciples burned within as they believed the lie.
To this very day, the Passover Plot engineered by Jesus, Joseph, and the unidentified Jew continues to delude millions into believing that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.1
In 1965 Hugh Schonfield published a 287-page volume titled The Passover Plot.2 In this runaway bestseller, Schonfield contends that Jesus “deliberately plotted” His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. According to The Passover Plot:
Jesus contrived to be arrested the night before the Passover, fully aware that he would be nailed to the cross the following day, but taken down before the onset of the Sabbath in accordance with Jewish law. He would survive the agony of but three hours on the cross.
To ensure his safe removal, he arranged to be given, while on the cross, not the traditional vinegar but a drug that would render him unconscious and make him appear dead. He would then be cut down from the cross in a deathlike trance, removed by accomplices to the tomb where he would be nursed back to health and then “resurrected.”3
This new interpretation of the life and death of Jesus captured the imagination of the world. Magazines and ministers immediately lauded it as perhaps the most important book published in a decade. Time magazine contended, “Schonfield does not discredit Christ. Instead, he argues that Christ was indeed the Messiah – the Son of Man, as he thought of himself, but not the Son of God – who had been foretold by Jewish prophets of old, and that this is glory enough.”4 Bible scholar William Barclay called The Passover Plot “a book of enormous learning and erudition, meticulously documented.”5
While the critics of historic Christianity have passionately proclaimed the virtues of Schonfield and his scholarship, The Passover Plot is little more than a novel regurgitation of swoon theories that were popular in the first half of the nineteenth century. As noted investigative journalist Lee Strobel points out in The Case for Christ, the swoon hypothesis is an urban legend that is continually being resuscitated.6
Swoon theorists dismiss the Resurrection by contending that Jesus never really died on the cross. Instead, He merely fainted and was later revived. A never-ending stream of imaginative stories has flowed from this basic thesis.
The swoon hypothesis is not the only novel notion critics of Christianity have used to explain away the Resurrection. Other hypotheses used to explain away the biblical account of the Resurrection emanate from world religions. One such theory is found in Islam. From a Muslim perspective, Jesus was never crucified and, thus, never resurrected.7 As Christian philosopher Norman Geisler explains, orthodox Muslims have traditionally held that “God made someone else look like Jesus and this person was mistakenly crucified as Christ.”8
Other theories on Jesus’ resurrection can be found in the kingdom of the cults. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, not only deny the deity of Jesus Christ but His bodily resurrection as well. They contend that God created Jesus as the archangel Michael; that He became merely human during His earthly sojourn; and that He was recreated as an immaterial spirit creature after His crucifixion.
A Gargantuan Fraud or the Greatest Feat in History
If liberal scholars, adherents of world religions, or devotees of the kingdom of the cults are correct, the biblical account of the Resurrection is either fiction, fantasy, or a gargantuan fraud. On the other hand, if Christianity is factually reliable, the Resurrection is the greatest feat in human history. As apologist Josh McDowell puts it, “After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the ‘most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history.’”9 The apostle Paul made it crystal clear that no middle ground exists. The Resurrection is either history or hoax, miracle or myth, fact or fantasy:
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. M
ore than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:14–19)
It is precisely because of the strategic importance of the Resurrection that each Christian must be prepared to defend its historicity. Apologetics – the defense of the faith – has a dual purpose. On the one hand, it involves pre–evangelism. In post-Christian America few people are aware that belief in the Resurrection is not a blind leap into the dark, but faith founded on fact. It is historic and evidential. Thus, it is defensible. On the other hand, it involves postevangelism. During an age in which the Resurrection is under siege, knowing how to defend its reliability serves to strengthen our faith.
The Resurrection is not merely important to the historic Christian faith — without it there would be no Christianity. It elevates Christianity above all other world religions. Through the Resurrection Christ demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Abraham, Buddha, Confucius, or Muhammad. Jesus Christ is utterly unique. He had the power not only to lay down His life, but also to take it up again.
Because of its centrality to Christianity, those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips must be prepared to defend the reliability of the Resurrection. To make the process memorable, I’ve developed the acronym F-E-A-T. Each letter in this acronym serves to underscore an undeniable fact of the Resurrection: Fatal torment; Empty tomb; Appearances; Transformation…
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