Only five options ...
The meaning of the resurrection is theological, but the fact of the resurrection is a historical matter.
Imagine yourself a judge facing a courtroom filled with attentive spectators. They are intently listening for your verdict as you weigh the facts presented by the prestigious attorney. He speaks to you: "The issue before you, your honor, is the case of the Resurrection of Jesus. Was it a hoax? Or is it history? Your honor, you must base your decision upon the evidence presented. We expect you to be impartial, to weigh the facts as they are without prejudice."
Please remember this, the meaning of the resurrection is a theological matter, but the fact of the resurrection is an historical matter. The question must be decided upon by the historical evidence.
Who are our Witnesses?
In evaluating evidence, we must consider not only what the witness says but also his character and his trustworthiness. Ancient historians were usually paid by royalty who desired to be flattered. They were not motivated to make truth known. The New Testament writers were not paid by anyone. On the contrary, they risked loss of liberty and even death for what they wrote. No impartial court could lightly dismiss the evidence of witnesses ready to suffer such hardships for what they assert. They declare unanimously that they saw, heard, and touched the reality of Jesus' resurrection. If we trust pagan historians whose motives are suspect, why not trust historians whose motives are pure — as evidenced by their willingness to suffer.
We have only three options when it comes to examining the disciples' trustworthiness as eyewitnesses:
1) Either they were all liars motivated by some evil desire, or
2) They themselves were deceived, or
3) Their testimony is the truth.
1. Would liars knowingly preach that which would bring them hardship, suffering, persecution, torture and death? Not likely! Liars would proclaim that which would ensure their own comfort and prosperity. Liars would even change their message to avoid negative responses, yet the disciples adamantly proclaimed the resurrection message despite the reaction it brought.
2. Could they have been deceived? Many have said that they all suffered hallucinations wanting to see Jesus so badly. But the nature of a hallucination is that it distorts understanding and brings confusion. It does not bring positive transformation as in the case of the disciples. Hallucinations never work to integrate a personality - they are signs of personality disintegration, i.e., psychosis - and certainly never impart a new hope, positive motivation and fearlessness. Before the resurrection the disciples were confused cowards: afterwards they were confident and fearless. Moreover, these men were not likely candidates for such mental confusion. They were practical, down-to-earth, hardworking fishermen, pragmatic businessmen, skeptics themselves, whose lack of faith and other character flaws were often rebuked by Jesus himself. At the first hearing of the resurrection none of them believed. Only after personal encounters with the resurrected Jesus, did they believe.
3. The disciples report that at different times and places, sometimes together, sometimes apart, they had very similar experiences. The nature of hallucinations is not like this. Each hallucination would be as different in nature as the men themselves. They would not have uniform experience. They report that they talked to, listened to, ate with, and even touched the Resurrected Jesus. Could eleven men have the same detailed experiences with the resulting transformation, and it be a mental delusion? Would not one of them doubt the 'reality' of his experience under the pressures of intense persecution? They knew the reality of these experiences. They could not doubt. Thus the only logical conclusion we can come to is that the disciples were not liars and they were not deceived. They simply told the truth of their experiences. Jesus rose from the dead!
What Do Our Witnesses Testify?
Their testimony is simple and straightforward:
A) Jesus died,
B) He was buried, and
C) On the third day He rose bodily from the dead.
Let us examine these three events:
A) Jesus died.
Unless Jesus actually was dead when taken from the cross there would be no resurrection, only a hoax. The eyewitness testimony is that:
1. Jesus was scourged with a flagellum (an instrument of torture consisting of long stripes of leather with sharp pieces of bone and metal attached to rip the flesh) by Roman soldiers who were notoriously cruel. The account shows that He was so badly beaten that He needed help to carry His own cross.
2. Jesus was mocked. This consisted of cursing, blaspheming, spitting, beard pulling and a crown of extremely long thorns being jammed on His head. These would cause great emotional and psychological pain that would intensify the physical pain caused by the scourging. The mental anguish such as mocking causes should not be minimized. The emotional distress that was caused by being naked, and mocked by the crowd and deserted by His disciple (except two women and John) would further rob Him of strength. Is it no wonder that He cried out, "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me?"
3. He was forced to carry His own cross. This caused more bleeding from shoulder wounds, and also a great draining of strength.
4. He was nailed to the cross at the wrists and feet, and He was also pierced through the chest by a spear. These obviously would not only cause intense pain but a great loss of blood.
Is it possible that anyone could survive such an ordeal?
That all these factors culminated in Jesus' death is certified by a number of witnesses. The Roman executioners were professionals who knew when a man was dead. For them to testify that a victim was dead when in fact he was not would make them liable to be executed themselves. They would therefore not easily make a mistake. Because Jesus died so rapidly, Pilate questioned the centurion in charge of the crucifixion to be sure that Jesus had actually died. Pilate believed this report and gave Joseph of Aramathea permission to bury Jesus. Proof that the centurion knew Jesus to be dead was that he did not order Jesus' legs to be broken (to hasten his death) as he did the two thieves crucified with Him.
Joseph of Aramathea, and those involved in placing the body in the tomb, did not doubt that Jesus was dead. If they did, they would not have prepared him for burial, they would have sought medical help.
B) Jesus was buried.
Our witnesses testify to the following facts. Jesus was anointed with various burial spices, put in burial wrappings, and laid in a cave like tomb. The entrance to the tomb was blocked by a large stone rolled in place. The stone was then fixed with a seal and a group of soldiers were set to guard the tomb. The soldiers were insurance against anyone moving the stone; the seal, insurance against the soldiers entering the tomb.
C. The tomb is open. The body of Jesus is gone!
On Sunday morning the tomb was empty. The stone was rolled away and the seal broken. No one could be found to argue against these points. The tomb was open - the body of Jesus was gone. The tomb was not empty, however. Left inside the tomb were the grave clothes. This is an interesting piece of evidence. If Jesus was not dead when taken off the cross and only appeared to be dead, could He manage to revive in a cold, dark, damp tomb? Would He have had the strength to remove His wrappings? If He did have the strength, why bother to do it? He had no clothes and His body was lacerated from head to foot. How would a man beaten almost to death, then nailed to a cross, thrust through with a spear, move a huge stone (weighing perhaps two tons) and then sneak past trained soldiers? It takes more faith to believe that than it does to believe that the Almighty could raise Jesus from the dead.
The grave clothes are proof of the resurrection in another way. Who would steal the body and leave the wrappings? Why bother to waste time unwrapping the body? The disciples saw the grave clothes as a testimony to the resurrection. They were in the tomb, Jesus was not. He simply, in His resurrected body, passed through the grave clothes as easily as He passed through walls. And what about the guards? Did they sleep at the risk of their own lives? And if they did sleep, how could they testify about what happened while they slept?
This then is the disciples' testimony. Jesus died, was buried and on the third day rose from the dead.
What Happened to the Body of Jesus?
We have only five options open to us.
Let us examine these options:
No one could produce a corpse because there was no corpse to produce. Jesus was alive from the dead and the disciples knew it. They had good news to tell everyone and began to do just that.
What Can The Resurrection Mean To Me?
The good news of the resurrection is simply this: God, the creator, loves each one of us dearly. He wants to share all of His vast creation with us. He wants to share His life, His heart, His wealth and more importantly His love with us. But He could not because our sins separated us from Him, so in order to bridge the gap created by sin, God devised a plan, in which His son, who never sinned, would take the punishment due us for our sins. (Read Isaiah Chapter 53.) God could now say to everyone who believes in Jesus and receives Him as Lord and Savior (i.e., the one who saves them from sin) that He no longer rejects them because of their sins but now accepts them because they have the one who takes their sins away. Now God's love can be expressed to us personally. We can receive the inheritance that God wants to give us. We can begin to experience heaven on earth.
Wouldn't you like to enter into a personal love relationship with God? Wouldn't you like to enter your spiritual inheritance? It's easy to do, God never makes things difficult. Just be willing to repent, that is, turn away from any known sins, things you know are wrong or are contrary to what the Bible teaches, and open your heart to pray the following prayer.
If you pray this prayer sincerely, Jesus will come into your life by the power of the Holy Spirit. You will begin to experience His life, His love, His joy and His peace. He will lead you to a Church where there are authentic and sincere believers who can help you grow in the Lord. Get a Bible and read a portion of it everyday. The Bible is an amazing book, it has the ability to feed your spirit and build your faith. Pray everyday, tell the Lord in your own words about the things going on in your life. Watch God answer your prayers.
If you are sincere with God, He will be sincere with you and will manifest Himself to you.