With Easter drawing nigh, plus the recent funeral of a revered uncle who was sent off in grand style by well over 100 family members and friends in the post-funeral gathering, a question was posed to yours truly (from some who were not shy in coming forward) as to what happens to us when we die. When a loved one dies, we long to see him or her again after our turn comes. Will we have a glorious reunion with those we love or is death the end of all consciousness?

I AM the way, the truth, and the life...

I AM the way, the truth, and the life…

When he made the following claim, Jesus taught that life does not end after our bodies die: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:” (John 11:25). According to the eyewitnesses closest to him, Jesus then demonstrated his power over death by rising from the dead after being crucified and buried for three days, and it is this belief that has given hope to Christians for nigh on 2000 years. Some people however, have no hope of life after death, as I found out in my conversations with some of the funeral attendees. The atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive,”[1] a stark indication that Russell obviously didn’t believe in the words of Jesus.

The followers of Christ wrote extensively that he appeared alive to them after his crucifixion and burial. They claim not only to have seen him but also to have eaten with him, touched him, and spent 40 days with him, so could this have been simply a story that grew over time, or is it based upon solid evidence? The answer to this question of course is foundational to Christianity, for if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, it would validate everything he said about himself, about the meaning of life, and about our destiny after death. If Jesus did rise from the dead then he alone would have the answers to what life is all about and what is facing us after we die. On the other hand, if the resurrection account of Jesus is not true, then Christianity would be founded upon a lie. Theologian R. C. Sproul puts it this way:

The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses.[2]

All other leaders of the great religions are dead, but according to Christianity, Christ is alive. Over the millennia many skeptics have attempted to disprove the resurrection, among them Josh McDowell, who spent more than seven hundred hours researching the evidence, following which he made this remarkable statement on the importance of the living Christ:

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.[3] McDowell later wrote his classic work, “The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict”, documenting what he discovered.

So, is the resurrection of Jesus a fantastic fact or a vicious myth? To find out, we need to look at the evidence of history and draw our own conclusions. Let’s see what skeptics who investigated the resurrection discovered for themselves.

Cynics And Skeptics

Sadly, not everyone is willing to fairly examine the evidence. Bertrand Russell admits his take on Jesus was “not concerned” with historical facts.[4] Historian Joseph Campbell, without citing evidence, calmly told his PBS television audience that the resurrection of Jesus is not a factual event.[5] Other scholars, such as John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, agree with him.[6] None of these skeptics present any evidence for their views.

True skeptics, as opposed to cynics, are interested in evidence. In a Skeptic magazine editorial entitled “What Is a Skeptic?” the following definition is given: “Skepticism is … the application of reason to any and all ideas – no sacred cows allowed. In other words … skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are “skeptical,” we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.”[7]

Unlike Russell and Crossan, many true skeptics have investigated the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. We will hear from some of them and see how they analyzed the evidence for what is perhaps the most important question in the history of the human race: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem ... Empty like the tomb...

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem … Empty like the tomb…


In advance of his death, Christ told his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified and that he would come back to life three days later. Now that’s a strange plan! What was behind it? Jesus was no entertainer willing to perform for others on demand; instead, he promised that his death and resurrection would prove to all people (if their minds and hearts were open) that he was indeed the Messiah.

Bible scholar Wilbur Smith remarked about Jesus:

When he said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say, if He expected longer the devotion of any disciples – unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that.[8]

In other words, since Jesus had clearly told his disciples that he would rise again after his death, failure to keep that promise would expose him as a fraud. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How did Jesus die (if he really did die) before he rose again?

A Horrific Death And Then . . . ?

You’ll know of course what the last hours of earthly life for Jesus were like if you watched the movie by road warrior/braveheart Mel Gibson. If you missed parts of The Passion of the Christ because you were shielding your eyes (it would have been easier to simply shoot the movie with a red filter on the camera), just flip to the back pages of any Gospel in your New Testament to find out what you missed. As Jesus predicted, he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot, and was arrested. In a mock trial under the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, he was convicted of treason and condemned to die on a wooden cross. Prior to being nailed to the cross, Christ was brutally beaten with a Roman cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip with bits of bone and metal that would rip flesh. He was punched repeatedly, kicked, and spat upon.

Then, using mallets, the Roman executioners pounded the heavy wrought-iron nails into his wrists and feet. Finally they dropped the cross into a hole in the ground between two other crosses bearing convicted thieves. Jesus hung there for approximately six hours. Then, at 3:00 PM in the afternoon – that is, at exactly the same time the Passover lamb was being sacrificed as a sin offering (a little symbolism there, you think?) – Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (in Aramaic), and died.[9] Suddenly the sky went dark and an earthquake shook the land.[10]

An even greater darkness of depression annihilated the dreams of those who had become infatuated with his charisma and joyful vitality. Former Lord High Chancellor of Britain, Lord Hailsham, notes, “The tragedy of the Cross was not that they crucified a melancholy figure, full of moral precepts, ascetic and gloomy … What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself … someone so utterly attractive that people followed him for the sheer fun of it.”[11] Pilate wanted verification that Jesus was dead before allowing his crucified body to be buried, so a Roman guard was ordered to thrust a spear into his side to make sure. The mixture of blood and water that flowed out was a clear indication that Jesus was dead. “The dead do not bleed, ordinarily, but the right auricle of the human heart holds liquid blood after death, and the outer sac holds a serum called hydropericardium.”[12] Once his death was certified by the guards, the body of Jesus was then taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Roman guards then sealed the tomb, and secured it with a 24-hour watch.

Billy Graham...

Meanwhile, the disciples of Jesus were in shock. Dr. J. P. Moreland explains how devastated and confused they were after Jesus’ death on the cross. “They no longer had confidence that Jesus had been sent by God. They also had been taught that God would not let his Messiah suffer death. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks.”[13]

All hope was vanquished. Rome and the Jewish leaders had prevailed – or so it seemed.

To be continued….


Content excerpted from “Is Jesus God?” with attribution…


    1. Paul Edwards, “Great Minds: Bertrand Russell,” Free Inquiry, December 2004/January 2005, 46.
    2. R. C. Sproul, Reason to Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: Lamplighter, 1982), 44.
    3. Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s     Life, 1999), 203.
    4. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 16.
    5. Joseph Campbell, an interview with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, PBS TV special, 1988.
    6. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, eds, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 2.
    7. “What Is a Skeptic?” editorial in Skeptic, vol 11, no. 2), 5.
    8. Wilbur M. Smith, A Great Certainty in This Hour of World Crises (Wheaton, ILL: Van Kampen Press, 1951), 10, 11
    9. The Aramaic word Jesus uttered, tetelestai, is an accounting term meaning “debt paid in full,” referring to the debt of our sins.
    10. Historian Will Durant reported, “About the middle of this first century a pagan named Thallus … argued that the abnormal darkness alleged to have accompanied the death of Christ was a purely natural phenomenon and coincidence; the argument took the existence of Christ for granted. The denial of that existence never seems to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity.” Will Durant, “Caesar and Christ,” vol. 3 of The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 555.
    11. Lord Hailsham, The Door Wherein I Went (London: Collins, 1975), 54.
    12. Jim Bishop, The Day Jesus Died (New York: Harper Collins, 1977), 257.
    13. Quoted in J. P. Moreland interview, Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 246.


Face of Jesus by Richard Hook

Soli Deo Gloria!