If you were going to make up a religion and base it on the resurrection of the founder, you wouldn’t bury his body in the very city that he was put to death in, put his name on the outside of his ossuary and then also bury other members of his family in the same grave as The Jesus Family Tomb says. That would be foolish. No, you would get rid of the body, burn it, bury it, etc. Then you could more safely move about the city telling people, “Ah, our leader has risen!” And then if you were found out, you certainly wouldn’t persist with your story under the threat of death; you would come clean to save your life by admitting that the whole thing was a poorly thought out attempt at deception. Jesus’ disciples were not foolish enough to do any of these things. Their leader, Jesus, really had risen from the grave. They knew that, and they laid down their lives testifying to that fact. Their willingness to die at the hands of skeptics is compelling evidence that they were telling the truth.
Suppose that no resurrection or miracles occurred: how then could a dozen men, poor, coarse, and apprehensive, turn the world upside down? If Jesus did not rise from the dead, declares Ditton, then either we must believe that a small, unlearned band of deceivers overcame the powers of the world and preached an incredible doctrine over the face of the whole earth, which in turn received this fiction as the sacred truth of God; or else, if they were not deceivers, but enthusiasts, we must believe that these extremists, carried along by the impetus of extravagant fancy, managed to spread a falsity that not only common folk, but statesmen and philosophers as well, embraced as the sober truth. Because such a scenario is simply unbelievable, the message of the apostles, which gave birth to Christianity, must be true.
Belief in Jesus’ resurrection flourished in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified. If the people of Jerusalem thought that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, few would have been prepared to believe such nonsense as that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And, even if they had so believed, the Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair simply by pointing to Jesus’ tomb or perhaps even exhuming the body as decisive proof that Jesus had not been raised.
Three great, independently established facts—the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith—all point to the same marvelous conclusion: that God raised Jesus from the dead.
It will not do … to say that Jesus’ disciples were so stunned and shocked by his death, so unable to come to terms with it, that they projected their shattered hopes onto the screen of fantasy and invented the idea of Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. That has an initial apparent psychological plausibility, but it won’t work as serious first-century history. We know of lots of other messianic and similar movements in the Jewish world roughly contemporary with Jesus. In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of the authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better. ‘Resurrection’ was not a private event. It involved human bodies. There would have to be an empty tomb somewhere. A Jewish revolutionary whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest himself, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader. We have evidence of people doing both. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was.