Description: Various theories of resurrection/death exposed - swoon theory etc.
What is the Meaning of Life?
Theories for the Resurrection of Jesus
by Ernest O’Neill
One of the human beings that has lived on our earth has given us more information about why we’re here than
any other, and he is more believable than any other. There are all kinds of men who have tried to tell us what
the world is about and why we are here and what the meaning of life is.
There is Zoroaster, there is Buddha, there’s Muhammad. They’re all kinds of religious leaders, but one of them
is different from all the rest. All the rest died like ordinary men. They died and were buried. Their bones
could be dug up and we could prove that they were just like the rest of us, and what do they know that we
But one man was different from all of them. He was that man that we know and that we often use as a swear
word. He is that man Jesus of Nazareth. Now he was a different kind of person. He just was. He was different.
He was never seen again after he finally disappeared from the earth and he didn’t disappear from the earth at
He was killed and then a few days later he came back and lived for over a month among his friends and enemies.
Then he disappeared from the earth and his bones have never been found. He has given us all kinds of guidance
and proof that he was a different kind of being.
He seemed to know what went on before the world was created and what would go on after the world will end. In
other words, he knows more than any of the rest of us. That’s why we have been talking about him. We’re trying
to discuss the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
And, really, we’re all bound by the same limitations. We have never been off the earth, so what do we know?
But this man was off the earth as far as we can tell. He explained to us, “Look, I’m the Son of the maker of
the world and I actually can go in and out of death whenever I choose. And I’m going to, so that you know that
I am the maker of the world. And, in fact, that is exactly what he did.
When you and I try to blow apart the historical evidence of his overcoming death, we face ethical and
psychological difficulties that we cannot overcome. All of us, of course, from when we were school children,
have tried to explain this thing of the resurrection in all kinds of ways. Mostly, we explained it by the fact
that it was so long ago, and who could tell if it ever took place.
But as you begin to examine the documentary evidence that lies behind this piece of history we have of the
first century, you realize that the evidence is far stronger than the evidence we have for any of the Latin or
Greek authors that all of us accept without question as being historical and historically reliable.
Moreover, when we begin to try to examine whether what we have 1900 years after the event is what those people
wrote in the first century, we realize that there is better manuscript evidence behind this history than the
manuscript evidence behind any other history of a similar age.
So we have reached the point, you remember, in these discussions where we are faced with the fact that we are
dealing with one of the most reliable pieces of history that we possess as human beings when we discuss what
is popularly known as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but what is really the breaking of the death barrier
by one human being much like ourselves.
This human being seemed to be able to go in and out of time whenever He chose. Some of us, of course, have
taken the historical event that is recorded as the resurrection and we have tried to find other explanations
for it. You know what they are. We’ve tried it since we were school children.
Maybe the disciples stole the body and then gave out that this man had risen from the dead, because, of
course, they would gain a lot of fame from it and maybe they would derive a lot of wealth from it. The
difficulty is that they didn’t derive wealth or fame for it. They derived death and crucifixion and
destruction and persecution for themselves and their wives and children.
So, if they stole the body and then died for that lie, they were more stupid than we know men to be, because
men will die for what they think is true, but will not die for what they know to be untrue. Of course, you are
If you made up a lie that somebody had risen from the dead and then you began to tell all the people in the
world about that lie and because of that lie people persecuted you and destroyed your children, you would
eventually give in and say, “Wait a minute! No big deal. That was just a lie. That really didn’t happen.”
These men didn’t do that.
They kept on saying, “No, this man really did rise from the dead.” So there’s a psychological and ethical
impossibility in saying the disciples stole the body and then pretended that he was alive. There is a
difficulty, too, in saying that the Romans stole the body — because if the Romans stole the body all they had
to do to destroy this Christian sect was to parade the body through the streets of Jerusalem and say, “Here’s
your great hero. Here’s your great Son of God. He was just a man like the rest of you.” But, in fact, they
didn’t, because they did not steal the body.
Now some of us have said, “Well, maybe he just swooned. Maybe he wasn’t really dead.” Well, the Romans were
the experts in capital punishment. They were the experts in killing in those days. They were the military
power of the world. They made absolutely sure that anybody that they executed was really executed.
In fact, you remember, they normally came around and if anyone was found with any life left in them, they
broke his legs. Now they didn’t do that with Jesus because he was already dead. They simply thrust a spear in
his side, and blood and water came out and they were settled that he was dead. They buried him, you remember.
The disciples buried him because they felt there was no chance; this man is dead.
Some, of course, have said that maybe he just swooned. Maybe in the coolness of the tomb he revived and then
he got up and was able to walk around. Well, it doesn’t make any sense. How could a man who bled for hours
hanging on a cross with nails in his hands and a spear-hole in his side, how could he revive in the coolness
of a tomb and revive not only so much that he was able to struggle up and stand up, but that he could take off
the grave clothes that bound him; he could roll back the heavy stone that was across the mouth of the tomb and
he could appear on fourteen different occasions miles and miles apart from each other, often very quickly one
after another to thousands of people.
How was he able to convince them that he was not only half alive, struggling to be alive, but more alive than
he’d ever been before in his life? Well, it doesn’t make sense. It is more difficult to believe the swoon
theory than to believe the resurrection itself.
Some people, of course, have said that maybe it wasn’t a swoon. Maybe they just buried him in the wrong tomb,
and they went to the wrong tomb. They buried him in one tomb and then they went to the wrong one and found it
empty. Well, it wasn’t a public cemetery; it was a private burial ground, you remember. It belonged to Joseph
of Arimathea. It was the tomb he had prepared for his own body and there was only one such tomb.
So, no, they couldn’t go to the wrong tomb. Besides, they wouldn’t be allowed to continue in such an error
when it was such an important issue whether he was really alive or dead. So it is extremely difficult to get
rid of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus simply by the old chestnuts that we used to try out
when we were school children.
We need to see that actually those explanations are far more difficult to believe, and require far more
credulousness on the part of the hearers, than believing in the actual resurrection itself. Of course, the
other fact that we have to deal with when we deal with this historical fact or this historical event of the
resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, is the appearances, the post-resurrection appearances.
It is very difficult to say he did not destroy the barrier of death when you begin to examine the numbers of
times he appeared after he got up from being dead. He appeared, actually, above thirteen different occasions,
about thirteen or fourteen different occasions.
He appeared, on one occasion, to more than 500 people at one time. He appeared in different situations and he
appeared and did different things. You have to examine those appearances. You have to somehow explain away
those appearances in order to prove that this man did not really rise from the dead.
Let’s try to explain those appearances away tomorrow and in doing so let’s try to get rid of this idea that
this man Jesus was any different from the rest of us. Let’s see if we can do it. Let’s talk about this next