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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 himand 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 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 tookthe 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 Christ 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 Messiahhow 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.
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In 1965, Hugh Schonfield published a 287-page volume titled The Passover Plot. 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." Rather than suffering fatal torment, Jesus merely swooned.
To ensure Jesus' safe removal from the cross, Joseph and an unidentified Jew concocted a plan in which Jesus would be given "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.'" Thus, the tomb was empty due not to resurrection, but to resuscitation.
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 Messiahthe Son of Man, as he thought of himself, but not the Son of Godwho had been foretold by Jewish prophets of old, and that this is glory enough." Bible scholar William Barclay called The Passover Plot "a book of enormous learning and erudition, meticulously documented." This despite the fact that Schonfield himself admitted that it is "an imaginative reconstruction of the personality, aims and activities of Jesus," in which such characters as the unidentified Jew emerge out of thin air.
The Swoon Theory
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.
Despite the fact that the swoon theory has been soundly refuted by academia, it is still regurgitated ad nauseum in the public arena. 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.
In 1929, D. H. Lawrence fantasized that, after surviving crucifixion, Jesus ended up in Egypt. There he fell in love with the priestess Isis. In 1972, Donovan Joyce published The Jesus Scroll. Christian philosopher Gary Habermas explains that, in Joyce's rendition of the story, Jesus was apparently revived by a doctor who had been planted in the tomb ahead of time. The doctor was assisted by none other than Jesus' uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. In Joyce's fanciful reconstruction, Jesus is an "eighty-year-old defender of Masada who apparently died while fighting the Romans during the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-73." In this scrolled autobiography, Jesus is married to Mary Magdalene, is a revolutionary zealot who wars with the Romans, and in the end retires as a monk at Qumran.
In 1992, Barbara Thiering produced an even more outrageous version of the swoon theory. Historian Edwin Yamauchi points out that Thiering, who is a professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, uses the New Testament as a "coded commentary" to reinterpret the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Thiering's mind-boggling tale, Jesus is crucified along with Simon Magus and Judas at Qumran, imbibes snake poison to fake his death, upon recovering marries Mary Magdalene, and later falls in love with Lydia of Philippi. Despite the fact that Thiering's revolting reconstruction is devoid of rhyme or reason, it has received rave reviews in a wide variety of public forums, ranging from radio to television.
The Twin Theory
The swoon theory is not the only novel notion that critics of Christianity have used to explain away the resurrection. Another is the twin theory. In a 1995 debate with Christian apologist William Lane Craig, philosopher Robert Greg Cavin contended that Jesus had an identical twin brother, whom he names Hurome. Hurome is separated from Jesus at birth and does not see him again until the time of the crucifixion. Upon stumbling into Jerusalem, he sees his mirror image on the cross and realizes that the Jesus of Nazareth he had previously heard so much about was in reality his identical twin. He immediately concocts a messianic mission for Christ and carries it out by stealing the body and pretending to be the resurrected Christ. During the debate, Craig summarizes Cavin's version of the story as follows:
Jesus had an unknown identical twin who impersonated Jesus after the crucifixion, thereby convincing people that he was risen from the dead. Remember the movie Daveyou know the one where the presidential double takes over the U.S. presidency when the real president falls into a comawell [Cavin's] theory is a sort of Dave theory of the resurrection. Jesus' unknown twin stole Jesus' body out of the tomb and impersonated Jesus before the disciples. Now, if you are wondering why nobody knew about Jesus' twin brother that's because on [Cavin's] theory unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph their real baby got accidentally switched with one member of a pair of identical twins. So the person that we call Jesus wasn't really Mary's child at all and his twin brother grew up independently Of him.
Craig goes on to say that theories like the twin theory may make great comedy, but no one should take them seriouslyparticularly no one such as Cavin, whose research has forced him to agree that Christ was fatally tormented, that the tomb was empty, that the disciples were convinced Jesus had appeared to them, and that as a result of the resurrection their lives were utterly transformed.
The Muslim Theory
Other hypotheses used to explain away the biblical account of the resurrection emanate from world religions, such as Islam. From a Muslim perspective, Jesus was never crucified and, thus, never resurrected. As Christian philosopher Norman Geisler explains, orthodox Muslims have traditionally held that "Jesus was not crucified on the cross, but that God made someone else look like Jesus and this person was mistakenly crucified as Christ. And the words `God raised him up unto Himself' have often been taken to mean that Jesus was taken up alive to heaven without dying."
There are a wide variety of opinions in the Muslim world as to whom God substituted for Jesus. Possible candidates range from Judas Iscariot to Pilate to Simon of Cyrene or even to one of Christ's inner circle. Some Muslims contend that one of the disciples volunteered to take on the likeness of Christ while others contend that God involuntarily caused one of Christ's enemies to take on his appearance. Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb cite Baidawi, a thirteenth-century scholar whose writings have been regarded as a virtual holy book by Sunni Muslims, as a case in point:
It is related that a group of Jews reviled [Jesus] ... then the Jews gathered to kill him. Whereupon Allah informed him that he would take him up to heaven. Then [Jesus] said to his disciples, "Which one of you is willing to have my likeness cast upon him, and be killed and crucified and enter Paradise?" One of them accepted, and Allah cast the likeness of [Jesus] upon him, and he was killed and crucified. It is said also that he was one who acted the hypocrite toward [Jesus], and went out to lead the Jews to him. But Allah cast the likeness of [Jesus] upon him, and he was taken and crucified and killed.
Geisler and Saleeb go on to note that "the view that Judas replaced Christ on the cross was again recently popularized in the Muslim world by The Gospel of Barnabas."
Muslims also disagree on what happened to Jesus. A majority, however, "contend that Jesus escaped the cross by being taken up to heaven and that one day he will come back to earth and play a central role in the future events. Based on some of the alleged sayings of Muhammad, Muslims believe that, just before the end of time, Jesus will come back to earth, kill the Antichrist (al-Dajjal), kill all pigs, break the cross, destroy the synagogues and churches, establish the religion of Islam, live for forty years, and then he will be buried in the city of Medina beside the prophet Muhammad."
The Watchtower Theory
Other theories concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be found in the kingdom of the cults. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, are not only famous for denying the deity of Jesus Christ, but for denying his bodily resurrection as well. Their contention is that Jesus was created by God as the archangel Michael, that during his earthly sojourn he became merely human, and that after his crucifixion he was re-created as an immaterial spirit creature. As the Watchtower organization puts it, "the King Christ Jesus was put to death in the flesh and was resurrected an invisible spirit creature. Therefore the world will see him no more. He went to prepare a heavenly place for his associate heirs, `Christ's body,' for they too will be invisible spirit creatures."
Furthermore, Jehovah's Witnesses assert that a physical resurrection would not have been a tremendous triumph; it would have been a hopeless humiliation. In their view, it would mean that after reigning as the archangel Michael, Jesus was reduced to a human being and did not subsequently regain his former status as an exalted spirit creature. Thus, according to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, "Jesus did not take his human body to heaven to be forever a man in heaven. Had he done so, that would have left him even lower than the angels.... God did not purpose for Jesus to be humiliated thus forever by being a fleshly man forever. No, but after he had sacrificed his perfect manhood, God raised him to deathless life as a glorious spirit creature."
To explain away the empty tomb, Jehovah's Witnesses argue that the physical body of Jesus was discarded and destroyed. In the words of the Watchtower, "The human body of flesh, which Jesus Christ laid down forever as a ransom sacrifice, was disposed of by God's power." Thus, instead of rising from the dead, "the fleshly body of Jesus Christ was disposed of on earth by Almighty God and not taken to heaven by Jesus." In the view of Watchtower founder Charles Taze Russell, the body that hung on the cross either "dissolved into gasses" or is "preserved somewhere as the grand memorial of God's love."
Finally, it should be noted that Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to explain away the post-resurrection appearances of Christ by suggesting that "the bodies in which Jesus manifested himself to his disciples after his return to life were not the body in which he was nailed to the tree. They were merely materialized for the occasion, resembling on one or two occasions the body in which he died, but on the majority of occasions being unrecognizable by his most intimate disciples." If Jehovah's Witnesses are correct, Jesus fooled his disciples into thinking he had physically risen from the grave by appearing in a variety of disparate bodies. In their words, "he appeared in different bodies. He appeared and disappeared just as the angels had done, because he was resurrected as a spirit creature. Only because Thomas would not believe did Jesus appear in a body like that in which he had died."
The Greatest Feat or a Gargantuan Fraud?
If devotees of the kingdom of the cults, adherents of world religions, or liberal scholars are correct, the biblical account of the resurrection is fiction, fantasy, or a gargantuan fraud. If, on the other hand, Christianity is factually reliable, the resurrection is the greatest feat in human history. As Christian 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."
Wilbur Smith points out that, from the very first, the Christian church has unanimously borne witness to the immutable fact of Christ's resurrection. Says Smith, "It is what we may call one of the great fundamental doctrines and convictions of the church, and so penetrates the literature of the New Testament, that if you lifted out every passage in which a reference is made to the Resurrection, you would have a collection of writings so mutilated that what remained could not be understood."
The Book of Acts is a classic case in point. In Acts 1, Matthias is chosen to replace Judas as a witness of the resurrection. In Acts 2, Peter, in his powerful Pentecost proclamation, thunders, "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact" (vv. 29-32).
In Acts 3, at a place called Solomon's Colonnade, Peter said to the men of Israel, "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this" (vv. 13-15). In Acts 4, we read that the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees were so disturbed by the preaching of Peter and John that they threw them into prison for "proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead" (v. 2). Likewise, in Acts 5, the apostles face a flogging for testifying that God "raised Jesus from the dead" (v. 30).
In Acts 10, Peter, at a large gathering of people in the house of Cornelius, testifies to the resurrection, saying, "We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosenby us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (vv. 39-41).
In Acts 13, the spotlight moves from Peter to Paul. After leaving Perga, Paul went on to Pisidian, Antioch. There in his synagogue sermon this persecutor-turned-proselytizer proclaims that the people of Jerusalem and their rulers asked Pilate to have Jesus condemned to death despite the fact that they found no warrant for his crucifixion. Says Paul:
When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: "I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David." So it is stated elsewhere: "You will not let your Holy One see decay."
For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. (Acts 13:29-37)
In Acts 17, we find Paul in Athens, passionately preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. After a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, Paul stood up and addressed the crowd as follows:
"Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.'
Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stonean image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." (Acts 17:22-32)
Many other such passages from Dr. Luke's Acts of the Apostles could be cited. Suffice it to say, Wilbur Smith was absolutely right. Without the resurrection, not only Acts, but the whole of Scripture would be a disfigured document devoid of definition. The resurrection so radically changed the lives of Christ's followers that it was engraved on their tombs and depicted on the walls of their catacombs. In addition, "it entered deeply into Christian hymnology; it became one of the most vital themes of the great apologetic writings of the first four centuries; it was the theme constantly dwelt upon in the preaching of the ante-Nicene and post-Nicene period. It entered at once into the creedal formulae of the church; it is in our Apostles' Creed; it is in all the great creeds that followed."
Smith goes on to note that "the burden of the good news or gospel was not `Follow this Teacher and do your best,' but, `Jesus and the Resurrection.' You cannot take that away from Christianity without radically altering its character and destroying its very identity." Paul, along with the rest of the apostles, made it crystal-clear that no middle ground exists. The resurrection is history or hoax, miracle or myth, fact or fantasy. Says Paul:
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More 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)