Richard Dawkins was asked, “What do you think happened to the body of Jesus, and how does that tally with the accounts of the resurrection?” His answer was, “Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk.” Dawkins’ status as a sceptic and opponent of Christianity is well known. Is he correct in his assessment of Jesus’ resurrection? Is the Biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection just a ‘fairy tale’?
Dawkins is not the first sceptic. The original sceptics of the resurrection were actually those who were closest to Jesus, those who subsequently proclaimed the Good News of a resurrected Christ. But in the days after Jesus’ resurrection they weren’t out in the streets fearlessly proclaiming the glory of the cross or Jesus’ victory over the grave. They were hiding behind locked doors, terrified that the Jews would find them. They were disappointed, despondent and disillusioned after the brutal death of the person they believed was the Messiah. We read in the Scriptures that only a few women were brave enough to visit Jesus’ burial place. They had prepared spices, and wanted to provide Jesus with some dignity in his death.
Nothing however could have prepared these courageous ladies for what happened. They found that Jesus’ body was not in his tomb, and were subsequently confronted by angels. When they returned to tell the apostles of their profound revelation, these men’s response was that the women’s “words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Despite the many instances where Jesus had told his disciples that he would be killed, and then after three days rise from the dead, they viewed the women’s testimony as being fictional.
That first Sunday evening after Jesus’ crucifixion, he appeared in his resurrected body to the disciples. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli write that the “consequences of the resurrection can be seen by comparing the disciples before and after. Before, they ran away, denied their Master and huddled behind locked doors in fear and confusion. After, they were transformed from scared rabbits into confident saints, world-changing missionaries, courageous martyrs and joy-filled touring ambassadors for Christ.” The transformation of the disciples is one evidence of the truthfulness of the resurrection. After all, what else would have convinced the apostles to extricate themselves from behind locked doors to risk their lives proclaiming an extremely unpopular message? Many of these men would die for their faith and preaching! Only a fool would be willing to die for a myth!
A further evidence that the resurrection was not created by the church, but rather that the church was created by the resurrection, is the fact that women were the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection. If the early church had made up the resurrection story, they would never have had their primary witnesses as women. The reason for this is that in the first century AD a woman’s testimony wasn’t worth much, indeed, it wasn’t even admissible in the court of law.
If Jesus had not truly risen from the grave, the frightened, confused disciples would never have emerged from behind their locked doors to become fearless preachers. Nothing but a resurrected Jesus could have roused the original sceptics from their unbelief. If the church had made up the resurrection story, they wouldn’t have had their primary witnesses as women. These two points of consideration, together with Luke’s reputation as a historian of the highest rank, point to the resurrection of Jesus not being an idle tale, but rather a historical fact.