By Rebecca Megli, Baptist Press, April 8, 2000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students were addressed as the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” as Michael Whitehead provided evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Whitehead, interim president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has practiced law in Kansas City, Mo., for 25 years.

Before making his case, Whitehead explained how Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf came to the realization in the mid-1800s that the resurrection of Jesus is true. Greenleaf, who authored a three-volume treatise on the law of evidence, was one of the foremost lawyers of the century. As an agnostic, he saw no credible evidence that there is a God until he was challenged by students to apply the rules of evidence to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Greenleaf took the dare, and set out to prove the simple premise that “dead men stay dead.”

To demonstrate how Greenleaf came to his conclusion, Whitehead asked his audience to act as the jury and to treat the gospel accounts as eyewitness testimony given by deposition in a courtroom on the legal issue: “What happened to the dead body of Jesus?” Whitehead explained that the rules of evidence allow deposition testimony, even of dead witnesses, as well as “ancient documents more than 20 years old” under exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Calling his “first witness,” referring to John 19:38-42, Whitehead noted the “preparations” of the body of Jesus. The passage outlines the burial custom of the Jews — strips of linen were wrapped around the body interwoven, in this case, with 100 pounds of spices. Basically, Jesus’ body was in a 100-pound body cast, Whitehead said.

The next witness was Matthew, who stated in chapter 27, verse 60, of his deposition that Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb sealed with “a great stone.” Whitehead quoted lawyer-engineer J. Frank Morrison that the rock may have weighed one and a half to two tons. These were the “protections” given to the body of Jesus, Whitehead noted.

Continuing his deposition in verses 62-66, Matthew said highly trained Roman guards guarded the tomb and the seal of Rome was affixed to the stone. The death penalty was certain for any trespasser and for the guard unit if the seal were ever broken.

Yet, in spite of the preparations, the protections and the precautions, the facts in evidence are that the stone was rolled far away from the entrance on the Sunday morning, and the body was gone. So, Whitehead asked, “What happened to the body?”

The first theory ever offered was labeled by Whitehead as “the body snatchers theory,” that the friends of Jesus must have stolen the body. In fact, in Matthew’s “deposition” it was cited that the guards later testified that “while they were asleep” the disciples stole the body. Whitehead called the guards’ story “bought and paid for testimony” because it is “self-impeaching.” The guards said they were asleep, so how could they have known what happened? Also it’s unlikely they would have been asleep, because if that were true it meant they failed at the guard and would die.

A second theory was called the “swoon theory,” made popular by the book, The Passover Plot. The theory, as recapped by Whitehead, holds that maybe Jesus didn’t really die but was drugged so He would look dead. He was put in the tomb, where the cool air revived Him. He then escaped from the tomb and was mistaken for a risen Savior.

But, Whitehead asked, what about the testimony in John 19:33-34 that Jesus was pierced in the side with a spear, and that blood and water flowed out? Modern physiologists know this is proof of death, Whitehead said, adding that the Roman guards were professional executioners who knew death, and Jesus was dead.

Beyond this, the swoon theory ignores the other facts in evidence regarding the 100-pound body cast left behind on the slab, the two-ton boulder, and the sentries guarding the tomb and the Roman seal with their lives, Whitehead said.

The resurrection theory, based on the disciples’ testimonies, is the only one that fits all the facts and evidence, Whitehead said.

The disciples died martyrs’ deaths to attest to their testimony that Jesus was alive again on Sunday and was seen for 40 days thereafter, Whitehead said. Jesus said He did it because He is God, dying for man’s sin, offering resurrection life eternally for all who will receive Him, Whitehead recounted.

When Greenleaf realized that the evidence proves Jesus is God, he received Christ as his Savior and Lord and it changed his life, Whitehead said. “If Jesus was alive again in 33 A.D.,” Whitehead concluded, “He’s alive today because He is God. You can receive Him by repentance and faith. That will change your life, and that is the message of Easter.”


by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

“Raised from the dead? Sure. Right. And I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.”

That’s how Thomas might have responded if he had lived today. “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it” (The Bible, John 20:25). He’d seen dead people before. And Jesus was dead. He sounds like sophisticated rationalists of the twenty-first century. “It isn’t plausible,” they would contend. “It didn’t happen.”

But what if it did happen?

Thomas was convinced when Jesus appeared to him, reached out His hands to Thomas, and said, “Put your finger here.”

Thomas dropped to his knees. “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28).

It was self-hypnosis, you counter. The disciples wanted to believe that their Lord was not dead, so they just invented it out of whole cloth.

Really? Let’s look at some of the evidence.

First, Jesus’ body was missing. If the Jews could have found it, they could have stilled the preaching of Jesus’ resurrection that filled Jerusalem. But they could not.

Next, the body wasn’t stolen. The Romans had no motive. The Jews had no motive. Aha, you say, the disciples stole it. There is the matter of the Roman guards, and the disciples’ initial disbelief when the women brought them the news early that Easter morning. This brings me to my third point.

If the disciples had stolen the body, you wouldn’t expect them to risk their lives. People don’t die for what they know is not true. But the disciples put their lives on the line, and nearly all were eventually martyred for their faith. They certainly believed it.

Followers of Jesus in the city of Jerusalem grew from a few dozen to thousands upon thousands soon after Jesus’ resurrection. They believed it was true.

Even contemporary documents refer to the event. The writings of Thallus the Samaritan, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny all contain references to Jesus. Jewish historian Josephus writes about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. They knew something had happened.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is actually more plausible than any other explanation. That’s why we Christians make such a big deal about Easter. That’s why we celebrate.

Jesus’ resurrection means that death is not the end. That though my body may lie moldering in the ground, Jesus, whom the Father raised from the dead, gives me eternal life. Ultimately, we Christians believe, our bodies, too, will be raised from the dead.

And since Jesus is not dead, people can encounter Him today. You can know Him through a personal relationship. I could point to lots of people who can testify what Jesus has done in their lives to bring them from the brink of disaster to peace and meaning and joy. He changes people for good.

If you’re not sure if you’ve met this Man who was dead and is now alive, why don’t you seek Him out? Just ask Him to come and make Himself real to you. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door [of your heart] and knock. If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him”(Revelation 3:20). Invite Him in. You’ll see what Easter is all about.

Case for the Resurrection, Copyright © 1998-2012, The Family International