Was Jesus resurrected from the dead?
8) did Jesus remove himself?

"The Cross is a gibbet - rather an odd thing to make use of as a talisman against bad luck, if that is how we regard it."

- Denis Johnston

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

- 1 Cor. 1:18 NASB

5.8 Did Jesus remove himself?


If he was not dead and managed to extract himself from the tomb, that would explain the confusion over his missing body, the disciples' certainty unto death that he was alive, and some of the appearances he made to various witnesses. All of these factors contributed to the fervency that has resulted in two thousand years of Christianity and the church. There are four areas to look at concerning the possibility that Jesus was not resurrected but instead removed himself from the tomb:


The first prerequisite for Jesus to have extricated himself from his tomb is for him to have survived the crucifixion, including everything before and afterwards. Jesus was arrested late at night and immediately taken through a series of six consecutive trials and interrogations ending in his crucifixion the next day. Whatever lay ahead of him would have to be done without the benefit of a night's sleep. He also received three separate beatings; the first by the men guarding him during the Pharisees' trial, the second after the crowd demanded he be crucified, and the third by the governor's soldiers just before he was led to Pilate for final questioning.

Customarily, prisoners sentenced to be crucified were whipped with a flagrum. A flagrum was a rod ending in leather strips having jagged bone fragments attached. He was then forced to carry the horizontal member of the cross which he was to be crucified on (the patibulum) through the streets and out of the city. He did so until finally another man had to be seized to complete the journey.

Arriving at Golgotha, he then had spikes driven through his hands and feet. Typically these were five to seven inches long and three-eights inch square. 2 (Archaeological evidence by which a typical crucifixion may be confirmed lies with the remains of Yohanan Ben Ha'galgal. This crucifixion victim was discovered in 1968 at tombs in Ras el-Masaref, north of Jerusalem. 3)

After Jesus had hung several hours upon the cross suspended by spikes, the Roman guards stated their belief that Jesus had died. As evening approached, the legs of the other two victims were broken to hasten their deaths for the approaching special Sabbath. The guards, wanting to confirm Jesus was dead, instead deeply pierced his side with a spear thrust. Their experience interpreted the separation of blood and fluids that emerged as confirmation of his death.

He was later taken down, wrapped with at least seventy-five pounds of spices (typically in a gummy paste), wrapped in linen, placed in the tomb, and a boulder was rolled in front of the entrance. If Jesus did not die up to this point, or suffocate from the wrappings pasted tightly to his face and body, he had three days to recover for the next step: escape.


If Jesus escaped, the first step was the removal of the linen wrappings in which he was bound head to toe. Then either he single-handedly pushed away the one or two ton rock from the tomb entrance, or an enormous earthquake timely and fortuitously knocked it away. At this point, perhaps the guards fled out of shock, or perhaps Jesus had to disarm and defeat them so that out of shame they fabricated the story of the angel.


Very shortly after his escape, Jesus was seen by Mary Magdalene and the other women. They not only saw him but he talked with them (or so they thought he did). Later that day he walked and talked with Cleopas and Simon on the road to Emmaus (or so they thought he did) and he appeared among his disciples for them to see and touch (or so they thought he did). His appearance was such that all who saw him believed he had conquered death and rose anew.

Over the next forty days Jesus continued to appear among them (or so they though he did), discussed the kingdom of God, ate with them, and was last reported to have ascended into the sky (or so they thought he did).


Finally, if Christ had managed all of this fraudulently, he must have then removed himself from the scene so that whenever he did die, it was in anonymity. This so that the body of Jesus of Nazareth was neither seen nor heard from again. This, of course, begs the unanswerable question of what was Jesus' motive.

If Jesus' motive was not to stick around and cash in on the facade he nearly died trying to forge and to be worshipped as the God so many thought he was, why did he disappear? Is that the real story of Jesus the almost-Christ?

This story line suffers from a closer resemblance to Hollywood action films than reality. In film, the hero can take any measure of punishment. The hero, though bloodied, beaten, and dying, can still manage to overcome the heartiest platoon of maniacal pursuers. But in reality, we know people who call in sick at the first sign that they think something hurts. I make this absurd comparison to emphasize that Jesus - abandoned, deprived, scourged, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, punctured, crucified, speared, bound, and entombed - was not just kicking back in order to get his second wind.

It is unreasonable to believe Jesus suddenly felt better, burst out of his burial wrap, quietly displaced a huge sealing boulder, dispersed a Roman guard unit of probably sixteen men, appeared all over the countryside right under the noses of those who desperately wanted him dead, convinced friends, family, and strangers of his perfect health and immortality, and faked the world's greatest disappearing act before hundreds of people in broad daylight; all in conclusion to a lifetime of otherwise telling the truth and delivering the most influential teachings ever given.


Skeptics may read all of these explanations and retort, "Christians say his survival, escape, and behavior is an unreasonable fantasy - well so is the claim he resurrected from the dead!" This is the impasse to which everyone comes: the choice between two incredible conclusions:

1.) "It's too unreasonable to believe that Jesus was God incarnate and came back from the dead - something that has never happened before or since! Jesus is no resurrected Messiah."


2.) "It's too unreasonable to believe that all of this would happen in accordance with the numerous and detailed prophecies which the Dead Sea Scrolls recorded centuries prior and Jesus not be the Messiah! Jesus must be the resurrected Messiah."

Which choice is more reasonable than the other?

A third choice which many people make, perhaps most people these days, is simply to not choose. They refrain from drawing any conclusion in the relaxed expectation that someday a more palatable option will come along. But electing not to choose is a choice itself. In terms of the introductory allegory, it leaves us on that supposedly sinking ship; it leaves us not trusting in the belief that Jesus is the risen Messiah, the Christ, the Lord and Savior. (The analogy is continued and concluded in an interesting manner here.)

The reiteration of this point may present an uncomfortable pressure for the listener, but in all honesty it truly is an uncomfortable pressure; one which God intended this message to carry. The choice God gives us to either believe or not believe is very profound, very important, and very much at hand. What's your choice?



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See also:

What do we know about Jesus from non-biblical sources?

Do miracles really happen?

What is the gospel?

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If the correct tomb was identified and neither Jesus' friends nor enemies took his body, the last alternative to explain the empty tomb is to look to Jesus himself.

Did he die and rise on the third day, or was he not dead at all?

This section explores the manner and likelihood of how Jesus might have removed himself from that tomb.