The Resurrection of Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

In our modern, educated day, we sometimes wonder if traditional beliefs, especially ones about the Bible, are only out-dated superstitions.  The Bible recounts many incredible miracles. But probably the Good Friday and First-Fruits story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead after his crucifixion seems the most unbelievable. 

Is Jesus Resurrected?
John Singleton Copley, PD-US-expired, via Wikimedia Commons

Is there any logical evidence to take this account of Jesus rising from the dead seriously?  Surprising to many, a strong case can be made that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. And this comes from an argument based on historical data. It is based on evidence and reason, not on religious belief.

This question is worth careful investigation since it directly impacts our own lives. After all, we all will die, no matter how much money, education, health and other goals we achieve in life. If Jesus has defeated death then it gives a real hope in the face of our own approaching death.  Let’s look at the main historical data and the evidence for his resurrection.

The fact that Jesus existed and died a public death that has altered the course of history is certain. One need not look to the Bible to verify that. Secular history records several references to Jesus and the impact he made on the world of his day.

Let’s look at two.

Tacitus: Historical Reference to Jesus

The Roman governor-historian Tacitus referenced Jesus when recording how the Roman Emperor Nero executed 1st-century Christians (in CE 65). Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome and then proceeded with an extermination campaign against them. Here is what Tacitus wrote in 112 CE:

‘Nero.. punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also’

Tacitus. Annals XV. 44
Nero, the Roman emperor

Tacitus confirms that:

  1. Jesus was a historical person;
  2. He was executed by Pontius Pilate;
  3. By 65 CE (the time of Nero) the Christian faith had spread across the Mediterranean from Judea to Rome. Also, it had done so with such force that the Roman Emperor felt he had to deal with it.

Notice that Tacitus is saying these things as a hostile witness. We know this because he labels the movement that Jesus started as a ‘wicked superstition’. He opposes it but does not deny its historicity.

Josephus: Historical Reference to Jesus

Josephus was a first century CE Jewish military leader/historian writing to Romans. He summarized the history of the Jews from their beginning up to his time. In doing so. he also covered the time and career of Jesus with these words: 

‘At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive’

Josephus. 90 CE. Antiquities xviii. 33

Josephus confirms that:

  1. Jesus existed,
  2. He was a religious teacher,
  3. His disciples publicly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

So it seems from these glimpses back into the past that the death of Jesus was a well-known event. Additionally, his disciples were publicly forcing the contention of his resurrection onto the Greco-Roman world. 

Historical Background from the Bible

Luke, a physician and historian provides further details as to how this faith advanced in the ancient world. Here is his excerpt from the book of Acts in the Bible: 

‘The priests and the captain … came up to Peter and John … They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead…They seized Peter and John… put them in jail…When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished… “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked.’

Acts 4: 1-16

‘Then the high priest and all his associates,… arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. …they were furious and wanted to put them to death….They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.’

Acts 5: 17-40
Apostles Arrested

We can see that the authorities went to great lengths to stop this new belief. These initial controversies and persecutions occurred in Jerusalem. This is the same city where only a few weeks earlier Jesus had been publicly executed and entombed. 

From this historical data, we can investigate the resurrection by weighing all the possible alternatives. Then we can decide which one makes the most sense. We do not have to prejudge by ‘faith’ any supernatural resurrection.

The body of Jesus and the Tomb 

We have only two alternatives concerning the body of the crucified and dead Jesus. Either the tomb was empty on that Easter Sunday morning or it still contained his body.  There are no other options. 

Let’s assume that his body remained in the tomb. As we reflect on the unfolding historical events, however, difficulties quickly arise.

Why would the Roman and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem have to take such extreme measures to stop stories of a resurrection if the body was still in the tomb?

All the historical sources we surveyed indicated hostility by the authorities to the claim of the resurrection. Yet this tomb lay right beside the disciples’ public proclamations of his rising from the dead in Jerusalem! If the body of Jesus was still in the tomb it would have been a simple matter for the authorities to parade Christ’s body in front of everyone. This would have discredited the fledgling movement without having to imprison, torture, and finally martyr them.

Jesus’ Tomb must have been empty

Consider further, thousands were converted to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem at this time. Suppose you had been one of those in the crowds listening to Peter, wondering if his incredible message was believable. (After all, it came with persecution). Would you not have at least taken your lunch break to go to the tomb and take a look for yourself to see if the body was still there?

If the body of Christ was still in the tomb this movement would not have gained any followers in such a hostile environment with such incriminating counter evidence on-hand.

So Christ’s body remaining in the tomb leads to absurdities. It does not make sense. 

Did the disciples steal the body? 

Of course, there are other possible explanations for an empty tomb apart from a resurrection. However, any explanation for the body’s disappearance must also account for these details:  the Roman seal over the tomb, the Roman patrol guarding the tomb, the large (1-2 ton) stone covering the tomb entrance, and the 40 kg of embalming agent on the body. The list goes on. Space does not allow us to look at all factors and scenarios to explain the missing body. But the most contemplated explanation has always been that the disciples themselves stole the body from the tomb. Then they hid it somewhere and were able to mislead others. 

Assume this scenario. Avoid for the sake of argument some of the difficulties in explaining how the discouraged band of disciples who fled for their lives at his arrest could re-group and come up with a plan to steal the body. Three days after they fled at his arrest they planned and executed a most daring commando raid. They totally outwitted the Roman guard. They then broke the seal, moved the massive rock, and made off with the embalmed body. All this without suffering any casualties (since they all remained alive to become injury-free public witnesses shortly afterwards).  Assume that they successfully managed this and then they stepped onto the world stage to start a new faith based on their deception.

The Disciples Motivation: Their Belief in the Resurrection

Many of us today think that what motivated the disciples was the need to proclaim brotherhood and love among men. But look back to the account from both Luke and Josephus. You will note that the contentious issue was “the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead”. This theme is paramount in their writings. Notice how Paul, another apostle, rates the importance of Jesus’ resurrection: 

For … I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died …buried, that he was raised on the third day… he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.. If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless … your faith is futile…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men…. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised – ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’… .

I Corinthians 15: 3-32 (57 CE) 

Who would die for what they knew was a lie?

Clearly, the disciples placed the importance of Jesus’ resurrection, and their witness of it, as central to their message.  Assume that this was really false. The disciples had really stolen the body from the tomb so the counter-evidence against their message could not expose them. They may then have successfully fooled the world. But they themselves, in their hearts and minds, would have known that what they were preaching, writing and creating great upheaval for was false. Yet they gave their lives (literally) for this mission. Why would they do it – IF they knew the basis for it was false?

People give themselves to causes because they believe in the cause for which they fight. Alternatively, they do so because they expect some benefit from the cause. If the disciples had stolen and hid the body, they of all people would know that the resurrection was false. Consider from their own words what price the disciples paid for the spreading of their message. Ask yourself if you would pay such a personal price for a cause that you knew to be false: 

The Personal Price Paid by the Disciples

We are hard pressed on every side… perplexed… persecuted, struck down… outwardly we are wasting away…in great endurance, in troubles, hardships, distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger… beaten … sorrowful … poor … having nothing… ..Five times I received from the Jews the 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, … , I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, my own countrymen, from Gentiles, in the city, in the country, in the sea. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst… I have been cold and naked… Who is weak and I do not feel weak.

II Corinthians 4: 8– 6:10; 11:24-29 

The Heroic Courage of the Disciples – They must have believed it

The more I consider their unshrinking heroism over decades of suffering and persecution, the more I find it impossible that they did not sincerely believe their message. Not one disciple cracked at the bitter end and ‘confessed’ to avoid execution. None of them gained any worldly advantage from their messages, like wealth, power, and easy life. That all of them could so steadfastly and publicly maintain their message for so long demonstrates that they believed it. They held it as an unassailable conviction. But if they believed it they certainly could not have stolen and disposed of Jesus’ body. A renowned criminal lawyer, who taught law students at Harvard how to probe for weaknesses in witnesses, had this to say about the disciples:

“The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unflinching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted”

Greenleaf. 1874. An examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. p.29 

… Compared against historical silence of those in power

Related to this is the silence of the authorities – Jewish and Roman. These hostile witnesses never seriously attempted to tell the ‘real’ story, or show how the disciples were wrong. As Dr. Montgomery states, 

“This underscores the reliability of testimony to Christ’s resurrection which was presented contemporaneously in the synagogues – in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case … had the facts been otherwise”

Montgomery, 1975. Legal Reasoning and Christian Apologetics. p88-89
Jesus is Resurrected!

We do not have the space to consider every facet of this question. However, the unwavering boldness of the disciples and the silence of the contemporaneous hostile authorities speak volumes that there is a case for Christ having risen. This is worth taking a serious and thoughtful examination.  One way to do so is to understand it in its Biblical context. A great place to start are the Signs of Abraham as well as Moses. Though they lived over a thousand years before Jesus, they prophetically foretold his death and resurrection.  Isaiah also prophesied the resurrection 750 years before it happened.

Is the Bible textually Reliable? Or has it been corrupted?

Textual Criticism and the Bible

Ancient Bible Manuscripts

In our scientific and educated age, we question many of the non-scientific beliefs that earlier generations had.  This skepticism is especially true of the Bible.  Many of us question the reliability of the Bible from what we know about it.  After all, the Bible was written more than two thousand years ago.  But for most of these millennia, there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies.  So the original manuscripts were copied by hand, generation after generation. Concurrently, languages died out and new ones arose, empires changed and new powers ascended. 

Since the original manuscripts have long been lost, how do we know that what we read today in the Bible is what the original authors actually wrote?  Perhaps the Bible was changed or corrupted. Maybe church leaders, priests, bishops, or monks did so because they wished to change its message for their purposes.

Principles of Textual Criticism

Naturally, this question is true of any ancient writing.  Textual Criticism is the academic discipline of determining whether an ancient text has changed from its original composition until today. Because it is an academic discipline it applies to any ancient writing from any language.  This article explains some basic principles of Textual Criticism and applies them to the Bible to determine its reliability.

This diagram shows an example of a hypothetical document written 500 BCE. The original text did not last long. So before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it must be made (1st copy). A professional class of people called scribes did the copying. As the years advance, scribes make copies (2nd & 3rd copy) of the 1st copy. At some point a copy is preserved so that it exists today (the 3rd copy).

Timeline of our example document

Principle 1: Manuscript Time Intervals

In our example diagram, scribes produced this extant copy in 500 CE. So this means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the text is only after 500 CE. Therefore the time from 500 BCE to 500 CE (labeled x in the diagram) forms the period of textual uncertainty. Even though the original was written long before, all manuscripts before 500 CE have vanished. Therefore we cannot evaluate copies from this period.

Thus, the first principle used in textual criticism is to measure this time interval.  The shorter this interval x, the more confidence we can place in the correct preservation of the document to our time, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Principle 2: The number of existing manuscripts

The second principle used in Textual criticism is to count the number of existing manuscripts today. Our example illustration above showed that only one manuscript is available (the 3rd copy). But usually, more than one manuscript copy exists today. The more manuscripts in existence in the present day, the better the manuscript data. Then historians can compare copies against other copies to see if and how much these copies deviate from each other. So the number of manuscript copies available becomes the second indicator determining the textual reliability of ancient writings.

Textual Criticism of Classical Greco-Roman writings compared to New Testament

These principles apply to any ancient writings. So let us now compare New Testament manuscripts with other ancient manuscripts that scholars accept as reliable. This Table lists some well-known ones…

AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime Span
Caesar50 BC900 AD95010
Plato350 BC900 AD12507
Aristotle*300 BC1100 AD14005
Thucydides400 BC900 AD13008
Herodotus400 BC900 AD13008
Sophocles400 BC1000 AD1400100
Tacitus100 AD1100 AD100020
Pliny100 AD850 AD7507
Manuscript data of well-known ancient writers accepted as reliable
McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 42-48

*from any one work

These writers represent the major classical writers of antiquity. Basically, their writings shaped the development of European and Western civilization.  But on average, they have been passed down to us by only 10-100 manuscripts. Moreover, the earliest existing copies are preserved starting about 1000 years after the original was written.   We treat these as our control experiment since they comprise writings that form the foundation of history and philosophy. So academics and universities world-wide accept, use and teach them.

New Testament Manuscripts

The following table compares the New Testament manuscripts along the same principles of Textual Criticism. Then we will compare this to our control data, just like in any scientific investigation.

MSSWhen WrittenDate of MSSTime Span
John Rylan90 CE130 CE 40 yrs
Bodmer Papyrus90 CE 150-200 CE 110 yrs
Chester  Beatty50-60 CE 200 CE 20 yrs
Codex Vaticanus50-90 CE 325 CE 265 yrs
Codex Sinaiticus50-90 CE 350 CE 290 yrs
Textual Data of the earliest New Testament manuscripts
Comfort, P.W. The Origin of  the Bible, 1992. p. 193
Old Bible Manuscript

However, this table gives just a brief highlight of some of the existing New Testament manuscripts.  The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them in one table. 

Testimony of the Scholarship

As one scholar who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation.  In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”

McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40

A leading scholar at the British Museum corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”

Kenyon, F.G. (former director of British Museum) Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23

This data pertains specifically to the New Testament manuscripts. This article looks at Textual Criticism of the Old Testament.

New Testament Textual Criticism and Constantine

Significantly, a large number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient.  For example, consider the introduction of the book transcribing the earliest Greek New Testament documents. 

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text”

Comfort, P.W. “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. p. 17. 2001

This is significant because these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 CE). They also precede the rise to power of the Catholic Church. Some wonder whether either Constantine or the Catholic Church altered the biblical text. We can test this by comparing the manuscripts from before Constantine (325 CE) with those coming later. However, we find that they have not changed. The manuscripts from, say 200 CE, are the same as those that come later.

Thus, neither the Catholic Church nor Constantine changed the Bible. This is not a religious statement but is based solely on the manuscript data. The figure below illustrates the timeline of manuscripts from which today’s New Testament comes from.

New Testament manuscripts from which modern Bibles derive
University presentation on Textual Criticism of New Testament

Implications of Bible Textual Criticism

So what can we conclude from this?  Certainly, at least in what we can objectively measure, the New Testament is verified to a much higher degree than any other classical work.  The verdict can be best summed up by the following:

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”

Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29

What he means is that if we doubt the reliability of the Bible’s preservation, we should discard all that we know about classical history. Yet no informed historian has ever done so.  We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone. We know this because the earliest existing manuscripts precede these events.  For example, we know that no overly zealous medieval monk, or plotting pope, added in the miracles of Jesus to the Bible. We have manuscripts that come before all medieval monks and popes. Since all these early manuscripts contain Jesus’ miracles then these imaginary medieval conspirators could not have inserted them.

What about translation of the Bible?

But what about the errors involved in translation? Why are there so many different versions of the Bible today? Do the existence of many versions mean that it is impossible to determine what the original authors wrote?

The Bible is translated into many different languages

First, let us clear up a common misconception.  Many think that the Bible today has gone through a long series of translation steps. They imagine each new language translated from the previous one. So they visualize a series something like this:  Greek -> Latin -> Medieval English -> Shakespeare English -> modern English -> other modern languages. 

Linguists translate the Bible into diverse languages today directly from its original languages. So for the New Testament, the translation proceeds to Greek -> modern language. For the Old Testament, the translation proceeds to Hebrew -> modern language (further details including Orthodox translations here). But the base Greek and Hebrew text is standard. So the different Bible versions come from how linguists choose to translate them into the modern language.

Translation Reliability

Due to the vast classical literature that was written in Greek (the original language of the New Testament), it is possible to precisely translate the original thoughts and words of the original authors. In fact, the different modern versions attest to this. For example, read this well-known verse in the most common versions, and note the slight variance in wording, but consistency in idea and meaning:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New International Version)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New American Standard Version)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New Living Translation)

You can see that there is no disagreement between the translations because they say exactly the same thing using only slightly different words.


To summarize, neither time nor translation has corrupted the ideas and thoughts expressed in the original Bible manuscripts. These ideas are not hidden from us today.  We know that the Bible today accurately communicates what its authors actually wrote back then.

But it is important to realize what this study does not show.  This does not necessarily prove that the Bible is the Word of God. 

Textual Criticism of Old Testament

But understanding the textual reliability of the Bible provides a start-point from which we can start investigating the Bible. We can see if these other questions can also be answered. We can also become informed about its message.  Since the Bible claims that its message is God’s blessing to you, what if it is possibly true?  Perhaps it is worth taking the time to learn some of the important events of the Bible.  A good place to start is in its beginning.

How were details of Christ’s death prophesied?

Christ’s “cut off” Detailed Hundreds of Years Beforehand

Previously we looked at Daniel’s prediction of the coming Christ’s ‘cutting off’ after a specified cycle of years. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (often called Palm Sunday) fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy exactly 173,880 days after the Persian Decree to restore Jerusalem. The phrase ‘cut off ’ referred to Isaiah’s imagery of the Branch shooting up from the seemingly dead stump. But what did he mean by it?

Isaiah and Daniel shown in historical timeline.

Isaiah had also written other prophecies in his book, using other themes as well as the Branch. One such theme was about the coming Servant. Who was this ‘Servant’? What was he going to do? We look at one prophecy passage in detail, reproduced in full below, with only some comments inserted.

The Coming Servant Introduced

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Isaiah 52: 13-15

Isaiah describes a human male since he refers to the Servant as ‘he’, ‘him’, and ‘his’. Isaiah prophetically predicts the future (from the phrases ‘will act..’, ‘will be raised up…’). But what was the prophecy about?

Sprinkling – The Priest’s Job

When the ancient Temple priests offered sacrifices for the Israelites, they sprinkled blood on them. This symbolized the forgiving and covering of their sins. But Isaiah prophesied that the coming Servant would sprinkle ‘many nations’. So Isaiah saw that this Servant would provide forgiveness for non-Jews like those priests did for the Jewish worshipers. This is parallel to the prophecy that the Branch would be a priest since only priests could sprinkle blood. This global scope of ‘many nations’ follows those promises made centuries earlier to Abraham that ‘all nations’ would be blessed through him.

But in sprinkling the many nations, Isaiah foresaw the very ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant disfigured and marred. He promised that one day the nations ‘will understand’.

The Servant Despised

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Isaiah 53:1-3
Jesus Suffered Rejection

Though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

The Servant Pierced

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. 

Isaiah 53:4-5
Jesus’ Pierced Hands

The Servant would take ‘our’ pain. ‘Pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’ would also be his lot. This punishment will bring us (those of the many nations) ‘peace’ and healing.

Secular and biblical sources tell us that about 2000 years ago (but still 700+ years after Isaiah) Jesus was crucified. In that execution, the authorities literally pierced him with the nails of the crucifixion.

Our Sins – on Him

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. 

Isaiah 53:6

The Bible defines sin as ‘missing the intended target’. Like a bent arrow we go our ‘own way’.  This Servant will carry that sin (iniquity) which we caused.

Lamb to the Slaughter

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. 

Isaiah 53:7

The Servant will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’. But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’. Abraham had a ram substitute for his son and Abraham sacrificed the ram in place of Isaac. This coming Servant would carry a similar role as that ram.

‘Cut off’ from Living

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

Isaiah 53:8

The Servant dies (‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’). Daniel used this exact term (‘cut off’) in prophesying what would happen to the Christ after his presentation as Messiah. Isaiah here predicted in greater detail that ‘cut off’ meant ‘cut off from the land of the living’!  So, on that fateful Good Friday Jesus died, literally ‘cut off from the land of the living’. This occurred just after he presented himself as the Christ in his Triumphant entry.

The Paradox of His Burial

Jesus buried in a rich man’s Tomb

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:9

They executed Jesus as a criminal (‘assigned a grave with the wicked’). But the gospels record how a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, buried the body of Jesus in his own tomb. Jesus literally fulfilled both sides of the paradox. Though he was ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’, he was also ‘with the rich in his death’.

God’s Plan all along

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Isaiah 53:10
God’s will was for Jesus to die

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly “the LORD’s will” to crush him.

But why?

Jews in Isaiah’s time brought lambs to sacrifice as offerings for their sins, so that they could receive forgiveness. So here the ‘life’ of this Servant would likewise also be an ‘offering for sin’.

For whose sin?

Considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (see above), it is the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’. Those ‘all’ who have ‘turned away’ and have ‘gone astray’. Isaiah is talking about you and me.

Life after Death

After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53:11
Jesus is Risen

Though the Servant’s ordeal is horrible, here the tone changes to optimism and triumph. After the terrible suffering detailed previously, this Servant will see ‘the light of life’.

He will come back to life?!

Isaiah prophesied the seemingly impossible 750 years before Jesus made the case for his resurrection compelling.

And in so ‘seeing the light of life’ this Servant will ‘justify’ many. To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’. God had set the pattern by previously ‘crediting righteousness’ to Abraham. In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit, righteousness to ‘many’.

Legacy among the Great

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53:12

Jesus of Nazareth ranks among the most influential, great people in history. But, unlike other great men of history, Jesus did not lead a mighty army or conquer large swaths of land. He did not write a great book or come up with a new philosophy. He did not amass a great fortune or make a brilliant scientific discovery or technological breakthrough. Unlike other great men of history, Jesus made his legacy through his crucifixion and the meaning people attach to his death. Isaiah could not have better predicted the reason for the coming Servant’s worldwide legacy than he did with this conclusion.

Fingerprints of God’s handiwork

Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant points directly to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore some critics say that the gospel writers made up their story specifically to ‘fit’ this Servant passage. But Isaiah’s conclusion also defies these critics. The conclusion is not a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection as such, but of its impact many years later. And what does Isaiah predict? This Servant will die as a criminal, but one day he will be among the ‘great’. The gospel writers could not make this part ‘fit’ the gospel narratives. The gospels were only written a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion. At that point, the impact of Jesus’ death was doubtful.

In the eyes of the world, Jesus was just the executed leader of a rejected cult when the gospels were written.  We, 2000 years later, can see the impact of his death. We can understand how the subsequent course of history has made him ‘great’. With simple human foresight the gospel writers could not have foreseen that.

But 750 years before Jesus even lived Isaiah predicted it. Likewise, David did something very similar 1000 years before Jesus in Psalm 22.

The only explanation is that God revealed it to him. Only God could conceivably know the future that far ahead. That Isaiah wrote this down, and that it was preserved, along with the other prophecies of Jesus, constitutes evidence that the purposes advanced in the Bible are His. It has the fingerprints of the Divine handiwork all over it.

The Revived Woman paired with the Resurrected Son

We have gone through portraits of Jesus presented in the Gospels by looking at him through his Jewish lens.  In doing so we have seen two over-riding themes.

  1. Jews have led in making contributions to mankind in many fields of activity.  However, their story is mixed with immense suffering and sorrow.
  2. Jesus has participated, even headed, this totality of Jewish experience. We see this in the numerous parallel patterns.  We review and look at a few more, including the modern revival of Hebrew and the Festivals prescribed through Moses.

Jewish Contributions to Mankind’s Progress

Consider the following in light of the fact that the total Jewish population is  15.2 million, 0.19% of the 8 billion worldwide population.  

We have surveyed Jews who have significantly impacted modern society:

We learned how Jews led in the initial development of the first alphabet. Innovation on many fronts continues to overflow from them. They have blessed the world by being a light to the nations.

Jewish Sorrows

Jewish people during the Holocaust

But it is not as though Jews have had an easy time riding the wake of success. The stories of Anne Frank, Simon bar Kochba, the Maccabees, Richard Wurmbrand, Natan Sharansky, and the repeated expulsions of Jews across Europe culminating in the Holocaust illustrate this. Humankind has been beset with many problems of racism down through history. However, Jews are the only people for which a term for unsuppressed hatred and persecution specifically against them needed creating (anti-Semitism).  Along with their propensity for innovation, an adversarial principle seems to continually confront them.   

In fact, Jewish success often raises the fears of others that they control society, harboring sinister intentions to take over. These fears, though unfounded, seem to spread through many social sectors. Many times they have been the cause of anti-Semitic outbreaks.

On other occasions, success for certain Jews has raised questions resulting in backlashes against Jews as a whole.  The Russian oligarchs associated with Russian President Putin serve as an example.  Of the 210 Russian oligarchs worth more than $1 billion, 20 of them, or 10%, are Jewish. This is far above the per capita Russian Jewish population at 0.16% of the Russian population.  Prominent among these Russian-Jewish oligarchs are Roman Abramovich, Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky.  Six of the top seven Russian oligarchs are Jewish. This weighting has started creating the impression that the oligarchs are all Jewish.  Here again, Jewish talent has exerted a disproportionate influence. So with the scrutiny of the oligarchs, some fear a coming anti-Semitic backlash.

The Power Shaping Jewish Destiny

So how to explain Jewish ability as well as their history of sorrows? We explored an adversarial spirit pitted against them here. The Bible presents their complete situation as even more complex than that.

At the call of Abraham 4000 years ago, the One Calling him declared:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12: 2-3
Abraham and Moses in Historical Timeline with Jesus

Then five hundred years later (1500 BCE) this Same Presence, through Moses, pronounced Blessings & Curses. Moses predicted these would shape global history going forward, and they have.

Isaiah in Historical Timeline

Later (750 BCE), Isaiah, also in the name of that Same Power, predicted repeatedly that: 

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,

Isaiah 42:6

Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 60:3

These pronouncements line up with what we see recorded in history, and also happening in the world today.  History did not have to follow the path of these decrees after Isaiah wrote them down thousands of years ago.  

But it did.

It still does.

We should take note.

This shows a single-minded Intent, Purpose and Power behind these statements demonstrating itself through history.  Intent and purpose come only from persons. Since this intent and purpose spans thousands of years it cannot come simply from human purposes.  God shows His Hand through these Promises.

Was Christ the Messiah? Christians and Jews Disagree -
Light to the Nations

Jesus leads the Jewish Experience

We also saw that Jesus participated with his fellow Jews in the totality of their experience. He did so both in its heights and its depths.  It is not just that Jesus’ career has similarities with that of some well-known Jews. But his experiences match that of the Jewish nation.  He typifies national Israel.

Jesus’ Resurrection & the Jewish Hebrew Revival

For example, Jews underwent a national death when the Romans expelled them from the Biblical land. They remained exiled for 1900 years, during this period, their national language, Hebrew, died. For hundreds of years, Jews ceased to speak Hebrew in everyday conversation. People cannot live without their native language, but the Hebrew language recently revived.

Jews expelled by the Roman Empire

The revival of Hebrew began when the Russian-born Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, self-taught in Hebrew, chose to speak Hebrew with fellow Jews in Paris on October 13, 1881. This recorded the first time in hundreds of years that Hebrew had been spoken in everyday conversation.  Shortly afterwards, moving to Jerusalem, Ben Yehuda tried to persuade other Jewish families to speak Hebrew. He developed dictionaries, wrote plays for children in Hebrew and published a Hebrew newspaper.  

His efforts met with limited success since after ten years only four families spoke Hebrew conversationally. Obstacles loomed. Parents were reluctant to educate their children in Hebrew, an impractical language since no one spoke it. Hebrew schoolbooks did not exist. However, by the early 20th century Hebrew began to gain traction. Today over 9 million people speak it.  As Wikipedia says of the revival of Hebrew:

The process of Hebrew’s return to regular usage is unique; there are no other examples of a natural language without any native speakers subsequently acquiring several million native speakers,


Jesus died and then rose from the dead, a one-of-a-kind event. In the same way, Israel died and then came alive again as a nation with the one-of-a-kind revival of Hebrew. 

Jesus and the Torah Festivals

Jewish Festivals

Jews, as a nation, celebrate the festivals prescribed through Moses 3500 years ago. As a nation they celebrate Passover, Sabbath, First Fruits and Pentecost. These festivals partly embody and define them as Jews.  

Jesus underwent his:

Thus, Jesus embodies, represents, and experienced all the spring festivals as no other Jew, Moses included, has ever done.

Jesus’ career did not embody the remaining autumn Feasts prescribed by Moses. These occur in September-October: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. However, Jesus announced that he would return again and that the time of his coming would be precisely planned. His First Coming precisely matched the timing of all the spring festivals. So it stands to reason that his Second Coming will precisely match the timing of these fall festivals. 

Revived and Returning

Here again, in the mere expectation of his Second Coming, we see Jesus’ career, viewed through the span of history, typifying that of national Israel. During their long exile from the Biblical land they celebrated the annual Passover in exile with the phrase that became a tradition: “Next year in Jerusalem“. As a nation, they anticipated a return to the Land. As a nation, they have returned within our lifetimes. Jesus, likewise, has left the Biblical land and has been absent for over 2000 years. But, like his nation, he has promised his return.  He said that the return of the Jews to the Biblical land was a sign that his return was ‘near’. So he linked the two returns.  

Reach Out to the Presence at Work

Many think of Jesus solely through the stained-glass window of Christendom’s history in Europe and the Americas.  Therefore he is often seen simply as a dusty, (somewhat) historical figure who lived long ago. Perhaps he is a cultural relic that has some traditional value, but little potent relevance to our lives today.  

But the Bible, from its beginning and right to its end, appended thousands of years later, presents him as the Offspring of the Woman (Israel). It also presents him as the Christ, destined to return and reign. 

From the Beginning…

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15 (in writing as far back as we know, more details here)

To the last pages in its final book…

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth…

Revelation 12:1-2
Bartolomeo Cesi , CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Revelation 12:5 (written 1st Century CE)

We can see in the news headlines today that the ‘Woman’ is reviving. Since the Son is hers, tangibly linked to her, then we would not be foolish to reach out to Him. If we do, even without complete understanding, then we can experience his promise that

…he is not far from any one of us.

Acts 17:27b


The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3: 9

For Further Reflection