Body of Proof: Dr. Jeremiah Johnston
Does actual proof of Jesus' resurrection exist? Acclaimed apologist & scholar Dr. Jeremiah Johnston has found the body of proof overwhelming.
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Does actual proof of Jesus’ resurrection exist? Acclaimed apologist & scholar Dr. Jeremiah Johnston has found the body of proof overwhelming.
Body of Proof: Dr. Jeremiah Johnston
Jeremiah: The promise that we are given in the New Testament with more frequency than any other promise is John 14:19: “Because I live, you will live also.” And that is the message of Easter.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Okay, it’s Thursday and Easter is just a few days away.
Ann: I know.
Dave: A pretty exciting time.
Ann: It’s a great time of year.
Dave: In the calendar for the Christian church, this is it. But here’s the question that I think we ask, but a lot of people sort of bury it. It’s what if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead?
Ann: That would make everything different!
Dave: We’d just go play golf Sunday. Why in the world would we sit at church if it didn’t happen? You know me. It’s been a question for me for decades. Is there any evidence? Is it just a wishful hope, or is there proof? Is there a body of proof? That’s like a good book title.
We have Jeremiah Johnston in the FamilyLife studios today. Welcome back, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah: It’s so great to be with both of you, Ann and Dave. Thank you so much for having me back. I just so appreciate y’all’s ministry in my family and so many others.
Dave: You’re laughing because obviously I took your title. Did you come up with that title, Body of Proof?
Jeremiah: Yes, we did, so proud of it. We like it.
Ann: It is a good title.
Dave: I love the subtitle: The Seven Best Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus and Why It Matters Today. Many of our listeners know you. You’re a PhD. Let’s think. Is he the only doctor in the studio? Yes, he is the only doctor in here. I haven’t quite gotten my PhD yet. You’ve spent decades studying and researching apologetics, right?
Dave: Tell our audience what apologetics is. Why is it important?
Jeremiah: I hate that word because we have to endlessly define it for people, because some Christians unfortunately think it means we’re apologizing for our faith, but it’s such a great power word. It means that we have a reason for the hope that is within us. We can actually speak clearly and conversantly to the questions we face today as Christians. We can bring calm, great answers and draw people to a conversation.
It’s really about being a Christian thinker. Apologetics was used by Socrates 500 years before the New Testament was even written. It just means “give a reason.” I wasn’t a Christian thinker at one time in my life. My wife wouldn’t have defined herself as a Christian thinker.
We were Christians, but we would read that great commandment, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” and I just felt like there were some pitfalls in my own mind, some doubts, some challenges. I wanted to become a Christian thinker, so we became our ministry before I ever knew we had one.
Jeremiah: That’s how Christian Thinkers Society was launched. [URL: https://christianthinkers.com]
Ann: So you were a little bit skeptical.
Ann: Yes. Dave was too. We were in ministry, and I remember walking in on him with a Bible in his lap, and he said, “How do we even know this stuff is true?”
Ann: Like “Honestly, is this even real?”
Dave: I deconstructed before that was a trend.
Jeremiah: Yes, before it was even a trend.
Dave: In a good way, because it was like, “I have to put this back together and say, ‘Is there evidence?’” So you did this years ago?
Jeremiah: I did. Everyone’s journey is different. For me that meant Audrey and I and our 12-week-old daughter at the time moved to Oxford, England. I wanted to study the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Dave: We should have just moved to Oxford.
Ann: Not all of us can get into Oxford. There’s something there.
Jeremiah: I always caveat it with that. A PhD knows a lot about a little, so let’s again assure our audience. I know a lot about a little bit, but the little I happen to know a lot about is the resurrection of Jesus.
Ann: Why Oxford?
Jeremiah: It was an opportunity to study at the intellectual Jerusalem. I’m all about bringing Athens and Jerusalem together—the seat of learning, and then the seat of Christian faith and practice, and see what difference it can make in my life. I heard every argument there was against the resurrection of Jesus from men and women far smarter, far more educated, far more published.
I graduated with my PhD, and I’m more iron-fisted for Jesus Christ and His resurrection than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’ve heard every argument there is against the resurrection; they are utterly unpersuasive. Now I can have conversation with friends based on the evidence, even before I open the Scriptures and say how we can believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It is a fact, an undeniable fact of history.
Ann: As a dad, I’m sure that’s been important to you to convey to your own kids and to have those conversations.
Jeremiah: Absolutely. In fact, on other programs we’re going to discuss the generation of our kids and our grandkids right now, generation Z, born since 1996. You bring up such a vital point. They are so influenced by scientism. They want to have evidence for everything they believe. That’s okay. That’s good, and guess what? Christianity can hold up to the evidential check.
Unlike any other religion in the world, Christianity puts itself to the historical test and says, “Hey! Test us on this. Our belief system is based in fact, in history, real places, real people, real events of history.” Because of a fact of history, this is resurrection weekend. We can date the resurrection. I get into that in my book, Body of Proof. My wife’s birthday, I think is Resurrection Sunday, April 5th in AD 33. Jesus was likely crucified April 3rd, AD 33.
We can get to the exact day of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. Had we been there, it would have been a cool Easter morning. The sun would have just been rising, and we would be just outside the city. To see that tomb empty—remarkable, a remarkable fact of history. Truly in a devastating passage in the New Testament, in I Corinthians 15:14, Paul says, “If Jesus has not been raised, our message is empty, and your faith is in vain.” So that verse right there shows me as a follower of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus is the centrality of the Christian worldview.
I’m all about people living in a Christian—and I know you all are, too—a biblical worldview. Well the center of a biblical worldview is the resurrection of Jesus. I’m studying, I’m in Oxford, I’m hearing all these arguments, and at the end I’m like, “Is all you got? Is that really why?” There is no intellectual reason to not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It really comes down to just not wanting to believe in it, because the evidence, the data, is that powerful.
Dave: So you think that’s really at the heart? A person says, “I’m not a believer. I’ve looked at Christianity and I don’t believe.” What do you think is going on? Do you think it’s not based on evidence? It’s based on their life?
Jeremiah: We know only the Holy Spirit can draw someone to Christ, so on this special Easter weekend as people go to church, the evidence is undeniable. If we cannot believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we shouldn’t believe in any of the Roman emperors, because as a Christian thinker, and one of the things I realized having studied this terminally—it doesn’t mean it killed me, but it almost did, having a terminal degree—I have to appeal to Roman emperors to have the same attestation, the same evidence, that I have for Jesus of Nazareth.
Do you realize how remarkable that is as an audience, for those that are listening right now? The fact that we have to appeal to Roman emperors for the same level of evidence that we have for Jesus is utterly remarkable. If we can’t believe that Jesus died on a Roman cross, we can’t believe anything from history or late antiquity.
But again, my wife is “Okay, Jeremiah. What difference does that make in our life and our marriage today?” So I wanted to take all of this learning; it’s the centrality of our faith, and I began to notice that there’s not a lot of books just on the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, before I came here to the studios, beautiful, FamilyLife studios, I just did an Amazon search for books on the resurrection. There are about a dozen.
Ann: And that’s it.
Jeremiah: And that’s it. And you think about all these secondary issues of our faith—there’s thousands of titles. So in my opinion, and I say this with love, and I was a product of it: the resurrection of Jesus is under-preached today in the pulpit, and it’s understudied. That’s not what it was like in the first century. The resurrection was the rallying call of the new faith.
So my job as a Christian thinker, is to help bring the church along and say, “Hey, here’s the body of proof. Here’s the seven best reasons, where you can sit down at coffee, and about three hours of reading my book, you’re going to have the best arguments, the best reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, that it is a fact of history, but also how that can encourage us today by living a resurrection-centric life.
Ann: It’s such a good book, too. When we were going through seminary, it was Josh McDowell. So we had his huge book. “How do we even read this thing?” It was good. He taught a class for us, but your book is so readable. It’s so relatable. I think our listeners are going to love it, and it’s such a perfect time of year to jump into this.
Dave: Yes. It has the perfect number seven. Do you want to go through the seven?
Jeremiah: I would love to do whatever way you all feel led. What I can just share with you is there is great evidence. Even before we open the Scriptures, we can build 65 facts about the life, the death, the burial, and yes, the resurrection of Jesus from Roman sources within 100 years of Jesus’ life. So we’re in the right place, the right time. We have early eye-witness testimony of this man called Jesus, and the impact His movement has made.
So before I ever open the Scriptures, I can build those facts. Again, I’m all about a conversant faith, so I came up with seven. There are probably more. There are ways that we can defend and believe in the resurrection better. Here’s why it matters: I want to say this before we get in the evidence. There are 300 passages in the New Testament on the resurrection of Jesus.
The promise that we are given in the New Testament with more frequency than any other promise is John 14:19: “Because I live, you will live also.” That is the message of Easter. It is a resurrection that is not just a physical, bodily resurrection for us. It is a resurrection of the entire cosmos, that heaven and earth will come together in a new heaven, a new earth, and we will have bodies. I coined a new phrase for my book.
Dave: Alright, let’s hear it.
Jeremiah: We’ll be un-die-able.
Jeremiah: We will have un-die-able bodies., and deathlessness will be the centrality of our existence. It’s a body that never needs upgrading, never has senior moments. This gives us hope. Again, nobody expected the Messiah to die and rise again. We read Isaiah 53 now and think, “How could they have not gotten it?” Well, all you have to do is you open up the New Testament. One of my points is that Jesus called his shots. We think of Babe Ruth calling his shots. I was speaking to baseball players recently and showed how we can evidence the resurrection the same way we evidence how Ruth called his shot.
Well Jesus, if He had a hashtag, it would have been #Onthethirdday. If you read the Scriptures, Jesus was constantly predicting his death and resurrection. This is one of my seven. Jesus takes Hosea 6:2, “On the second day you will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up,” and He says, “Hey, I’m going to apply that Old Testament passage to Myself. I’m going to messianize; I’m even going to eschatologize.
I can apply that passage to Myself because after I rise again, you’re going to remember I quoted Hosea 6:2-3 to you.” So, “on the third day,” “on the third day,” “on the third day”—Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33-34—Jesus is predicting His resurrection. There are a lot of skeptics out there that say, “Oh, Jesus? People made Him God later. He didn’t really know what His mission was. People around the time of Constantine, they deified Him.” But no, Jesus knew what His mission was, and so Jesus called his shots.
Point three--here’s another fun word for you: adumbrated. Jesus foreshadowed His resurrection by raising others from the dead, showing that He Himself had power over death. There are eight resurrections in the Scripture. There are three in the Gospels: Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead, the widow of Nain’s son, Luke 7, raised from the dead, and then of course, John 11, Lazarus raised from the dead.
It's beautiful to me that all of the archaeology that we see, all of the burial traditions we see in Jerusalem—this is from that evidence outside the Bible—shows that the Gospels get it right. So what I’m getting at, there is an abundance of evidence, and this evidence will change our lives if we allow it to.
The resurrection is the key that unlocks all of the great Christian disciplines of my life. The belief in resurrection unlocks undying hope. The resurrection unlocks joy. The resurrection is the key that unlocks my ethics. I love that after 58 verses in I Corinthians, Paul says, “Okay, because of the resurrection we’re going to be steadfast. We’re going to be immovable. We’re going to always be abounding in the work of the Lord.”
There were no chapter and verse divisions in the New Testament. The very next verse is, “We have people suffering. We need to take an offering. Get your checkbook out.” So even it seems the resurrection is the key to our ethics. It is the fact that drove the church to, as Acts says, literally take over the world, and I want the resurrection to take over my life to where I have that hope every day.
I think my favorite passage in the New Testament right now is that passage in I Thessalonians 4, because as you know, Dave—you guys were pastors—Easter is hard for a lot of people, just like Christmas.
Jeremiah: So as we’re going in to worship this weekend, we know that we can talk about our loved ones, like Wesley, in the present because of the resurrection. I Thessalonians 4 promises us that we grieve, and we should grieve. We have to do, as I say it, the hard work of grief, but we grieve in hope. We don’t grieve without hope; we grieve in hope in the resurrection.
What is heaven? By the way, the Scriptures talk a lot more about the resurrection than heaven. This is something that’s hard for us to get our mind around sometimes.
Jeremiah: The resurrection is so central it actually shows up more than the word “heaven.” But heaven is fellowship with Jesus and our loved ones. That’s what the resurrection is, and that’s the promise that we have in Jesus.
Dave: Yes. What you’re saying is so true. As a pastor, I’ve done hundreds, probably, of funerals. The only hope that I can give at a funeral is this. There’s no hope without a resurrected Christ, which you said earlier means that we are resurrected. The loved one that is there, if he knew Christ, if she knew Christ is in glory, and there’s hope.
I remember—this sounds crazy. I was sitting with a married couple, years, decades, a long time ago, and they came to my office and said, “We’re getting a divorce. We can’t stand each other.” They just went back and forth. I remember listening to them, and I just kept getting frustrated. I shouldn’t have done this, but finally I go, “Hey! Let me ask you a question.” I got pretty animated. They’re like, “What?”
I go, “Do you guys believe Jesus?” “Yes.” “Do you believe He rose from the dead?” “Yes.” I go, [Shouting] “Then He can raise your marriage. You need to fight for your marriage.” They both looked at me like I was a crazy man, and they walked out and got divorced. I thought, “Does the resurrection change a marriage?
Dave: It changes absolutely everything, but you have to have enough belief to say, “I believe it happened,” so there is hope that gives you power to live a different life. Am I right?
Jeremiah: You’re exactly right, and I think that’s actually great marital advice.
Dave: Yelling at people that are in my office.
Ann: Even though they didn’t come back.
Jeremiah: I know. Scriptures say that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead resides in us.
Ann: Yes. We forget that, don’t we?
Jeremiah: We do, and again I think it’s because, as a Christian thinker, as a pastor of apologetics, we need to do a better job, candidly. Can I be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection? No you cannot be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection. I Corinthians 15 says that the Gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. [Paraphrased] That is the Gospel. Don’t change it, don’t add anything to it, don’t mess it up.
I think this is what James, Peter and John were saying to Paul in Galatians when he went to do, in Greek, historeo. He went to check to make sure he had the Gospel right, so he writes I Corinthians 15: “I’m giving to you what I received from the pillars of the church.” Keep in mind, James, the Lord’s brother, did not believe his brother was the Son of God. I have four crazy sons, and none of them would believe that one of the others was the Messiah, the Son of God.
Jeremiah: Think about it. In AD 62 we know that James dies for his faith, believing that his brother is the resurrected Son of God. How do we know that? Not from the Bible, but from a first-century writer by the name of Josephus, who tells us that James dies. He’s stoned to death, believing brother Jesus is the resurrected Messiah. I would have loved to have been there, because we’ve been studying in this awesome program of Bible study I Corinthians 15. Paul notes that Jesus appeared to James in verse seven. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there?
Jeremiah: Their family trade is construction. Maybe he’s in the workshop, and Jesus shows up. He’s like, “Bro. Check out my side, and check out my hands. They got me good.” The evidence shows that James— “My brother is the Son of God. I’m going to believe in Him now.” He becomes a pillar of the church.
This is why as Christians we need to get more conversant, more fluent in why we believe in the resurrection, because it’s going to change our skeptical family members.
It’s going to turn around the lives of the people that we love, because our belief is based in fact. I want to keep saying it. It’s incumbent upon us to know that and spread that message to our families.
Dave: Do you know the name Justin Brierly?
Jeremiah: A dear friend of mine. He’s coming to my conference in a few months.
Dave: I figured you did. We have a podcast with Shelby Abbott—
Dave: —with FamilyLife that’s really targeted toward the next generation. Shelby recently had Justin on. I thought I’d play a clip—
Jeremiah: Oh, good.
Dave: —of what he said, and then you can just respond to it.
Justin: Well I’ve often had people say, “Wouldn’t you have to discount all of the gods out there? You’d have to investigate every religion in order to know which one is true.” My view is no. It’s more like having a bunch of keys. When I go to our church to unlock the door, there are quite a few different keys on the big key ring that I could try in the door. But once I’ve found the correct one and it unlocks the door, I don’t then methodically go through all the others just in case any of them open the door, too. I know I’ve found the one that opens the door.
I think it’s the same with Christianity. You don’t have to exhaustively research every religion or view of God out there to know that you’ve found the correct key that opens the door. Because if it’s true that Jesus Christ did die and rise again from the dead, then you can trust that what He said about Himself is true, that He was God, that He had come to fulfill all of the Old Testament.
For me, that’s been really helpful, because you have something very solid at the center of Christianity, a truth claim. It’s not just something someone dreamed up. It wasn’t just a revelation from heaven given to Muhammed. It wasn’t just something discovered on some mysterious gold plate by Joseph Smith. There was a real historical claim in the first century that a man called Jesus Christ, who everyone knew about, had died and been raised again.
If you can show that that’s historically plausible, that that actually makes sense of a lot of other data around it, which I think it does, then you have a very powerful argument, I think, that actually Christianity is true.
Jeremiah: Justin nails it. I totally agree with him. Here’s the beautiful fact about Christianity: we actually need to know precious little to become a Christian. Christianity has inspired literature, the arts, the humanities, universities, health care, the great libraries, the first art galleries, but what do you actually need to know to become a Christian? Jesus loves you. He died and He rose again. That is the gospel. I think sometimes we make the Gospel a little too hard. You’ll know you’re hitting it when it almost seems too good to be true. That’s the gospel. Justin gets the facts right.
There are a lot of questions in the Bible. There are 3,200 questions in the Scripture. By the way, there are 7,400 promises, so there’s two promises for every question in the Bible.
Ann: Don’t you love all these stats?
Dave: I love it.
Jeremiah: So it’s okay to ask questions. There are things that we’re going to agree to disagree about as believers that we’ll find out in Heaven someday. But the thing that we need to get right is the resurrection. I tell this to my daughter who wants evidence. She’s in that Gen Z crowd. “Why are you a Christian, Daddy?” Do I need some kind of crutch? Do I need some emotional help? I’m a Christian because Jesus died and rose again. It’s a fact of history. It compels me to believe, and it’s changed my life.
Again, my hope and prayer this weekend, that this Easter will be different, that you’ll leave with hope, that you’ll have a hope that unlocks joy in your life, to face whatever you might be facing. The resurrection fired up the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:21. They were dejected. “We had hoped He was the Messiah.” Then Jesus shows them—what does He do? “From the Scriptures.”
Jeremiah: So we get into the Word, into the evidence, and then they say, “Were not our hearts burning within us? How could we have been so blind in that moment?” That’s what anxiety, that’s what doubt can do to us. I’m hoping and praying that today’s conversation will clear up the clouds of doubt in someone’s heart who’s listening.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeremiah Johnston on FamilyLife Today. Jeremiah’s book is called Body of Proof. The subtitle is The Seven Best Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus and Why it Matters Today. A super-important book, and you can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com. Jeremiah has been talking about the greatest gift we’ve ever received, and that’s of course Jesus.
Christ came down and reunited us with God. We’re set free, free from sin. But maybe you’re in a place where you’re struggling, maybe even losing sight of that peace that’s been offered. Well right now we want to thank you with a gift to help you re-find your peace in God.
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It’s common to have doubts when it comes to faith, and that’s why it’s called “faith,” right? Well tomorrow Dave and Ann are joined again by Jeremiah Johnston, where he unpacks some more tangible evidence that further indicates the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection. You won’t want to miss that tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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