How Can We Know the Crucifixion Really Happened?

John Piper

If the death of Jesus was a myth, it had to be created overnight, since within weeks Christians were preaching the saving power of Christ's suffering and death. Even more significant, it was being preached in Jerusalem - the very city which had the greatest interest in making sure the error was stopped. As far as the Jewish leaders were concerned, this new religion was a distortion of the Jewish faith, and, in fact, was blasphemy, since Christians claimed that Jesus was himself the Son of God (Mark 14:61-64). “We have a law,” the Jewish leaders said to Pilate, “and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7).

The fact is that Christians openly based their faith on the fact that Jesus was publicly tried, condemned, executed, and raised from the dead. They spoke this way within weeks after these events, when thousands of people who opposed this faith could have proved it wrong, if Jesus had not died. They could have gone to Pilate the governor or Herod the king or the Jewish Council or the soldiers or other witnesses of the crucifixion and gotten proof that he had not been condemned or crucified the way Christians said he was. But, in fact, no one did that. Everyone in Jerusalem knew that Jesus had been crucified, and many had watched him die. The resurrection was disputed, but not the crucifixion.

The early Christians were keenly aware that eyewitnesses were crucial in verifying their claims about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their earliest writer, the apostle Paul, who was a contemporary of Jesus, said, “ Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. . . . he was buried . . . he was raised on the third day . . . Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6). Why did Paul say “most of whom are still alive”? Because he was not afraid to have his claims put to the test. He knew they could be verified by eyewitnesses. In other words, Christianity was spreading during the very decades when eyewitnesses could have most easily proved it false. But the basic claims stood the test. The events had happened.

Taken from "The Great Offense: Was Jesus Really Crucified?" by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: (used by permission).

Originally published September 07, 2010.

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