Did Jesus Bring Himself Back to Life?
One of the central claims of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century Jewish teacher and healer, died by crucifixion under Roman authority and then rose from the dead on the third day after his burial. This belief is based on various accounts in the New Testament, such as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as some non-canonical sources. However, one question that often arises from this claim is whether Jesus brought himself back to life or whether someone else did it for him.
The Biblical Accounts
The Bible presents different perspectives on how Jesus was resurrected. According to Matthew 28:1-10, an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone that had sealed Jesus’ tomb, causing an earthquake and terrifying the guards who were stationed there.
The angel then told some women who had come to visit the tomb that Jesus was not there because he had risen and instructed them to tell his disciples to go to Galilee where they would see him. The women left with fear and joy and encountered Jesus on their way.
Mark’s Gospel (16:1-8) has a similar story but with some variations. It says that three women instead of one went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone already rolled away.
They entered the tomb and saw a young man dressed in white sitting on the right side who told them not to be afraid but to go tell Peter and his companions that Jesus was going ahead of them into Galilee where they would see him as he had told them before. The women fled from the tomb in silence because they were trembling and amazed.
Luke’s Gospel (24:1-12) expands on these accounts by adding more details. It says that two men in dazzling clothes stood beside the women who came to the tomb and asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead.
They reminded the women of Jesus’ prediction that he would be crucified and rise again on the third day, which they now realized was true. The women then returned from the tomb and reported these things to the eleven apostles and others who did not believe them except for Peter who went to check for himself.
John’s Gospel (20:1-18) focuses mainly on Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Jesus. It says that she went to the tomb while it was still dark and saw that the stone had been removed from it. She ran to Peter and another disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them that someone had taken away the Lord’s body from the tomb. They both ran to the tomb, but only saw linen cloths lying there without a body. Then, they went back home while Mary stayed outside weeping. She saw two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been lying, who asked her why she was crying.
She said that she didn’t know where they had taken her Lord. Then, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but didn’t recognize him at first because she thought he was a gardener. He called her by name, and when she recognized his voice, she exclaimed “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher” in Hebrew). Jesus told her not to hold onto him because he had not yet ascended to his Father but to go tell his brothers that he was ascending to his Father and their Father, his God and their God.
Based on these accounts, different Christian theologians have proposed various interpretations of how Jesus was resurrected. Some argue that Jesus brought himself back to life by his own power as a divine being who overcame death and sin.
This view emphasizes the uniqueness and authority of Jesus’ resurrection as a sign of his identity as the Son of God who reconciled humanity to God by his sacrifice on the cross. It also highlights the continuity and fulfillment of Jewish prophecy and scripture in Jesus’ resurrection, such as Psalm 16:10, Hosea 6:2, and Isaiah 53:10-12.
Others suggest that Jesus was raised by God the Father or a supernatural agent such as an angel or the Holy Spirit. This perspective emphasizes the Trinitarian nature of God and the cooperative work of all three persons in creation, redemption, and glorification. It also stresses the communal aspect of Jesus’ resurrection as an event that affected not only him but also his followers and ultimately all people who believe in him.
Still, others propose that Jesus’ resurrection was a symbolic or metaphorical representation of his enduring influence on human history and culture. This view downplays the literalness and historicity of Jesus’ resurrection as a physical event but elevates its spiritual significance as an inspiration for ethical living, social justice, and artistic expression.
Some scholars outside of Christianity have challenged the plausibility and evidence for Jesus’ resurrection altogether. They argue that it is more likely that Jesus’ body was stolen or moved by his disciples or other followers who wanted to perpetuate his memory or promote their own agenda. They point out inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Gospel accounts, such as the number, identity, and message of the angels or men at the tomb; the locations and timing of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection; and the lack of independent corroboration from non-Christian sources.
Others suggest naturalistic explanations for alleged supernatural phenomena such as hallucinations, visions, dreams, or mass hysteria among Jesus’ followers who were grieving, traumatized, or anxious about his death and the future of their movement. They argue that these experiences could have been induced by physiological or psychological factors such as stress, grief, isolation, peer pressure, suggestion, or expectation.
The question of whether Jesus brought himself back to life or not is a matter of theological interpretation and historical investigation. While the Bible provides some accounts of how Jesus was resurrected, it does not give a definitive answer to this question.
Different Christians have different views on this topic based on their understanding of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Moreover, non-Christians may reject the claim of Jesus’ resurrection altogether or attribute it to natural or human causes. Regardless of one’s position on this issue, however, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection remains a powerful and enduring narrative that has shaped the beliefs and practices of billions of people around the world for over two millennia.