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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Was Someone Else Crucified Instead of Jesus?

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Was Someone Else Crucified Instead of Jesus? (The Substitution Theory)

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 13

There are some people who believe that it was not actually Jesus Christ who was crucified on the cross of Calvary but rather someone else. Various individuals have been suggested such as Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross, or Judas Iscariot. Muslims generally hold this view. They do not believe that one of God’s prophets could be killed in such a cruel way so they assume someone else was actually crucified instead of Jesus.

One who holds such a theory could either conclude that someone else was crucified by mistake or by design. In other words, some sort of plot. Whatever the case may be, it assumes Jesus did not die on the cross of Calvary therefore He did not come back to life three days later.

The Arguments for a Substitute

The arguments given for a substitute for the actual Jesus are as follows.

The Disciples Were Not at the Crucifixion of Christ

It is argued that the disciples of Jesus could not be certain that it was actually Him that was crucified since the Bible says they all left Him at His betrayal. Matthew writes,

“But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. (Matthew 26:56 NET)

This makes it possible for someone else to be substituted in Jesus’ place. If they were not there to witness the crucifixion, then they could not be assured that it was Jesus who had actually died. It may have been someone else.

Jesus Wasn’t Recognized at First

The fact that Jesus was not recognized at first by people after His death shows that they were not certain it was truly Him. The Bible itself emphasizes that Jesus was not immediately recognized after His crucifixion.

For example, on the Emmaus road, the two disciples walking with Jesus did not recognize Him. Earlier that day Mary Magdalene mistook Him for a gardener. Matthew wrote of a later appearance of Jesus in Galilee. He records that some doubted when they saw Him. This indicates that it was not really Jesus.

Therefore, we have biblical evidence that it was not really Jesus who died.

Response to the Substitution Theory

Like all of the other theories that attempt to explain away the reality that Jesus actually rose from the dead, this theory is devoid of any facts.

1. His Mother and Some Other Acquaintances Were at the Crucifixion

To begin with, some of Jesus’ followers, as well as His own mother, were present at His crucifixion. The Bible says,

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!” He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:25-27 NET)

Therefore, the beloved disciple, as well as Jesus’ mother, along with these other people, would certainly have known His identity. Not only that, Jesus actually addressed His mother while He was on the cross.

2. Judas’ Fate Is Recorded in Scripture

There are two independent lines of testimony that record what happened to Judas Iscariot after he betrayed Jesus. They are as follows.

A. Matthew Records Judas’ Death

Matthew records that Judas hanged himself upon realizing the evil deed which he had done. He writes the following:

Very early in the morning, the leading priests and other leaders met again to discuss how to persuade the Roman government to sentence Jesus to death. Then they bound him and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and other leaders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:1-5 NLT)

This eyewitness testimony reveals what actually happened to Judas. While Jesus was being tried, Judas killed himself.

B. Acts Speaks of His Body on Public Display

The Book of Acts gives independent testimony to Judas’ death in this manner. It records Peter saying the following:

Now this man Judas acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all who lived in Jerusalem, so that in their own language they called the field Hakeldama, that is, “Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18, 19 NET)

His body was displayed publicly for all to see.

3. Simon Only Carried Jesus’ Cross

The idea that Simon the Cyrene was crucified in Jesus place is also without any historical basis. We are told that he was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross, nothing more. It was Jesus who was crucified.

4. The Substitute Theory Does Not Explain the Other Events

Like all of these other inadequate theories, it does not really explain anything. We can list some of the problems as follows.

Jesus Would Have Been a Deceiver

If there was a substitute then the appearances of Jesus after the crucifixion of the substitute would have be nothing but a hoax. This, of course, would have made Jesus a deceiver. He would have been pretending that He was the one who had been crucified and now risen when, in truth, someone else was crucified in His place.

Others Would Have Been Part of the Hoax

In addition, others would have been part of His deceitful scheme. They would have known that it was not really Jesus who had died. Yet, for some reason, they agreed to be part of this horrible hoax.

The Fact That He Wasn’t Immediately Recognized Proves He Was Crucified

The fact that He was temporarily unrecognizable to certain people after His death is irrelevant. If He had not been crucified then He would have looked the same! Why would He then become unrecognizable?

Why Did Saul and Jesus’ Brothers Come to Believe in Him?

Moreover, the substitution idea does not explain the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul, or the conversion of Jesus’ brothers. None of these people believed in Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry.

How Are the Miracles after Jesus’ Resurrection Explained?

Neither does it explain Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the miraculous events on the Day of Pentecost, or the ability of Jesus’ apostles to continually work miracles after His ascension into heaven.

In sum, the substation theory explains nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Summary – Question 13
Was Someone Else Crucified Instead of Jesus? (The Substitution Theory)

Popular in some circles is the idea that Jesus Christ never really died on Calvary’s cross but rather a substitute died in His place. This could have been by either mistake or design. The “substitutionary theory” thus does away with the need for Jesus’ resurrection because He did not really die.

It is argued that Jesus’ disciples would not have really known whether or not He had died because they had all scattered at His arrest. Usually, it is either Judas Iscariot, or Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross, are the ones who are considered to have been the substitute for Christ on the cross.

In addition, the fact that Jesus was not immediately recognized after His death supposedly provides further evidence that He had not really died. Thus, it is concluded there was no resurrection of Jesus Christ because there was no crucifixion.

Yet the evidence speaks differently. Scripture clearly shows that Jesus’ mother, John the beloved disciples, and other acquaintances, were at the foot of the cross. They certainly would have known whether someone was substituted for Jesus. In fact, one of the recorded sayings of Jesus was directed at His mother.

Moreover the idea that Jesus was not immediately recognized in some of His resurrection appearances only adds to the authenticity of the accounts. Indeed, if Jesus never had died on the cross then why wasn’t He immediately recognized by everyone?

Also, there are many events that would have to be explained if one argues for a substitute. For one thing, it would have to give some sort of reason that the truth-telling Jesus was involved in this colossal hoax. Jesus never lied about anything.

This theory is contrary to everything which we know about Him. Furthermore, others would have had to have participated in this hoax.

There is also the matter of the conversions of Paul and Jesus’ brothers, those who did not believe in Him during His earthly ministry.

Add to this the miraculous events recorded in the Book of Acts. These have to be explained. How did they happen if Jesus was merely a fraud?

Basically, this theory explains nothing.

Was There a Twin Brother of Jesus Who Appeared to Jesus' Disciples? ← Prior Section
Is It Possible There Was Some Sort of Conspiracy to Pretend Jesus Had Risen? Next Section →
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