One of my favorite N.T. Wright passages on the implausibility of the revisionist approach to the Resurrection:
We note at this point, as an important aside, how impossible is it to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection. We know of several other Jewish movements, messianic movements, prophetic movements, during the one or two centuries either side of Jesus’ public career. Routinely they ended with the violent death of the central figure. Members of the movement (always supposing they got away with their own skins) then faced a choice: either give up the struggle, or find a new Messiah. Had the early Christians wanted to go the latter route, they had an obvious candidate: James, the Lord’s brother, a great and devout teacher, the central figure in the early Jerusalem church. But nobody ever imagined that James might be the Messiah.
This rules out the revisionist positions on Jesus’ resurrection that have been offered by so many writers in recent years. Suppose we go to Rome in AD 70, and there witness the flogging and execution of Simon bar Giora, the supposed king of the Jews, brought back in Titus’s triumph. Suppose we imagine a few Jewish revolutionaries, three days or three weeks later.
The first one says, ‘You know, I think Simon really was the Messiah – and he still is!’
The others would be puzzled. Of course he isn’t; the Romans got him, as they always do. If you want a Messiah, you’d better find another one.
‘Ah,’ says the first, ‘but I believe he’s been raised from the dead.’
‘What d’you mean?’ his friends ask. ‘He’s dead and buried.’
‘Oh no,’ replies the first, ‘I believe he’s been exalted to heaven.’
The others look puzzled. All the righteous martyrs are with God, everybody knows that; their souls are in God’s hand; that doesn’t mean they’ve already been raised from the dead. Anyway, the resurrection will happen to us all at the end of time, not to one person in the middle of continuing history.
‘No,’ replies the first, anticipating the position of twentieth-century existentialist theology, ‘you don’t understand. I’ve had a strong sense of God’s love surrounding me. I have felt God forgiving me – forgiving us all. I’ve had my heart strangely warmed. What’s more, last night, I saw Simon; he was there with me . . .’
The others interrupt, now angry. We can all have visions. Plenty of people dream about recently dead friends. Sometimes it’s very vivid. That doesn’t mean they’ve been raised from the dead. It certainly doesn’t mean that one of them is the Messiah. And if your heart has been warmed, then for goodness’ sake sing a psalm, don’t make wild claims about Simon.
That is what they would have said to anyone offering the kind of statement which, according to the revisionists, someone must have come up with as the beginning of the idea of Jesus’ resurrection. But this solution isn’t just incredible; it’s impossible. Had anyone said what the revisionists suggest, some such conversation as the above would have ensued. A little bit of disciplined historical imagination is all it takes to blow away enormous piles of so-called historical criticism.