“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”” (John 20:27–28)
The first of the theories which have been put forward to discredit the resurrection is the “substitution hypothesis”. As early as the third century we find claims that another was crucified in Jesus’ place, and an early contender was Simon of Cyrene, the man who was compelled to carry Jesus’s cross. Others have speculated that Jesus had a twin, or that a lookalike was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’s place. This idea has some traction in Islam, too. In the Qur’an, it is stated: “they never crucified him–they were made to think that they did.” (Sura 4:157-158). Some Islamic scholars have read this to imply a lookalike on the cross.
There are issues with this view, and the main one is that the theory does nothing to address the empty tomb. If a lookalike was crucified and laid in the tomb, then why wasn’t he there on Easter morning. Surely the body could have been displayed to discredit the claims of the church - or to correct its mistake.
We also have the issue that during his ministry, the family of Jesus were skeptical of his claims. In Mark’s gospel we read: “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21). John comments: “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5). If a lookalike were crucified, then surely they would have noticed, and they were in no mood to keep this secret. In fact their experience of seeing Jesus crucified and then raised brought them to faith: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
Not everyone was so sure, though. Thomas, a twin who was one of Jesus’ disciples, wanted to see physical proof that the man who was crucified was also the one who had risen. He wanted to put his hands in Jesus’s wounds before he was sure (John 20:25) and it was when he met the risen Christ that he cried out “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).
The theory of the substitute does not work.