I believe that one of the most formidable arguments for the truth of Christianity is the resurrection. Not only is the evidence powerful, but the implications of a resurrected Jesus Christ that claimed to be God, taking the sins of the world, are astounding. The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian worldview (1 Cor. 15:17). Without the resurrection, the Christian worldview is just another set of rules to follow and a guilt trip. As Easter nears, I desire to give evidence that the case for the resurrection is overwhelmingly strong. The evidence will be presented in the order of the historical account of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
The historical accounts of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection can be found in (click the verses to read the section of Scripture):
Before the Crucifixion
First, Christ claimed to be God throughout His ministry: John 10:30, Mark 14:61. This claim got Christ crucified, but it also is the reason He was able to accomplish something as astounding as salvation for mankind and a bodily resurrection from the dead.
Jesus Christ’s ministry consisted of the preaching of repentance and reconciliation between man and God. However, He also came to die as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and then conquer death through His resurrection, so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life. Christ, himself, claimed that He would resurrect:
1. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Matthew 16:4
2. “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'” John 2:19
Either Jesus was a lunatic and not to be trusted for His outlandish claims, or He was really God and resurrected from the dead. Today, I would like to show that the latter is true and there is evidence for it.
Jesus was a real person in history and He did die by crucifixion. Dr. Michael Licona would categorize this in his minimal facts approach, which must meet two criteria: (1) strong historical evidence,(2) so strong even skeptics accept it as historical. Not only do all four Gospels attest to Jesus’ crucifixion, but also Tacitus, Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, Mara Bar-Serapion, and even the Jewish Talmud attest to the historical reliability that Jesus was crucified. Also, Jelius Aficanus (AD221) quotes Thallus (AD 52), Tertullian, and Phelgon (AD 137) all mention the time of darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion.
It is important to clarify this because some claim that Jesus never died or that the historical account is not true. However, there are plenty of resources outside of the Bible that agree with the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Also to claim that Christ did not die on the cross (Swoon Theory) would be outrageous because the penalty for Roman soldiers who did not do their job properly, allowing for the escape or not following through with a sentence, would be punished by death. Even though the soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus, they did stab him with a spear and found water mixed with blood giving more evidence that He was dead. It is outrageous to think that Jesus being severely whipped, crucified, and embalmed only to live through it all and escape from a tomb with a rock in front of it.
Jesus’ burial has three strong arguments that give evidence to His resurrection: (1) Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was used, (2) the tomb was located in the same city Jesus appeared in, and (3) the tomb was guarded.
Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 27:57), but he was a secret disciple because he feared the Jews (Jn. 19:38). Not only did he fear the Jews, but he was also a prominent member of the Council (Mk. 15:43). If the account of Christ’s death and burial were created, and not true, then it seems that Joseph of Arimathea would have been the least likely to be used by the Gospel writers. The early Christians had anger and bitterness toward the Jewish leaders of that time, which Joseph was. Also the use of such a specific name and title seems like a poor choice by the Gospel writers, since people could check this out for themselves and ask about it. Lastly, it is logical that if the burial by Joseph of Arimathea were a legend or myth, then there would be competing burial stories of Jesus’ body. However, that is not found.
Jesus’ tomb was located in the same city that He appeared to others in. The appearances of Jesus’ occurring in the same city He was buried in allows for the locals to easily check whether the claim of His burial and resurrection were false. Also, if the claims of the disciples and others who saw Him were lies, then it seems unwise of them to claim they saw Him in the same city He was buried in. If his tomb was not empty it would have been remarkably difficult to convince or advance early Christianity.
The tomb of Jesus was guarded by Roman soldiers (Matt 27:62-66). The intensity in which the Roman soldiers made sure Jesus was dead would have been the same while guarding His tomb. Again the penalty for anything happening to the body of Jesus would result in their death. They had been posted there because the Council remember that Jesus had claimed He would rise from the dead, and did not want the disciples stealing Him, then convincing people He had risen. Yet another reason the guards would have been vigilant and careful that nothing would happen to Jesus’ body. Along with the disciples being afraid and scattered with no motives, the guards eliminates the possibility that the disciples could have stolen the body of Christ. And yet if the disciples did get away with stealing the body, why would they die for something they knew was not true?
Appearing to Many
Even Jesus’ appearances after His death is proof for His resurrection. (1) All of the disciples couldn’t have had the same hallucination or created the story (groupthink), (2) the disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus and died for it, (3) the first witnesses were woman, and (4) several skeptics of Jesus claimed to see Jesus and were transformed.
The theory that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus is outrageous. First, hallucinations cannot be shared by multiple people. A hallucination is an individual experience. Second, hallucinations often come from fertile open minds, but the disciples had fearful and doubtful minds. Third, over many weeks, to many different types of backgrounds, different temperaments, and in various places people saw the risen Jesus. For all of those people to have the same hallucination is astronomically improbable and doesn’t remotely seem reasonable. Last, if all of the witnesses had a hallucination, then what accounts for the empty tomb?
Some say that the disciples thought up this lie together, groupthink. However, this is highly unlikely considering the disciples held to the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and went to their deaths. If they all made up the story, then they went to their deaths needlessly. Also both Paul and James, skeptics, believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus’ disciples strongly believed that He rose from the dead and appeared to them. Paul, oral traditions, and written works of the early church can attest to this belief held by the disciples. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, confirms that the disciples of Jesus witnessed and held that Jesus rose. Many of the creeds of the early church attest to the same thing. Even early church writings speak of the disciples belief of Jesus’ resurrection: Clement (ordained by Peter) mentions Jesus’ resurrection in a letter, and Polycarp (appoint by John) wrote a letter mention the resurrection no less than five times. How strongly did the disciples believe in the risen Jesus? The disciples were transformed from scared and confused (at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion) to willing to endure persecution and martyrdom (after Jesus’ resurrection and visitation).
One could ask: How is this different than other religious martyrs? Many people are more than willing to die for their beliefs. I would agree with that. However, the other religions can only have faith that their beliefs are true, but the disciples knew for a fact whether the resurrection had truly occurred because they were witnesses.
Knowing the role of women in the first century Jewish society makes the account of the women seeing both the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus more extraordinary. Women were considered low on the societal ladder. There was even an old rabbinical saying “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than delivered by women.” In Jewish court, women weren’t even allowed to be legal witnesses. This shows the faithfulness of the Gospel writers to write the truth, even if it was embarrassing.
Paul, the persecutor of the early church, and James, Jesus’ half-brother, bother were skeptics, but converted after the resurrection of Jesus. Not only was Paul a skeptic, but he persecuted the early followers of Christ. After experiencing a run in with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul devotes his life to proclaiming the risen Jesus and even becomes a martyr. Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen all report that Paul was willing to suffer for his beliefs. James also is converted to following and proclaiming the risen Jesus. Just like Paul, James dies a martyrs death. Neither Paul nor James had anything to gain, but still chose to die for the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The facts for Jesus’ resurrection are overwhelming. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then we could conclude that His claim to being God was true. And if He is God, then we could trust all of what He said previous to His death was true. That gives us a lot more to think about, which I hope you do.
The Case for the Resurrection by Gary Habermas
The Case for the Resurrection by Lee Strobel
Did the Resurrection Happen: Really? by Josh McDowell
Evidence For The Resurrection by Josh and Sean McDowell