With so many celebrating the Easter holiday this week, millions around the world - believers and non-believers - are reminded of Jesus' death, burial, and - most importantly - His resurrection.
The Significance of the Resurrection
Jesus’ resurrection is the single most important event in the Bible. Our Lord’s victory over death is the very foundation of our faith.
1 Corinthians 15:17-19 …If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
As Paul pointed out, if Christ had not been resurrected, our faith would be useless. We would still be in our sins. Life would be as meaningless - and, therefore, hopeless - as unbelievers contend. There would be no point to us being Christians.
However, as Paul goes on to state, Christ was resurrected. He is risen. We serve a living Savior who overcame death.
God Wants Us to be Informed
I think it’s a great misconception that faith ought to be blind. Time and again, the Bible tells us that God wants us to be informed and search out evidences for ourselves.
Proverbs 3:13 (NIV) Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Aside from that, Christians need evidence in order to convince others and lead them to the Truth.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…
Keeping that in mind, let us examine 5 evidences that make the case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Evidence #1 – Secular History
Many skeptics will point out that Bible evidence for the very existence of Jesus – including His death and subsequent resurrection – is questionable because of its inherent bias. Of course the Bible, a book claiming to be the Word of God, would confirm itself as true a skeptic might say in questioning the validity of the Gospels.
Indeed, due to wars, pillaging, and simple deterioration of various writings and artifacts, there is a severe lack of information about the life of Jesus to be found. In fact, few writings from the time of Christ exist at all, even information about important secular leaders of the time such as Julius Caesar, and yet no historian would question the existence of Caesar!
However, Historian Darrell Bock notes that since He wasn’t a great political or military leader that “It is amazing and significant that Jesus shows up at all in the sources we have.”
The sources available today include the writings of Jewish and Roman historians, Roman officials, and pagan sources, none of which would have any reason to want to further the influence of Christianity.
It is through these early non-Christian sources that the following facts about Jesus’ life are confirmed:
• Jesus was from Nazareth
• Jesus lived a wise and virtuous life.
• Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that He performed unusual feats.
• Jesus was crucified in Judea under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at the time of Passover, being considered the Jewish King.
• Jesus was believed by His disciples to have died and risen from the dead three days later.
It’s truly as Paul said to King Agrippa, the things Jesus did were “not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)
Evidence #2 – The Empty Tomb
Establishing the reliability of the Bible through the verification of outside, secular sources, let’s examine some of the physical evidence detailed in the Scriptures.
John 20:1-7 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.
Reading this section of verses, it would be easy for skeptics to argue that since believers of Jesus found the tomb empty that their testimony is biased and therefore unreliable. However, it is important to note that even the enemies of Christ – the Pharisees and others – never denied that the tomb was found empty.
It is also significant that the first people to discover the empty tomb were women. Taking into consideration historical norms of the Greco-Roman culture of the day this detail is especially noteworthy. As sexist as it may sound today, in this ancient society the testimony of women was not considered reliable.
Therefore, if the Gospel writers were merely making things up surely they would not have reported that it was women who found the empty tomb. Wouldn’t they have written that it was men instead that made this discovery so as to make their story more believable in that day and age? However, we read in the Gospels what actually happened as reported by those who were actually there, regardless of the cultural taboos of the day.
Many have sought to explain away the evidence of the empty tomb with various theories such as the body of Jesus was stolen or that Jesus wasn’t actually dead to begin with. These theories are all easily debunked however.
Take for example the “Stolen Body” theory: Jesus’ enemies – namely the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin – actually feared that something of this sort would happen, that one of Jesus’ disciples would try to steal His body in order to make the claim that He had been resurrected.
The disciples, however, seem to have little to no motivation for doing this. In fact, it would seem that the Pharisees had more faith in Jesus’ declaration that He would live again than some of His closest followers. We read that many of the disciples weren’t even present at the tomb that Jesus was revealed to be resurrected (Luke 24:13). This is further indicated a lack of faith by expressing disappointment that Jesus had not delivered on His promise (Luke 24:21).
The Pharisees however, were taking no chances, so they took precautions and asked that the tomb be sealed and that Roman guards be stationed at the entrance of the tomb to prevent the stealing of Jesus’ body. Based on Roman military protocol of the day, historians estimate the number of soldiers guarding the tomb being anywhere from at least 4 to a dozen to possibly even more. On top of that, keep in mind that Jesus was put to death and buried during the Passover feast, at time at which there were thousands of Jews camping in the surrounding area.
Taking all of this into consideration, the notion that a group of disciples boldly snuck up on these soldiers, rolled away the 1-2 ton stone at the mouth of the tomb and stole Jesus’ body all without being seen or heard by someone is highly unlikely.
Evidence #3 – Post-Resurrection Appearances
It would be all-too-easy to refute the story of Jesus’ resurrection if no one ever saw Him again. However, we have documentation that people not only saw the resurrected Jesus, but also touched, walked with, ate with, and talked with Him!
Jesus appeared to His disciples on numerous occasions following His resurrection. Recall that Jesus was among them for 40 days after His resurrection.
Acts 1:1-3 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
The Apostle Thomas famously doubted that Jesus was actually alive again until encouraged by Jesus to touch Him.
John 20:24-28 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Some of Jesus’ own disciples supposed that Jesus’ resurrection – if it took place at all – was going to be a sort of ghostly manifestation in keeping with the Jewish belief that the spirit lingered after the body died. Taking this evidence into account, however we know that Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a spiritual resurrection, but a physical one.
In fact, hundreds of witnesses saw Jesus at one time following His resurrection!
1 Corinthians 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
Modern psychologists have confirmed that this could not be could be a case of “mass hallucination”, that all these witnesses merely imagined Jesus among them. His appearing to so many witnesses in the flesh confirmed that He was indeed alive once more!
In a court of law we find ourselves convinced by eye-witness accounts, people who were actually there. Why then would we question the testimony of those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus?
Evidence #4 – The Radical Transformation of the Disciples and Others
Consider for a moment the life and character of Peter and the other disciples as recorded in the earlier parts of the Gospels.
We read over and over that these eleven men were often proved to be fairly ignorant of the scriptures and slow learners (Even to the point that Jesus Himself actually got frustrated with them on more than one occasion!). They would jump to brash conclusions and were downright self-righteous at times. Additionally, they exhibited inconsistent faith time and time again and were even shown to be cowardly, fleeing for their lives as Jesus was being taken away.
How is it then that these same men would so suddenly become such knowledgeable and bold evangelists responsible for spearheading a religious movement that would go on to last some 2000 years and counting? Something very real happened to them that transformed their lives!
Perhaps the best example of such a drastic 180-degree turn is that of Paul. Previously known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was once an extremely devout Pharisee and one of the harshest persecutors of the early church. A religious zealot, Paul was responsible for having many Christians imprisoned and even put to death.
However, on the road to Damascus, Paul encountered Jesus. While this was not Jesus in the physical form as we previously discussed, this was no mere subjective vision. Paul’s travelling companions also perceived the bright light and voice of Jesus as He appeared to Paul (Acts 9:7, 22:9). After meeting the Lord, Paul repented of his wicked ways and became a changed man. He went on to become a great leader of the early church and wrote the bulk of the New Testament.
Many unbelievers claim that all religions – including Christianity – only exist to control the masses and that they are all ultimately based upon some kind of lie. But by the world’s standards, what did the Apostles have to gain in preaching Christ? In the physical sense they had nothing to gain and everything to lose! The disciples never gained worldly riches from their evangelical work, and yet they were willing to face imprisonment, exile, torture, and even death in order to preach Jesus! This simply isn’t something that anyone would be willing to do if it was all simply based upon lie.
The fact is they knew that Christ truly had risen from the dead!
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Evidence #5 – The Birth and Growth of the Church
It was during the first century that the church was established and it wasn’t long before the movement exploded onto the scene. This wasn’t merely some short-lived cult; it was a huge movement that came suddenly and hasn’t gone away since. The church positively thrived in the first century and beyond.
From the beginning the Church saw a huge, instantaneous shift in the religious landscape of the day. The Day of Pentecost was a major turning point. Occurring 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and just 9 days after His ascension into Heaven, thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Many of those present had been witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter addressed the crowd. Notice the reaction of this huge crowd after hearing the first Gospel sermon.
Acts 2:40-41 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Following the church’s establishment, the Christian faith continued to gain incredible momentum. It wasn’t long before Christianity would become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, impressively overthrowing pagan practices that had went on for centuries.
In our modern era, we see movements spring up almost overnight thanks to our advanced transportation and communication technology. However, Christianity spread like wildfire without the aid these modern devices.
Only something as compelling and persuasive and real as Jesus’ resurrection could account for this widespread conversion.
Responding to the Resurrection – “What Shall We Do?”
Regardless of the evidences we have discussed today, ultimately, it all comes down to faith…
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
However, God requires more than just mere faith. There is a call for obedient action on our part. Recall on the Day of Pentecost that the crowd was moved by Peter’s sermon.
Acts 2:36-38 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Perhaps, like those gathered on the Day of Pentecost, you find yourself convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior who overcame death through the resurrection.
Perhaps you likewise find yourself “cut to the heart” in recognizing that you are guilty of sin and that you desire God’s forgiveness.
If that is the case then you will want to know the answer that Peter gave to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, for it is the same offer of salvation that Jesus provides to all of us today…
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...”