The Resurrection account of Jesus is the most important claim in all of the Christian faith. In fact, the very foundation that holds Christianity to be true lies on this very belief: that Jesus died a human death on the cross but was seen alive three days after. That is why, when many try to prove Christianity false, the resurrection of Jesus is immediately attacked. Some say that we have no reason to believe that the resurrection of Jesus occurred, let alone believe that he even existed. So how can we be sure that Jesus resurrected from the dead? If it were true that the resurrection is a man-made story, then all of Christianity comes crumbling down. However, if the resurrection of Jesus did occur, then it is the greatest event to have ever occurred on Earth that carries with it a very significant implication towards all of humanity.
Arguments Against the Resurrection
For years the resurrection of Jesus has been attacked by both skeptics and other religions. Atheists say that the resurrection of Jesus is as true as Jesus himself – a false story made up by superstitious men. Some say that Jesus never existed therefore, the resurrection is just an extension of an already created lie in the person of Jesus. However, the attack on whether Jesus did exist is no longer a necessary debate since even Atheist scholars have concluded that it was very certain that Jesus did exist.
Atheist professor, Dr. Bart Ehrman, is a New Testament scholar, who has deeply studied the Gospels. He has concluded that whether we like it or not, Jesus did exist. “Despite the enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.” (Did Jesus Exist? p.12) Although he does not believe that Jesus was God, he does believe, along with many other Atheist scholars that Jesus did exist in the past.
Some religions view Jesus as only a great teacher while other religions deny his life and work entirely. For example, Islam attacks the resurrection claim by stating that Jesus never died, instead he was hidden by Allah.
“And [for] their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.” (Surah 4.157)
But is the Qur’an stating a truth? It is safe to say that this verse is false due to the overwhelming amounts of evidence we have from external sources from the Bible, ranging from past historians Josephus and Tacitus (whose work dates within 70 years of Jesus’ ascension) to present scholars, both believers and nonbelievers, who are highly respected in their fields.
Why the Resurrection is Important
1. It is proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he performed miracles that would support his claim as not only being sent by God, but more importantly, being one with the father. Many of the religious leaders of that time continued to be skeptical and requested a greater sign that would prove that Jesus was who he claimed to be.
“The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21)
Jesus’ death and resurrection was predicted by himself and would serve as a test to prove who he said he was and what he came to do for all of humanity. During the last 6 months of his ministry, he greatly emphasized the necessity of his death and resurrection. The resurrection was the sign to prove that not only was his ministry divinely appointed, but that he had the power to raise himself from the dead, a power only possessed by God himself.
(Click Did Jesus claim to be God? to find out!)
2. We are no longer condemned by sin
The resurrection not only proved that Jesus was God, but that salvation has also come to all those who accept God’s free gift. Man has been given God’s forgiveness through the redemptive act of Jesus on the cross. This brought much joy to those who understood this at the time, rejoicing that Jesus, their Redeemer, lived! It was because the very law that condemned them, the law that no man on Earth could ever fulfill, was finally fulfilled in the person of Jesus and nailed, along with our sins, on the cross.
Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection
In the Gospel writings, one can sense the great confidence the writers had in sharing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These accounts were presented not as mere stories, but as historical recordings that hold biographical information of their Rabbi and Messiah. Luke opens his Gospel by writing:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
At the very beginning, Luke states the purpose behind his letter. Luke, who was known to be a physician, underwent a careful investigation of the life of Jesus in order to give an “orderly account” to his friend, Theophilus. Why did Luke feel the need to go through all of the work of creating this document? It was so that Luke can provide evidence to rid of whatever doubt Theophilus may have had about Jesus. That’s how important the Gospel was to Luke and his desire for others to know the truth. The Gospels provide clear information that allows the reader to know the life of Jesus. However, there is another important letter that gives us further support for the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul records this Creed in his first letter to the church of Corinth when he writes, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4) This is the formal statement of faith that guides how believers express their faith.
The passage found in 1 Corinthians 15 holds the most important passage containing historical documentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 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. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Why is this passage so important? It’s because Paul is stating not only the Creed, but that there were over 500 people who saw Jesus crucified, buried, and alive again three days later! Even more, Paul was inviting those who doubted to speak to these witnesses “whom the greater part remain to the present.” It’s like trying to tell the story of the World Trade Center attack to someone who was born after the year 2001 and then encourage them to speak to hundreds of other people who were first-hand eyewitnesses to that very event.
Here are some more reasons why we should believe that Jesus did resurrect:
1. The Empty Tomb
The empty tomb was by far the most obvious yet also greatest evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. However, skeptics say that the tomb was empty because the disciples stole the body at night when no one was around to witness it. There are a number of problems with this belief:
First, the disciples were afraid for their lives. The only disciple who did not hide was John and one man alone could not pull off such a plan that if he could, would have been considered one of the greatest heists in history. Why? Because not only would he have to have the strength of Samson to remove the stone alone, he would have to confront the second problem to this believe which were the Roman guards.
Second, Roman guards were placed to watch the tomb. As soon as Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb and the stone rolled over, the Roman guards placed a seal on the tomb to make sure all knew that the punishment for breaking the seal was death (Matthew 27). The only thing the Roman guards knew was what they were taught to do since childhood which was fight, defend and kill. It was highly unlikely that the cowardly disciples, fishermen and tax collectors, had the skills to succeed in fighting the elite Roman guards.
2. The Testimony of the Women
During that time, women were considered second-class citizens whose word did not receive any respect. They were not even allowed to testify in court for that reason. So then why would the Gospel writers include that it was women who found the tomb of Jesus empty? If they wanted to make up a story that would be more believable at the time, why didn’t they say that it was Peter who finally found the courage or John who never left Jesus’ side? The only obvious answer is that the writers were telling the truth when they said that it was the women who found Jesus’ tomb empty and had seen him alive. Since they wanted to give a real and honest account, they wrote down all that happened exactly the way it happened.
3. The Martyrdom of the Apostles
The night Jesus was arrested, his disciples ran away fearing for their lives. When he was placed on the cross, the only disciple who did not care for his life and stood by his teacher’s feet was John. All of the others were afraid that they would suffer the same fate of their Rabbi. Even after Jesus’ body was removed from the cross and placed in the tomb, his disciples were nowhere to be found. The only ones with the courage to go to visit his tomb were the women.
Surprisingly a few days later, the disciples were then seen in public, preaching with greater authority the words of their teacher. They had come out from hiding in the dark to now being seen during the day, speaking to large groups of people. What could have transformed their fear into boldness in just a short period of time? It was because they had seen their Messiah alive.
1st Century Jewish Roman Historian Josephus records in his book the Antiquities:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive.” Josephus, Antiquities 18. 63-64
The disciples believed that they had seen their Christ alive after being crucified that they continued to dedicate their lives preaching the Gospel even to the point of death. All of the apostles, except John, were killed for not denouncing their faith in Jesus. We can reasonably conclude that the Apostles died for a truth that they believed in with all of their hearts for they had seen, talked to, and walked with the risen Jesus.
4. The Transformation of James, Jesus’ Brother
James, Jesus’ brother, is an important piece of evidence. We know that he was an apostle who died for his belief that Jesus was and is the Son of God. But if almost all of the apostles died for their belief in Jesus, why is his story any more valuable? It is because James did not believe his brother, Jesus, was who he claimed until after seeing his resurrected body.
John chapter 7, verse 5 records, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” Even worse, Mark records that James thought that Jesus was “out of His mind.” (Mark 3:21) It is clear that James did not believe in Jesus’ ministry since he was never mentioned as a disciple or one of the many who followed. So what could have changed James’ mind? It was because James saw his brother alive after witnessing his death on the cross! In fact, we see in Acts 1, that James is in the upper room with the rest of his family worshipping Jesus as God. James even refused to deny Jesus as his savior to the point of death by stoning. It appears that the resurrection was the only thing that could have changed James’ mind to the belief that his brother, Jesus, was the Son of God.
It makes it almost impossible not to believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all of the historical documentation and reasonable evidence we have today. As believers, knowing the evidence that supports the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not only vital to our own spiritual lives and the strength of our Christian faith, but also an indispensable part when it comes to sharing the Gospel. If belief in Christianity relies on such an important event, then we should be sure in what we know and how we can best share it with others. The skeptics may never disappear and the attacks may seem to increase over time, but as we continue to study scripture and the surmountable amounts of evidence that can support it, we can speak the words of the Apostle Paul with the same confidence, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) That “Day” which the Apostle speaks of is when we also will be resurrected to eternal life.