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The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central point of Christianity. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be meaningless. Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” It is important, therefore, that we look critically at the resurrection and examine the evidence for and against it’s accuracy as an historical event.
First, let’s summarize the story of the resurrection. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be Christ, the Messiah. He was arrested, tried, and judged a political criminal. He was tortured and crucified. Three days after his death and burial, Mary Magdalene and other followers went to see his tomb and found the body was not there. His disciples claimed that God raised Jesus from the death. Jesus appeared to the disciples and many others after his death.
Evidence for the Resurrection
Several authors including Josh McDowell and C.S. Lewis have examined the evidence after exhaustive research and concluded that in fact the resurrection is a historically accurate event. In this brief essay, I will summarize what I found to be the most compelling evidence. I will examine three important areas – Jesus’ death and the tomb, the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, and the circumstantial evidence surrounding the resurrection.
Claims by Skeptics
First, let’s examine issues related to the death of Jesus and the tomb. Some of the following claims are made by skeptics:
- The tomb wasn’t empty. The disciples went to the wrong tomb
- The tomb wasn’t empty. Jesus was raised spiritually not bodily
- The tomb was empty because the body was stolen.
- The tomb was empty because Jesus never died, but swooned.
Problems with Skeptics’ Claims
The problem with each of these explanations is that there is no textual evidence to support any of the theories either in the Bible or in texts outside the Bible. The claim that the disciples went to the wrong tomb is absurd. All four Gospels make it clear that Joseph of Arimathea obtained permission from Pilot to bury Jesus in a tomb on his property. Certainly he knew the location of the tomb. It is also absurd to conclude that not only Joseph, but the guards, Peter and John, and the Jewish and Roman authorities all went to the wrong tomb.
Regarding the explanation that Jesus was raised spiritually, but not bodily, you would have to discount what Jesus himself claimed. In Luke 24:39 Jesus says, “See My hands and My feet, that is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” You would also have to ignore the passages in which the disciples touched him and the passage in which Jesus ate a fish. (Luke 24:36-49, John 21)
The claim that Jesus body was stolen is plagued by the problem of motive. Why would Roman or Jewish authorities want to steal a body when that was something they wanted to avoid? The disciples also had no motive to steal the body. They didn’t expect the resurrection and suffered as a result of it.
Another theory suggests that perhaps Jesus never died. To accept this theory you would have to contradict the belief of the Roman executioners that Jesus was dead and would have to believe that a person could survive all that Jesus went through – torture, crucifixion, loss of blood due to the spear in his side, having his body wrapped in linens and covered with 100 pounds of spices, and living in a cold grave without water or food for three days. You would have to believe that not only did Jesus endure all that, but He had enough strength to remove a large stone from his grave. And you would have to believe that He lived a life of obscurity until he died a natural death. To believe all that is to defy reason.
The evidence clearly shows that Jesus died and that his tomb was indeed empty.
Jesus’ Appearances after His Death
Now let’s consider Jesus’ appearances after his death and resurrection. According to the Bible, Jesus appeared to the disciples on several occasions. Once he even appeared to a group of up to 500 people. Some have theorized that such appearances were just hallucinations. Hallucinations, however, occur to individual people. They do not occur to multiple people at the same time.
Some also theorized that the appearances of Jesus were simply lies by the disciples. But why would so many people perpetuate the same lie, when for many of them it meant their own persecution and death?
None of these theories give us any reason not to believe what is written in the Bible.
Finally the circumstantial evidence surrounding the resurrection is also compelling. Consider the following:
- Jesus predicted His resurrection.
- The Jewish leaders were silenced after the resurrection, instead of refuting the claims of the Christians.
- Before the resurrection the disciples were fearful people. After the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus, they were transformed. They boldly proclaimed Christ, often at their own expense, to thousands of people.
- The conversion of Paul from a persecutor of Christians to a persecuted Christian because he defended Christ is unexplainable except by the Biblical account of his dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
- The early church grew and was successful, in spite of fierce opposition. If the resurrection were not true, word would have spread. It is unlikely that the church would have survived, never mind grown so quickly.
All the evidence points to the physical death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is His resurrection that gave rise to Christianity and it His resurrection that has given Christians through the centuries their hope for eternal life with Christ.
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