The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most debated issues in history, and it should be—a lot rides on it. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ didn’t happen, then Christianity is a sham. The apostle Paul wrote—
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)
If the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, then everything about Heaven and Hell is confirmed.
If the resurrection of Jesus Christ is real, then people really do have to make a life-changing choice, destiny-changing decision about Jesus Christ. He cannot be ignored.
So, is the resurrection real? In the ultimate sense, that question can only be answered by faith. Faith is what confirms the realness of the resurrection.
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
But is that a cop-out? No, because biblical faith is not a blind faith. It is not a faith that checks your brains at the door. Rather, it is a faith that has reasons and arguments behind it.
It’s like when a engineer designs a bridge. He can put it all on paper and know that it will work before one steel girder is ever put in place. You could say he has faith it will work.
His faith in his bridge design is supported by a whole slew of information and arguments about engineering and bridge design.
In the same way, a Christian’s faith is supported by real historical evidence. Christians do not believe in fairy tales.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central pillar of Christianity and is therefore hotly debated.
But it is debated. On a regular basis, you’ll find top-notch atheist scholars and Christian scholars duking it out over the resurrection. Just go look on Youtube.
If it’s a fairy tale, then why? I mean, no one ever debates the existence of Snow White and the seven dwarves! That alone should tell us that there is something to the resurrection.
THE RESURRECTION IS REAL
I think everyone can agree that Christianity exists and that the resurrection of Christ is one of it’s core teachings. The question confronting us is simple: how do you explain the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Many theories have been put forth:
1. Jesus Didn’t Really Die On The Cross
This theory is really hard to swallow. Jesus had been beaten with a whip, nailed to a cross for several hours, and stabbed in the side with a spear. John reports—
34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. (John 19:34)
Even with today’s medical technology, it would dicey whether or not anyone could survive that much blood loss—and this happened 2,000 years ago.
And, don’t forget, these were professional Roman soldiers doing this. They knew how to kill, and when a man was dead.
But it’s not just the Bible that says that Jesus died. Ancient secular historians like Josephus (Antiquities 18.64), Tacitus (Annals 15.44) also mention that Jesus was crucified and died.
Jesus really died. Another theory says that…
2. The Disciples Lied About The Resurrection
This theory says that the disciples stole Jesus’s body and hid it somewhere, then made up the story of the resurrection.
1) The first problem with this theory is that the authorities took precautions against this very thing happening:
62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. (Matthew 27:62–66)
It would have been difficult for the unarmed and discouraged disciples to take on Roman soldiers and steal Jesus’s body.
2) It also doesn’t make sense for the disciples to lie: People won’t die for a lie. A parent asks their child if they cleaned their room. The child lies and says, “Yes.”
The parent notices the child’s mannerisms indicate that he is lying (like the too-straight face) and challenges, “So, if I go down and inspect it, it will be clean and I won’t have to spank you.”
What does the child usually do? The child runs off to “check” one or two more things in the room. He won’t chance it.
The disciples, by all accounts, suffered for their belief in Jesus. Most were martyred. Would they die for a lie? Liars make for lousy martyrs!
3) Another problem with this theory is that, if the disciples would have made up the story, they would have put themselves in a good light. But listen to Mark 16—
9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. 10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. (Mark 16:9–14)
The disciples had a difficult time believing! Why would they reveal that about themselves if they were just making up the story?
4) A fourth problem with this theory is that the gospels record that it was women who were the first to discover the empty tomb. Why is that a problem?
In that culture, women weren’t even allowed to testify in court. Would the disciples make up a story with women as the first ones to see the risen Christ? It would only make their story more difficult to believe.
God, however, likes to turn the conventions of the world on it’s head. Whereas the women were second-class citizens in those days, they were first to the empty tomb.
The disciples did not lie and make up a story, so maybe…
3. The Disciples Imagined That They Saw The Risen Christ
On one level, this explanation sounds plausible. Some people, after losing a dear loved one, have imagined that they’ve seen the deceased and even talked with them.
But what is true about cases like that? It’s just the single person seeing the loved person.
How many saw the risen Christ? According to the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15…
5 …he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:5–8)
And that doesn’t even include the women.
For it to be said that the disciples imagined that they saw the risen Christ, you have to say that multiple people, hundreds in fact, imagined the exact same thing. That’s just not possible.
In addition, what of Thomas? He had a severe case of doubt.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. (John 20:25)
It’s unlikely that Thomas would hallucinate that Jesus came back to life when he was so skeptical.
Some have tried to modify this theory and say that one of the disciples imagined they saw Jesus risen from the dead and then convinced the others.
But then you’d still have to deal with the body being in the tomb. You’d have to also deal with the skeptical Thomas. And remember, the disciples had a hard time believing the report of the women.
4. The Disciples Were Fooled By A Con Man
So there’s a guy who looks like Jesus, and he’s been around Jesus enough to learn his mannerisms and a lot of his teaching. He also knows what Jesus said about rising again from the dead.
Then, after Jesus is crucified and buried, this guy decides to fool the disciples into thinking that Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Well…just ‘cause.
How does someone get conned? Typically, the con artist is able to overwhelm the victim with an impressive display of knowledge that either generates fear or greed in the victim.
Take email scams, for instance. They might promise an inheritance of millions of dollars, but you have to mail in $1,000 for lawyer fees first.
Most people who have some knowledge of the ways of the world won’t be fooled by those scams. The more a potential victim knows, the harder it is to con them.
And that is the big problem with the idea that the disciples were fooled by a con man. They had spent three years living with Jesus and learning from Jesus. The only one who could have fooled them would have been one of them—and then they would have known the con man.
5. The Account Of Jesus’s Resurrection Was Made Up Later
Historically, there may have been a popular first century teacher named Jesus who ended up getting himself executed. Over time, the legend of his resurrection and other miracles developed, as his teachings caught on in popularity.
Jesus is like Robin Hood. Robin Hood may have been a real person, but the stories about him fighting the Sheriff of Nottingham and robbing the rich to give to the poor are made up. The Robin Hood we know is a legend.
Is Jesus just a legend? Were accounts of his resurrection made up later, say in the second or third centuries?
I don’t think so, and here’s why:
1) The writing of the New Testament documents can all be dated within 25-75 years of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.
That seems like a lot to us at first, but in terms of historical documents from the ancient world, it’s amazing to have documents being written that close to the actual events.
2) Furthermore, archaeologists are continuing to discover ancient documents from the first century, including, just recently, a part of the gospel of Mark.
3) In those early documents, the disciples reported the resurrection as their a primary evidence that Jesus is God and the Savior. For example, in Peter’s first sermon, he says…
14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; 15 And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. (Acts 3:14–15)
That’s in the first Christian sermon! That’s not made up stuff from the second or third century.
The resurrection of Jesus is found in the earliest known Christian creeds. Creeds are short statements of truth.
Before the apostles started writing the New Testament, these creeds were passed around orally to teach people basic truths about Jesus.
Sometimes they are slipped into the New Testament. One place that happened is in 1 Corinthians 15—
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)
First Corinthians was written around A.D. 55, and this segment I quoted has the earmarks of being a creed that was already in use orally and Paul wrote down.
In other words, the resurrection of Jesus is being claimed less than 25 years of the crucifixion. That’s a far cry from the resurrection being a legend made up 100 or 200 years later.
The resurrection was not a legend made up later. It was being taught from day one of Christianity.
6. The Resurrection Really Happened
We could go on presenting theories to explain away the resurrection and then presenting the arguments and evidence that debunks those theories.
Whether you believe or don’t believe the resurrection, I do hope that you can see that Christians do not have a blind faith. Our faith can be supported with evidence and arguments.
If you don’t believe, I would challenge you to examine the evidence. There are many who don’t believe who have never looked seriously at the gospels or the arguments for the reality of the resurrection.
Go ahead examine the evidence, what are you afraid of?
But why? Why worry about the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
THE RESURRECTION IS RELEVANT
Confirmation Of Forgiveness
The basic human problem is that we are not basically good. Instead we are sinners. The Bible tells us so (Romans 3:23) and our experience tells us so.
We are sinners by nature. Look at a toddler. Look at looters after a disaster. Look at how easy it is for us to get angry, or lie, or cheat, or steal (“It’s a big company, they won’t miss it”).
The penalty of our sins is death (Romans 6:23), and Jesus paid that penalty. All we have to do is trust in him as our Savior.
When we do, we will be justified before God. God will declare us righteous in his sight and start gradually transforming us into righteous people in our practice. As we live out our Christian lives, the sinful habits will drop away.
So what’s the resurrection got to do with it?
25 Who [Christ] was delivered for our offences [sins], and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:25)
Jesus was raised “for our justification.” What does this mean?
Very simple. Suppose there is a man named Fred. Fred is a really good guy, very good. Always encouraging people. Loves kids. Diligent, hard-working, and all that.
One day, Fred announces that he can help people have a relationship with God by dying for their sins. Then, for various reasons, Fred is arrested and put before a firing squad.
Bang! Bang! Fred is dead. Now, how could anyone know if Fred really did die for our sins or if he was just plain loony?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is necessary for our justification because it proves that Jesus really did pay for our sins with his death. It confirms that God accepted his sacrifice for our sins. The resurrection confirms our forgiveness.
Do you trust in the Risen Savior?
Comfort After Death
Another reason that the resurrection of Jesus is important to Christians is that it shows us what will happen to us when we die. We will also be resurrected! This is what Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15—
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:17–20)
Because of sin, we are cursed to die. But because of Christ’s resurrection, we can know that, when we trust Christ, we will rise again. We get to live again!
There’s also the issue of suffering. No one escapes suffering in this life, many suffer tremendously. If there is nothing after we die, then it’s all unfair and unjust. We suffer for no reason at all.
But if the resurrection be true, then we will also be resurrected one day. And the resurrection of our bodies rights the wrongs that we suffer. It gives us a whole new life, an eternal life, to live.
And it all begins with the resurrection of Christ.
Wallace, J. Warner. Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2014.