It's no exaggeration to say that Christianity stands or falls on Jesus' resurrection. If Jesus wasn't raised bodily from the dead, our faith is "useless" and "futile" (see 1 Corinthians 15:14 and 15:17-19). But if Jesus HAS been raised bodily from the dead...well, we'd better pay attention to Him. The Christian faith has meaning, our future has hope, and our mission matters.
So why is it credible to believe in Jesus' resurrection? Or even beyond that, why does it make the best sense of the evidence we have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Here are four lines of evidence that - when put together - build a strong case for the reliability of Jesus' resurrection.
1. Jesus really died.
This one maybe seems overly basic but it’s not. There are theories out there that suggest Jesus just appeared dead. (If you’ve ever seen the Princess Bride, these theories would say Jesus was “mostly dead.”) And so they say Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because he was never dead. He simply got better - or better enough - to get up and start walking around again.
Greg Koukl helps us think through this in his excellent little book, The Story of Reality:
“…there is no question that Jesus was dead. The Romans killed him. He’d been brutally beaten, whipped, fastened to a cross with nails in his hands and feet, exposed naked all afternoon in the April air, speared through his chest, then declared dead by a battle-seasoned Roman centurion. He’d been embalmed with over eighty pounds of chemicals, and his body was stretched out on a slab of rock and sealed in a cold crypt" (pp. 149-50).
So was Jesus really dead? Yes. We need to start here, and then move on to what else builds the case for Jesus' resurrection.
2. The tomb was empty.
A question we have to ask is this: If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, where’s his body? Those in power had zero motive to move his body, and Jesus’ followers certainly had no means to move his body by force when Jesus tomb was sealed and guarded (see Matthew 27:62-66). In fact, all the gospel accounts talk about how grief stricken they were at Jesus’ death and how surprised they were at his resurrection - they’re not scheming anything.
We have to reckon with the fact that the tomb was empty. Could it be true that God raised Jesus from the dead?
3. Jesus was seen by others. (Lots of others.)
Now we see how these evidences are starting to pile up. Not only do we have an empty tomb, we have claims by multiple people over the course of more than a month that they’ve seen the risen Jesus - even a large group of more than 500 we read about in 1 Corinthians 15:6.
So these aren’t hallucinations. The evidence we have from these first century documents shows us this isn’t just someone seeing what they want to see. In Luke 24:38-40 Jesus' followers are actually doubting their own eyes - and so He goes out of His way to point out that He’s flesh and bone. He really has been raised bodily from the dead.
4. Lives were changed. (Deeply changed.)
This truth of the life change of Jesus’ followers is huge.
Every one of Jesus' apostles proclaimed the resurrection. And every one of them experienced suffering because of it. Tradition tells us that every one of Jesus’ apostles except one was killed because they believed Jesus rose from the dead.
When people are willing to suffer for what they believe it shows how sincerely they believe it. Jesus’ follows aren’t just making this stuff up because its suits them or is convenient.
Two prime examples of changed lives are to men we read about in the New Testament, James and Paul.
We know from the New Testament that Jesus’ brother James was skeptical of his brother Jesus during Jesus’ life. But 1 Corinthians 15:7 tells us that Jesus appeared to James, and James went from skeptic to believer. James wouldn’t have changed his beliefs if he wasn’t convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Or take another guy we meet in Acts: this guy named Paul. He started out as a hostile opponent of Christianity - persecuting Christians even to the point of death! And then he encounters the risen Jesus and his goes from persecuting Christianity to embracing Christianity (you can read about it in Acts 9) - actively sharing the message of Jesus at great cost to himself!
This reality of changed lives can’t be overlooked.
So is it plausible that Jesus rose from the dead? Absolutely. Is this where the best evidence points us? Again, yes.
I'll now finish this post with a statement from the opening paragraph: If Jesus HAS been raised bodily from the dead...well, we'd better pay attention to Him. The Christian faith has meaning, our future has hope, and our mission matters.
How should the reality of Jesus' resurrection make a difference in your life?
Interested in more on this?
Check out Lee Strobel's Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus and / or Gregory Koukl's The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between.
Or, if you really want to dig deep, here are the names of some Christian thinkers who defend the resurrection very ably: Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, and N.T. Wright.
Finally, this post is a lightly edited version of some material I preached on at Brookside Church in November 2018. You can view the full sermon here.
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