Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
An examination of the evidence for the resurrection goes beyond just exploring the evidence Jesus rose from the dead, but to the reliability of the Bible itself and whether we have evidence the Bible is true. As Christians however, the physical resurrection of Jesus is crucial to our faith, so let's examine whether a belief in the resurrection is logical by critiquing the arguments of skeptics.
One of the common tactics skeptics use to deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is to say that “since none of us were there, no one can really say what happened 2000 years ago”. While there is some truth to that statement, it is an illogical argument against something having been documented in history. Here’s why. None of us were also around when George Washington was President, so technically, we can’t “prove” he was President, however, if there is enough historical documentation attesting to his Presidency and corroborated historically by enough eyewitnesses, combined with absolutely no documented claims denying these facts, logic demands we accept his Presidency as historically true. To deny this would be illogical and unscientific.
The same holds true for the resurrection of Jesus. Skeptics, of course, have a tendency to discount the Biblical accounts because the Bible is “just a religious book”, but that is not true. In addition to the Word of God, the Bible also happens to be a book of history, documenting by eyewitnesses the actual events of that time in history. History records from eyewitnesses that Jesus Christ actually died and then 3 days later rose from the dead and was seen by 500 men over a span of 40 days. But, skeptics will still refuse to accept this by coming up with hypothetical theories to explain away the resurrection.
One of the most common is to claim the disciples merely stole the body of Jesus and hid it, then lied to people telling them he really rose from the dead. So let’s examine this one particular theory and see if it stands the test of scrutiny and logic by asking a few simple questions.
- If Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, why did the disciples go from frightened, timid followers of Jesus before his death, to bold evangelists willing to die preaching his resurrection if they just really made the whole thing up and he was still dead? Remember, before Jesus was crucified, the disciples were, for the most part, cowards. Peter denied even knowing Jesus 3 times before the crucifixion. What event changed them from cowards to courageous? Answer: They must have actually seen the risen Jesus.
- Why were the disciples willing to be tortured and killed for a known lie? You don’t need a degree in human psychology to know that people do not die for a cause they know to be false. People do certainly die for false beliefs all the time, but they think they are dying for the truth. If the disciples faked the resurrection, they would know Christianity is a lie. History records they were tortured and killed for their faith, and not one of them said, under torture “okay, okay, we made the whole thing up”? Why is that? Answer: They must have actually seen the risen Jesus.
- Why would they make up the resurrection story if Jesus turned out to be a fraud? Remember, Jesus told them he would rise after 3 days. If he was still dead on day four, that means he wasn’t who he claimed he was, he wasn’t the Messiah and certainly wasn’t God after all, so why would the disciples worship a dead guy who lied to them and was exposed as a fraud? Answer: They must have actually seen the risen Jesus.
- What was their motive? Lies or deceptions are typically done for some selfish motive. Preaching the resurrection of Jesus would not bring them wealth, fame, status or popularity. It would only cause them to be hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, exiled, beheaded, tortured and crucified, as history records, so again, what could possibly be their motive? Just to save face? That’s certainly not logical. No one is going to go through what the disciples went through just because they’re too embarrassed to say “I guess we were wrong”, so what was their motive? Answer: It was the TRUTH. They must have actually seen the risen Jesus.
- How do the disciples, 12 ordinary people pull off such a hoax? Remember, this “hoax” would trigger thousands of skeptics per day to convert to following their scam as well as redirect the entire world to even eventually change their calendars and establish their hoax character, Jesus as the best known religious figure in all of humanity. How could they pull something like this off without ever getting exposed, offering a death bed confession or even admitting it was a hoax under torture? Answer: It must not be a hoax. They must have actually seen the risen Jesus.
- Why would thousands of people immediately convert if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead? Think about it. History records that thousands upon thousands were instantly and immediately mass converting to be followers of Jesus, as many as 3000 in a day. It is recorded that after the crucifixion, Jesus appeared alive over a span of 40 days and to “500 brethren”. (Back then, only men were counted in crowd totals, so factoring in women and children, Jesus most likely appeared to safely 1500 to 2000 people over 40 days). If that many people saw Jesus alive, it would explain how so many were converting because even the most hardened skeptics would have crowds and crowds of former skeptics saying “yes, it’s true, we all have seen him too”, but if no one saw him alive and the crowds had only the words of the disciples to go by, why would thousands convert? Remember, the disciples were preaching to many who didn’t want to believe Jesus was the Messiah, so what words could they speak to hostile crowds to convince them Jesus really did rise from the dead? “Trust us”? That might convince some of the disciple’s closest friends, but not thousands upon thousands of skeptics. So why did thousands convert? Answer: Crowds must have actually seen the risen Jesus.
- Why did the disciples make themselves look bad in the Gospels? Think about it, if you were going to make up a story, wouldn’t you present yourself in somewhat of a positive light? The disciples painted themselves as sniveling cowards lacking in faith. Why? Answer: They must have been telling the truth.
- How did Saul of Tarsus, the chief persecutor of Christians convert to become the Apostle Paul, the chief follower of Jesus if he didn’t really have an encounter with a risen Jesus? Logically, if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, Saul would just gloat in his victory, exposing Jesus as a fraud who couldn’t conquer death after all, so what event could have caused him to convert? Answer: He must have actually encountered the risen Jesus as recorded.
- How could the disciples even steal the body in the first place? The body was encased in a tomb with a 24 hour watch by Roman guards trained to kill. The punishment for breaking a Roman grave seal, or attempting to steal a body or overpowering a Roman soldier was death, so how did timid, cowardly disciples muster up the courage to try this? And as stated before, for what motive? That’s a big risk for absolutely no payoff. Some will say “maybe the guard was asleep”. First, dereliction of duty brought death to a Roman soldier, so I doubt they would “fall asleep” and secondly, the stone covering the tomb weighed 2 tons and was rolled into a stone groove which would have been flush against the stone opening of the grave. Think about how loud a 2 ton stone scraping against stone would be as several disciples tried to move it. I don’t think Rip Van Winkle could sleep through that, so, how could the disciples have stolen the body? Answer, they didn’t. Jesus actually rose from the dead.
You can get more evidence for the resurrection in the Top Ten Proofs for the Physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ which addresses other common anti-resurrection theories as well as gives historically documented accounts of Jesus' resurrection from Biblical and even non-Biblical sources.
This is just one of many examples of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ pointing to the reliability of the Bible showing us that we can accept as history the evidence Jesus rose from the dead physically and literally.