Premise A: People do not rise from the dead
Premise B: God could rise from the dead
Premise C: Jesus rose from the dead
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus is God.
I love a popular hymn that Christians sing:
I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever men may say.
I see his hand of mercy, I feel his voice of cheer;
And just the time I need him, he’s always near.
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today…
This song celebrates the central fact of Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. According to Paul, Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection of Christ. He writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If He was simply a first century teacher whose bones rot away in the grave, then there is no harm in ignoring His teaching. If Jesus did not come back from the dead, there is no point in talking about the atonement, or eschatology, or ecclesiology, or any of the other subjects that theologians love to debate. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, the implications are enormous. A resurrected Jesus is proof that He is who He claimed to be. A resurrected Jesus is proof the Bible is true. A resurrected Jesus is proof that His teachings must be taken seriously
Throughout history, there have been many founders of different religions–like Buddha, Moses, Mohammad, Confucius and Joseph Smith. Jesus is unique in history as a religious leader because of the claim that He would rise from the dead. All the other religious leaders have died and stayed dead. Buddha, Moses, Mohammad, Confucius and Joseph Smith are all dead. But Christianity claims Jesus is alive. How can we know if Jesus really rose from the dead? Let’s look at the evidence.
Evidence that Jesus rose from the dead
The resurrection of Jesus is not a repeatable experiment. One cannot scientifically kill Jesus again and observe the resurrection in the laboratory. The resurrection of Jesus was a one-time event that must be judged through the lens of historical reports. It is in this arena that there is a great deal of evidence for the resurrection.
1. Jesus was crucified. All four Gospel agree on this fact as well as the writings of Paul and the book of Acts. Non-Christian sources also agree. The crucifixion is recorded by Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and by the Talmud. But was it a cruci-fiction or crucifixion? One of the Jesus Seminar scholars who is highly skeptical of the life of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan, writes, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can be.” E.M. Blaiklock, professor of Classics at Auckland University said, “I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history.”
2. Jesus’ disciples absolutely believed that Jesus rose from the dead. During the trial that preceded the crucifixion, the disciples of Jesus were so afraid they ran away and hid themselves from the Jewish leaders. It was fear that caused Peter to deny Jesus three times. But after the resurrection, the disciples became fearless and preached about Jesus in the Temple courts, to the horror of the Jewish leaders. What caused such a dramatic change? The disciples had seen a risen Jesus with their own eyes.
So convinced were the disciples that Jesus was alive they were willing to give their own lives because of their belief. The disciples suffered humiliation, torture, imprisonment, and martyrdom for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Of the eleven disciples who witnessed the resurrection, all but one (John), was martyred for his faith. When threatened with death, none of the them recanted or denied their beliefs. It is hard to believe they would have given their lives for the sake of a lie.
Eyewitness testimony proves Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrected Jesus was seen by a variety of individuals and groups. Jesus showed himself alive with many “infallible proofs” over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), to the eleven disciples hiding behind closed doors (John 20:19-23, 26-29; Mark 16:4-8; Luke 24:36-52), to some of his disciples who had returned to their fishing nets after the crucifixion (John 21:1-14), to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5), to five hundred of his followers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6), to James (1 Corinthians 15:7), to a group of disciples at the time of his ascension into heaven (Luke 24:50), and to Paul at his conversion (Acts 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:8). That there was so much eye-witness testimony gives the strongest credit to the fact of the resurrection. No court would dismiss the evidence of hundreds of people.
3. Great skeptics became great believers. James and Jude, the brothers of Jesus, and Saul, who was to become the Apostle Paul, are three examples of people who did not believe in Jesus before the proof of His resurrection. All were radically changed by the clear belief that Jesus rose from the dead. For James and Jesus’ other brothers, it must have been a bit of a trial to have such a special brother. What is obvious from Scripture is that James and his brothers did not initially believe Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. That changed after the resurrection. James became the important figure of the church in Jerusalem. He was later killed for his belief. He and his brother Jude each contributed a book to the New Testament.
Saul had no reason to become a Christian. He came from a well-regarded family in a wealthy city. He was trained by one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history, Gamaliel. He was so zealous for the law of Moses and his Jewish traditions that he went around killing Christians. At the rate he was going, he was destined to become one of the religious leaders of Judaism. Yet, he threw away all of it—his reputation, his wealth, his status, and his position—in order to join his enemies, the Christians because of his encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Because of his new faith in Jesus, he was willing to travel thousands of miles in horrible conditions to preach the Gospel, be stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and ultimately to be executed. He willingly suffered hardship, torture and persecution so that he could proclaim that Jesus rose from the dead.
4. The tomb was empty. Jesus was publicly crucified and placed inside the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. Roman soldiers were posted at the tomb with strict instructions to prevent anyone from taking the body. Three days later, the tomb was empty. The disciples were accused of stealing the body, but it is a fact that the body was not in the tomb. The Jewish leaders could have instantly quashed the sect of Christianity by producing Christ’s body. The fact they did not is proof that His body was gone.
5. The first witnesses were women. Women were considered unreliable witnesses in the first century Jewish society so if someone was making up a story about Christ’s resurrection, they would not have made up a story about women finding him first. But this is in fact what the Gospel’s record—that women were the first ones to see the empty tomb and to see the resurrected Savior. The men did not at first believe them and went to the tomb themselves. What they saw—an empty tomb—only confirmed the testimony of the women.
6. Only Christ’s resurrection from the dead can account for the rapid growth of the early church. While Christianity is prominent today, Jesus was an obscure religious teacher in a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire. Yet he started a movement that changed the empire and the world. The reason for the impact of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead.
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About the Author: Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.