Could Jesus Christ really have risen from the dead?
The truth of Christianity stands or falls with one central issue: the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. Christians traditionally celebrate this event on Easter, but it is relevant for every day actually. If this really happened, then everyone should listen carefully to all that He taught. If not, then no one should trust the New Testament, because the New Testament repeatedly says that Jesus did rise from the dead. Not only did each of the gospel writers give major emphasis to this at the end of their gospels, but so did the apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and persecutor of Christians, who was converted through a direct encounter with the resurrected Christ whilst on his way to arrest and imprison believers in Damascus. If these gospel writers and apostles were liars, then it isn’t much recommendation for the New Testament, even as a source of moral instruction. Yet it is arguable that the New Testament has done more for the moral betterment of humanity than any other piece of literature in the world! How could the writings of liars produce such wonderful effects?
Take the resurrection out of Christianity and all we are left with is another man-made religion with its list of do’s and don’ts. The authority of the message is effectively removed once we deny the resurrection. Some people may prefer to view things that way, but I’d challenge such people to come to grips with the powerful historical evidence out there for the resurrection. I’d challenge them to offer an explanation as to why belief in a supposedly dead religious teacher has changed people’s lives so much in modern times – restoring marriages, getting people off hard drugs, changing lives and society for the better.
Christianity claims to deal with the living God intervening in history and finally entering men’s lives through the Holy Spirit. The resurrection of Christ is offered as the proof that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God, the one who made it all possible. To refute Christianity, it is not enough to simply say that these things can’t happen. You have to explain how it is that such things could have been written about Jesus of Nazareth and why a whole movement of people left their religious traditions to trust and believe it, forming the early church.
To deny the resurrection, we’d have to conclude that all the apostles (Jesus’ first disciples), most of whom were killed for their faith in Christ and the resurrection were liars and/or crazy, deluded fools. But does this really add up?
Non-Christian historians writing within a hundred years of Jesus’ life talk of Jesus’ existence and the early Christian belief in the resurrection.
Some people have closed minds and dismiss the possibility of a physical resurrection (or any miracle for that matter) out of hand. “We know [read: we assume] that there are no miracles. Why? I’ve never seen one, and neither have my friends. The only people who say they’ve seen a miracle are crackpots, fools, self-deceived! Why’s that? Simple – everybody who is reliable and has a good brain knows there is no such thing as a miracle.” Do you see this is nothing more than circular reasoning?
Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection
1. We have the record of the original eye-witnesses of Christ’s resurrection – the apostles – who gave their lives for their message. That’s a pretty strong testimony of its truth. You see, someone might tell a story and deceive me into believing something and dying for my belief. But when I die for something I claim to have seen myself, that is something else. No one could prove them wrong by producing the body. In fact, they proved what they were saying by continuing the miraculous ministry of Jesus Christ through their own lives – in healing the sick and casting out demons.
2. We have the present day revelation of Jesus Christ as alive to the hearts and minds of multitudes of people around the world whose lives were changed when they called upon his name. See my testimonies section for a few hundred examples. There are also a growing number of people who claim to have seen the resurrected Christ in a dream or vision. Significantly, quite a number of these people were muslims whose religious training opposed the doctrines of Christianity – yet they saw Christ and became Christians – many times experiencing severe persecution for their faith subsequent to that. I am not saying we should believe everyone who makes such claims, but when enough people who claim it go on to deny themselves comforts and advantages they could otherwise have had in order to serve the Lord Jesus, we should give some weight to what they say.
3. We have the continuing demonstrations of the power of God for healing and miracles and driving out demons – all done in the name of Jesus, whom Christians know and claim to be alive. I am a personal witness of such things, for God has been pleased to use me also in this way from time to time.
4. We have the textual evidence of the New Testament, and corroborating writings from other writers of the time. We can see in the details of this story, which occurred in a place known to us today also as Jerusalem, various historical accounts, and not just some nebulous myths or legends concerning things that happened “once upon a time in a land far away”. These stories could have been easily challenged and refuted had they not been based on solid fact, with people totally convinced of the reality of which they spoke.
What are the possibilities concerning the alleged resurrection of Christ?
1. All these witnesses were emotionally disturbed and had hallucinations – thinking they saw Christ when really they just had over-active imaginations and were operating in wishful thinking.
If this is so, then why did the Jewish authorities simply not go to the tomb of Jesus, bring out the dead body of Jesus, and put an end to the delusion? It would have easily been in their power to do it. The answer is obvious: they and the soldiers knew that the grave where Jesus had been put and sealed in was now open and empty.
Also, people do not tend to have mass hallucinations. Individually, people may have them, but it is practically unheard of for a large group to all see a person who in fact was not there at all. Does anyone know of any examples of this?
2. The disciples stole the body of Jesus. This story we are told was passed around right from the start by the Jewish authorities. Let us suppose that the 11 apostles knew that the body of Jesus was stolen. They lied to more and more people and soon obtained a popular following. And so Christianity was born.
This theory fails to account for a number of important facts.
1. These same disciples were martyred around the world for their faith in Christ and their doctrine that He is alive. If they knew they were lying, why would they not recant in order to save their necks?
2. How is it that they were able to do miracles in the name of Jesus? How is it that such miracles are still happening today. (I have been involved in such events myself.) If Jesus was dead, why was there power in His name?
3. It is reported in the Bible that Jesus at one time appeared to about 500 people (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). How could Paul write such a thing and get away with it if there were no such witnesses? And if there were, how did it come about for 500 people to see the same hallucination?
4. Last, but not least – how is that the disciples were able to steal the body? How did they get past the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb? It is really hard to understand how that could be.
3. The Romans soldiers stole the body.
Why would they put their lives at risk to do this? They would have had to violate the Roman seal on the stone. That was punishable by death. If the order was from higher up, the Roman authorities could have at any time crushed the new religion of Christianity by revealing this information. They never did so, at any time. Why?
4. The Resurrection Accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John can’t be harmonized.
For a harmonization of these accounts, click here. The harmonisation of these accounts, while not easy, is possible. They are reports given from different sources, with many corroborating details. However, things that some writers included others chose to leave out. By looking at all four accounts, a clearer picture of the events can be constructed. John Wenham has written an interesting book on this subject also, called “Easter Enigma”.
5. Jesus never died on the cross, he only swooned.
According to this theory Jesus just swooned on the cross. He was then buried, and somehow got the stone away and convinced his disciples that He rose again as promised.
The fact that University professors can come up with such ridiculous theories only goes to show how desperate some people are to come up with anything that gives them some kind of rationale for denying the resurrection of Christ. If this was so:
1. How is it that it was witnessed that blood and water came out together out of Jesus’ side when it was pierced, medically indicating a totally collapsed heart?
2. How was Jesus in his weakened state able to avoid bleeding to death? How did He roll the stone at the tomb up the slope, sneak past the guards and having survived the ordeal of crucifixion through purely natural strength, then appear supernaturally to His disciples and many others, convincing them that He is the resurrected Lord of life?
3. How and why did the disciples later see Him ascending into the cloud after giving them their final instructions?
6. The Whole Story is a Legend with no Basis in Reality
Those who wish to make such outrageous claims will have to make up some really interesting legends to explain how the early church got going and convinced so many Jews, Romans and other Pagans of things which had absolutely no basis in reality.
Did the church fathers like Polycarp also make up their stories about the apostle John? Or maybe the church fathers were a legend too? Well, tell us, how did the church as we know it come to exist? How do you know that the things reported to us concerning the events of 100 years ago are not a legend?
7. Jesus didn’t die on the cross, it just looked like Him.
This is the Muslim version of things. I’d like to ask why we should believe the dogmatic assertions of Mohammed, who never was eyewitness to any of the relevant events and wrote what he wrote 600 years or so after the events?
Is there any solid evidence for the Koran’s accounts on anything that far back?
Of course many muslims simple accept the Qu’ran at face value as inspired without questioning it. But the truth about God has nothing to do with what your parents believed, or which country or culture you happened to be born into. Many muslims don’t consider the fact that what Mohammed came up with about Jesus could easily be explained as a deliberate mixture of reports he had heard and his own imagination. Certainly it was useful for Mohammed to leverage the credibility of the Jewish and Christian faiths to establish himself as a divine spokesman. But the Qu’ran denies everything that is really important and liberating in the Christian gospel message about God taking our punishment and overcoming sin and death for us. The attempt to portray Jesus (Isa) as a prophet of Allah would only be plausible to a person who never bothered to check out the facts of history. And the most important historical event in the Christian gospels is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The muslim still has to deal with all the historical evidence for the resurrection presented above. It just will not do to say that God changed Judas, or the prison guard, or someone else to look like Jesus and had him crucified in Jesus’ place. No, Jesus was crucified in our place – no man was crucified in His.
8. Jesus Christ actually did rise from death!
As strange as it may sound in some ears, this remaining possibility is highly plausible. Certainly the disciples believed it. They went on to suffer and die for their convictions on this matter. They were convinced that they too would rise one day to rule and reign with Christ in the New Heavens and the New Earth. They were convinced that to die for Christ was to their own gain! Their faith cannot be put down to some kind of mass hypnosis, because it would have been very easy for the Romans or Pharisees to produce the body of Christ had it really remained in the grave. They had every interest in doing so.
Many people who have sought to disprove the resurrection have ended up becoming believers. I would urge you, if you are not already a believer, to seriously check this matter out for yourself. Don’t be distracted by the many secondary issues of life which clamour for your attention – because if you are wrong on this one issue – you have lost everything. Be sure that you build your life on a sure foundation of truth – one which can bring you triumphantly through both good times and bad. The wonderful part about the resurrection is, we have a sure foundation about which we can risk everything for God with total conviction, apparently lose in this life, and come out eternal winners. For the principle of resurrection operates not only for eternal life, but can also operate in our daily lives as we yield ourselves to the living God.
I urge you to believe on Jesus, after considering the evidence for his resurrection and discussed above. Read the accounts for yourself in the Bible. Give the matter the attention which it truly deserves. This is the foundation for our hope as Christians. You may accept or reject the evidence, but you will never be excused by God for simply ignoring it. This issue matters a lot. If the resurrection is true, then so are the other things Jesus taught, and the message of the Bible itself must be taken seriously. This message is truly powerful for everyone who believes in with their heart and not just their head.
May the living Christ come to you and reveal His great love for you! May He become your personal Savior. To learn more of what it means to consecrate your life to God through Christ, please visit here.