The resurrection of Jesus Christ is arguably the most historically and religiously significant event throughout the entirety of human civilization. This event is celebrated each Easter Sunday, worldwide.
“But it’s not proven, right? We don’t know that he rose.”
Most apologetic debates focus on broad issues such as free will or determinism, but few believers focus on the keystone of their religion: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Basic historical evidence can objectively determine the likelihood of Jesus Christ as messiah. If their goal is to convince, believers should prioritize historical accuracy in the debate between religion and secularism.
THE BIBLE PROPHESIED THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST BEFORE CRUCIFIXION WAS INVENTED
Psalms 22: 16-18 states, “Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (NIV).
The above text from Psalms is a prophecy describing the scene of Jesus on the cross. This text was written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, which begs the following question: how exactly could the writer know that there would be a systemized form of execution that entails the piercing of extremities? How could he know that the oppressors would gamble over the victim’s clothes?
The prophesying does not occur just once. There are references to the plight of the Messiah dispersed throughout the Old Testament. One of these is Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which tells the story of a man whose majesty was hidden behind the appearance of a normal man. This man, though, “took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53: 4-6).
Again, we see the story of Jesus formulated hundreds of years before his birth. According to Bill Perkins at Compass International, Jesus fulfilled over 300 Old Testament prophesies (Perkins par. 3). The probability of this occurring is exuberantly low. Nevertheless, historical truth supports the biblical narrative that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
THE WORD OF A GROUP OF WOMEN WAS WIDELY ACCEPTED, INDICATING STRONG EVIDENCE
The Bible verifies that a group of women stumbled upon the empty tomb, meaning that they were the first to spread the word that Jesus had risen. At this point in time, states S. Joshua Swamidass at The Veritas Forum, the account of a woman was entirely useless in a court of law (Swamidass, par. 9). Women were largely disregarded, yet, in this instance, a woman’s story was believed.
This is significant because the evidence for an empty tomb must have been overwhelming in order for these women to be taken seriously. Additionally, the fact that it is well-known that the men– the leaders of the early church– went into hiding, but the women discovered the empty tomb establishes a higher level of authenticity. The details of this story simply do not coincide with the presuppositions that one would have for a fabricated report. For instance, it could reasonably be stated that the best way to convince people that the tomb was empty would have been to alter the fact that women discovered the tomb. This would have theoretically made the source “more reliable.” However, this did not occur. The evidence was surely overwhelming, even if it was delivered by women.
THE JEWISH CHURCH ENDORSED THE FACT THAT THE TOMB WAS INDEED EMPTY
Matthew 28: 11-15 references a Jewish argument that the disciples stole the body of Christ.
“Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” (Matthew 28: 13-15)
This is important because it shows that even the Jews– who hated Jesus enough to execute him– admitted that the tomb was vacant.
OVER 500 EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS OF JESUS AFTER HIS DEATH
According to Paul Strand at CBN News, there were over 500 reported eyewitness accounts that described seeing a living, breathing Christ after his death occurred (Strand par. 48). Eyewitness accounts were the very best evidence available at the time, as modern technology had not yet been invented. Non-believers often argue that these accounts were a result of a widespread hallucination, but modern psychology has essentially dismissed this claim. Hallucinations cannot be identical, and many of the accounts described touching Jesus, though physical interaction is impossible during hallucinations (Perman, par. 26).
THE DISCIPLES BELIEVED IN THE RESURRECTION TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY WERE MARTYRED FOR THEIR BELIEFS
Immediately after Jesus was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went into hiding. This is understandable, as they were rightfully fearful. However, this changed after Jesus rose. When the disciples saw Jesus with their own eyes, they no longer succumbed to fear. Each of them began to spread the word that Jesus was alive. This eventually lead to the execution of each disciple with the exception of John. Unless they truly believed that Jesus was the Risen King, the disciples would have no incentive to do the Lord’s work. However, because they were so sure of the resurrection, there are over 2,000,000,000 Christians today, according to the Pew Research Center.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION
The resurrection is critically important for a number of reasons. Primarily, it lends strong support to the notion that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Because the evidence for Jesus’s existence is so strong, many non-believers concede that Jesus was a real person. However, many are unwilling to commit to the idea of an authentic God. If Jesus had simply died on the cross, he would have been largely insignificant. However, if it were proven that Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies and conquered death, Jesus Christ would become much more than a “good man.” This would be proof that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and, more broadly, proof that God exists, which would lend credibility to the Bible in its entirety.
Secondly, the resurrection would give each person a chance at eternal life. If Jesus had simply died, the crucifixion would mean nothing. However, if he rose again he would have conquered sin. Believers could accept His sacrifice and be forgiven by following Him.
Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus would eradicate the sting of death. Christians would possess the unique ability to remain hopeful in a life that is guaranteed to end in demise. Non-believers would be hopeless in the face of death, whereas Christians could affirm that they have a permanent home waiting for them that will be greater than anything that rests on the Earth.
“‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV)