The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection
The subject of Jesus’ resurrection is a perennial feature on talk shows, articles in popular magazines, blogs and newspaper columns. These venues often cite experts who claim that the historical evidence refutes Jesus’ resurrection took place. Using various arguments, they claim that Jesus of Nazareth remained dead after the crucifixion and that what is left of his body still lies in an obscure tomb somewhere in Jerusalem.
While some may dismiss this assertion as merely one point of view, the discussion highlights issues of enormous weight. After all, if Jesus really rose from the dead, then Jesus is more than a moral teacher and the core message of the Christian faith should be taken seriously. On the other hand, if these scholars are correct in claiming that Jesus never rose from the dead, then the central teachings of Christianity are just wishful thinking. So the resurrection of Jesus is the key to whether the hopes of millions of Christian believers are real or imagined.
Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Religions. Other religions can survive the deaths of their founders. Buddhism admits that the Buddha is dead without being threatened because its teachings are built around the man’s ideas, not the man himself. Muslims are not disturbed that Muhammad died in 632 AD because it is the legacy of the prophet that is important, not the man. But when it comes to Christianity, everything stands or falls upon Jesus’ resurrection. His physical resurrection from the dead has always been the prime argument of the claim that he is the Son of God. So, here are some lines of evidence that the early Christians presented to prove their announcement of Jesus’ resurrection:
The Evidence. First is the evidence of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb. According to the gospel accounts, a group of Jesus women followers hastily prepared his body for burial on the Friday afternoon of his death. Then early on Sunday morning they went to the tomb to finish the burial preparations. As they made their way to the tomb, they seemed to have no notion that the body of their beloved teacher would be missing. Upon arrival they found the massive stone that had sealed the tomb cast aside from the entrance. The guard placed there under Roman orders was in shock and the tomb itself was empty. The women were understandably bewildered by what they encountered and could only conclude that perhaps someone had removed Jesus’ body without telling them. The women then reported that they were visited by angels who told them Jesus was alive. On their way to do so, some of the women actually saw and touched the risen Jesus.
Secondly, the evidence of the twelve disciples confirms the report of the women. They did not have a clue about Jesus’ resurrection either. So when the women relayed the news, the disciples dismissed it as female hysteria. Nevertheless, Peter and John decided to check out the situation and ran the short distance at the tomb in order to investigate. Like the women, they saw the stone removed, the Roman guard dispersed, and the tomb empty. The account has Peter actually going inside and finding the linen strips of cloth, which the body had been wrapped in, still in place and glued with the spices—but empty of the body. This still did not convince these men that Jesus was alive. It was not until later that Jesus appeared to them personally and urged them to touch him.
Thirdly, the soldiers who were charged with guarding the tomb against the possibility that Jesus’ followers might fake a resurrection by stealing the body were in shock. They knew that abandoning their mission would result in execution. Even so, they left the tomb unguarded after less than 36 hours and reported to the Jewish Council that the tomb was open and empty. According to the gospel accounts, these men were bribed by the Sanhedrin to spread the story that the disciples had indeed stolen the body.
Though this version of the story is popular among critics of Christianity, the story falls apart under examination. It boggles the mind that the disciples, who were clearly terrified for their own lives, could overcome a guard of experienced soldiers, enter a sealed tomb, remove the body, and make sure to carefully re-wrap the burial cloths. The disciples then supposedly concealed the body elsewhere without anyone noticing. All this so that they could fake a resurrection that they that would ultimately die for! Yet it seems that the story that Jesus’ body was stolen was the best explanation that could be invented by critics on the spur of the moment.
Consider this as well: the early church preached Jesus’ resurrection in the weeks and years following these events in the very place where they occurred. There were many people still alive who testified to having actually seen and touched the risen Jesus. The empty tomb was a matter of public knowledge. It could be verified by anyone who wished to do so. If the body had been removed and hidden, surely someone would have observed it. The soldiers or other eyewitnesses could have tipped off the authorities to the hiding place and the body could have been produced as evidence. But no body was ever found, which is hard to imagine given the very public and sensational nature of these events. Unless of course —the resurrection really happened. Tens of thousands living around Jerusalem in the years following these events rendered their verdict by believing in Jesus and paying the high price of that belief.
Finally, for those who still have doubts, consider the evidence of history. What is the explanation for the millions of people whose lives have been changed by the power of a risen Christ? Wishful thinking? Pure indoctrination? How about the willing martyrdom of the very men and women who supposedly faked a resurrection they knew never happened, or the almost inconceivable survival and spread of the early church under extreme persecution?
The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is extremely compelling. In view of such strong evidence, the sarcasm and ridicule of skeptics today is a small price for embracing the truth. Michael Bogart