Millions of Christians believe that Jesus is risen. Yet, is there evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? In recent years some theologians have claimed that history shows no evidence that the resurrection of Jesus ever happened. These theologians stated that they are confident that Jesus of Nazareth stayed dead, and that his remains still lie undiscovered somewhere near Jerusalem.
Some people shrug off the claim that Jesus is risen as merely an academic debate for scholars to solve. Don’t be fooled: the entire Christian faith depends upon the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. If it is true, as these theologians claim, that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the central beliefs of Christianity are proven to be nothing more than wishful thinking. Not only that, but the teachings of the New Testament are outdated and false, and the hopes of millions of believers for personal resurrection are misplaced.
Other religions can survive the deaths of their founders. Buddhism admits that the Buddha is dead and gone because it is built around his teachings, not the man himself. Muslims are not disturbed that Muhammad died. Again, it is the words of the prophet that are important, not the man himself.
But when it comes to Christianity, everything stands or falls upon the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. His physical resurrection from the dead has always been the prime proof of that central doctrine. No resurrection, no Christianity: it’s that simple. Yet if the resurrection is a fact of history, then all Jesus’ claims are shown to be true. The Church’s proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and that people must humbly receive him as lord is also true. That explains why for twenty centuries some have attempted to dismiss the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
The Testimony of the Women
Consider the powerful facts that the early church presented to prove their announcement that Jesus is risen: First the evidence of the women. A group of women who had been followers of Jesus observed his hasty burial on Friday afternoon. Early on Sunday morning they went to the tomb to finish preparing the body. As they walked to the tomb, the women had no idea that their teacher would rise from the dead. When they arrived the women found the large stone sealed weighing several tons, cast aside from the entrance. The Roman guard was in shock. The tomb itself was empty. They were completely bewildered by this and could only think that perhaps someone had removed Jesus’ body without telling them. The women then encountered angels who told them Jesus was risen. They were told to inform the disciples of this fact. On their way to do so, these women were the first to actually see and touch the risen Christ.
The Testimony of the Disciples
The evidence of the disciples confirms the story of the women that Jesus is risen. They no expectation that Jesus would overcome death. So when the women gave them the news, they dismissed it as hysteria. Even so, Peter and John decided to see what the situation was at the tomb and ran the short distance to investigate. Like the women, they saw the stone removed, the Roman guard dispersed and tomb empty. Peter actually went inside and found the linen bands that the body had been wrapped in still in place—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 and demonstrated that he was real and alive by eating food and allowing them to touch him.
The Testimony of the Soldiers
How about the evidence of the soldiers who had guarded the tomb against the possibility that Jesus’ followers might fake a resurrection by stealing the body? After less than thirty-six hours, these disciplined men who were under strict orders, left the tomb unguarded. They reported to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish leadership council) that there had been an earthquake and that the tomb was open and empty. Whether they mentioned the angel they had seen is not clear. The council bribed the soldiers and ordered them to spread the story that the disciples had stolen the body.
Is this story is hardly believable though? Its hard to believe that the disciples, who had been terrified for their own lives, could overcome a detachment of experienced Roman soldiers, enter the sealed tomb and remove the body. Jerusalem was crowded with people at the time, so they would have had to somehow conceal the body elsewhere without being seen. No commando unit in the world could do that! Yet the story that Jesus’ body was stolen was the best explanation that Jesus’ critics could come up with on the spur of the moment since they could not deny that the tomb was now empty.
The Lack of Falsification
Consider this as well: the early Church preached the resurrection of Jesus in the weeks and months following the crucifixion in the very place where it occurred. There were many people still around who testified to having actually seen and touched the risen Jesus. The location of Jesus’ tomb was a matter of public knowledge. The fact that it was empty could be verified by anyone who wished to do so. If the body had been removed and hidden, surely someone would have observed it. Eyewitnesses could have come forward to reveal where Jesus’ body was hidden, and the body could have been produced as evidence against the resurrection. But no body was ever found, which is hard to imagine given the very public and sensational nature of these events.
The Evidence of History
Finally, for those who still have doubts, consider the evidence of subsequent history. What about the willing martyrdom of the very men and women who supposedly faked a resurrection they knew never happened? Tens of thousands of people who lived near Jerusalem at the time rendered their verdict by believing in Jesus and paying a high price for that belief. How do you explain the millions of people since then whose lives have been changed by the power of Christ? Are millions of changed lives just wishful thinking on a massive scale? How about the almost inconceivable survival and spread of early Christianity under extreme persecution?
Seen together, the body of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is extremely compelling. In view of such strong evidence, will you join the voices of millions of Christians during this upcoming Easter season in the traditional, joyful proclamation? He is risen! Yes, risen indeed!