Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen? This is perhaps the most important question someone could ever dare to ask, even though it’s the least likely question you’ll ever hear discussed. Most people find it quite plausible that Jesus was a real person who lived in a real place at a real time. Many would also concede that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under the watch of Pontius Pilate during the reign of the Roman Empire. But to say that this dead person, after He was professionally executed and meticulously wrapped in grave clothes and buried in a sealed tomb, actually returned from death as a real live person again—well that is a tougher pill to swallow, because dead people stay dead.
It is this historical event that people must take sides on – the resurrection either happened or it did not. If it did not happen, then Jesus must have been delusional or diabolical since He predicted it would. But if it did, then Jesus must be taken as the ultimate authority in our lives. And because Christianity is not rooted in human philosophy, but in human history, there should be evidence for or against the resurrection.
Only four of the major world religions are founded on a personality and not a philosophy, and only one of those claim that it’s founder has been raised from the dead. This Easter season at Bay Area, we will be exploring the evidence that points to the literal, historical, physical resurrection of Jesus. Here is a preview of the path we’ll take.
The Bible is a unique book. More than a book, the Bible is actually a collection of books – 66 of them that were written by some 40 different authors, on three continents, in three different languages, spanning some 1,500 years. Put together, the Bible tells one cohesive story about God and His creation, ultimately revealing Jesus, the promised Savior and answer to the brokenness of the world. Its pages contain various genres of literature, from poetic to historical, and come to us from the meticulously preserved Hebrew oral traditions of the Old Testament prophets and the Greek writings of the close associates and eyewitnesses of Jesus that form the New Testament.
The Bible claims for itself an origin from the will of God as divinely inspired words. Due to the overwhelming archeological manuscript evidence, we can confidently check our text today against those early copies of the originals. This means that the Bible has not changed over the millennia to a distorted version of the original. Today more than ever, we can have confidence in the reliability of the historical accuracy of the Bible. This integrity is important because it is in the Bible that we see the clearest proclamation of the resurrection, and it should be entered as exhibit A, a reliable source.
Exhibit A speaks. All four gospels give an account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Before He was handed over to trial and crucifixion Jesus made specific claims of coming back to life on the third day. The Apostle Paul would go on to write about the resurrection being the essential linchpin of the faith. And the clear teaching of the Apostles in the book of Acts revolves around the resurrection of Jesus. To take the Bible seriously is to take the resurrection of Jesus seriously.
Like any good case being built, Exhibit A is just the beginning. Other arguments begin to mount. The first to consider is the empty tomb. The oppression against this “sect” of Jesus followers at the time of His death was a fever pitch. If there was ever a lineup of opposition to stop a movement in its tracks, it was the same group of people who had Jesus tracked down and killed. These powerful and influential rulers of the Jews would simply need to produce the body of Jesus to stop the gossip of resurrection once and for all.
Sitting underneath this question is another question of how the tomb would have been emptied in the first place outside of the miraculous. Under professional Roman guard, sealed and blocked by a huge stone – how could anyone have slipped under the radar to steal a body? Not even the cast of “Ocean’s 11” could have pulled this one off – especially given the predictions that Jesus had made of His impending resurrection only 72 hours after His death. These soldiers would have been on high alert.
Going beyond these speculations, there was now new evidence being born as cowards became martyrs. Jesus’ friends scattered after His crucifixion, and were in hiding until they encountered their dead friend who was now right back in front of them. I suppose hanging out with someone after you saw them killed has a life-changing effect on a person.
So now, seemingly overnight the Apostles were boldly and publicly proclaiming what they had seen, Jesus raised from death, and were willing to die themselves to stand by these claims. If the Apostles had made all this up, would they have died for it? What did they have to gain by dying for a lie? As tradition holds, all the Apostles were killed for their faith, except John who was sent away to die in exile.
The movement then went viral. With no Internet and no social media, the news of the resurrected Jesus – the Jewish messiah, predicted in the Jewish Scriptures – exploded on the world scene. And this news was not just of the dead come back to life; it was also the news of what this resurrection meant, namely, that the promised savior of the world had come, and in love came to give all people a gift of righteousness. This opens a whole other exhibit of evidence, the newness of life that takes hold in those who truly embrace this love of God evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus.
One of the worthiest explorations in life is to seek the truth about the resurrection. Since we are dealing with history, it either happened or it did not. Perhaps it is now time to weigh the evidence for yourself.