Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this makes understanding and believing in the truth of the resurrection essential – if Jesus Christ was not resurrected then it renders the whole Christian faith null and void. As Paul says, our faith would be vain:
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:13-17)
Paul does not hold back! He makes it very clear that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is pivotal – if it did not happen then our faith is meaningless and we are being “false witnesses”. This is the most important question you ever explore and there is no middle ground on this subject. For someone to claim they are a Christian and not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus is a contradiction in the Bible is to be taken at face value – it is that foundational!
Where to start?
It may seem a little absurd to personally believe in an event that happened nearly two thousand years. Atheists would claim we have blind faith to accept this “fairy tale” but when looking at the Bible you see Christianity’s whole foundation is built on eyewitness testimonies. Testimonies of eyewitnesses are essential to any case, even in the present day, so these would still be reliable evidence no matter how old they are.
With the resurrection being so critical to the faith of the Christian, there will always be alternative theories to ‘explain away’ this event and this seems a logical place to start! By looking at these alternative theories, we can see how they match up to the eyewitnesses statements to determine which is most reasonable.
It goes without saying that this is a supernatural event and we cannot honestly evaluate the evidence without recognising the difficulties of ‘proving’ the historicity of a ‘miracle’. We ask you to let go of presuppositions and simply let the evidence we have do the talking.
To begin with we need to establish some minimal facts which are generally accepted by both believers and skeptics:
- Jesus died by crucifixion and was buried
- the tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body
- the disciples saw Jesus resurrected from the dead
- the disciples lives were transformed
So let us begin with some theories…
Was the body stolen?
Some claim the disciples stole the body from the tomb and then fabricated the story of the resurrection event:
- this would explain the empty tomb but an empty tomb is evidence for the resurrection too
- Pilate commanded that extra measures were taken to ensure the tomb was sealed and guarded (Matt 27:62-66), it would have been a very difficult task for the disciples to overcome this
- if the body was stolen, how did the disciples make it appear to so many different people?
- the disciples lived the rest of their lives under constant hostility – it seems implausible that they would go through this and endure such horrible deaths for a lie? The apostles where the first Christians and their belief was predicated on the reality of the resurrection
- the Jews were followers of the Mosaic Law and to fabricate such a lie would have gone against strongly ingrained core beliefs. Furthermore, at the onset of Christianity the idea of a resurrected Messiah would not have been so sensible
- the death and resurrection story would not be believable to either the Jews or Greeks. The Jews would not accept a Messiah who had died and was resurrected and the Greeks had only contempt for a bodily resurrection. If a story was to be made up to start a new movement, it is unlikely that this would have been considered the best option
This theory is certainly not new, it started immediately after Jesus’ first appearance:
Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)
As listed, there are a number of significant problems with the claim that the body was stolen but it is considered a valid theory for many.
Was it a hallucination?
This theory is that through the grief the disciples were suffering, they became delusional and as a result of wishful thinking they experienced hallucinations of Jesus risen from the dead:
- we know there was an empty tomb so what happened to the body?
- hallucinations do not happen on mass, they are individual experiences if anything
- Jesus Christ was seen on more than one occasion by different groups of people
- the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead and they were in hiding and demoralised – therefore, a hallucination of this nature is unlikely
- even the apostle Thomas was skeptical and became known as ‘doubting Thomas’ because he would not believe until he saw and touched Jesus himself (John 20:24–29). Hallucinations do not have any substance but the account shows Thomas touched Jesus’ side and then believed
Even on scientific grounds a mass hallucination is highly improbable – it would be easier for a naturalist to call this a miracle than to seriously consider this explanation.
Did Jesus really die on the cross?
Known as the swoon theory, the idea that Jesus did not really die on the cross. He survived the beating and crucifixion and then appeared to the disciples recovered:
- Roman’s were professional executioners and this theory requires they were incompetent – they had in fact perfected this form of execution and would have suffered very severe penalties for a mistake. They even stabbed Jesus’ side with a spear for confirmation
- Did the people watching not suspect anything? Even those who took His body from the cross, clothed Him in His garments and buried Him?
- If Jesus did survive He would have been clinging to life and then was buried, how did He survive in the tomb without water or other supplies, let alone have the strength to remove the stone that sealed the tomb. Even His appearances after show Him acting as though He was not wounded
- the disciples would have gone against their core belief to lie. They would have been able to tell if it was not Jesus on the cross or that He didn’t really die, instead you see their lives transformed. They would not be willing to die for a lie
- if we believe this, what is the explanation for the ascension? Jesus disappeared from the historical recorded, if He did not die then we would expect more records of further sightings for many years after
One point worth mentioning is that this is Islam’s main argument against resurrection. The Quran says that it was not even Jesus on the cross and that Jesus did not die, it only meant looked that way (Surah 4:156-159). This is a direct claim against the resurrection and even the authority of Scripture, but as we have covered claims need to be measured against the evidence. The points already covered easily refute this theory, even the authority of the Bible can tested against the evidence of Bible prophecy.
Where they fooled by an imposter?
Could someone else have taken Jesus’ place in the sightings after His burial? This imposter would have tricked the disciples and others into believing he was really Jesus;
- why would an imposter do this? what would be the motivation?
- there is no explanation for the empty tomb or the missing body
- the imposter would have needed to know all about Jesus’ mannerisms to pull this off
- on the road to Emaus where Jesus recounts all of scripture, would an impostor really be able to pull this off?
- after the resurrection Jesus “shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:2-3), the imposter would have needed the ability to demonstrate evidence that was indisputable.
Again there is the possibility this is true but the probability is highly unlikely!
Has the story been distorted and exaggerated later in time?
This view says Jesus is a wise teacher but say the resurrection is more legend, being added and exaggerated over time:
- it is said the empty tomb and lack of body prove this is a legend
- the earliest accounts call on the resurrection as the primary source of evidence
- the claim has remained consistent from the earliest recording
The original apostles of Jesus said they saw the risen Jesus so the original claim is the same as we know now make the legend explanation claim impossible.
Is it a myth?
The claim is that the story of Jesus’ resurrection was taken from ancient myths that predated it:
- this is a fairly new theory (19th Century) that was rejected by the scholars of the time but it still keeps resurfacing without any new evidence for the claim
- reports in Scripture from the apostles stating they have seen Jesus appear to them and others after the crucifixion
- when examining the evidence of the parallel ancient myths there are very little similarities – whether you consider Osirus, Mithra, or any other, their accounts do not mirror Jesus’. This article on GotQuestions details this more – Is Jesus a myth?
- even if all these parallel accounts where valid it still does not detract from the other overwhelming evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that has precise historical authenticity as well as being substantiated by numerous eyewitness testimonies
As with any counter claim the evidence needs to be considered on its own merits – Christians can become extremely worried and sheepish when confronted by such theories. However, once this evidence is studied it is clear this claim has no foundation and are more far-fetched than the resurrection itself.
Or was Jesus’ resurrection actually a historical event?
Is Scripture accurate about the events of Jesus’ resurrection?
- this accounts for the empty tomb and missing body
- the resurrection observations make sense and fit in this scenario
- the disciples willingness to endure such persecution is understood as they had evidence of everything Jesus said which transformed their lives
- the growth of Christianity also occured in a very hostile environment – it would have been far easier to give up spreading the Gospel had it not been true
- the existence of Christianity today itself, as this is rooted in the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ
- but of course you would need to believe in the supernatural!
When exploring the historicity of any event, our primary source of evidence are the written accounts that have been discovered or past down through generations. Scripture provides us with reliable eyewitnesses testimonies that attest to the fact that the writers saw the risen Christ! This was a long time ago, but does the length of time render their testimonies invalid? Of course not, otherwise that would make us question most of our known history. We do not see the apostles confused or acting as though they had been deceived – on the contrary, they were incredibly bold and courageous and acted with a high degree of confidence and conviction for which they greatly suffered – this can only mean one thing!
Only one conclusion?
So, we have looked at the claims and evidence for each, what conclusion did you come to?
The evidence is not hard to find but it IS hard to accept. This is because it directly challenges our lives, calling on us to change and repent. If we can let go of any presuppositions the evidence points to only one conclusion – Jesus died on the cross and rose again as Scripture states.
And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:5-6a)
Jesus Christ made many astounding claims so for Him to make prophecies about His resurrection before his crucifixion is only inline with His character.
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
He proved His deity by defeating death once and for all! How would you feel if someone said they would die and rise again? You would think they were crazy, but Jesus proved He was anything but crazy by the numerous supernatural powers many witnessed during His ministry.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
More evidence is seen in the lives of Christians around the world, we see people being barbarically killed because they will not repent of their belief in Jesus Christ. These Christians have met the risen God and would not let go of that truth no matter what they are put through.
We are living in an age where history’s single most important event is forgotten or has lost its importance in the mainstream churches, even to the point of saying that is it irrelevant whether it was literal or not!
But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:39-40)
Only Jesus Christ’s second coming will eclipse this importance and we hope the church will have woken up before then and be ready! But will you? What happened on the cross changed everything, Jesus Christ is alive today is He tugging at your heart to get your attention?
Do you have any good reason to reject this evidence? When looking at some of the theories we need more faith to believe them than the actual resurrection! The only possible reason would be not wanting to transform your life like the disciples, more worried what people might think of you. This world has a grip on us and Satan wants us to continue looking at the temporal things this world can offer us instead of the eternal things God provides. It is a hard decision but when we humbly evaluation the evidence there is only conclusion – Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and was resurrected to prove His whole Gospel message. Jesus defeated death – will you follow Him?
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
Here are some addition resources that you might find useful:
- Real Christianity: Proof That The Resurrection Really Happened
- Truth of Tradition: 23 Arguments for the Historical Validity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- Risen Jesus: Top 10 Myths About Jesus’ Resurrection
- Stand to Reason: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)