“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15). Consider life without God, without ultimate purpose, without ultimate meaning, without hope beyond the grave, without a promise of justice, and without hope of comfort. That would be a miserable life to live. Now consider life with evidence for God, with ultimate purpose, with meaning, with hope beyond this life, with a promise of justice, and with a hope of comfort. That is life lived in view of the resurrection of Christ.
Even among those critics who do not accept the inspiration of the Scriptures, there is a consensus that much of the resurrection narrative is historical. Most will confirm that Jesus of Nazareth was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. This is important because a great number of people would have been aware of the location of Jesus’s body. Furthermore, Joseph of Arimethea was a member of the Sanhedrin which was opposed to Jesus. It is important to note that there is no other competing burial narrative. Most agree that the disciples could never have proclaimed Jesus as raised from the dead if the tomb was not empty. So the only historical quest is to find the best possible explanation of the evidence.
It is very likely that one of the oldest summaries of the death, burial, and resurrection is recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 15. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 records for us:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:
.that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
The text is noted for recording an ancient saying which is older than the letter of 1 Corinthians. The typical rabbinical terms “received” and “delivered” are used by Paul in describing the information. Verses 3-5 are a formal four-line formula characteristics with an atypical style for Paul. This has convinced most scholars that Paul is quoting from an old saying which predates the Corinthian correspondence. There was not enough time for a legend to develop around the resurrection. The most reasonable explanation for early statements, such as this one, is that the resurrection is true.
Looking further to the inspired record of Jesus’ resurrection provides convincing evidence to hold to belief in Christ as raised from the dead. Luke began the record with the first piece of evidence—stone which had been rolled Away—Luke 24:2. This stone weighed hundreds of pounds, it was sealed with the seal of Rome, and it was guarded by Roman soldiers who would have been under penalty of death if one of them went to sleep or if the tomb was disturbed. The stone being taken out of the way demands explanation.
The missing body of Jesus also must be explained—Luke 24:3. The women went into the tomb expecting to find the body. The disciples would not believe the women’s testimony about the missing body. Even when Peter and John ran to the tomb themselves, they doubted. Everyone expected the body of Jesus to still be on that slab in that tomb on Sunday morning. But everyone agreed that the body was not there. Even the cover story issued by the authorities, that the disciples had stolen the body, presupposed that the body was not there.
The disciples stealing the body was highly unlikely if not impossible. The body never resurfacing would be extraordinary. The future leaders of the church doubted the first news stories of the resurrection—Luke 24:10-12. Everyone in and around Jerusalem knew what had happened to Jesus—Luke 24:18. The disciples had given up—Luke 24:19-21. Since the closest friends of Jesus did not believe he would rise, the missing body is tremendous evidence that Jesus’s resurrection is true.
The fulfilled prophecies are another piece of evidence —Luke 24:6-7. The angels said, “He is not here, he is risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:6-7). Jesus had been repeatedly telling of his death, burial, and resurrection. It would have been easy enough for Jesus to have arranged his own death at the hands of the Romans. However, it was impossible for Jesus to arrange the resurrection.
The Old Testament had also been preparing God’s people for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a wonderful passage to see a detailed account of Jesus’s crucifixion before crucifixion was practiced in that way. In Psalm 22:16, the Bible says “they have pierced my hands and my feet.” Psalm 22:17 prophecies that none of the Messiah’s bones would be broken. Psalm 22:18 prophecies that men would cast lots for Jesus clothing. Isaiah 53 is a bit more theological in its account of the crucifixion. It details Jesus’s rejection, beating, scourging, vicarious atonement, death between criminals, and burial with the rich.
The resurrection of Jesus is also prophesied. Jesus himself predicted his resurrection from the dead. Psalm 16:10 says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” After prophesying that the Suffering Servant of God would suffer for the sins of God’s people, the prophet then said He would be “cut off out of the land of the living.” Isaiah then states that the Christ “will see His offspring” and that God the Father will “prolong His days” (Isaiah 53:5, 8, 10). Isaiah reaffirms resurrection again this way: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see light and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). After the resurrection Jesus would turn to the Old Testament to demonstrate how it was pointing to him—Luke 24:25-27.
Women’s testimony in the first century was inadmissible to court, but it was the first to affirm the resurrection of Christ—Luke 24:22-23; 24:1. It is important to make this observation because if someone were making up the story this would be one piece of the story which would be left out. Even in 1 Corinthians 15, the text does not mention the original testimony of the women. To base one’s entire world view on the testimony of women would have been laughable in the first century. This would not have been in the story unless this is the way it really happened. The Bible tells the truth.
Resurrection Appearances are another piece of evidence confirming the resurrection—Luke 24:31, 36-43. Jesus appeared to his disciples in various ways for forty days after his resurrection. These events are recorded by the New Testament and display that many future church leaders doubted that Christ had been raised. However, the Bible records the truth. The people really did doubt and Jesus really did appear to them. These were not mass hallucinations. The appearances occur over too long a period of time, they occur to too many people, and they occur over too great a distance for the resurrection to be a hallucination or a hoax.
The continued testimony of the disciples is also very convincing—Luke 24:46-49. Jesus’s final command was for the disciples to be his witnesses (Luke 24:47-48). All the Apostles suffered greatly for their belief in the resurrected Lord. All their lives would have been “better” if they had simply abandoned this message. However, they continued to preach. Even when strictly forbidden by the authorities, they preached Jesus as raised from the dead. Except for John, all the Apostles died a martyr’s death. Why? Men do not live this way because of a lie. Men do not behave his way because of a dream or a hope. These men gave all because they were living in response to the truth—Jesus of Nazareth died and was raised again.
The disciples’ changed lives is also one of the great evidences of the resurrection. The early disciples left their typical occupations in order to devote themselves to the proclamation of the Gospel. The brothers of Jesus, who previously disbelieved, became pillars in the church after seeing the risen Lord. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is equally incredible. Paul was one of the most well trained scholars and energetic zealots of his day. He was incredibly well connected in the Jewish upper class. He had devoted his life to the pursuit of the Old Testament. Yet it is Paul who was convinced he must change his mind because he had seen Jesus after his execution. Paul’s recorded preaching from the Old Testament Scriptures demonstrated that he was convinced, not only from the vision, but also from the Old Testament itself that Jesus is the risen Lord.
One of the most popular “symbols” of Christianity is the cross. Why not more empty tombs? The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Because Jesus has been raised, I am a Christian and believe I one day will rise to be with him. The resurrection of Jesus has determined the direction of my life. The resurrection of Jesus gives comfort that no other idea or reality ever could. Thank God for his indescribable gift.
- How does examining the evidence for the resurrection affect your dedication to God?
- How does the resurrection of Jesus shape your future?
- How can the resurrection of Jesus be comforting?
- Since Jesus has been raised, how must we worship and live?