The resurrection of Christ is the heart of the gospel. Some skeptics try to get around the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus by denying that he even existed! But the historical evidence for the life of Christ is overwhelming even from non-Christian sources. That Jesus is the Jewish Messiah is confirmed by the amazing messianic prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 which gives us the exact day Jesus would be crucified on April 3, 33 AD together with hundreds of others. We also have miracles recorded in the Jewish Talmud and contemporary history which give evidence that Jesus is the Messiah.
Paul cites an early Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which demonstrates that belief in Christ’s resurrection goes back to the original disciples of Jesus:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Paul claims that this tradition was delivered to him by others and is not his own invention. Even liberal scholars date this creed to near the time of Christ’s crucifixion.
Only an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus could have changed Paul. How can we explain the origin of the letters of Paul and his conversion apart from the truth of the Christian faith? What would have led a Pharisee who persecuted the church to become a follower of Christ and the greatest spokesman for him? What would convince James, the brother of Jesus, who formerly doubted, to believe in him if Jesus was not raised from the dead? What caused the disciples to go from hiding from the authorities in fear to boldly proclaiming that Christ had been raised from the dead if they did not believe that Christ had been raised from the dead?
Historical testimony records that the majority of the apostles of Jesus suffered martyrdom for their faith including Peter, James, and Paul. They knew that either the resurrection was true or that it was a lie. As Gary Habermas and Michael Licona note, “liars make poor martyrs.” And who would die for what they knew was a lie? The original disciples knew whether Jesus was really raised from the dead or not. Yet none of them abandoned the faith in the face of death.
The empty tomb of Jesus was never disputed by the enemies of Christianity. But how could the body have been stolen with a detachment of soldiers guarding it? The disciples had been scattered after believing that Jesus had been defeated through crucifixion. They had no incentive to invent the story of the resurrection since it would have meant only suffering and persecution from the Jewish and Roman authorities. No other explanation but the resurrection of Jesus can account for all the facts including the empty tomb, the conversion of the skeptic James, the conversion of the persecutor Paul, the transformation of the disciples after claiming to see the risen Christ, the spread of Christianity in the face of persecution, the existence and preservation of the Bible, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the millions of testimonies of those who have been changed by the work of the Holy Spirit.
To summarize the evidence using the minimal facts approach that almost all scholars of history agree on:
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- Jesus’ tomb was empty and no body could be found.
- The original disciples of Jesus claimed that he appeared to them after being raised from the dead.
- The skeptic James came to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
- The persecutor Paul came to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
- The Christian faith spread in the midst of persecution.
- The original disciples of Jesus were willing to die for what they knew was either the truth or a lie.
All other explanations for the empty tomb and the belief of the early disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead have insurmountable problems. The allegation that the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus contradict one another has been thoroughly answered.
The most common reason why people reject the resurrection of Christ is because they reject the existence of miracles because they either reject the existence of God or believe in deism where God is not directly involved in our world. But only God’s existence can account for the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the evidences of design we see all around us. Once God is brought into the equation, it takes more faith to believe that Jesus was not raised from the dead than to believe that he was.