Jesus had the highest possible regard for Scripture. According to Him, it was entirely the Word of God. Not the slightest marking of Scripture had been misplaced (Matthew 5:17-18).
However, why should we accept His testimony? Perhaps He was in error or even deluded? However, if He is God-incarnate, then we can trust His testimony. But was He? Can we just take His word for it?
Jesus had instructed us to not believe in His words unless there was also evidence to conform them:
· “If I am not doing the works [miracles] of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38; ESV; also John 5:31-38)
His entire ministry was bathed in the most incredible miracles. But the miracle that confirmed His words and the Words of the Hebrew Scriptures, was the Resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, as He said that He would, this unique event also confirms His other words, namely, His teachings about the divinity of the Scriptures.
Actually, the proof that He had risen from the dead is quite impressive. In the Resurrection of the Son of God (2003), N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, England wrote:
· The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivaled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity.
It is the evidence that gives this claim “unrivaled power." Here is how I hope to lay out the evidence:
1. Jesus was crucified.
2. His tomb was empty and no one was able to produce His body.
3. Many eyewitnesses testified that He had risen.
4. The circumstantial evidence also confirms His Resurrection.
5. No other theory has been able to account for these facts.
1. Jesus was crucified.
Even Biblical skeptics have called this an “indisputable fact”:
· NT scholar, John Dominic Crossan: “That He was crucified is as sure as anything historical ever can be.” (Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, 2007; 113)
· “Both Gerd Ludemann, an atheistic NT critic, and Bart Ehrman, who’s an agnostic, call the crucifixion an indisputable fact.” (113)
· Tacitus, Roman historian, 110 AD: “Jesus suffered the extreme penalty under the reign of Tiberius.” (113)
· “Josephus [the Jewish historian, 90 AD] reports that Pilate ‘condemned him to be crucified’…Even the Jewish Talmud reports that ‘Yeshu was hanged.’” (113)
· Apologist Michael Licona claims that “Lucian of Samosata, who was a Greek satirist, mentions the crucifixion, and Mara Bar-Serapion, who was a pagan, confirms Jesus was executed.” (113)
Even the skeptics endorse the fact that Jesus died on the cross:
· The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the Jesus Seminar as "one indisputable fact.” http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover2.html#text17
Michael Licona claims that “The scholarly consensus—again, even among those who are skeptical about the resurrection – is absolutely overwhelming.” Nevertheless, six hundred years after the event, the Koran claimed that a look-alike died in Jesus’ place, “and Allah raised him [Jesus] up to Himself.” However, this assertion does not rest upon any historical evidence.
2. Jesus’ tomb was empty, and no one was able to produce His body.
Had Jesus’ body been produced, any claim of a resurrection would have easily been dismissed.
All early reports, even Jewish, cited an “empty tomb”! However, there are no reports of anyone producing His body, although the Jews and Romans had every reason to produce it. Had it been produced, Christians wouldn’t have been able to believe in a resurrected Christ.
Instead, to guard against the possibility that Jesus’ disciples might say that He rose from the dead, the Jewish leadership prevailed upon Pilate to provide a Roman guard at Jesus’ tomb. However, even with the guard, the chief priests claimed that the disciples stole the body:
· “Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, "Tell them, 'His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure." So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” (Matthew 28:11-15)
Even Justin Martyr (150 AD) wrote in his “Dialogue with Trypho” that the Jews still sent ambassadors throughout the Mediterranean, claiming that the “Disciples stole the body.” However, this doesn’t seem to be possible for a number of reasons:
· The disciples had been running scared prior to the Resurrection. They wouldn’t have risked their lives on a dangerous prank.
· They would never have died as martyrs for a story that they had cooked up. Besides, as mentioned above, there is no indication from the Gospels themselves that this was all part of a subterfuge. Their accounts that women were the first to see the risen Christ also argues against this.
· They had no motive to do this and to risk martyrdom themselves.
· They could not have stolen away the body with the presence of the Roman guard.
Willian Lane Craig reasons that the empty tomb could not have been a legend:
· "If the empty tomb story were a legend, then it is most likely that the male disciples would have been made the first to discover the empty tomb. The fact that despised women, whose testimony was deemed worthless, were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb can only be plausibly explained if, like it or not, they actually were the discoverers of the empty tomb." http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection
The testimony of women had been disregarded in Jewish culture at this time. For example, the Jewish historian Josephus (90 AD) wrote:
· “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” (Strobel, 124)
According to Lee Strobel, Gary “Habermas determined that about 75% [of historians] on the subject [of the empty tomb] regard it as an historical fact.” He adds, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor [of the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history” (Strobel, 123).
D.H. Van Daalen had confirmed this assessment:
· "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." (D. H. Van Daalen, The Real Resurrection (London: Collins, 1972), p. 41)
Jacob Kremer, who has specialized in the study of the resurrection and is a NT critic, had said:
· "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb" and he lists twenty-eight scholars to back up his fantastic claim. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection
The Early Church worshipped on the Sunday – the Resurrection Day – rather than on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday). Evidently, they were convinced that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that He rose on the Sunday. How else to explain the change from the Sabbath day!
3. Many eyewitnesses testified that He had risen.
The Disciples believed that Jesus had appeared to them. Their assertions about this event are quite numerous and credible:
· This is the uniform testimony of all 27 books of the New Testament! Licona states that, “Even very liberal scholars will concede that we have four biographies [Gospels] written within 70 years of Jesus’ life that unambiguously report the disciples’ claims that Jesus rose from the dead.” (Lee Strobel, “Finding the Real Jesus,” 83)
· Preserved oral tradition is also in agreement. According to Licona, the NT “preserves several sermons of the apostles…We can say that the vast majority of historians believe that the early apostolic teachings are enshrined in these sermons summaries in Acts – and they declare that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.”
This is also the uniform testimony of all the Church Fathers. For example, Clement (95 AD) wrote:
· “Therefore, having received orders and complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they went with the Holy Spirit’s certainty.” (1 Clement 42:3)
The Church Father Polycarp (110 AD) wrote:
· “For they did not love the present age, but Him who died for our benefit and for our sake was raised by God.” (Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians 9:2)
It’s apparent that Christians have practiced baptism and communion from the very inception of the Church. These rituals testify to the fact that they acknowledged the death and Resurrection of Christ.
There are several things that make the Apostolic testimonies of the Resurrection highly credible:
· Some of the Church Fathers, whose writings we still retain, knew the Apostles of Jesus. Many were also martyred for their insistence that Jesus rose.
· The Apostles “were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom….The church fathers Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen – they all confirm this. In fact, at least seven early sources testify that the disciples willingly suffered in defense of their beliefs – and if we include the martyrdoms of Paul and Jesus’ half-brother James, we have eleven sources” (Licona, 85). They wouldn’t have suffered for their testimony of the Resurrection unless they were convinced that it had actually happened.
· The Apostles presented themselves in a very unfavorable light in the NT writings. They must have been convinced of a greater and surpassing truth – the Resurrection – to have made themselves look so ridiculous. If their testimony of the Resurrection had merely been fabrication, they would have had every reason to present a winsome self-image to the world.
· Their writings emerge with flying colors when examined culturally, critically and historically.
· Jesus appeared to His disciples over a 40 day period following His Resurrection. Paul reports that on one occasion, He appeared to over 500 at one time: “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul is suggesting, only about 20 years after the Resurrection that his readers could verify, through these eyewitnesses, whether these events really took place. Had they not taken place as Paul had reported, he would have been dismissed.
· Jesus’ Apostles weren’t reporting about an event that had taken place in China, but in Jerusalem, where their testimonies could easily have been discredited. There certainly were enough people trying to do so.
· The Gospel accounts record that two members of the Sanhedrin had taken the body of Jesus and buried it. This could have easily been contradicted if it hadn’t taken place. Likewise, many supernatural events accompanied the accounts of the Crucifixion – appearances by dead saints, darkness upon the land for three hours, the rending of the Temple veil, and an earthquake. Had these events not taken place, the Gospel accounts could easily have been falsified by the Jerusalem establishment, situated as they were in the very location of these events.
· The Gospels report that women were the first to testify of the Resurrection. However, no one would have fabricated such an account, because the testimony of women was disdained. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene seems to have been the first to report the Resurrection. However she had an additional onus upon her. She had been regarded as a sinner. The Apostles would never have fabricated such accounts.
· There is no record of the disciples ever recanting, even under torture. If this had ever happened, such a record would surely have been preserved.
Licona reports that Gary Habermas had consulted over 2,000 scholarly sources on the Resurrection and concluded with Habermas that “probably no fact was more widely recognized than that the early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.” (86). For instance:
· Even the atheist [Gerd] Ludemann conceded: ‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’” (Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.)
The liberal Jewish historian, Paula Fredriksen, claims
· “The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ…is historical bedrock, facts known past doubting.” (Strobel, 119)
· “I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say and then all the historic evidence was have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.” (119)
However, as non-believers, they are more inclined to ascribe the disciples’ sincere accounts of the Resurrection to hallucinations or visions. If so, they all experienced the very same hallucination during the 40 days of Jesus’ appearances – 500 at one time – even hallucinations that included eating and talking with Jesus, and even touching Him! Paul reported:
· For I delivered [this early report) 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. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Paul wrote (55-57 AD) that on one occasion, Jesus had appeared to “more than five hundred…most of whom are still alive.” This leads to three conclusions:
1. It would have been hard to get away with such a statement had it not been true.
2. These people were still available to confirm Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances – something that would require confirmation.
3. Jesus must have risen. How else could the faith of unbelievers, like James and Paul, be explained, especially after the crucifixion!
NT scholar James Dunn is emphatic that Jesus’ disciple had been convinced that Jesus had risen:
· “It is an undoubted fact that the conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead and had exalted Jesus to his right hand, transformed Jesus’ first disciples and their beliefs about Jesus.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol.39, No.2, 14)
Christian Apologist Michael Licona adds:
· “After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.” (CRJ,16)
So too Christian Apologist Sean McDowell:
· “From the Apostles forward, there is no evidence for an early Christian community that did not have belief in the Resurrection at its core. The centrality of the Resurrection can be seen by considering the earliest Christian creeds, the preaching in Acts, and the writings of the apostolic fathers.” (CRJ,14)
4. The circumstantial evidence also confirms His Resurrection.
EVIDENCE OF CONVERSIONS: The Apostle Paul had been the leading persecutor of the Church, leading lynching parties against them. However, he reports that he had had an encounter with Christ which blinded him. He was them miraculously healed and subsequently had other encounters with Christ. Had he not been convinced that Jesus had risen, there would have been no conversion. Licona concludes, “He had nothing to gain in the world – except his own suffering and martyrdom – for making this up.”
Initially, Jesus’ family had thought that “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21; John 7:3-5). This assessment would have been reinforced by the Crucifixion. However, James and Jude became believers. Had the Resurrection not taken place, it is hard to conceive how this transformation could have taken place.
Without the Resurrection, it is inconceivable that multitudes would have sacrificed everything for a disgraced “Messiah” who had been shamefully crucified. The Book of Acts reports that even after Peter had preached his initial sermon, 3000 came to believe (Acts 2:41). Had there not been substantial evidence for the Resurrection, this could not have happened. No one would have risked persecution for a disgraced would-be Messiah.
The Gospels show us that, following the Crucifixion, the disciples had fled and abandoned their faith. Only the Resurrection could have convinced them that they had a future with Jesus and given them the boldness to stand against persecution.
Only the Resurrection could account for the growth of the Church. Had there been no Resurrection, only scorn and ridicule would accompany anyone who continued to believe in someone humiliated and crucified.
Dr. Simon Greenleaf, founder of the Harvard Law School, notes:
· "Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, [early Christians received] contempt, opposition… and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate, and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only [continued] their work with increased vigor and resolution… The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of like heroic constancy, patience, and unblenching courage… If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error. From these [considerations] there is no escape but in the perfect conviction and admission that they were good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed…and well knew to be true. http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t012.html
5. No other theory has been able to account for these facts.
There have been many attempts to humanly explain the empty tomb. However, these have all failed. Philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig wrote:
· C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge University concludes that we have here a belief which nothing in terms of prior historical influences can account for--apart from the resurrection itself. www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover2.html#text17
· Any responsible historian, then, who seeks to give an account of the matter, must deal with these four independently established facts: the honorable burial of Jesus, the discovery of his empty tomb, his appearances alive after his death, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection and, hence, of Christianity itself. I want to emphasize that these four facts represent, not the conclusions of conservative scholars, nor have I quoted conservative scholars, but represent rather the majority view of New Testament scholarship today. The question is: how do you best explain these facts?
Craig concludes that all of the naturalistic theories have now been rejected by modern scholarship. This leaves the Resurrection as the only contender:
· In fact, the evidence is so powerful that one of today’s leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapide has declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead!
If Jesus rose from the dead, then this validates what He had said about Himself and about the Scriptures – that they could not be broken (John 10:35). His Resurrection also validated what He said about His own words:
· “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:10, 14)
· Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)