For our current sermon series, we’ve kept the most important topic for last — the resurrection of Jesus. I assume most of us in the room take the Resurrection of Jesus for granted, but there are some who find the plausibility of a resurrected Christ pretty impossible:
“Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk… The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children.” – Richard Dawkins
Is it true that there’s little documentation in support of the Resurrection? And is it true that only naïve people believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? How important is belief in the Resurrection?
Christianity has, from the beginning, stated that belief in the Resurrection as crucial. In fact, it’s considered part of the gospel message. What is the “gospel”? In the Bible, the gospel, or “good news,” is defined by a minimum of three essential facts:
- the deity of Jesus;
- the death of Jesus in our place; and
- the resurrection of Jesus
These three aspects of the “gospel” are found in Acts 1–5; 10; 13; 17; Romans 1: 2–4; 10: 9; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Timothy 2: 8–9.
So for Christians, the Resurrection is of first importance. And because of this, I think it’s important to recognize that Christianity invites scrutiny and encourages skeptics to evaluate the evidence. This is quite a bit different than other religions, as, for example, both Islam and Mormonism appeal to the subjective inner-feelings for confirmation of their religion.
- Islam:Muslims tell us to follow Islam because only God could have written the Qur’an, their holy book. They suggest that the Qur’an is such a great text that it must come from God (cf. Sura 2:23; 10: 37–38; 17: 88).
- Mormonism: According to Mormons, if you read the Book of Mormon with an open mind and ask God to show you that it is true, he will confirm it. The problem is that this appeal demands that we ignore the data from archaeology and the huge historical problems related to the Book of Mormon. Well-meaning Mormons simply appeal to the testimony of the Spirit to affirm their belief system. This appeal, however, is not testable; it’s a purely subjective feeling. We can’t actually evaluate the claims because Mormons will tell us that the Holy Spirit will help us to believe and ignore the evidence (cf. Moroni 10: 4–5).
Again, these religions appeal to subjective feelings that ask their respective followers to ignore the historical and archeological evidence. Christianity, however, appeals to the evidence and says, “Hey… you should really look into whether or not it is reasonable to believe that Jesus is alive.” Compared to Islam and Mormonism, Christianity is a bit different in that it invites the skeptic to examine the evidence. Jesus either rose from the dead confirming his claims to divinity or he was a fake. As Gary Habermas writes:
“Such a historical test of truth is unique to Christianity. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he was a false prophet and a charlatan whom no rational person should follow. Conversely, if he did rise from the dead, this event confirmed his radical claim.” – The Case for the Resurrection
Notice that this invitation for us to examine the evidence does not negative the inward assurance that comes from the Holy Spirit… it substantiates it.
Three Significant Evidences for Jesus’s Resurrection…
1. Multiple, independent sources support the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and then raised from the dead.
When an event or saying is attested by more than one independent source, there is a strong indication of historicity and there are at least eight independent authors in the New Testament who affirm that Jesus was raised from the dead.
One of those authors was the half-brother of Jesus, a man named James. The Gospel of John records that “For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). In other words, when Jesus was alive, James was a skeptic and did not believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, and God in the flesh. What could possibly have caused James to go from being an unbeliever during the life of Jesus to becoming a believer after Jesus’s death? The resurrection.
The Resurrection is attested to by enemies of Jesus. If testimony affirming an event or saying is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message, or cause that profits from the account, we have an indication of authenticity, which is why the fact that the Jewish leaders did not deny that the tomb was empty is significant.
Eyewitnesses support the testimony of Jesus’s resurrection in that Jesus was seen by over 500 people after he had been crucified (cf. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15). Paul both encourages his readers to investigate the report and tells them where to go!
By the way, some have suggested that perhaps Jesus wasn’t killed on the cross and that he had merely passed out and that he later came to and that’s why Jesus was seen; it wasn’t a miracle but simply a mistake to assume Jesus was killed. However, this is not a very persuasive argument because:
- Roman soldiers were professional
- Had Jesus not died, the soldiers would have been put to death for failing to do their job.
- The historical documents show that the soldiers made sure that Jesus was dead before taking him down from the cross (cf.
- Non-Christian sources confirm Jesus’ death by crucifixion (e.g., Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mars Bar-Serapion, Talmud).
2. The first eyewitnesses were women.
If you wanted to deceive people, you wouldn’t invent evidence that would damage the credibility of your story, right? People don’t invent and spread stories about themselves that hurts their chances of being believed, they tell positive things about themselves in order to get people to believe their stories (e.g., people will try and promote themselves with stories about their heroic acts in the military).
If you were going to lie about the resurrection of Jesus in the first century, the last witnesses you would include would be women. Yet the primary witnesses to the Resurrection are women. If the early church wanted the story of Jesus’ Resurrection to have spread quickly and been taken seriously, they would never have admitted that this was first discovered by women… they would have whitewashed that story and left that detail out (e.g., the ambiguous “some people saw Jesus”).
In the first century, woman had a very low place in society and their testimony was considered questionable and suspect and not as credible as a man’s. For example, the following are common assumptions about women:
“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.” – Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15
“Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman.” – Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8 (cf. Talmud, Sotah 19a; Talmud, Kiddushin 82b)
That the first eyewitnesses were women is a significant argument for the reliability of the Resurrection.
“If the Gospel writers had originated the story of the empty tomb, it seems far more likely that they would have depicted men discovering its vacancy and being the first to see the risen Jesus. Why would they not list the male disciples Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and avoid the female issue altogether? If the account of the empty tomb had been invented, it would most likely not have listed the women as the primary witnesses, since in that day a woman’s testimony was not nearly as credible as a man’s. Thus, the empty tomb appears to be historically credible in light of the principle of embarrassment.” – The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
3. The early church was willing to die for the message of Jesus’s resurrection.
All of the Apostles except for John were killed for their belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. Since the early disciples were willing to both suffer and die for their beliefs, it’s far more reasonable to believe that they believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. As others have noted, “Liars make poor martyrs.”
Of course, martyrdom is not exclusive to Christianity, but there’s a difference between this type of martyrdom and other examples (e.g., Muslim Terrorists and Buddhists who burn themselves in political protest).
Modern martyrs die because of their trust in beliefs that others have taught them. The Apostles were killed because of their own report that they had seen the risen Jesus. In other words, contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true, but the disciples of Jesus died for what they knew to be true because they had seen it.
People do not die for lies, so the fact that the early Christians were willing to suffer torture, burning, and being fed to wild animals needs to be taken seriously. Why were they willing to do this unless they were absolutely certain that Jesus had been raised from the dead? The most reasonable answer is that they had seen Jesus with their own eyes.
The Resurrection changes everything.
Our hope in a future with God is predicated on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead, we have absolutely no hope. This is why Christians have been saying for a long time that the Resurrection changes everything, as Tim Keller notes:
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” – The Reason for God
The Resurrection is one of the reasons why we can trust what God says. Jesus promised that after he was crucified, he would be raised from the dead and that the same eternal life that he has would be given to us by the Holy Spirit.
So when we become followers of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, we are given the presence of the same Spirit which gave life to Jesus. This is such a powerful truth that should do more than be filed away in our systematic theology.
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas & Michael Licona.
Did the Resurrection Happen?, by Gary Habermas & Antony Flew.
Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, by Adrian Warnock.
Risen: 50 Reasons Why the Resurrection Changed Everything, by Steven Mathewson
The Resurrection of the Son of God, by N. T. Wright.
The Resurrection of Jesus, by Michael Licona.
Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright.