"I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history ..."
E. M. Blaiklock - Professor of Classics, Auckland University
The Resurrection of Christ is the most powerful event in history. It has affected the last 2000 years of history and politics, from peasants to kings to nations. Christianity has spread across the entire world, into every country and into a vast number of ethnic groups and languages. Billions of people have experienced the life-giving, healing, forgiveness and freedom offered by God because Jesus Christ conquered death and rose again from the grave.
The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:12-22 that without the resurrection of Christ, the Christian faith is useless. "And if Christ be not raised," Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."
There are many skeptics who disregard the resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as a fable. However, the evidence for Jesus' resurrection is extremely strong, even to the point of converting some who sought to disprove it:
The Empty Tomb: Though well-trained Roman soldiers guarded the tomb of Jesus Christ, it was empty 3 days after Jesus' death as Jesus had repeatedly foretold (Matt 12:40, Mark 8:31). The guards had fled (a death penalty offense). The massive stone had been rolled away, and the body was gone – and was never produced by the enemies of the Christians. The linen grave clothes in which the Jews bury their dead were still in the tomb, undisturbed. From the Jewish historian Josephus to a compilation of 5th-century Jewish writings called the "Toledoth Jeshu", even Jewish sources and traditions admit that the tomb was empty. The body was never found.
Living Witnesses: There were a multitude of witnesses who saw Jesus Christ alive after his death. The disciples, the travelers on the road to Emmaus and a number of women all spoke to Jesus alive. Thomas doubted until he was able to put his fingers into Jesus' wounds (John 20:26-27). He later spread the Gospel all the way to India. The apostle Paul tells of 500 people to whom Jesus appeared at one time, most of whom were still alive and available for questioning when Paul wrote his letter (1 Cor 15:6). When several people testify in a courtroom that they witnessed an event, and their accounts are found consistent with each other, their testimony is considered factual information. Jesus Christ was seen alive many times by hundreds of different people over the course of forty days after his death (John 20-21, Acts 1:3).
The Disciples: Christ's followers, who had been fearful and who had run away when Jesus was arrested, were completely changed after the Resurrection and became courageous witnesses. Peter, who had denied knowing Christ when recognized by a simple servant girl, became the powerfully bold leader of those who had seen Christ alive, speaking to the thousands gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot – Pentecost. A person may die for a lie if they do not know it is a lie. But people do not give their lives up and face severe persecution to spread a lie they themselves invented. The fact that the disciples willingly suffered beatings and persecution and death is strong evidence that they had actually witnessed the resurrection they refused to stop telling people about.
Saul of Tarsus: A devoutly religious Pharisee, who persecuted the Church and had Christ's followers thrown in prison, Paul had his life absolutely changed by his encounter with Christ. He became a devoted follower of Christ himself, spreading the Gospel throughout Turkey and Greece in the face of beatings and shipwrecks and imprisonment and, finally, execution.
"If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt." - F. F. Bruce, Manchester University
Skeptics' Arguments Against the Resurrection:
The Hallucination Theory claims that the witnesses who met the resurrected Jesus were all "seeing things" - they were hallucinating. However, this goes against common sense as well as psychological principles. Five hundred people do not all hallucinate the same thing. Jesus appeared to many people at many different times. Also, the body was never produced.
The Swoon Theory argues that Jesus did not die – that he simply fainted from loss of blood and exhaustion. However, this also goes against common sense. The Romans were professionals who severely whipped Jesus, hung him on a cross, and then stabbed him in the side with a spear to make sure he was dead. He was in the grave for three days, wrapped head to foot in a burial cloth, without food or water or medical treatment. When he appeared to his disciples he was completely whole and healthy and his appearance inspired awe and worship that lasted throughout the rest of the disciples' lives.
The Disciples Faked the Resurrection: Discouraged, fearful fishermen and former tax collectors, whose teacher had been viciously murdered, were in little position to take on a detachment of trained Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. They would have had to create a fantastic plan in order to fight off or bribe the professional soldiers, raid the tomb, unbind the grave clothes from Christ's body, take the body away, and hide it where nobody would ever find it. The Roman soldiers faced death if they failed in their guard duty, and the disciples had little money for bribing anybody. Many people would have had to be involved in the conspiracy, and all those involved would not only have known the truth, but would know that they were risking meeting the same fate as their recently crucified leader. And what purpose could it possibly serve, if Jesus were dead? They would have had nothing to gain. Their leader was gone and they would have only faced persecution and death for their invented resurrection story.
And again, the disciples' attitudes completely changed after the Resurrection and especially after Pentecost. They became bold and courageous in spreading their message, fearless of beatings or imprisonment. They never sought to fight Rome or to establish any position or kingdom or authority for themselves. They had nothing to gain, physically speaking. They simply went about the known world, telling their story in spite of persecution and suffering, poverty and ridicule. Their message quickly spread across the Middle East and Europe and even into Asia without any military conquest or political support involved - and in spite of strong opposition. Only belief and hope based in the reality of their experiences would have produced such dedication in the lives of Christ's followers.
Perhaps the greatest evidence today of Christ's resurrection is the work that he is still doing in the lives of every day people. In the name of Jesus, people are still being healed emotionally and physically and spiritually by the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Sinners are being freed from the burden and pain and shame of sin – sometimes immediately, sometimes after long years of steady work by the Holy Spirit in their lives. Hearts are being mended and lives are being turned around. The best evidence today is the faithful follower of Christ who can say, "He saved me, and I am not the person I used to be" just as the apostles testified 2000 years ago.