To the Seeker with Intellectual Questions
Did Jesus Literally Rise from the Dead?
There is Overwhelming Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
by M. Tyner, M.A., Christian Apologetics
The question at hand is literally of infinite importance. If it is a fact of history that Jesus Christ uniquely rose from the dead, then it would serve us well to consider: (a) the extraordinary Biblical claim that when Jesus of Nazareth miraculously was resurrected, He conquered the power of death, and (b) the marvelous Biblical claim that Jesus Christ now offers everyone the free gift of eternal life! That is to say, Jesus actually "opened the door to heaven" for all people who will follow Him. Recorded in the Bible is an astonishing promise by Jesus Himself: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). On the other hand, however, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then there is no offer of human immortality and Christianity surely collapses, for its central pillar is the event of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:13-19). Presented below is an overview of the evidence supporting the historicity of the Resurrection.
DEFINITION OF "RESURRECTION":
Jesus’ Resurrection refers to "the return of Christ to bodily life on the earth on the third day after His death." According to the Bible, the historical Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried. Three days after His burial, He miraculously rose to life in His resurrected body. For the following forty days, Jesus presented Himself alive to hundreds of witnesses, and He performed miracles and taught about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Afterward, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, where He is alive today at the right hand of God the Father.
RESURRECTION vs. RESUSCITATION:
Note that the term "resurrected" does not mean "resuscitated." When someone is revived (or resuscitated), his mere earthly body is brought back to life and he will die again. When someone is "resurrected," his soul and spirit are complete with his new eternal body that is not subject to death or decay! (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 35-58.)
I. New Testament Evidence
Historians have authenticated the New Testament documents. On the basis of accepted principles of textual and historical analysis, the gospel records are found to be trustworthy, historical documents from the first century. They constitute primary source evidence for the life of Christ. In other words, the gospels (written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) contain accurate accounts of the original apostles, who walked and talked with Jesus of Nazareth and touched Him (1 John 1:1-3), who witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection (2 Peter 1:16), who told the enduring story for which they labored and suffered.
A. The Empty Tomb of Jesus on the Third Day
When examining the content of these gospel accounts, we find that three days after Jesus was crucified on the cross and buried, His tomb was empty. Jesus had even predicted that He would raise up the temple of His body three days after His death! (John 2:19-21, Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22). There is compelling evidence that Jesus left the tomb by supernatural Resurrection:
1.) Seven security precautions at the tomb failed. Heavy security was set up to insure Jesus would remain dead, such as an enormous stone against the tomb, as well as a Roman security guard unit.
2.) Apostles John and Peter discovered undisturbed grave clothes in the tomb. The empty body wrappings, meshed with about 90 pounds of embalming spices, had retained their original head and body shape.
3.) No early Jewish writings refuted the empty tomb. On the contrary, these writings actually presumed that the tomb was empty.
4.) Contemporary scholarship successfully disproved the anti-supernatural theories. These "now passé" theories attempted to explain away the supernatural. One theory, for example, claimed that the hundreds of eyewitnesses were all hallucinating simultaneously!
B. Post-resurrection Appearances of Jesus Christ
The Bible highlights what took place during the forty-day period when the resurrected Jesus walked the earth, before ascending into heaven. In summary,
1.) The gospels recount at least twelve post-resurrection sightings of Jesus. Some examples are: Jesus appeared to a crowd of over 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6-7); to disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12); to women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10); and to seven disciples fishing at the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-14).
2.) Jesus demonstrated that He was truly alive. Jesus presented Himself alive to His apostles by "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3), such as by walking on water, giving sight to the blind, healing the lame and the lepers, and by multiplying the bread and fish to feed the 5,000.
3.) Jesus demonstrated that His resurrected form was not merely a spirit body. Jesus showed the disciples that He had flesh and bones and then invited them to touch Him (Luke 24:39); He directed Thomas to see and touch His death wounds (John 20:27-28); and He ate broiled fish with His disciples (Luke 24:42-43).
C. The Transformation of Jesus’ Disciples After the Resurrection
The disciples’ conduct changed radically after encountering the "risen Savior" and experiencing His transforming power in their lives (Acts 1:8).
1.) Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were afraid, scattered, and disillusioned. They hid in an upper room and locked the doors (John 20:19); they fled and deserted Jesus after His arrest in the Garden ( Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50) ; and Peter denied three times ever knowing Jesus ( John 18:15-27, Matthew 26:69-75).
2.) Yet after the disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus, they became fearless followers! Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) and risked everything to spread the Good News with their preaching and teaching. According to church tradition, eleven apostles even faced martyrdom, unwilling to denounce their beliefs.
3.) James and Paul became believers and devoted disciples only after witnessing the risen Savior. Beforehand, James (the brother of Jesus) had rejected Christ’s claim as the Son of God ( Mark 3:21, Acts 1:13-14). And "Saul of Tarsus" (the antagonist of Jesus and principal persecutor of Christians) became the prominent apostle Paul! (Acts 9:3-19).
SCARLET THREAD OF REDEMPTION!
One of the supernatural wonders of the Bible is that it presents one continuous and unfolding story – God’s plan of redemption for mankind through the Messiah (the Redeemer). The entire text looks to the mighty, redemptive atonement of Christ Jesus. His blood sacrifice was the ransom paid for our deliverance. The O.T. anticipates the Person and work of Christ, and it contains amazing prophecies, typologies, and foreshadowings. For example, the O.T. animal sacrifices, which "covered" man’s sin, pointed to the N.T. great sacrifice of the Lamb of God who "removed" man’s sin! (2 Corinthians 5:21).
II. Old Testament Evidence
The Old Testament writings (authenticated by historians and emphatically prophetic) provide the scriptural foundation and promise of Jesus’ Resurrection:
1.) The Messiah would rise again, according to David’s prediction. Astonishingly, although the O.T. was completed four centuries before Jesus Christ lived, died, and resurrected, the prophet David foretold that the "Holy One" would not see corruption! (Psalm 16:8-11, Acts 2:24-28).
2.) The coming Messiah would reign in the "everlasting" Kingdom. O.T. prophets foretold that He would bring in everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24); He would rule from David’s throne "forever" (Psalm 45:6-7); He would offer an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 55:3); and after giving up His life to bear our iniquities, God’s plan would prosper in His hands (as Conquering King)(Isaiah 53:10).
3.) Prior to His death and Resurrection, Jesus illuminated O.T. resurrection passages.
(a) As a sign that He was the Son of God, Jesus cited the prophet Jonah, who was "resurrected" after three days in the great fish (Matthew 12:39-40).
(b) Jesus defended the reality of the resurrection of the body by quoting Moses in the 14th century B.C. in the early Torah (Exodus 3:6,15, Matthew 22:23-33).
III. Further Historical Evidence
1.) Sociological facts provide strong evidence. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the impetus for:
(a) The origin of Christianity and thousands of new believers within a few weeks, in spite of tremendous persecution;
(b) Worship services being moved from Saturday to Sunday;
(c) The new method of calendar dating using the time division of B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (year of the Lord);
(d) Perpetuation of the sacraments celebrating baptism and communion;
(e) Changed lives over nineteen centuries, as evidenced by testimonies and actions.
2.) Jesus Christ was the most influential person in all of history! He changed the course of human history by His sinless character, His teachings about God’s Kingdom, His performance of miracles, His fulfillment of Messianic prophecies, and His claims to be the Son of God.
3.) First and second century writings provide confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection.
(a) Apostle Paul preserved the earliest Christian creed containing the Gospel message, which he most likely received within 3 or 4 years of the Resurrection event (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).
(b) Josephus (the Jewish historian) referred to Christ, who was condemned to the cross and who appeared to his followers "alive on the third day."
(c) Plus, approximately eighteen non-Christian sources "mention almost every major detail of Jesus’ life, including His miracles, His resurrection, and His claims to be deity."
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the "grand miracle," that is, the greatest of all! It assures us that Jesus lives today and that He triumphed over death. The Bible tells us that at daybreak on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb of Jesus with heavy hearts. Imagine their surprise to find an empty tomb and an angel that proclaimed to them: "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead…" (Matthew 28:1-8). Even now Jesus Christ speaks to us with outstretched arms, saying: "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have they keys of (authority over) Hades and of Death" (Revelation 1:18). Beloved, believe in Me, and receive my free gift of eternal life!
Sample Prayer to Receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior:
"Dear Father God, thank You for sending Your Son (the Messiah) to die for our sins and to literally rise again, so that we can live with you eternally. Jesus, please forgive me for my sins and be my personal Lord and Savior. I trust in You. I want to follow You and have a relationship with You now and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen."
1. Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1988.
2. Montgomery, John Warwick, History and Christianity, Bethany House, l965.
3. Craig, William Lane, The Son Rises, Moody Press and Wipf & Stock Pub., l981.
4. The Open Bible (NKJV), "The Scarlet Thread," Thomas Nelson Pub., l983.
5. Green, Michael, "Why the Resurrection Matters" in Christianity Today 3/17/89.
6. Josephus, Antiquities, 18.3.3.
7. Habermas, Gary, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Harper & Row, 1987.
8. Geisler, Norman L., Christian Apologetics, Baker Book House, l976, ’99.
The Prepared L.I.F.E.