Local stores are filled with people shopping for baby chicks, chocolate bunnies, kits to dye eggs, and baskets to fill with candy for their children. Churches will universally have more attendees for Easter Sunday than other Sundays during the year.
At the same time, I wonder, as I have for virtually every event since I was diagnosed with ALS, will this be my last birthday, wedding anniversary, Christmas, Easter on earth? And if it is, why does that not terrify me? And why does it, in fact, excite me?
I have the sure promise of Jesus that the grave is not the end of my existence–it is just the beginning.
Those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.
I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. (Gospel According to John 6:37-42; 11:25-26)
The resurrection of Jesus is the central event of the Christian Faith. Remove it and nothing is left but an empty religion. Debunk it and the dust and residue left in its wake constitute the biggest fraud in human history.
The resurrection of Jesus is what sets it apart from every other religion. No religious leader ever dared to make that claim while still alive. They knew they couldn’t pull it off. Their inability to come back from the dead, as promised, would delegitimize everything else they would have claimed to be true.
If Jesus was resurrected from the dead, everything he taught and claimed was authenticated. Of special import was his claim to be the only way to the Heavenly Father.
It’s on that basis that I know with certainty that although my body will die, I will live forever. More than that, I will be reunited with my physical body on that last day of human history, just as Jesus was with his. It will be a body free from disease, aging, deformities, limitations, and handicaps.
Why do I believe in the resurrection of Jesus?
First, I respond to several questions that have been raised about the resurrection.
Are there not four contradictory accounts? Each of the four gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, John– seem to be so different.
Not really. All four have the same historical core of events. Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, women went to the tomb early Sunday morning, they found the tomb empty, angels declared Jesus to have risen. That the four accounts are not identical in every detail shows that they did not collaborate nor plagiarize. There are two very different accounts of how and where Hannibal crossed the Alps, but the historical fact that he crossed the Alps is not disputed. If you asked my wife and me, separately, what took place on our wedding day, you would get two different accounts, yet we would agree on the date, location, name of the minister, and validity of the marriage having taken place.
He wasn’t in the tomb three days and nights as he said he would be.
Yes, he was. The Jews counted any part of a day as a full 24 hour day. He was in the tomb Friday (Day/Night One), Saturday (Day/Night Two), and Sunday (Day/Night Three).
Are the witnesses credible?
Women were not permitted to give testimony in Jewish culture. They were considered not reliable witnesses. The incredible evidence that the resurrection story was not fabricated was that all four accounts have women first going to the tomb and not men! A fabricated rendition to make the whole story appear more credible would have had men in all their swagger and bombast at the scene first.
What are the major evidences for the resurrection?
- It is at the heart of the earliest creedal statement that we have, written about twenty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but in use before that (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).
- The location of the tomb was known in Jerusalem to Jews and Christians alike. A fairy tale about some miraculous resurrection, originating in the same city where Jesus was crucified and the tomb was located, would be impossible. Anyone who has visited Jerusalem knows that the ancient city was not very large. The resurrection was a claim of staggering proportions! The disbelievers simply would have pointed out the sealed tomb. “Look! See?! The tomb’s still sealed!” They also could have opened the tomb and presented the body itself as evidence against the claims of the apostles. Case closed.
- The body of Jesus was placed in a private tomb, owned by a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea. It was not a cemetery with hundreds of graves. Hence, any confusion about whether the empty tomb was the same tomb in which the body of Jesus was placed is impossible. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the council of seventy-one highly esteemed Jewish men who constituted the supreme court and legislative body in Judea during the period of Roman occupation. Every GPS in Jerusalem could have taken you to Joseph’s tomb.
- Honesty about how it was women who discovered the empty tomb would normally have been an embarrassment and quickly covered up or denied. The followers of Jesus simply let the truth hang out there for all to see–no false fronts, no doctored accounts, no carefully edited statements for the courtroom.
- There was no denial from either Jews or Romans that the tomb was empty. The question wasn’t, “Is the tomb empty?” but, “Where’s the body and how did it get out of the tomb?”
- An explanation is needed for the radical transformation of three skeptics: Thomas, who waited a week before believing the resurrection story, James (brother of Jesus) who, with his other siblings, disbelieved the account, and Paul, the Sanhedrin’s district attorney who tracked down, imprisoned, prosecuted, and put to death early Christians.
- The stark report of Mark, the earliest of the gospels, concerning the resurrection leads scholars to believe he quoted an earlier source, probably an account from earlier than 37 AD. That would be far too close to the event for a fanciful legend to have been generated, and one easily refuted, since most of the principal spectators and actors were still alive.
- There were no eye witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, true. But there were witnesses to his crucifixion and there were witnesses to his bodily presence after his entombment, and dead people don’t simply get up and climb out from their tombs and walk around town! In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 Paul cites a Christian creed, including the statement that on one occasion Christ appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers.” Then Paul adds, “most of whom are still living.” In other words, “Hey, Corinthians! Does anyone doubt the credibility of this event? Here’s a list of the names. Go check them out!”
- There were numerous appearances of the risen Christ. This was not a one-time event. He showed up all over Galilee. The Gospels record nine separate occasions when the risen Christ appeared to people: John 20:10-18; Matthew 28:8-10; Luke 24:13-32; Luke 24:33-49; John 20:19-23; John 20:26-30; John 21:1-14; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:50-52. The Book of Acts contains references to Christ’s appearances: 2:32; 3:15; 10:41; and 13:31.
- These repeated appearances demolish the claim that people were hallucinating. A hallucination is not shared between two or more people. Only one person experiences the hallucination. Nor can it be shared by a group of people. And not over a period of forty days.
Logical questions can be raised in support of the resurrection.
- If the the resurrection of Jesus is not true, why during the early centuries is there no documentation disproving these events?
- Why did the opponents of the resurrection story not simply produce Jesus’ body to prove the Christians were deceived or their story a fabrication?
- Why did not the Roman military, skilled in getting people to talk, not extract the truth from any of Jesus’ followers, if they believed the body was stolen? The Romans had much at stake. Jesus not only had the ability to attract great crowds, which no occupying force wants to see, but he claimed to be the King of the Jews. A living claimant is one thing but one raised from the dead is another!
- Why did several thousand persons in Jerusalem–upwards of 6,000 or more–including many Jewish priests, suddenly become persuaded to accept Jesus as the Messiah if there was no resurrection? See Acts 2:41, 47; Acts 4:4; Acts 6:7.
Photo by Samuel Zeller. Common Domain from Unsplash.