What Does the Resurrection Prove about Jesus?
What do you think of when you think of Easter? Perhaps you think of eggs, bunnies, or odd commercials where bunnies lay eggs. Perhaps you equate Easter with pastel colors, Easter baskets, and watching It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. Maybe you simply think of Easter as the beginning springtime.
In truth, Easter is about something much more specific. Easter is about the most important event in history. It’s about the Resurrection—the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Some people treat the Resurrection as if it is just a ‘church’ thing. Other people think it is just a fairy tale—not something that really happened but just a story that was made up decades or even centuries later. Other people think you can simply take it or leave it; it really doesn’t matter what you believe.
If the Resurrection did not actually happen—if it was not a real event—then it does not matter which option you choose. It does not matter what you believe and it does not matter who Jesus was. If the Resurrection did not happen, then Jesus was nothing more than a man who had some interesting things to say and you can pick and choose what you want to believe. You could quote Him in books and study Him as an historical figure, but He certainly would not be someone to place your faith in today.
But what if the Resurrection really did happen? What would that prove about Jesus? How would that affect the way you view Him and treat Him today? What difference would it make to your life?
Believing in the Resurrection may seem like a pretty big leap. Why should a person believe that it was an actual event in real time/space history? Is it something you just choose to believe in or not believe in, or is there evidence that supports it?
Christianity, out of all the faiths in the world, should be the easiest one to discredit. Because the Resurrection is central to the faith, all you would need to do is disprove the Resurrection. If you could show conclusively that it could not and did not happen, then that would be the end of Christianity.
In 2007, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote a bestselling book entitled, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In that book, Hitchens—a world-famous atheist—tried to disprove the existence of God. During his book tour, Hitchens was asked if he made a distinction between Christians who believe in the Resurrection and Christians who don’t. He responded:
“I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that He rose again from the dead and by His sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
Hitchens (who succumbed to oesophageal cancer in 2011) may have opposed the Christian faith, but he was right in his recognition of the centrality of the Resurrection to Christianity. Christianity is based on the historic Jesus—His life, His death, and most importantly His Resurrection. Without the Resurrection, nothing else would really matter.
As early as 20 years after the crucifixion, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of separating the Resurrection from the Christian faith. “…If Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless… If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins… And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 19, NLT).
So, recognizing the importance of the Resurrection, is there any reason to believe in it or is it simply a matter of faith? Do Christians have a blind faith or a reasonable faith? Do they ignore the facts or do they evaluate the evidence? Christian apologists (such as William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, and Gary Habermas) argue that there are good reasons to believe in the historicity of the Resurrection, including these four key evidences:
Why Should I Believe the Resurrection Really Happened?
A. Early eyewitness accounts point to it.
Dozens of non-Biblical documents from the first and second centuries refer to Jesus. These include writings from Christians, from historians, and from skeptics, plus official government correspondence and lost works that were quoted in other sources. These documents shed light on the time of Jesus and how various people viewed Him.
Everything we know about the Resurrection, however, comes from the New Testament. Not a single non-Christian document from that timeframe exists which references the Resurrection as a historic event. This is not surprising, as anyone who recognized the Resurrection as an actual event would naturally have become a Christ-follower. It makes sense that there would not be any non-Christian sources supporting the Resurrection.
This should not be disturbing, however, as there is no reason to ignore the most detailed, the most credible and the earliest documents we have: the books of the New Testament. Skeptics will often argue that you cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible, but that should not prevent you from treating the books of the Bible like any other historical documents.
Remember, the Bible is not just one book; it’s a collection of sixty-six different books written by over forty different people. Twenty-seven of those books were written by people who either saw Jesus die and saw Him again after the Resurrection or were friends with people who did.
Consider Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector before he became a follower of Jesus. That fact alone reveals that Matthew was not a religious person. He had given up on the Jewish religion to side with the Romans in becoming a tax collector. He was at best a skeptic. Yet Matthew writes about how he saw Jesus die and rise from the dead. Then, for the rest of his life, he toured around telling people about Jesus and His Resurrection. If you are going to reject the Resurrection, then you have to conclude that Matthew was either lying or was confused.
Then there’s Mark. Whether Mark saw either the crucifixion or the Resurrected Jesus is unclear, but we do know he was a friend of Peter. Mark became so convinced by what he had seen and/or heard about Jesus that he wrote a book about it. In fact, his book is the earliest gospel that we have. Mark went on to travel with the Apostle Paul, telling people everywhere about the Resurrection. He was completely convinced.
Next there’s Luke. Luke was a doctor—a medical professional—who believed that someone who was dead came back to life. Luke was also a detailed investigator. At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, he wrote: “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Luke 1:1-4, NLT).
Luke aimed to write a detailed and accurate account of what had happened. He carefully investigated the evidence and interviewed the eyewitnesses (including those who were among the 550+ people who saw Jesus after the Resurrection). He then wrote his account in the very area where the events took place! If he were writing about something that happened in a far-off land, who could argue with him? But he was writing in the same location where the events happened. If things had not happened as he claimed, people would have known. They would have protested. That did not happen, however, and Luke spent the rest of his life telling people about the Resurrected Jesus.
John was a fisherman who went on to write five books (one Gospel, three letters, and the Book of Revelation) that are included in the New Testament. John was present at the crucifixion where Jesus entrusted John with the care of His mother, indicating that John was someone very close to Jesus. John watched Jesus die, visited the empty tomb, and believed Jesus came back to life. He then spent the rest of his life proclaiming the Resurrection at great personal cost—having people try to kill him, being imprisoned, and living in exile because of what he believed he saw.
How about Peter? Prior to the Crucifixion, Peter was so scared that he denied he even knew Jesus. This same Peter would spend the rest of his life—often risking his life—telling people that Jesus had been crucified, buried, and then rose from the dead. Peter was transformed because of what he believed he saw. It was not just a matter of faith; it was what he believed really happened.
Then there’s James, a brother of Jesus. James was initially reluctant to place his faith in Jesus. Understandably, he was resistant to the idea that his brother was God in the flesh. Yet James eventually became convinced that Jesus was divine and that He did rise from the dead.
Paul wrote about half of the books in the New Testament. Originally an enemy of Christians, Paul saw Christianity as a corruption of Judaism. He wanted all Christ-followers to suffer the same fate as Jesus. Then his life was turned around by a personal encounter he had with the resurrected Jesus. Paul became so convinced that Jesus really did rise from the dead that he spent the rest of his life traveling throughout the known world telling people about Jesus… how He died, was buried, and rose from the dead.
All the New Testament writers claimed that Jesus died and was resurrected. In order to discount their story, it must be shown that they were lying, confused, or deceived. They must be discredited somehow. Their testimony cannot be dismissed simply because a person does not want to believe it.
If their claims were untrue, the writers had nothing to gain. Most of them (along with many of the earliest followers of Jesus) would be put to death because of their claim that Jesus rose from the dead. If they were lying, surely at least one of them would have recanted. Not one of them did.
Plus, when considering the written accounts, remember how early they appeared. The exact dates are open to debate, but many biblical historians trace the earliest writings back to perhaps within 5-7 years after the crucifixion, or 20 years on the outside. Most Biblical scholars believe the entire New Testament was written before the end of the first century or early in the next, which is exceptionally close to the actual events for any historical document.
The fact that all these historical documents were written so close to the actual events and in the same vicinity that the events took place lends credibility to the historicity of those events. Plus, there were likely other writings that did not survive beyond the first century. Hundreds of people—individually and in groups—saw Jesus after the Resurrection, talked with Him, and even touched Him. These people had their lives radically transformed, and as a result they committed the rest of their lives to telling people about what they saw. The eyewitness testimony alone is overwhelming.
B. The disciples were willing to die for their claims.
The disciples had nothing to gain by claiming Jesus rose from the dead. They would be beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, and killed for that claim. They made their claim anyway, stuck by it, and were put to death because of it.
Now, plenty of people throughout history have died for their faith, whether what they believed was true or not. This has been witnessed in our own generation with terrorists and suicide bombers. As many apologists have noted, People will willingly die for their faith if they believe it’s true. But people will not willingly die for their faith if they know it’s false. Nobody knowingly dies for a lie.
Despite facing persecution, torture, ridicule, and execution, not one of the writers or disciples recanted their story. They maintained their claim that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
C. The empty tomb could not be explained away.
The Roman and Jewish leaders were not able to disprove the Resurrection. They tried to, they desperately wanted to, but they could not. Their major obstacle? The empty tomb.
If you were to travel to Israel today, you would find several locations charging admission to see the place where Jesus was buried. The location of the actual tomb is unknown. At the time of the Crucifixion, however, the Romans and the Jewish leaders knew exactly where the body of Jesus had been buried. It had been placed in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. Both the Romans and the Jews knew where the tomb was, and they ordered that the tomb be sealed with a huge disk-shaped stone. They then had guards stationed there to prevent any mischief.
Within three days, though, the body went missing! Neither the Romans nor the Jews could produce the body, they could not show that the body had been stolen, they could not say that He was in a different grave, they could not explain why the highly-trained guards failed, and they could not explain away the post-Resurrection appearances. They had all the motivation in the world to squash the claims of the disciples—all they had to do was produce the body—but they simply were not able to do it.
Today, nearly 2000 years later, historians generally acknowledge that the tomb was empty. What skeptics lack is an explanation for why it was empty. The best explanation is the Resurrection.
D. Jesus is still changing lives today.
Christ-followers around the world know the Resurrection is true because of their own personal experience with Jesus. Their lives have been transformed by His power… the same power that raised Him from the dead.
Admittedly, this is subjective and should not be taken as historical evidence. On their own, these personal accounts can either be accepted or rejected. When packaged alongside the other evidence, though, these experiences become relevant. They support the claim that Jesus is alive today.
There are plenty of arguments in favour a belief in the Resurrection as a real, historic event. As Steve Cable of Probe Ministries explains, “We don’t have to believe in the Resurrection in spite of the facts. Instead, we believe in the Resurrection in light of the facts.”
But so what? Even if the Resurrection really did happened, what difference does it make? What does it prove about Jesus?
The Resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God.
The apostle Paul stated this explicitly. “And Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised Him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 1:4, NLT)
If the Resurrection did not happen, then you are perfectly free to ignore Jesus. If the Resurrection is true… well, that changes everything. Then you have to take Jesus seriously. You have to recognize that He was more than a man, more than a prophet, and more than a good moral teacher. You have to acknowledge that Jesus was and is divine.
Furthermore, the Resurrection means Jesus is alive and well today, which has tremendous implications for your future. It means you can have hope. It means that this life is not all there is. It means that Jesus is God and has authority over life and death. Jesus Himself claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25, NLT).
If the Resurrection is true—and there are good reasons to believe it is—then Jesus can make that promise. Those who place their faith in Him will live, even after dying. They will be raised to eternal life with Him. “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with Him the believers who have died” (1 Thessalonians 4:14, NLT).
The reality of the Resurrection proves that Jesus is who He says He is. The question is, what are you going to do about it?