As the amazingly popular Christian rapper Lecrae says in his song Boasting, “Without the cross there’s only condemnation; if Jesus wasn’t executed there’s no celebration.” It is certainly true that the cross and crucifixion of Christ is vitally important to the Christian faith and message, but the issue is in actuality a bit more complicated than that, as other religions also believe in the crucifixion of Christ, but they deny the resurrection, which is where the true heart of Christianity lies. In this paper there is going to first be a brief discussion of why the resurrection is so incredibly important to the Christian faith. After that there will be a discussion of some of the major typical evidences that are generally given in support of the resurrection of Christ. Then there will be a brief look at several major objections that are often raised to the assertion that Jesus rose from the dead, and answers to those objections, followed finally by some concluding remarks.
The Importance of the Resurrection to Christianity
The infamous Prince of Preachers, Charles Haden Spurgeon, in his sermon titled “The Resurrection of the Dead,” said this about Christ’s resurrection: “As Christ actually rose from the dead – flesh and blood – so shall we.” 1 Corinthians chapter 15 emphasizes this same point heavily, for Paul makes it abundantly clear that if Christ has not been raised then there is no future resurrection for humans either. If there is no resurrection from the dead then Naturalism might as well be the correct worldview, and the supposed eternal hope that Christianity brings is in fact null and void, for once one dies life is over and there is no heaven or hell if this is the case.
According to Thomas Aquinas, Christ was moved to rise from the dead for five reasons. These reasons include: 1) for the commendation of Divine Justice; 2) for human instruction in the faith; 3) for the raising of human hope, for in seeing Christ rise it is known that humans too will rise in the end; 4) to set in order the lives of the faithful; and 5) to complete the work of human salvation. Also, the apostle Paul makes it perfectly clear that not only if Christ has not been raised is there no resurrection for believers, but also that the faith of all believers is completely worthless in such a case, for the entirety of Christianity rests on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Calvin points this out as well in his institutes when he alludes to the fact that if Christ is not raised then Christians are in an even deeper state of despair than the rest of the world, because Christians are then persecuted and demeaned for naught.
So, not only is the resurrection of Christ from the dead important, but it is critical regarding the truthfulness and worthiness of Christianity, for if Christ has indeed not been raised, then Christianity is worthless, no, less than worthless, and there is no hope for anyone anywhere in the end. This is because if Christ has not been raised then the hope of Christians is in vain, for it is through the atonement for the sins of the world made by Christ on the cross that salvation rests, and only if He has been raised do humans have a hope of being raised also to a glorified state in the end to have such a salvation realized. This is why it is so crucial to provide evidence in support of the resurrection when non-believers come along and try to argue against such a reality, and so to such evidence this paper now turns.
Typical Evidences Given in Support of the Resurrection of Christ
There are several lines of argument that are generally given to support the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Traditionally, historical arguments for the resurrection have “been based on two lines of support. First, naturalistic theories have failed to explain away this event, chiefly because each one is disproven by the known historical facts.” Second, various historical evidences have often been cited in favor of a belief in the resurrection, including “the eyewitness testimony for Jesus’ appearances, the transformed lives of the disciples, the empty tomb, the inability of the Jewish leaders to disprove these claims, and the conversion of skeptics such as Paul and James, the brother of Jesus.”
Other evidences include that Jesus was seen, heard, and touched by Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:10-18), and Mary/women (Matt. 28:1-10); He was seen and heard by Peter (1 Cor. 15:5), the two disciples on the road (Luke 24:13-35), ten disciples (Jn. 20:19-23), 500 brethren (1 Cor. 15:6), James (1 Cor. 15:7), all of the apostles (Acts 1:4-8), Paul (Acts 9:1-9), and others; and He actually ate food with the disciples (Luke 24:42) indicating that He was raised bodily and not merely as a spirit. Also, William Lane Craig adds additional lines of evidence for the resurrection, including the simplicity of Mark’s account of the empty tomb (no seemingly legendary development), the women’s discovery, the very fact that Christianity as a religion began to exist around the time of the resurrection, and the independent testimony of the gospels regarding the resurrection. The women discovering the empty tomb first is supremely significant in that it is not something that anyone in the first century would have made up, for women were considered lower than men, and this, had it not been true, would have not only damaged the credibility of the gospel accounts of the resurrection, but this part of the story most certainly would not have been allowed to survive over the centuries. Hence, the very fact that the account of the women discovering the tomb first is still in the Bible today is proof that that is exactly what happened after all. Jesus also appeared to Stephen at his stoning (Acts 7:55-60) and John on Patmos (Rev. 1), indicating that although He was no longer physically on earth, He has nevertheless been raised and is no longer simply dead and buried.
Also, Mike Licona says that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 has always been considered very important whenever an investigation of the historical evidence for the resurrection has been undertaken. One of the main reasons for this is because it is considered by many to be very early, very possibly even predating Paul’s writings and coming from a much earlier source, such as a creed of the very early church. This would mean that the information in these verses actually came from an earlier time than when 1 Corinthians was written, and that the information originated closer to the source (the time of the resurrection), which makes it even more credible overall, not to mention the fact that it is rehashed in the Bible, which makes it part of God’s infallible truth.
Now, obviously there is not enough time or space to go over all of this evidence in depth in this paper, for that would take many, many pages and much additional time, and this is meant to be a short paper, not a thesis or a book. Suffice it to say that all of the evidence mentioned above is solid evidence, either direct or indirect, for the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There is other evidence too, but the evidence listed above is at least most of the evidence that is generally alluded to when defending the resurrection of Christ.
Answering a Few Objections
There are various religions that deny certain aspects of the Christian account of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and there are also a number of specific attempts that have been made to explain away the resurrection through various modes of conjecture. Although there are many of these to consider, this is again only meant to be a short paper and so there is only time to deal with a few of the major issues in this area. First, in this section there will be a brief consideration of a couple of religious views on the resurrection, namely the Jehovah’s Witnesses view and the Muslim view, and then there will be a quick look at two of the most common conjecture arguments that try to explain away the resurrection.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower Society, deny “the physical resurrection of Jesus, teaching that Jesus did not rise from the dead in the body he died in….Jesus’ body was supposedly dissolved into gases in the tomb, and he was raised as Michael the Archangel, who is a spirit creature without a physical body.” Unfortunately for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, bodies dissolving into gases is not something that is known to happen, especially under typical burial circumstances, and there is no evidence supporting this conclusion. If Jesus’ body did dissolve into gases and if He no longer has a physical body then how can the JW’s explain the fact that in Luke 24:42 Jesus is said to have eaten a piece of broiled fish? This proves that His post resurrection body was just as human as His pre-crucifixion body was. As far as the idea of Jesus returning as Michael the Archangel, according to Jude 1:9 Michael the Archangel already existed way back when Moses was around in ancient times, over a thousand years prior to Jesus’ birth and life on earth, so unless they are claiming that Jesus simply possessed Michael the Archangel, which would be pure conjecture and seemingly irrational, and that does not seem to be what the JW’s are claiming, then this idea that Jesus returned as Michael the Archangel is foolish at best and must be readily discarded as wrong and false. If however the JW’s are in fact claiming that Jesus possessed, or took over the body of Michael the Archangel, then they need to provide some sort of evidence for this, but even still this idea does not account for Jesus eating post-resurrection, and so again this idea of Jesus as Michael fails miserably in the end.
As for what the Muslims believe regarding the cross and resurrection, almost all Muslims believe that Jesus himself did not actually die on the cross at all. There are various views of what actually happened, but a popular view is that someone was substituted for Jesus on the cross and so He was never actually crucified. Also, almost all Muslims believe that Jesus never actually died at all before He ascended to heaven. This second belief clearly rules out a resurrection, at least a resurrection in the past, for Muslims believe that Jesus will come again and die then and be buried next to Mohammad. These views clearly fly in the face of the biblical evidence, for the Muslims have to discount the biblical accounts of the crucifixion and the resurrection to come to such conclusions, and there is no good reason to do so, as they can all be shown to be fully reliable, especially Luke’s account, as Luke has been labeled one of the world’s all-time best historians by many. Therefore there is no reason to accept the standard Muslim accounts on such issues as the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Now, two of the most popular arguments against the resurrection are that the body of Jesus was stolen and that the disciples were hallucinating, delusional, or having some sort of vision when they thought they saw Jesus, and then following both of these arguments the story grew and became what it is today as we have it in the Gospels. Both of these two major conjectures will be briefly dealt with in turn below. It should be noted that the second argument mentioned above is actually a compilation of three different arguments, but since they are so similar they will be grouped together as one here in this paper, although all three aspects of the argument will be dealt with.
First, the argument that someone stole the body of Jesus and then the disciples made up the story that He was raised from the dead fails on several counts. One, as Gary Habermas and Mike Licona point out, an empty tomb by itself, without the actual risen Lord, would not have convinced the church persecutor Saul, who later, after having a personal encounter with the risen Lord, became better known as the apostle Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. It simply doesn’t make sense that just an empty tomb would have been enough to convince Saul, knowing that he was a highly intelligent and well educated Pharisee who openly opposed Christ and the disciples. Two, the fact that the disciples of Jesus said that they had seen the risen Lord Jesus, along with the fact that they were willing to die for that belief, while not proving that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, at least proves that they were not intentionally lying, for only demented people would die for something that they know for certain is a lie. Again this does not prove that Jesus truly rose, but knowing that the disciples truly believed that they had seen the risen Christ points to giving them the benefit of the doubt, unless there is some substantially good reason to believe otherwise, and there most certainly does not seem to be any such reason. Three, a mere story by the disciples telling James, the brother of Jesus, that He was risen would most likely not have convinced James either, since James openly rejected Jesus’ deity and the idea that He was anything more than a man while Jesus was alive (pre-resurrection). There is no reason to assume that James would have changed his mind unless he actually met his Brother in risen form. Finally, although there are other reasons to reject this idea of a stolen body, only two more need to be mentioned. First, the tomb that Jesus lay in was stamped with a Roman seal. Anyone who would have messed with this tomb would have been in serious trouble, possibly even risking their lives. Second, the likelihood that anyone could have slipped by the two guards at the tomb, been strong enough to move the giant rock, and carried a full grown man such as Jesus wrapped in a large amount of spices, which would have made Him much heavier, is incredibly unlikely. Sure it could have been a few people and not just one, but that is beside the point, and the more people there would have been, the harder it would have been to sneak by the guards. It is simply unrealistic to assume such a scenario, or that the disciples or someone else somehow overpowered the guards, especially considering the well-known skill of Roman soldiers when it came to defense or battle. Sure overpowering the guards would have been possible, but that would have raised all kinds of other problems, most notably some form of official Roman action against those who claimed Jesus was risen, since they would have been considered the most probable suspects in the event of overpowering the guards and stealing the body of Jesus, and no such action is known to have been taken by the Romans.
The other argument against the resurrection that is going to be addressed in this paper is the argument that entails the idea of the disciples and others who are said to have seen and heard Jesus having hallucinations, delusions, or visions of Jesus as having been risen from the dead. Many people claim that the disciples merely hallucinated when they thought they were seeing and hearing Jesus, probably due to the grief of losing a loved one, namely Jesus, which is often a somewhat common occurrence when losing someone close. However, several things may be said about this conjecture. First, hallucinations are individual events that occur in the mind, rather than collective events that happen for many different people in the same way. It is simply unrealistic to assume that over five-hundred people had the same hallucination, especially when there is no indication that any of these people were using or exposed to any sort of hallucinogenic, but even if they were, all of them having the same hallucination is just not realistic to assume. Also, hallucinations typically occur to people that have a bent toward being nervous and imaginative, but Jesus appeared to over five-hundred people and it is highly unlikely that all of those people were of this type of temperament. Also, hallucinations do not account for the empty tomb or the conversion of Paul and James.
Next, as for the disciples having delusions, this hypothesis does not account for much of the known data either, such as the conversion of James and Paul, since neither of them seem to have been longing to see Jesus alive, especially Paul. This would seem to indicate that Paul and James were not good candidates for having such delusions of Jesus alive and well after the crucifixion, for delusions typically flow out of the inner longings of the individual. Also, if the whole resurrection ordeal was just the disciples being delusional, that does not explain the empty tomb either, because the Romans and the Jews both accepted the reality of the empty tomb, and so clearly it cannot be said that the Jews, the Romans, and the disciples were all delusional!
Finally, the argument that the disciples and others who saw and heard Jesus were merely experiencing a vision, a product of the mind that has no cause or reality outside of the mind, does not work for the same reasons listed above that hallucinations do not account adequately for the resurrection. Also, the vision theory fails on the account that in Acts 9 it was not just Paul who saw and heard Jesus, but the men that were with him did as well, and these men do not seem to have had any connection to Paul’s Christian ministry, and so hence there seems to be no reason why these men would have had the same vision that Paul and the other’s supposedly had. All evidence points more appropriately to the fact that since these men also saw and heard Jesus, He was in fact actually there, alive and well.
In conclusion, in this paper there has been a brief discussion of the importance of the resurrection, as well as various evidences that are typically given in support of the resurrection of Jesus. There has also been a discussion of a couple of religious views of the resurrection, namely the Jehovah’s Witnesses view and the Islamic view, and why they fail to adequately explain the resurrection. Then there was a quick talk regarding two of the most prominent ways that some people try to explain away the resurrection and why those arguments also do not explain the available facts related to the resurrection. There is truly a great deal more that could be said on this subject. There have certainly been many large books and countless articles written on this subject, but this is intended to be a short paper and so time and space is limited. Suffice it to say that the information above should at minimum supplement greater and more comprehensive arguments in favor of the resurrection of Jesus, for there really is an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus, and that should never, ever be overlooked, for as Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the Christian faith and humanity’s state before God depends on the very reality of the resurrection.
Aquinas, Thomas. “The Resurrection of Jesus.” in Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources. Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister, eds. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010.
Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.
Geisler, Norman, and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.
Geisler, Norman, and Patrick Zukeran. The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.
Habermas, G.R. “Resurrection of Christ,” Pages 1014-1017 in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.
Hunt, John. AMG’s Handi-Reference: World Religions and Cults. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2008.
Lecrae. Boasting, “Rehab.” Reach Records: 2010, CD.
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010.
Spurgeon, Charles. Spurgeon’s Sermons. Vol. 2. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011.
Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Canada: Scofield Ministries, 2002.