The resurrection of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly one of the most important events in human history. Christians believe that Jesus literally and physically rose from the dead after being crucified, buried, and lying in the tomb for three days. This event is central to the Christian faith and has massive implications if true. But is there good evidence to support the resurrection actually happened? Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says about this pivotal moment.
Jesus Clearly Predicted His Resurrection
In all four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – Jesus plainly predicted that after being killed, He would rise again on the third day. For example:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21, ESV)
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31, ESV)
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, ESV)
“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19, ESV)
Jesus foretold His resurrection numerous times, in plain language. This was not something the disciples were expecting, and they did not understand what He meant (Luke 18:31-34). But Jesus explicitly and repeatedly said He would die and come back to life three days later.
The Empty Tomb
All four gospels record that when the women followers of Jesus came to His tomb on Sunday morning, they found the large stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Jesus’ body was gone.
Matthew 28:1-7 describes how Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” visited the tomb and an angel appeared and told them Jesus had risen, as He said. The angel invited them to see the empty place where Christ’s body had been laid, wrapped in linen cloths.
Mark 16:1-8 tells of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome coming upon the open, vacant tomb. A young man dressed in white (an angel) informed them Jesus had risen and they should tell His disciples.
Luke 24:1-12 reports how a group of women including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. Two men in dazzling apparel (angels) suddenly appeared and reminded them this is just what Jesus had predicted. The women rushed to tell the apostles.
John 20:1-9 relays how Mary Magdalene visited the tomb alone, saw the stone removed, and ran to tell Peter and John. They ran back and saw the linen cloths lying there empty, then believed Jesus had risen.
Jesus Appeared to Many After His Resurrection
The gospels and epistles record that Jesus appeared to many different individuals and groups of people in His resurrected body over a period of 40 days, proving He had returned to life.
For instance, Mark 16:9 states that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. In Matthew 28:9, Jesus met the other women as they hurried from the empty tomb. According to Luke 24:13-35, Jesus walked and talked extensively with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
John 20:26 says that after eight days Jesus appeared to the disciples a second time, with doubting Thomas present. Jesus allowed Thomas to touch His wounds from the crucifixion, to prove it was really Him. In John 21, Jesus had breakfast on a beach with Peter and several disciples.
The most famous appearance is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, where Paul records that Jesus was seen by Peter, then the twelve disciples, then by over 500 people at one time, then by James and all the apostles, and finally by Paul himself on the road to Damascus.
These sightings were not fleeting glimpses, but real interactions where Jesus spoke with people, ate with them, allowed them to touch Him and see His crucifixion wounds. This rules out hallucinations or visions. His many appearances confirmed He was alive again in a real, physical resurrection.
The Dramatic Change in the Disciples
After Jesus was arrested, the disciples deserted Him in fear. Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times. The disciples hid away, afraid the Jewish leaders would come for them next. They were discouraged, sad and weak in faith.
Yet a mere 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion, at the Feast of Pentecost, these same timid disciples boldly preached the gospel in Jerusalem. They resolutely proclaimed that the resurrected Christ they had eaten with, touched and seen perform miracles had been raised by God.
In Acts 2-7, Peter gave powerful sermons urging people to repent and believe in Jesus as the resurrected Messiah and Son of God. The disciples were completely transformed, with unshakable courage, fully committed to spreading the message of salvation through Christ.
According to tradition, nearly all the apostles suffered martyrdom rather than recant their testimony that they had seen the risen Lord. The most plausible explanation for their boldness as eyewitnesses is that they really did meet the resurrected Christ.
Saul of Tarsus fiercely persecuted the early Christians, arresting them and consenting to Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7:58. ButJesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, rebuking him (Acts 9:3-6). Stunned, Saul converted on the spot. He became the Apostle Paul, fervently preaching the gospel despite immense hardship (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
What could convince this hostile persecutor to suddenly abandon everything and embrace the faith he sought to destroy? Paul explained that he personally encountered the risen Jesus, which changed him forever. Paul’s life-altering conversion experience is powerful evidence for Christ’s resurrection.
Historical Reliability of the Resurrection Accounts
Skeptics sometimes argue the resurrection is a legend or myth added later. But the gospels were written in the 1st century AD, just decades after Jesus’ public ministry. 1 Corinthians is dated to around AD 55 and passes on the early Christian creed recited in AD 35-40. There was not enough time for myths or exaggerated stories to develop.
The gospels have the ring of authenticity. They include different, overlapping accounts, unflattering details about the disciples, and report the women as the first witnesses – unlikely for fiction. The documents have no hallmarks of folklore. Rather, they read as real, accurate history.
Alternative Theories Lack Credibility
Those who deny Christ’s resurrection have offered alternative explanations, but they do not stand up to scrutiny. Common theories are:
– The disciples lied and stole Jesus’ body. But the recorded fear of the disciples before Pentecost rules this out. And as discussed above, they were willing to die for proclaiming the resurrection rather than recant.
– Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, but revived later in the tomb. This is medically implausible given the extent of Jesus’ horrific injuries. The Romans were experts at execution and would not have let Him escape alive.
– The women and disciples went to the wrong tomb. This strains belief, as the women watched Jesus’ burial and tomb location. Joseph of Arimathea who lent the tomb and the religious authorities would have corrected this.
– The resurrection accounts are contradictory. While there are some differences in the gospels, they are minor and to be expected from independent accounts. The core elements match – the empty tomb, angels announcing the resurrection, Jesus appearing to many.
– The resurrection stories are legends. As previously discussed, the rapid spread of Christianity centered on the resurrection and the gospels stem from far too early to be mythical. The texts have the nature of history, not myth.
Alternative explanations for the empty tomb and resurrection appearances do not stand up to scrutiny. They are logically flawed, fail to fit the known facts, and are less plausible than the straightforward explanation – Jesus rose from the dead just as He predicted.
Significance of the Resurrection
The resurrection was the divine vindication of Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God and Savior of the world. As Paul explains in Romans 1:4, it powerfully showed Jesus to be the Messiah.
A dead savior cannot save anyone. Rather, as Acts 4:33 says, the resurrection gives authority and power to Jesus’ teachings. His victory over death demonstrated His deity and position as judge of all (John 5:22; Acts 10:42).
The resurrection provides hope of eternal life for believers. Just as Jesus was raised imperishable, at the future resurrection Christians will also receive imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 42-44). The resurrection gives meaning to the Christian life and firm assurance of eternal life with Christ.
As Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Everything hinges on the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The evidence shows this pivotal miracle did indeed occur.