The Historical Reality Of The Resurrection
Thomas Bart Warren
The resurrection of Jesus Christ must be an historical event. Consider the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 and the numerous implications. If the resurrection is not a literal fact of history, then the apostles wasted their time with preaching; all Christian faith is vain and worthless; neither we nor our loved ones will ever be raised; we are still in our sins; and we should be pitied by others because of our ignorance. In addition to this, the salvation of man is intricately connected to the resurrection (Rom. 10:9; Acts 17:31; 1 Peter 3:21; etc.). Obviously, we must know the truth about this issue.
The positive case for the resurrection begins with the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion. Eyewitness testimony comes from the apostle John. Early testimony is found in all four gospels. Enemy testimony comes from Josephus, Tacitus, and Lucian (quoted in Habermas & Licona 49). If Jesus did not really live and then really die, there would be no resurrection to discuss. Honest historians admit there is evidence that shows He lived and died.
The second fact is that the disciples of Jesus believed that He rose from the dead and appeared to them. Just before the death of Jesus, all disciples deserted their leader (Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50). Then, after the death of Jesus, a transformation took place. They were then ready to die rather than cease preaching Jesus rose from the dead. This is significant because “People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but people won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false” (Strobel 247). All the authorities had to do was get some of these disciples to recant their bold claims. Were news to spread that several of the original disciples of Jesus had recanted, Christianity would never have been the same.
The third fact is that hardened skeptics were turned into staunch believers. Example number one is Saul of Tarsus. Paul himself wrote that he was once upon a time a brutal persecutor of the church but was converted to the cause of Christ (1 Cor. 15:9-10; Gal. 1:12-16; Phil. 3:6-7). In addition to this, Luke records the same thing in Acts 8, 9, and 22. There also appears to have been oral tradition circulating among Christians in Judea (Gal. 1:22-23). What would drive such an opponent of Christianity to change his mind and life? Paul said it was the resurrection. Example number two is James, the brother of Jesus. According to passages like John 7:5 and Mark 3:21, 31; 6:3-4, the fleshly brothers of Jesus did not believe He was divine. Yet, later evidence suggests James soon became a leader in the church established by Jesus (Acts 15:13; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). What could have been the cause of this turnabout? The resurrected Jesus appeared to His brother (1 Cor. 15:7).
The fourth fact is that key social institutions of Jewish life changed quickly and dramatically. For centuries, Jews had closely guarded their divinely ordained traditions, passing them down from generation to generation. Then, suddenly, they altered or eliminated them. They no longer offered sacrifices. They no longer believed the Law of Moses brings salvation. They gathered to worship on Sunday rather than Saturday. They worshiped Jesus as God. They admitted to a Messiah that suffered and died rather than destroy the Roman army. The only reasonable explanation for such a radical change is that these Jews had seen the risen Jesus (Strobel 251).
The fifth fact is the most obvious one of all: the tomb was empty. It is important to keep in mind that both the crucifixion and the establishment of the church took place in Jerusalem. Christianity never would have seen the light of day had there still been a body in the tomb. The Jews or Romans could have simply produced the body and the uprising would have faded away. Instead of His enemies claiming Jesus was still dead, they began to make up stories about a stolen body (Matt. 28:12-13). William Lane Craig points out that this conspiracy theory that disciples stole the body is untenable. He states that the one “…who holds to this theory must believe (1) that the twelve ... were able to change the world through a plot laid so deep that no one has ever been able to discern where the cheat lay, (2) that these men gave up the pursuit of happiness and ventured into poverty, torments, and persecutions for nothing, (3) that depressed and fearful men would have suddenly grown so brave as to break into the tomb and steal the body, and (4) that these imposters would furnish the world with the greatest system of morality that ever was” (27-28). Who can believe it?
In light of the foregoing material, we can conclude that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus Christ did conquer death. Frightened followers became unflinching proclaimers of the resurrection. Skeptics became leaders in the cause of Christ. Jews gave up cherished generational traditions. The tomb was empty. In the words of Oxford University church historian William Wand, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history” (93-94). -7158 Highway 57 W, Ramer, TN 38367.
Craig, William Lane. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Eugene: Wife & Stock, 1981.
Habermas, Gary and Antony G.N. Flew. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.
Habermas, Gary and Michael Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Wand, William. Christianity: A Historical Religion? Valley Forge: Judson, 1972.
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