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Tough Questions: How can we be sure that Jesus rose from the dead?


“The validity of Christianity hinges on the historicity of Jesus’ literal, bodily resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true — if he didn’t, it isn’t. There is a lot at stake! So, how can we be sure that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact?” says The Rev’d Charlie Lacey

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The validity of Christianity hinges on the historicity of Jesus’ literal, bodily resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true — if he didn’t, it isn’t. There is a lot at stake! So, how can we be sure that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact?

A detailed account of Jesus’ resurrection is given by all four Gospel writers, all of whom saw Jesus post resurrection, or spent time with those who did. Not to mention the other twenty-three books of the New Testament, all of which attest to the same remarkable event. The New Testament books are historical documents and cannot be discounted simply because they are unashamedly Christian in their perspective. However, there are also extrabiblical sources that point, not just to Jesus’ existence, but also his resurrection. For example, the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, who had no vested interest in Christianity, wrote a detailed account of the resurrection that is entirely consistent with that found in the Gospels.

Unsurprisingly, the most compelling evidence for the historicity of the resurrection is to be found in the Gospels themselves. There is much evidence to be gleaned from these accounts, but in the interest of brevity, let us focus on three key facets.

Firstly, the tomb was found empty on the third day. Nobody denies this. Matthew tells us that the religious authorities propagated a rumour that the disciples had stolen the body in order to explain this embarrassing fact. However, if the disciples stole the body, they would have known that they were peddling a lie. It seems unlikely that they would dedicate their lives to proclaiming a falsehood and be willing to die in their efforts to uphold it.

Secondly, all four Gospel writers affirm that the first to discover the empty tomb were a small group of women. In first century Jewish (and Roman) culture, women were not permitted to give evidence in a court of law. If Jesus’ followers had made up the story of his resurrection, a group of peasant women would be an odd choice of primary witnesses. The only reason for the Gospel writers to have included this detail, which was potentially damaging to their case, is that they were simply reporting the events as they happened.

Thirdly, we must consider the disciples themselves. When Jesus was arrested, they scattered into the night. During his sham of a trial, Peter vehemently denied knowing him. At the crucifixion, they were nowhere to be seen. Presumably they were in hiding, fearing for their lives, dejected and despondent. Yet this same group of men were soon to risk everything in their efforts to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. What brought about this tremendous change of heart? By far the most plausible explanation is that they personally encountered the risen Christ.

Finally, it is important to stress that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection does not all lie in antiquity. Jesus did not have any political or military power; the influential Jewish religious leaders hated him; his public ministry lasted just three years, and he never wrote anything down — yet he is the most influential person in all of human history. The claim of Christianity is that Jesus is alive today and knowable on a personal level. Moreover, the lived experience for millions, if not billions, of Christians, past and present, is that of having a personal relationship with Jesus. This suggests that Jesus not only rose from the dead but is still very much alive today.

First published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website in April 2024. 

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