How do we know that Jesus was raised from the dead?
Imagine yourself a detective in Jerusalem around 30 A.D. assigned by the local authorities to find out what happened to Jesus’ body three days after his crucifixion. Your investigation is thorough and objective, questioning temple guards, Roman soldiers, witnesses of the crucifixion, and maybe some of his disciples. You are aware of the maneuverings of the temple leadership. You understand the potential political fallout if followers of the “king of the Jews” incite riots and rebellion against Roman rule. You go about collecting the evidence, which is overwhelming. You return to the leadership with the only possible conclusion: Jesus rose from the dead.
This very scenario was lived out by a lawyer named Frank Morison. He set out to prove once and for all, that the resurrection of Christ was a fraud, that it could not hold up in a court of law. To his surprise, Morison found the evidence irrefutable and became a believer. He wrote the book Who Moved the Stone to demonstrate the truth of the resurrection. It has become a Christian classic.
Over the years, a number of theories have arisen that attempt to explain the resurrection in naturalistic terms. With names like the swoon theory, the hallucination theory, the wrong tomb theory, skeptics use various tactics for debunking the evidence from the Scriptures. But the evidence is unwavering. Here are five reasons for believing the resurrection of Jesus.
1. Jesus really died. The beating, the flogging, the crucifixion and the spear on his side leave no doubt that Jesus experienced physical death. He did not just swoon or was rendered unconscious and later revived. He was dead, wrapped in burial shroud, anointed with embalming spices and sealed shut in a dark tomb. His missing body has to be explained some other way than to propose that Jesus survived his horrific ordeal, and walked out of the tomb, weak but alive.
2. The tomb was empty, no body was found. If the disciples stole the body to perpetrate a hoax, why did they suffer and die as martyrs for a lie? What did they have to gain from this fraudulent claim? If the Jewish leadership stole the body, why didn’t they produce it to squelch the growing Christian movement in its infancy? The Roman guards certainly did not steal the body. They actually would have faced certain death for their presumed incompetence. They gladly accepted the hush money from the Jewish leadership and blamed the disciples for stealing the body. (Matthew 28:11-15) The truth of the matter was that the tomb was empty because Jesus arose from the dead.
3. Many disciples claimed to see Jesus after his resurrection. Jesus appeared to them for about 40 days. He spoke intimately to the apostles, but also appeared to as many as 500 people at one time. The hallucination theory cannot explain an imaginary sighting by hundreds of individuals (I Corinthians 15:3-8).
4. The disciples were willing to die for their faith in the resurrected Christ. No one got rich for witnessing the resurrection: no autographs, no VIP privileges, no lecture tour. The only apparent reward for their faith was sporadic persecution by the hands of unbelieving Jews and angry Gentiles. This persecution would last 200 years. This is much too long a time to get a return on an investment. So it does not make sense to accuse the apostles for contriving a scheme to delude the masses. There was no money in it.
5. Lives were transformed. When the disciples believed, they set out to share the message of the resurrection to anyone who would listen. Lives were dramatically changed when people realized that forgiveness of sins was possible through faith in Christ.
6. Miracles were performed by the disciples. The very miracles that validated Jesus’ ministry and teachings were now passed on to the disciples. As they prayed, witnessed and fellowshipped, God accompanied the Gospel with signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; Hebrews 2:4).
We know that Jesus rose from the dead because of the historical evidence found in the Scripture. While skeptics doubt the accuracy of the biblical account, they have no credible explanation for the empty tomb and the transformed lives of the disciples.