For years historians have debated if Jesus was a real historical figure, but that debate is now over. Most historians, whether believers or not, will testify that Jesus of Nazareth certainly existed and was executed under the Roman empire. Whether He raised from the dead or not is the real question.
So… Did He really raise from the dead?
I mean, this would change everything about how we view life wouldn’t it? Think about it. A man named Jesus lived on earth around 2000 years ago, claimed he was the son of God, claimed he would die for the sins of the world, and claimed that he would resurrect on the third day after his death.
This should cause you to wonder if all of this is true or not! Why? Because dead people don’t just raise from the dead. Even Jesus’ own friends didn’t believe He would come back from the grave. Right after the crucifixion they locked themselves up in a house. They were afraid, downcast, and hopeless.
But something happened after, something life changing that would turn these ordinary men into revolutionary leaders who would then go on to spread message of Jesus all over the world.
I believe that something was Jesus, a risen Jesus who appeared to them in a resurrected body. In fact, the bible states that Jesus appeared to his disciples after He resurrected and stayed on earth for about 40 days before He ascended.
But the question that remains is this: how can we be confident that this really did happen? Let’s look at the evidence.
The Empty Tomb
The first evidence of a resurrected Jesus is the empty tomb. Simply put, Jesus’ body wasn’t there. That leaves a giant question in the pages of history: what happened to the body?
Here are a Few Popular Claims
1. The Disciples Stole the Body: first off, this rumour only started because the Jewish leaders heard about the empty tomb and paid a large sum of money to the Roman soldiers to say it was the disciples who stole the body (Matt 28:13). Second, the disciples had no reason to steal Jesus’ body. It would be of no benefit to them. Third, Roman soldiers guarded the tomb. How would these ordinary fishermen overpower them or sneak by the soldiers to move a large and heavy boulder from the tomb without being noticed? Lastly, all of these men gave up everything to spread the word about Jesus and most of them died as martyrs. Why would these men give up everything, including their lives for a lie ? This theory is simply false.
2. The Jews Stole the Body: Another common theory is that the Jewish leaders stole the body from the tomb. Well, this doesn’t make any sense since it was the Jewish leaders themselves who paid off the Roman soldiers to guard the tomb. Besides, if they had stolen the body, they would have revealed it publicly to discount the apostles’ preaching and nullify Christianity altogether, but of course, that didn’t happen.
3. The “Swoon” Theory: Many claim that Jesus didn’t really die, but just fainted. However, there is no historical evidence for this claim. First, Roman soldiers were careful with their procedures to eliminate the possibility of survival. Second, the Roman soldiers didn’t break Jesus’ legs, a procedure usually performed to accelerate death if the person was still alive, but the Roman soldiers were so certain of Jesus’ death that they didn’t perform this procedure. Third, how would a man who had been flogged and crucified, move a giant, heavy boulder, then over power Roman soldiers in such a weak condition? This theory too, doesn’t explain the empty tomb. The resurrection is the best and most reasonable explanation for Jesus’ missing body.
Eye Witness Accounts
The life and the resurrection of Jesus can be found in the scriptures, and these accounts did not emerge from clever myths and folk tales, but from first-hand eye witness accounts of many of his followers, friends, and family.
Let’s take Luke for example:
In this passage, Luke states,
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” – Luke 1: 1-2.
In this passage, he states that his account of Jesus’ life and resurrection came from eye witnesses who followed Jesus from the beginning. These were people who saw Jesus with their own eyes, people who ate with Him, people who witnessed Him preach and perform miracles, and people who saw Him die on the cross then raise after three days.
He goes on to share,
“with this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,”- Luke 2:2.
Being a physician, Luke was a meticulous investigator, a man who wrote with striking detail and precision when it came to recording the life and the resurrection of Jesus. All the other gospels were also recorded from eye witness accounts. According to most scholars, Mark wrote from Peter’s account of Jesus’ life and resurrection.
Peter also reassures the reader in one of his letters:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” – 2 Peter 1:16.
The other two Gospels, John and Matthew, were written by none other than…well…John and Matthew, who were both first-hand eye witnesses of Jesus; they were also two of the twelve apostles.
The Conversion of Paul and James
Both of these conversions provide compelling evidence of the resurrection because of who these two men were: One of them (Paul) was a persecutor of the Christian faith and the other (James) was Jesus’ blood brother.
Let’s start with Paul: Paul himself states that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9 and Acts 22) when he was on his way to persecute Christians and throw them in prison. What else would turn a prosecutor of the Christian faith into one of the most, if not the most influential apostle of Jesus? The resurrection. Paul saw the resurrected Jesus and it transformed his life forever..
Now let’s talk about James: James and Jesus grew up in the same household! They were siblings. However, the Bible indicates that James was skeptical and reluctant in believing that Jesus was the messiah (John 7:5). To James, Jesus was just his big brother.
But something changed his mind. You see, James would later become a leader in the church and was even martyred for his faith. In other words, James was so certain of Jesus’ divinity that he was willing to die for Him.
Just imagine what it would take for you to believe that your sibling, a person you grew up with your whole life was God in the flesh. I’m sure it would take more than just a few sermons and miracles. It would probably take seeing your brother die on a cross then come back to life within a few days, which is precisely what happened.
Jesus appeared to James, alive in the flesh and we see an account of this in 1 Corinthians 15:6-7 where the verse reads:
“After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Now if James’ and Paul’s account of the resurrected Jesus is not enough evidence for you, He also appeared to more than 500 people (according to the scripture above), whom were still alive when Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthian church!
If this was false, Paul’s letter would have been refuted and would have no credibility among the people; however, Paul mentioned these eye witnesses with confidence because he knew that many of them were still alive and ready to testify.
In other words, he was saying to the people, “If you don’t believe me, there are 500 other people who saw the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes. Go ahead and ask them.”
If you view faith through a skeptical lens, check out my post ” 4 Books Every Christian Skeptic should read” for some great book recommendations that can help you find answers to some of the most difficult questions about Jesus, God, and the Bible.