The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Fact or Fiction?

People believe all kinds of things today. In fact, there are a lot of smart people who believe stupid things! Many subscribe to a philosophy like this, “It doesn’t matter what you believe or if it’s true, as long as you believe it’s true.” On the surface this sounds like a very open and appealing perspective; it fits with our “do your own thing” values. However, this ideology completely misses the point about truth. It places the emphasis on the sincerity of our beliefs rather than the truthfulness of the object of our beliefs. It’s like saying, “If you believe the Holocaust never happened and that works for your understanding of history, then great!” The issue isn’t what you or I believe about the truth, the issue is what is actually true.
Often, people mistakenly think of faith in this same way. They think that the validity of faith is based upon sincerity. They fail to realize that faith must have an object and that an unreliable object produces an unreliable faith. Let me illustrate: Suppose you and I are standing on top of a tall skyscraper. In front of you, connecting the building you are standing on with the next building is a steel reinforced bridge. In front of me is a thin piece of balsa wood extending across from building to building. With great fear you say, “I don’t know if this bridge will support me if I walk across.” With overflowing confidence I state, “I absolutely believe this balsa wood will support me if I walk across.” We look at each other, we look across the expanse and we both begin to walk across. What happens? Of course, my weight is too much for the balsa wood so it breaks and I plunge for a long drop with a sudden end! You, however, as fearful as you might be, safely walk across to the next building. You see, the key was not the sincerity or strength of our faith but the reliability of the object we put your faith in. Many people are sincere in what they believe but if what they believe is not true then their faith is misplaced and ultimately unreliable. The real issue is the object of our faith; the truthfulness of the content of faith.
Some people argue that truth is relative. Think about that for a moment; it is in effect declaring, “There are absolutely no absolutes!” Relativism is self-defeating. Others argue that truth is relevant to questions of science, mathematics and history but religious issues are completely different. They hold to a position that there is no such thing as a religious truth or absolute. My response is that Christianity is not merely a privatized religious experience, it is a faith rooted in history and it is a faith with verifiable truth propositions. For example, when I say, “The Bible asserts that Jesus rose from the dead”, I have just stated a true proposition. The Bible does assert that Jesus rose from the dead. The statement is also open to falsification. In other words, we can evaluate, on the basis of evidence, whether or not Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
Christianity is rooted in logical truth statements and verifiable historical facts. The ultimate truth statement and historical fact of Christianity is the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The Bible claims that the resurrection of Jesus not only validates all of Jesus’ truth claims, it proves that Jesus is the Son of God, the One who can forgive our sins and give us the gift of eternal life. Jesus either rose from the dead or he didn’t – period! The question of the resurrection is an historical one that can be verified or rejected using the methods of historical research.
What do the facts support? The evidence for Christ’s death and resurrection is found in the eye witness accounts of each of the four Gospels, the Book of Acts and the New Testament letters. These sources have been critically analyzed and determined to be accurate to the original text and deemed historically reliable (See my book, Christianity: Blind Leap or Intelligent Step; FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents are they Reliable; Josh McDowell, Evidence the Demands a Verdict). The objective seeker should look at the facts and make an intelligent decision.
According to the Bible, the critical facts are these:
• The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) predict the death and resurrection of the Messiah (see Ps. 16; Isa. 53).
• Jesus predicted, on numerous occasions, his own death and resurrection (see Matt. 16:21).
• Jesus was betrayed by Judas; delivered to the chief priests for questioning; and interrogated, beaten and scourged by Pilate—as you may have seen in the movie The Passion of the Christ (see Matt. 26:57-27:31).
• The crowds cried for Jesus to be executed (see John 19:1-6).
• Jesus, according to Roman law, was nailed to a cross for crucifixion. The victim, weakened by the torture and loss of blood, was unable to lift his body into a position to take a breath and therefore died of suffocation (see Mark 15:20-41).
• A Roman executioner certified that Jesus was dead and put a spear through His chest cavity. Out of the wound flowed blood and water, indicating massive internal bleeding (see John 19:31-37).
• Jesus was anointed for burial and encased in more than 75 pounds of mummy-like wrappings (see John 19:38-42).
• The body of Jesus was placed in a tomb, and a huge stone was rolled into place to block the entrance (see Mark 15:46).
• The tomb was sealed with a Roman seal, and a guard of Roman soldiers was placed in front of it (see Matt. 27:62-66).
• Three days later, the tomb was empty, and the stone had been moved a great distance away (see Mark 16:1-8).
• Jesus appeared on many occasions, and to many audiences, proving that He was alive. On one occasion, He appeared to more than 500 eyewitnesses simultaneously (see 1 Cor. 15:3-11).
• Jesus ascended bodily into heaven in the sight of the apostles (see Acts 1:9-11).
• The resurrected Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish Pharisee. Saul became a devout Christ-follower and an apostle, and his name was changed to Paul (see Acts 9).
• Bearing witness to Christ’s resurrection transformed the lives of 12 fearful men, turning them into apostolic world-changers (see Acts 1–12).
• The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation for the gospel that offers forgiveness of sins; new life and the hope of heaven (see 1 Cor. 15).
Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. If He didn’t, then there must be some other plausible explanation for the resurrection account. What are the possibilities? Here are four options that skeptics and others have presented:
1. Jesus didn’t really die. Rather than dying on the cross, Jesus only passed out. In the dampness of the tomb, Jesus was revived and then appeared to the disciples, who mistakenly thought He was raised from the dead. This theory breaks down on several facts. First of all, crucifixions killed people! The victim literally suffocated to death. In Jesus’ case, He was nailed to the cross, not merely tied down by ropes. A Roman executioner pierced His side with a sword, certifying His death. He was wrapped with about 75 pounds of ceremonial spices and linen wrappings. He was placed in a tomb with a huge stone rolled across the entrance. A Roman guard was tasked with standing watch outside the tomb. Then, on multiple occasions over a 40-day period, He appeared to the disciples as the Lord of Life. Before a collective audience, He ascended out of their sight and into heaven. These facts, recorded by multiple eyewitnesses, refute the claim that Jesus didn’t die.
2. It wasn’t Jesus on the cross. A look-a-like took Jesus’ place. The “resurrection” appearances were made by a perfectly healthy Jesus, who had never experienced the crucifixion and therefore didn’t need to be raised from the dead. Again, this view has serious flaws. The foremost is that it would make Jesus a perpetrator of a lie. He would be some mastermind of a great religious deception. The apostles would also be liars. The Roman soldiers who experienced the miracle of the resurrection would be liars as well. This view disregards the evidence and accuracy of eyewitness testimony.
3. The disciples stole the body, made up the story of the resurrection, and then preached it to others. This view would have us believe that the disciples formed a huge religious plot. They somehow physically manhandled the Roman guard and then kept their secret to their deaths—martyrs’ deaths. That’s right—the disciples were killed for their faith. It’s true that people have died for a lie, but it was a lie they believed was true. This theory asserts that the disciples propagated a lie and that they never denounced their lie, not even to save their own lives. Is it likely that not one person but many people, when faced with the option of freedom for telling the truth or torture and death for holding onto a lie, would continue to lie? The theory that the resurrection was a deceptive plot also breaks down when the case of the apostle Paul is considered. Paul claimed to have an encounter with the resurrected Christ that was completely separate from the experiences of the other apostles. Based on this encounter, the entire direction of his life changed. If the disciples stole the body, then the conversion of the apostle Paul must be explained away.
4. The resurrection accounts were hallucinations. The apostles so wanted Jesus to be raised from the dead that they convinced themselves it had actually happened. This view does not fit the evidence: the empty tomb, the testimony of the Roman guard, and the fact that multiple people had the same “hallucination” on different occasions. In particular, the theory is hard-pressed to explain 500 people claiming to see the resurrected Jesus Christ. Again, the changed life of the apostle Paul discredits this interpretation.
Is there a view of the resurrection that fits all the facts? The obvious answer is yes. It is the view recorded by eyewitness testimony—the view that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. This view is the very heart of the gospel; it is the view that we have already seen in 1 Corinthians 15. Let’s revisit the opening of that passage:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an historical fact. It is backed up by prophetic prediction, eye witness testimony, physical evidence and personal experience. It is the only conclusion that fits the evidence. It is the resurrection of Jesus that validates His claim to be God and His assertion to be able to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. Consider the follow Scriptures:
Romans 1:2-4
2the gospel that God promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
John 11:25-26
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Romans 10:9
9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
According to God’s Word, because Jesus lived, died and rose again, we can be saved. When we choose to believe in Him and confess Him as our Lord, the Bible promises that our sins are forgiven and we receive the gift of eternal life. Can you think of any intelligent reason not to repent and put your faith in Jesus Christ? To be indifferent to the evidence is to be intellectually dishonest and to be without excuse before God. To trust in the evidence and believe in Jesus Christ is to receive the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life.
If you would like to receive Jesus Christ right now, let me suggest you follow the direction of Romans 10:9, “9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” You can use this suggested prayer and make it your own:
“Lord Jesus I believe in You. I believe you died for my sins and rose again from the dead. Please forgive my sins, come into my life and be my Lord. I repent of my sins and I turn to You to take control of my own life. I receive you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for hearing my prayer. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. In your name-Amen”
The Christian faith is an intelligent faith. It is receiving the facts about Christ’s death and resurrection and acting upon those facts by turning to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. The hope of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is alive and that He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him.