Ultimately, all of Christianity hinges on the truth of the resurrection. There is compelling evidence for the existence of a good God who has been made known to us in Jesus. But all of our faith—including Jesus proving He is indeed the Christ—is grounded in the truth of the resurrection. As the apostle Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). There is nothing to believe about Jesus if He did not rise from the dead. As we round out the reasons for the hope we have in Jesus, it’s most appropriate to examine the resurrection.
Since the time of Christ’s resurrection, people have been trying to disprove it. The Romans didn’t want word to get out that Jesus’ body disappeared under their watch and were all too happy to spread around that His disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:12–15). The Jews didn’t want news of the resurrection to spread because they were trying to kill this blasphemer and disrupter of their order. And yet, as the women went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body, they found it empty. How do we make sense of this, and more important, what truth is there that Jesus truly did rise from the dead?
There are several factors concerning the resurrection that help us to have certainty that Christ is indeed risen:
1. The action of the Roman guards.
When the guards encounter the angels, they become “like dead men” (Matthew 28:4). They pass out from shock and fear. When they come to their senses, they report what happened to the chief priest. What had happened? The tomb was empty. Jesus’ body wasn’t there. The Roman guards report the news even though this would put the Romans’ reputation and the soldiers’ lives at risk.
2. The Jews’ admission that the tomb is empty.
Matthew 28 tells us the elders bribe the soldiers to spread the rumor that Jesus’ disciples stole His body at night while they were sleeping (v. 13). They, too, admit the tomb is mysteriously empty even though the chief priests, Pharisees, and Pilate had strategized to protect the tomb just the night before by stationing soldiers and placing a large stone at the opening. Alas, Jesus somehow escaped—and they knew it. So, the counsel plotted their cover-up story, even accounting for how to satisfy the governor’s ear, should the soldiers’ diligence be in question (v. 14). Verse 15 says the story of the disciples stealing Jesus’ body continues to spread among the Jews to this day. Still, this gives us evidence that non-Christians admit the tomb was indeed empty.
3. The people in Jerusalem.
Besides the soldiers and Jewish leaders spreading the fake story of Jesus’ stolen body, there were also many people in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover who were well aware of what had transpired over the past week. They knew Jesus was on trial and had been crucified. They knew he had been buried. They would have also heard about the empty tomb. Eyewitnesses do a good job of revising and clarifying a story; if Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, they would have quickly corrected the news. There are no accounts from the Jewish people at the time that insisted Jesus’ body was still in the tomb.
4. The women’s testimony.
If Jesus’ disciples were planning a heist, sending women as witnesses to the news of Jesus’ resurrection would be a weak tactic. The testimony of a woman wasn’t considered valid in a court of law—it didn’t hold weight, and it would be easily dismissed. Women reporting the resurrection would not have been the way to establish trust and validity that Jesus was alive. And yet, that’s exactly how the story goes. Why use the testimony of women unless that’s actually what happened?
5. The disciples’ response.
Upon hearing the news that Jesus was alive—and later seeing and touching Him themselves—all of the disciples dedicated the rest of their lives to proclaiming this news. Ten of the eleven original disciples of Jesus were martyred for their confession. People don’t die for a lie that they know is a lie. If they truly had stolen the body, at least one of them would have cracked before enduring a martyr’s death. Instead, we see just the opposite. As the disciples face opposition, persecution, and death, they become even bolder in clinging to the truth that Jesus was raised from the dead.
But what if the disciples only thought it was true? What if they were hallucinating and only thought they saw Jesus? This argument doesn’t hold up well when you carefully consider Jesus’ interactions with the disciples. After being raised from the dead, the disciples saw, touched, talked, and ate with Jesus on multiple occasions. Nothing about His interactions revealed that He was anything less than human. His body revealed the wounds of His crucifixion. His need for food showed He still relied on daily sustenance to survive.
The hallucination theory is also faulty when considering the number of people who would have seen the same hallucination in multiple instances. Not only did Jesus appear before the disciples but later to crowds of more than five hundred people at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Rather, the drastic change in the disciples’ behavior from hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection points to the truth that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
6. The spread of Christianity.
As the disciples told others about Jesus, Christianity spread rapidly throughout the land across countries and continents. It continues to spread today. Many ideologies and cults come and go but rarely survive more than a couple of generations. This is not so with Christianity—the truth of Christ’s resurrection continues to compel believers even today. It cannot be stopped.
The historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ resurrection, along with the reactions of the people at the time, give compelling evidence for the truth of the resurrection. We can exclaim with St. Paul that Christ has indeed been raised from the dead! (See 1 Corinthians 15:54–58.)
For more lessons in apologetics, head to the Spring 2020 issue of Lutheran Life.