Why I Believe the Resurrection
Just before Easter in 2007, I cozied up on my couch to watch James Cameron’s highly publicized Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The makers of the film claimed that in 1980 an Israeli construction crew had uncovered the remains of Jesus Christ and his family outside of Jerusalem. The lynchpin of the documentary was a tomb containing 10 ossuaries or “bone boxes” bearing several names including “Jesus, son of Joseph,” “Mary,” “Joseph,” and “Judah, son of Jesus.” If this truly were the remains of Jesus Christ, it would devastate a central Christian belief—the resurrection.
Watching the expertly produced documentary, I couldn’t walk away for a moment even to go to the bathroom. “What if Jesus really didn’t come back from the dead?,” I asked myself. “What if the whole story turned out to be a fraud?” I combed the internet for information on this new development on the resurrection.
After checking into it, I realized that James Cameron wasn’t the only doubter out there making a case against the resurrection. Over the years, many challengers have raised doubts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In recent years, supposedly ancient documents, have surfaced, which have spurred serious debate about Easter’s cherished tale.
“All of these challenges need to be examined carefully and evaluated critically,” says Mark Roberts, author of Can We Trust the Gospels: Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. “If there were other gospels that were proved to be authentic and ancient, and if these gospels told the story of Jesus’ death without the resurrection, this evidence would have to be taken seriously.”
Does the Resurrection Matter?
When looking at the evidence, the first question to answer is How important is our belief in Jesus’ resurrection? It is supremely important. First, the resurrection testifies to the power of God by illustrating His sovereignty over life and death. If God is not capable of raising the dead, He is not worthy of our allegiance. Second, the resurrection is critical to both Jesus’ integrity and Messianic credibility. Jesus laid claim to being the Son of God and alluded on more than one occasion that he would die and be raised again. The resurrection either exposes Jesus as a fraud or declares Him to be what He claimed—the Son of God and Savior of humankind.
The Apostle Paul declared that if Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead,, then Christians “should be pitied more than anyone” (1 Corinthians 15:19). For if Christ has not been raised then our faith is without foundation (v. 14), and we are false witnesses (v. 15) for we have testified that God did something, which He did not do. Worst of all, if Christ was not raised from the dead and was not who He claimed to be then our sins are not forgiven (v.17).
If Christ has been raised from the dead, however, we have a firm foundation by which to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In other words, our entire faith rises and falls on the validity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Time to look at the evidence.
Evaluating the Evidence
The resurrection evidence begins with two basics facts that are virtually undisputed. First, we know that Jesus Christ was crucified. In addition to the Gospels, several non-Christian ancient historians from Tacitus to Josephus and even the Jewish Talmud corroborates that Christ died a bloody death at the hands of Roman authorities. “To deny the crucifixion would be to take a marginal position that would get you laughed out of the academic world,” says Michael Licona, author of Paul Meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate on the Resurrection. He says even the skeptics are convinced on this fact.
Second, there is the empty tomb. The vast majority of scholars agree on this point as well. In over 2000 years, no one has been able to produce the bodily remains of Jesus. But what about Cameron’s Lost Tomb of Jesus? The truth lies in what the documentary didn’t say. In the first century, 1 in 20 men were named Joseph and 1 in 4 women were named Mary. When we add to this that Jesus was the 6th most common male name at the time, the odds that this is the tomb of Jesus run as high as 1:2,400,000.[ii] Biblical scholars and the Israeli Antiquities Authority have summarily dismissed this theory.
But even if Jesus was crucified unto death and the tomb was empty, it does not follow that Jesus was resurrected. What about the alternative theories stating that the disciples could have hallucinated Jesus’ appearances or perhaps they made the whole thing up? Unfortunately, the facts make these theories nearly impossible.
The disciples claimed to have seen the risen Lord. But they were under a lot of stress and were hoping to escape any blowback from their association with Jesus. After all, the man they had left jobs and lives for was just crucified. In their grief, perhaps a mixture of fear, stress and grief induced a hallucination, much like a grandmother who thinks she sees her long-betrothed husband who has recently died.
The hallucination theory seems plausible until you consider that they all saw the exact same thing. “Groups can experience a simultaneous hallucination, but they wouldn’t have the same one,” says Licona. “ Hallucinations aren’t contagious. They’re personal.” And what about the Apostle Paul? He was a persecutor of the Church and wasn’t experiencing any grief over Jesus’ death, yet he also witnessed the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He was a most unlikely candidate to hallucinate. Additionally, this doesn’t explain the empty tomb.
But couldn’t the disciples have orchestrated the whole thing? What if they sneaked past the heavily armed Roman guards and stole Jesus’ body before making the resurrection story up? While this seems possible, the evidence doesn’t support it either. We know that all the apostles were either martyred (or in John’s case, exiled). People won’t die for something they know is a lie. As Licona puts it, “Liars make poor martyrs.” The explanation that makes most sense is that Jesus was actually resurrected.
Gary Habermas, author of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, has compiled a list of more than 2200 scholarly sources in French, German and English in which experts evaluate the evidence regarding the resurrection over the last 30 years. According to Habermas, the evidence is so strong that the majority of scholars—including the skeptics—admit that Jesus’ resurrection is the best historical explanation.
Though no ancient event can be proven with 100% certainty, the evidence strongly supports the Gospel account on every point. Therefore, the resurrection is not merely a matter of faith. It is a matter of fact. The evidence clearly support the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which means we can all be confident in our faith and I can return to regularly scheduled programming. So, celebrate boldly this Easter for He is risen.
Author: Dr. James Merritt, Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church and host of Touching Lives