...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. -1 Corinthians 15:17-19
Happy Easter! Today is the most important day of the year for the Christian. Without the death, burial and resurrection, Jesus’ birth would have been for nothing. Jesus came to earth not to have a miraculous birth, but to become a ransom for many. The Resurrection was the validation needed to prove He was who He said He was.
According to Paul, if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we would still be in our sins and our faith would be worthless. This means we need to be clear in our understanding of what we believe about the resurrection and why we believe it.
Many skeptics today claim Christians only believe in the Resurrection of Jesus because the Bible says so. While this is true, many skeptics have also become Christians after believing in the resurrection without first believing the Bible to be true. Interestingly enough, there are certain things we can know with certainty about this person named Jesus of Nazareth from non-Christian sources.
- He lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
- He lived a virtuous life.
- He was a wonder-worker.
- He had a brother named James.
- He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
- He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
- He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
- Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
- His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
- His disciples were willing to die for their beliefs. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshipped Jesus as God.
To add one final reference, let us look at the famous Jewish historian who, from our understanding, was never a follower of Jesus.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works - a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
With these ancient, secular sources the modernday historian would be hard pressed to believe anything other than the true existence of Jesus of Nazareth. So, it is virtually impossible to ignore the existence of Jesus as a real human person in history. But is there enough evidence to prove He actually rose from the dead? To answer this question we must look at the F.A.C.T.S. of our faith.
- Jesus’ death on the cross was a fatal event. (Swoon theory debunked)
- The tomb was occupied and then mysteriously vacated. This must be explained. The swoon theory can’t explain it. Stealing the body was impossible. Yet even secular scholars admit the tomb was empty.
- The disciples believed they saw Jesus’ resurrected body. To them it wasn’t just a hallucination, and there has never been a recorded case of “group hallucination” at all. Since they all experienced the same person in similar ways then “group hallucination” is out of the question. Clearly they saw something that made them believe Jesus had physically risen from the dead.
- The commitment of His disciples to this belief is further proof of the reliability of the resurrection. If Jesus had not truly risen from the dead, that would mean the disciples had made up a lie about the empty tomb and they hadn’t really seen Him alive. The only reason they would have done this was to gain popularity or for some other selfish motive. So, when they began to be persecuted and thrown in jail for this claim, we would expect a liar to confess to the lie. No person will die willingly for something they know to be a lie. The only people who might have made up the Resurrection story would have been the disciples. If it was a lie, they would have known it since they were the ones spreading the message. They died for this belief. Are we to believe they died for something they knew was a lie?
- We must now look at the testimony of the written texts by those who were willing to die for this belief. Every disciple, with the exception of John, died a martyr's death. They all had a testimony of seeing the risen Savior. The Gospel accounts are considered reliable for many reasons, but one major reason is called the criterion of embarrassment, meaning there were certain things the disciples wrote down that were embarrassing for them to record. Peter denied Jesus three times. The disciples are often making mistakes and being reprimanded by Jesus. The first people to find the tomb empty were women. Women were not considered reliable witnesses in the first century. The principle is this: If an author includes something that is personally embarrassing, or seemingly discredits the testimony, then this counts in favor of the event as having actually happened and the author as retelling it honestly.
- If the Resurrection actually took place in human history, then it is true that salvation has come to the earth. And if this is true, then He is who He said He is. He is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms. We are right back where we started. Jesus’ triumphal entry into the lives of every believer and the proclamation that He is the Messiah and King. Let every believer sing, “All Hail King Jesus!” Happy Easter indeed!