Why I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus

JesusAs an undergraduate student at Miami University, some well-meaning students confronted me with the truth claims of Christianity. They explained the gospel to me. They explained that Jesus was divine and that I was a sinner. They explained to me that I could find forgiveness for sins if I tusted in Jesus. They finally left.

But I was left with two burning questions. First, why were those college students—who should, after all, be into women and partying—so into something—God—I hardly every thought about? Second, I realized if what they had said to me about Jesus and Christianity is true, then I’ve missed the boat. My question was: But is it true?

I began to investigate Christianity. Actually, I tried to refute it. Instead, I was overwhelmed with the evidence, first for the reasonableness of belief in God, and second, for the divinity of Christ and the reality of his resurrection from the dead. I had never heard the evidence until I started digging in. I had never considered the possibility that it all might be true! So, what was that evidence that was, and is, compelling to me with respect to the resurrection of Christ?

I will share three lines of evidence I found (and still do find) persuasive.

#1. The length of time from Jesus’ death until there was widespread belief in His resurrection is very short, perhaps as short as months or even weeks.

This is important because skeptics and opponents of Christianity typically deny the resurrection by contending that it is a fabrication of the early church, removed from the crucifixion event by hundreds of years. But many scholars date the following passage to within a few years of the crucifixion event:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more that five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. ( I Cor. 15:3-7, NASB)

There are several strands of evidence that support the view that this passage is an early creed/hymn of followers of Jesus: First, the phrase “delivered to” and “received” indicate the transmission of memorized material (i.e., oral tradition); second, the passage is in the form of a Hebrew poem that easily translates into Aramaic; third, the more primitive “Cephas” and “the twelve” is used instead of “Peter” and “the apostles”; finally, the fact that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once, many of whom were still alive and by clear implication could and should be interrogated by those who doubt support an earlier date for this passage.

#2. The Empty Tomb.

There are several lines of evidence that convince me that Jesus’ tomb was empty three days after his burial including: (1) The fact that women are alleged to be the first to witness and bear testimony to the empty tomb, and (2) the early Jewish propaganda against Christians presupposes it. Regarding women, given the low social status and inability to serve as legal witnesses, it is amazing that the women are the discoverers and the principle witnesses of the empty tomb. If the gospel writers or early church were fabricating the story, they would never have had women discover the tomb empty. With respect to the earliest Jewish response to the resurrection proclamation, their basic claim was to say Jesus’ body was stolen, a response that grants the empty tomb! (Matthew 28:11-15)

#3: Post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 we read about how Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve, and to more than 500 brothers at the same time, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in A.D. 51. If Jesus hadn’t appeared to those 500 people, any one of them could have stopped Paul and said, “Wait a minute, that is not true.” But no one ever did. The main attempt to explain away the post-resurrection appearances is to say that the disciples and 500 people all had an hallucination. But, any psychologist will tell you that hallucinations are private and unique.  It is highly unlikely that two or more people would have the same hallucination at the same time.

These three facts must (somehow) be explained

What best explains these three facts? It seems that there are two options: either a supernatural explanation or a naturalistic explanation. I am convinced that none of the naturalistic explanations (Conspiracy Theory, Apparent Death Hypothesis, Wrong Tomb Theory, Hallucination Hypothesis, “Reinterpreted” Resurrection, Agnosticism) best explain these three facts. Thus, we are left with a supernatural explanation as the best explanation: God miraculously raised Jesus from the grave three days after his death by crucifixion. Of course, if God exists, then such a miracle is possible. And if Jesus rose from the dead, then his claim to be divine is validated and his claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life” provides a sure path on which to find Him.

For an insightful discussion of the meaning of the resurrection, watch this short clip from New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright:

 

 

 

 

 

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