Did Jesus Rise From the Dead and Why it Matters
1 Corinthians 15:14-19
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Christians must own up to the fact that if Jesus did not rise physically from the dead then Christianity is a sick joke and a great deception. On the flip side, if Jesus did rise from the dead, skeptics and adherents of all other faiths need to admit that this is the ultimate proof for the veracity of the Christian faith (John 2:18-22), and I would strongly suggest that they repent and trust in Christ as their God, Master, and Savior. It is a widely accepted historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person that who ministered for three years and was then executed by the Roman and Jewish authorities. The great controversy is whether or not he rose from the dead. Let’s examine some of the evidence and objections:
1. The Old Testament predicts that the Messiah will die and rise from the dead.
- The Apostle Peter teaches us in Acts 2:25-31 that the prophecy in Psalm 16:10 cannot apply to King David, since he died and decayed, but that it does apply to the Christ. “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”
- The Old Testament is clear that the Christ will have and enduring political reign and obviously he can’t be dead to fulfill this prophecy (see Isa. 9:6; Dan. 2:44; Zech 13:1)
2. Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection many times (see Jn. 2:19; Mk. 8:31; Mt. 12:40)
3. The NT provides a record of first hand eye witness testimony that proclaims truthfulness of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Acts 2:23-24 tells us, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Some resurrection appearances: Jn. 20:11; Matt. 28:9-10; Lk. 24:34; Jn. 21; Acts 1:4-9, 1 cor 15:7)
4. The Apostle Paul records that over 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection from the dead. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” This passage tells us some very interesting things. First note that Peter, James and Paul were all eyewitnesses. Church history tells us that all of these men would not deny Jesus even to the point of death. People don’t die for stories that they know are lies. Second, please note that Paul records that many of the 500 people that saw Jesus were still alive. Paul is practically begging them to go ask others for themselves. If he were telling a lie then he has given them an easy way to expose his falsehood.
5. Unlikely Converts:
- The Apostle Paul – Imagine if Osama Bin Laden converted to Christianity before his death and he said that he did it because the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. You would probably believe that something crazy must have happened to him! That is basically what happened to Paul. Before his conversion he was basically a terrorist that was running around killing and persecuting Christians until he had an encounter with the Glorified, resurrected Jesus. His vision and apostleship was then confirmed by many signs and wonders that he preformed through the power of Christ. Paul gave up all his earthly status, he then endured horrendous persecution at the hands of Jewish leadership and finally execution at the hands of the Roman authorities. Despite all his earthly suffering, Paul tells us in Phil. 3:8, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. This is strong evidence that Paul believed in the resurrection of Jesus! Remember, no sane person would willingly die for what they knew was lie. Also keep in mind Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 where he says, “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … we are of all people most to be pitied.”
- The Brothers of Jesus – We see that the biblical authors are amazingly honest when they record that during Jesus’ ministry his own brothers disbelieved and ridiculed him (John 7:5). From the cross Jesus even entrusted the care of him mother to his apostle John, presumably because all of his brothers were unbelievers at that point. These details are a bit embarrassing and would have certainly been left out if John was trying to create a new fraudulent religion. What is so special about this bit of information is that after Jesus’ death and resurrection at least two of his brothers had put their faith in him as the resurrected sinless savior of the world. His brothers James and Jude even authored individual books of the New Testament. Additionally we know that James was the leader of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15). What changed their minds? From the human perspective, the final straw was probably Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Could you imagine worshiping your brother as the sinless creator of the universe and savior of mankind? It could only be Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that solidified this in their mind. Compounding evidence from the life of Jesus (his power and teachings), along with stories from mom (Mary) about His virgin birth and the other miracles surrounding his birth may have helped bring them to a saving faith in their elder brother as well.
- Jewish Priests – Dr. Luke tells us in Acts 6:7 that, “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” These were not priests in far off lands. These men were witness to the ministry and death of Jesus in Jerusalem! What would it have taken for them to forsake their “religion” and traditions? What would it have taken for them to lose their livelihood and for them to have decided to become outcasts in society? Probably nothing short of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Many of them may have encountered the resurrected Jesus or maybe they saw the confirming miracles preformed by his disciples. Also note that it would have been extremely foolish for Dr. Luke to mention the conversion of many priests in the Jerusalem area if it were a lie because it could have been so easily shown to be false by those still living at that time.
6. Women were recorded in the Gospels as being the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. This is noteworthy because in that day women were not even allowed to testify in a court of law. Women were viewed as little more than mere property by the society at large. If the disciples were lying about the resurrection they would not have chosen women to be the first eyewitnesses. This detail also makes the disciples look like dimwitted cowards. Jesus repeatedly told them that he would rise from the dead on the third day. Instead of going out to meet their king, the disciples were hiding from the Jewish and roman authorities while the brave women went to encounter the Roman guards at the tomb so that they could properly burry Jesus’ body.
7. What kind of sane person would die defending what they knew to be a lie? I already touched on this a bit, but it is worth expanding on. Church history tells us that ten out of the eleven remaining disciples, ten were murdered because of their faith in Jesus and his resurrection. The Apostle Paul was also eventually died for his faith. These men were witnesses of what they said was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and they were willing to die for what they said they saw. “…the disciples had nothing to gain by lying and starting a new religion. They faced hardship, ridicule, hostility and martyr’s deaths. In light of this, they could have never sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie. The disciples were not fools and Paul was a coolheaded intellectual of the first rank. There would have been several opportunities over three to four decades of ministry to reconsider and renounce the lie. Religion had its rewards for them, but those rewards came from a sincere belief that what they were living for was true.” (J.P. Moreland, SSC, 171-72)
8. The tomb is empty and the body of Jesus is still missing. This is significant because the best way for the Jews and Romans to have crushed the early Christian movement would have been to drag Jesus’ body out into the street for all to see. They did not do this because despite the fact that the Jewish authorities had elite roman soldiers posted at the grave to guard against theft, the body vanished (either due to theft or resurrection). In fact, Matthew records how Jewish authorities attempted to explain the resurrection away, “some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day..” (Mt. 28:11-15). There are a couple problems with this story. First of all, how would the guards know who stole the body if they were sleeping? Second, historians tell us that these highly trained Roman guards would be killed if they fell asleep on the Job. It is highly unlikely that they fell asleep and then failed to wake up even as a massive tomb stone was rolled away next to their heads. Third, it is even more unlikely that the cowardly disciples were brave enough to try to get past the elite Roman guards so that they could steal Jesus’ body, make up a false religion based on love, truth and self-sacrifice, while knowing that if they got away with it they will face harsh persecution and possibly death (like Jesus).