Jesus’s resurrection is at the very heart of historic Christianity. In fact, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is both a central doctrinal belief of the faith and the primary evidence for the truth of the religion itself. Given the importance of Easter for Christians, it is appropriate for us to consider 12 evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. For greater depth on these points, see the recommended resources at the end of the article.
1. Jesus’s Empty Tomb
According to the Gospels1, after Jesus succumbed to death through crucifixion some of his followers prepared his lifeless body for burial and placed it in Joseph of Arimathea‘s tomb. Three days later the tomb was discovered empty, for Jesus’s body had vanished. The empty tomb is a critical part of the resurrection account, for if Jesus’s body had been recovered then Christianity would have been falsified right as it had just begun. Since Jesus predicted his resurrection (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22), if he didn’t rise from the dead he would be a false prophet.
The report of Jesus’s empty tomb rings true, for the account emerges very early from a number of sources and there is no good reason to doubt any of the people mentioned in the story. Furthermore, the tomb was owned by a particular person so there is no good reason to think that Jesus’s followers had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. Also, the Jewish and Roman authorities had the resources to search thoroughly for the actual burial place had the empty tomb been a mere problem of mistaken identity.
It should also be recognized that the first alternative naturalistic explanation for the resurrection presupposed the truth of the vacated tomb. The Jewish authorities insisted that the tomb was empty because they planned to tell people that Jesus’s followers had come in the night and stolen the body (Matthew 28:13).
2. Jesus’s Postmortem Appearances
According to the apostle Paul’s letters2 as well as the four Gospel accounts, Jesus appeared alive after his death on numerous occasions. These appearances of Jesus were reported to be both physical and bodily in nature (he was seen, heard, and touched3) and not purely spiritual or ghost-like. The resurrection appearances were also diverse and varied in that Jesus appeared to men and women, friends and enemies, to single individuals as well as small and large groups of people, to some persons on a single occasion and to others more than once, during the day and the night, as well as indoors and outdoors.
It is this diverse and varied nature of the appearances that make it extremely improbable, if not impossible, to account for these encounters in terms of hallucinations. It may have been possible that the women who first encountered Jesus at the tomb succumbed to immense grief and experienced some kind of purely subjective and thus false vision of Jesus. But a purely psychological explanation is extremely implausible in the case of James the brother of Jesus who was highly suspicious of his brother’s claims and even thought that Jesus suffered from mental delusion. And in the case of Saul of Tarsus the hallucination theory is flatly impossible. Saul was an enemy of primitive Christianity and sought to imprison and even have Christians executed. Acting in a dismissive and violent manner against the early Christians and their beliefs, there is no way that Saul was susceptible to a false psychological experience.
It is also important to note that if one rejects the miraculous explanation of Jesus’s appearances, then two naturalistic alternative explanations are required—one to explain the empty tomb and another to explain the numerous appearances. But the more complex these alternative theories are, the less likely they are to be true and viable.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series as we continue briefly considering 12 evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Reflections: Your Turn
Why is the resurrection of Jesus so critically important to the truth of Christianity? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- I address the resurrection of Jesus in two of my books, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (see chapter 10) and 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (see chapters 1 and 2).
- I also recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona and Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb by William Lane Craig.