In this article, I want to share with you five reasons I believe Jesus’ resurrection actually took place. You can remember these five reasons with the acronym:
It is an accepted historical fact that the Christian faith (a religion built upon the preaching of the resurrection of its leader) originated in approximately A.D. 32 right in the very city of Jerusalem where Jesus was publicly crucified and buried. Now, this in itself is a good piece of evidence that the resurrection actually occurred. Why?
Because a message calling people to repent and put their faith in a risen man could never have gained any substantial following amongst the Jews if the tomb had not actually been empty and had the Jewish people not seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion.
The message of a risen man, could not have been maintained for even a day in Jerusalem if the grave was still occupied. [Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, 232]
Remember, Jesus’ disciples did not run off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ rose from the dead (where the facts could not be verified). They went right back to the city of Jerusalem where they would have been quickly exposed and disproved—if what they were teaching was false. The critics could have said, “Hey! Here is the grave and here is Jesus’ body!” That would have squashed the whole movement, and Christianity would never have spread. But that never happened! And not only did Christianity originate there in Jerusalem, it thrived there!
Luke, whose writings have been confirmed by numerous extrabiblical writings and archaeological discoveries, tells us that 3,000 people believed the first post-resurrection sermon preached a few minutes’ walk from the tomb (Acts 2:41). His credibility in the first century would have been immediately discredited if his estimates weren’t accurate. By Acts 4:4, Luke declares there were 5,000 believers comprising the early Christian church in Jerusalem. That would be considered a mega church, even today. And there were more converts coming in! In Acts 6:7, Luke says the number of disciples “continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.” Apparently, by that point, they lost count!
And not only did Christianity originate and flourish in Jerusalem, it went on to triumph over a number of competing ideologies and eventually overwhelm the entire Roman Empire.
By the early fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, historians say there were around thirty million Christians. [Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 156; Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, 297]
Imagine with me for a moment that the year is 1963. You happen to be in the city of Dallas for work. You hear that the President, John F. Kennedy, is going to be driving through the city in a motorcade on his way to give a speech. So, you go. Moments later, the horrifying shots ring out, and sadly, you witness the assassination of our 35th President. Question for you. How hard would it have been in the weeks following that tragic event, to convince thousands of people in the city of Dallas (who were there and saw J.F.K. die) that he came back to life after he was buried? Pretty much impossible, right? You might convince a few people, but you’d have an incredibly hard time convincing hundreds of people. Why? People didn’t rise from the grave in America in the 20th century. Well, the same was true in Israel in the first century. People didn’t rise from the grave then either. And yet, in the days immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion (a death attested to by Roman and Jewish historians outside the New Testament) thousands of Jews who lived in Jerusalem and who knew Jesus had died, suddenly converted to Christianity, convinced Jesus rose from the grave. How does one explain this? The critics have some theories, and I’ll respond to them in a bit, but we believe the best explanation is…
People had seen Jesus! Acts 1:3 says that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
That’s how you explain 5,000+ people joining the church in Jerusalem within such a short time of Jesus’ crucifixion. The miracle-working Messiah, who so many had already become familiar with, conquered death! And hundreds of people had seen Him with their own eyes!
So, the first reason I believe Jesus rose from the grave is the RISE of Christianity in Jerusalem.
SKEPTIC: “Hold on a second Charlie. Islam came on the scene 600 years after Jesus and grew rather quickly!”
Well, yes it did. But Islam’s growth had nothing to do with people witnessing anything miraculous. The Quran itself makes it clear that Muhammad was not a miracle worker (for more on this). How did Islam manage to spread so rapidly? Islam was forced upon tens of millions by military conquest. It is an undeniable fact of history that Islam spread by the sword.
This is far different than the spread of Christianity. Christianity spread over the first three centuries through the simple preaching of the gospel, calling upon people to repent and place their faith in a resurrected Savior. In fact, it was the Christians who were often put to death! And that leads me to a second line of evidence for the resurrection, the “I” in our acronym R.I.S.E.N…
When Jesus was arrested and led away to be crucified, the Gospels tell us His disciples…
• fled in fear (Matthew 26:56)
• went into hiding (John 20:19)
• lost hope (Luke 24:21)
A short time later, we read that something amazing happened. These same fearful men went through a dramatic transformation. Within a few weeks of Jesus’ crucifixion, these same men were standing face to face with the people who had crucified their leader, boldly telling them to repent and that Jesus was alive! (Acts 2:36-38). To prevent this belief from spreading, the same authorities who had Jesus crucified…
• threatened the disciples
• flogged them
• beat them
• imprisoned them
• and forbade them to speak the name of Jesus (e.g., Acts 4:16-18, 5:28)
So what did the disciples do? They told the authorities, “We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).” There are times when it is right for Christians to stand up to government officials and disobey their mandates, for example, when government officials would:
• try to prevent us from doing something God has commanded us to do
• seek to force us to do something God has commanded us to not do
The early disciples knew this. And they told the officials that! “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). I love their courage and commitment to get the gospel out! But their courage had a cost.
Flavius Josephus, Eusebius, Tertullian, and other independent extra-biblical sources record for us that many of Jesus’ earliest followers, including the apostles, suffered intense persecution and even death for their on-going belief and preaching that Jesus was Lord and was risen from the dead. We are told in these extrabiblical sources that…
• Matthew was slain with a sword in a city of Ethiopia
• Mark died in Alexandria, in Northern Egypt after having been cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
• Luke was hung to death upon an olive tree in the land of Greece
• John was tortured and banished to the Island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9)
• James, the brother of John, was beheaded in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2)
• James the Less (as he’s called in Mark 15:40) was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple
• Philip was hung up against a pillar at Heiropolis in the province of Phrygia
• Bartholomew was flayed alive
• Andrew was bound to a cross, and left to die
• Jude was shot to death with arrows
• Matthias (the apostle chosen to replace Judas) was first stoned, and then beheaded
• Barnabas was stoned to death by the Jews at Salonica
• Paul, after a variety of tortures and imprisonments, was finally beheaded in Rome
• Thomas was run through the body with a spear in east India
• Peter was crucified upside down in Rome
What these men endured to get the gospel out is pretty sobering isn’t it? Is it reasonable to think these men invented Jesus’ resurrection? I find that difficult to believe. But someone might say, “People invent stories about crazy things all the time!” Yes they do, for some sort of financial gain or to get out trouble. But what the early Christians said about Jesus, didn’t get them out of trouble or result in any kind of benefit. What these men said and wrote about Jesus got them in trouble. What they received was rejection, persecution, torture, and martyrdom. Hardly a list of perks!
Shortly after Jesus’ death, thousands of Jews in Jerusalem and the surrounding region began abandoning at least five cherished beliefs and practices.
The beliefs and practices they abandoned had been taught to them from childhood by their rabbis and parents. They were beliefs and practices that had given them their national identity and allowed them to be accepted by society. They were beliefs and practices that had even given them a supposed right standing with God. What beliefs and practices did thousands of Jews begin to abandon?
A. The Practice of Bringing Sacrifices to the Temple
Thousands of Jews, whose families had for centuries been going to the temple to sacrifice animals as a way of having their sins covered, suddenly stopped! Why? What would explain such a major shift in behavior?
They realized that Jesus was “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). They realized that all of those Old Testament sacrifices were “only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1)—a foreshadowing of what God would accomplish through His Son’s death. They heard of the veil that had been ripped miraculously from the top down there in the temple (Mark 15:38). They remembered that Jesus had told them that the temple was even going to be destroyed (Matthew 24:2; Luke 19:44). And so they realized things had changed. They realized they were living under a new covenant with God—the one Jesus had told them about on the eve of His crucifixion (Luke 22:20).
If they were mistaken, abandoning the sacrificial system would jeopardize their well-being socially and spiritually. And yet thousands of Jews began to do that very thing. And they didn’t stop there. Thousands of Jews began to change…
B. Their Sabbath Day Worship From Saturdays to Sundays
For the Jews, the Sabbath was not only a day they were to rest from physical labor, it became a day when they would meet together in the synagogue, worship God together, and study the Scriptures. They had been doing it on the seventh day of the week (Saturdays) for some 1500 years!
But now, almost over night, thousands of Jews began meeting on a new day—the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2), a day they began to call “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). Why did they call it “the Lord’s Day”? Because that was the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead (Matthew 28:1).
So, thousands of Jews, including the disciples, said, ‘Let’s start meeting on that day in commemoration of our risen Lord!’ And the Book of Acts (chapter 15) says they even opened their gatherings to Gentiles!
These Jews, who made up the early church, believed that the coming of the Messiah, along with His death and resurrection, cleared the way for a new relationship with God. One that was based, not on bringing sacrifices to the temple or on keeping the Mosaic law, but on the sin-bearing, life-giving help of a resurrected Savior.
The fact that so many Jews were willing to abandon their previous beliefs and practices is a third evidence that Jesus’ resurrection really took place! Now, obviously, a lot more could be said about this. If you’d like to do further research on these and other beliefs and practices the Jews abandoned, I recommend reading Lee Strobel’s excellent award-winning book The Case for Christ.
The account of the resurrection was not passed down to us in a supermarket tabloid or via a long chain of people playing “the telephone game.” It was passed down to us in a sober-minded, collection of historical documents that were written by eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life in the first century A.D.
This collection of documents making up the New Testament has been corroborated by:
• extrabiblical historical writings (e.g., Cornelius Tacitus, Flavius Josephus)
• dozens of archaeological discoveries
• and more
Extrabiblical historical sources have confirmed more than a hundred details recorded about Jesus in the New Testament. For example, consider the writings of Flavius Josephus. He was a Jewish historian working for the Roman empire in the first century AD. He mentions more than a dozen individuals written about in the NT Gospels, including John the Baptist, Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and Jesus. Notice what Josephus writes about Jesus:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive…” Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3:63-64
Here in this one quote we have verification that Jesus…
• was a real person
• was known to be virtuous
• had many followers
• was put to death by Pilate
• was proclaimed to be alive after His death
All right, let’s consider a FIFTH and final reason we can be confident Jesus rose from the grave, the N in our acronym: R.I.S.E.N.
Even skeptical scholars today acknowledge that the tomb of Jesus was empty. As I mentioned earlier, there is no way Christianity could have spread if Jesus’ tomb was still occupied. The Roman authorities or Jewish leaders could have just gone to the tomb and paraded the body around downtown Jerusalem for everyone to see and squashed the whole movement.
So, the tomb was empty. That’s widely acknowledged by historians today. But critics have come up with other theories to explain the empty tomb…none of which is convincing. Let’s briefly consider a few of their theories.
Some critics of the Bible say “The reason why the tomb was empty is because He never even existed. The whole story about Him being a real person was made up by some clever deceivers back in the first century.”
Now, you’ll never hear a respected historian or scholar suggest this. But the “Jesus is a myth” theory has gained a lot of momentum as of late on the Internet. Well, the idea that Jesus never existed is ludicrous! Why? In addition to the 27 New Testament documents that tell us about Him, there are a wealth of extrabiblical sources that mention Him. Did you realize that?
Jesus is referred to by more than 30 authors outside the Bible within 150 years of His life, including:
• Flavius Josephus
• Cornelius Tacitus
• The Jewish Talmud
The evidence that Jesus was a real person is so strong, even Bart Ehrman, one of the most zealous critics of the Bible alive today, acknowledges that Jesus was a real historical person:
There is no scholar in any college, or university in the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, or any related field who doubts that Jesus existed…With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life…sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue…and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life…Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind…The claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. Source 1, 2.
A second theory to explain the empty tomb is the…
This theory suggests that the tomb was empty in Jerusalem because Jesus’ disciples stole His body. But the “stolen-body theory” raises some difficult questions:
How could the disciples have stolen the body?
That would have required sneaking past an armed and trained detachment of Roman soldiers, breaking the Roman seal that was put upon the stone (Matt. 27:66), then moving a two-ton stone away from the entry to the tomb without being detected. Certainly, the Roman guards that Pilate put on guard at the tomb (Matt. 27:65) to prevent this kind of thing from happening would have heard something and quickly put an end to the attempted thievery.
Roman soldiers were highly trained in the art of defense and killing.
I find it hard to believe that the disciples who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:56) would risk their lives trying to steal a dead body from the very people who executed Jesus just three days earlier.
Another difficult question “the stolen-body theory” brings up is this: Why would the disciples steal Jesus’ body? What benefit would come to them for doing that? Is it reasonable to believe the disciples stole Jesus’ body only to suffer for preaching a message they contrived? I have a hard time believing that! And if they had a dead body on their hands, how were they able to convince thousands of people he rose from the grave? Maybe prop him up for a press conference, but answer all the questions for Him? That sounds preposterous! It wouldn’t work. So, I find “the stolen-body theory” utterly unconvincing.
Some years back, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” It claimed that the tomb that contained Jesus’ bones had been discovered. The primary evidence for this radical conclusion was the discovery of six bone ossuaries found in a grave in Jerusalem. The ossuaries dated back to the first century and had the following names engraved on them…
• Jesus, son of Joseph (lit. “Yeshua son of Yoseph”)
• Mary (lit. “Maria”)
• Matthew (“Matia”)
• Joseph (“Yose”)
• Mary (lit. “Mariamene [who is also called] Mara”)
• Judah, son of Jesus (lit. “Yehudah son of Yeshua”)
Well, those names sound familiar don’t they!? And so the Discovery Channel documentary concluded that these ossuaries belonged to the very persons mentioned by those names in the New Testament. And thus, the whole story of Jesus’ resurrection was a farce. The documentary said He was actually married to Mary Magdalene, had a son named Judah, and was buried in a grave with the rest of His family.
This was an outrageous assault on the Gospels! There are several reasons why the Discovery Channel’s claims should be rejected. I’ll quickly mention two.
First, the names inscribed on the ossuaries found in the tomb in Jerusalem were very common names in Israel in the first century. Joseph was the second most popular name in the first century. Jesus was fourth. Matthew was the sixth.
Professor Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the tomb, and one of many scholars who disagreed with the documentary’s conclusions, said there are more than 900 buried tombs just like the alleged “Jesus” tomb within a two-mile radius of where this tomb was found.
He pointed out that of these tombs, 71 bear the name “Jesus” and that “The name ‘Jesus son of Joseph’ has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names.” [Jerusalem Post]
So, that is one strike against the supposed discovery. Another blow to the documentary’s conclusions is this: If the disciples were “making up a religion” and basing it on a fabricated resurrection, they wouldn’t…
• bury His body in the very city He was put to death
• inscribe His name on the outside of His ossuary
• bury the other members of His family in marked ossuaries in the same grave
That would be foolish! I was never part of the Mafia, but I think you’d get rid of the body, right?
So, those are a couple of the problems with the “Lost Tomb Theory.” I offer a more in-depth response to the Discovery Channel documentary here.
D. The Hallucination Theory
This theory suggests that the early Christians were hallucinating and only thought they had seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion. Well, this theory is not convincing either.
Hallucinations (for non-drug users) are very rare. And the things people see and experience while hallucinating are wildly different. You never hear of a large group of people having identical hallucinations. So to suggest that hundreds of Jewish people (not known for their drug use) had hallucinations, wherein they all saw and interacted with a resurrected Savior, is very problematic. And another problem with the hallucination theory—if the disciples were just hallucinating, the religious leaders and Roman authorities could have dragged Jesus’ body out of the tomb and exposed the fact. But they could not do that
So, this is the fourth reason you can be confident Jesus rose from the grave. None of the skeptics’ theories for the empty tomb are convincing.
Friend, at this very hour, the ashes of…
• Siddhartha Guatama (now known as the Buddha) lie in a grave at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains
• Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is buried in Medina, Saudi Arabia
• Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is buried in Nauvoo, Illinois
• Charles Darwin is buried at Westminster Abbey in London
• Karl Marx is buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London
They are all dead and their graves are occupied.
Only Jesus Christ proved that what He said was true by rising from the dead. This is great reason to rejoice, Christian. Your Savior, the one you follow, is alive! You’re not following the teachings of some dead man. No. You are walking through this life with Jesus, the true and living God who can be known, called upon, and trusted daily! So, I urge you to do that.
If you haven’t yet placed your faith in Jesus yet, do that right now. A day of judgment is coming. You want to make sure you are found on that day forgiven of your sins, and there’s only one way that can happen. And that’s by placing your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And you can do that right now. God is a prayer away. You can pray something like this…
“God, forgive me for my sins. I trust in Jesus Christ to save me! Come into my life and be my Lord and Savior.”
If you’ll do that, Romans 10:13 says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” So call out to the Lord today! Click here for more details on beginning a relationship with God.
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
is an itinerant Christian apologist, the founder of ABR, and the author of several books and videos, some of which include:
• Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
• One Minute Answers to Skeptics
• Dakota Knox & the Archaeology Thief
• The Bible’s Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
• Evidence for God
• The Case for Christianity
• Answering Atheists
• The Case for the Resurrection
• If God is Loving, Why is there Evil and Suffering?
• Homosexuality and the Bible: Answering Objections to the Biblical View
• Teaching and Preaching God’s Word
• Apologetics Quotes
WOULD YOU LIKE CHARLIE CAMPBELL TO SPEAK AT YOUR CHURCH?
Charlie Campbell speaks at churches and conferences throughout the year. If you are a pastor and would like to have him speak at your church or event, please contact ABR here and let us know.