The Resurrection – Fact or Fiction?
Proof of the resurrection.
...as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.”
– Matthew 28:1–6
On the morning of the third day after Jesus had been crucified, a group of women went to visit the tomb. They were not the first. Earlier that morning, an angel of God descended from heaven. The soldiers guarding the tomb were struck with fear, and the angel moved the stone that sealed the entrance. The tomb was empty! Just as He promised, Jesus had risen from the dead!
...Over the next forty days, Jesus physically appeared to many people. With some, He walked and talked. With others, He shared a meal. In one instance, He appeared before more than five hundred people.
– The HOPE, Chapter 11
Observe & Consider
How important is the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus? The Apostle Paul wrote that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless! (1 Corinthians 15:17). In upcoming lessons, we gain a deeper appreciation of Paul’s powerful statement as we consider the significance of the resurrection. But let’s start by examining the overwhelming evidence that the resurrection of Jesus actually occurred and that it was not just a fabrication or a myth as some skeptics claim.
Volumes have been written on this subject, but for the purpose of our study, we will consider four areas of evidence:
- The Empty Tomb – Jesus had said publicly that He would rise from the dead. Knowing this, the Hebrew religious leaders feared that someone might try to steal His body and then start a resurrection rumor. So they convinced the governor to post soldiers at the grave site and to place an official seal on the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). The governor’s soldiers were highly motivated to guard the tomb, for they knew that if they failed to obey orders the punishment could be death. Breaking a government seal was also punishable by death – and yet the tomb was empty!
- The Eye Witnesses – The Bible records numerous encounters that various people (including His inner circle of disciples who knew Him better than most) had with the resurrected Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10, Matthew 16:20; Mark 16:12-18; Luke 24:13-43; John 20:14-18, John 26:29; John 21:15-23). On one occasion, Jesus appeared to a group of 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:6).
- The Response of the Disciples – Even in light of the empty tomb and eyewitnesses, some argue that the account of Jesus’ resurrection was a carefully designed conspiracy. But that argument loses its strength when you consider the passionately committed lives of His disciples after the resurrection. Many of those who followed Jesus, including all but one of His twelve disciples, were martyred for their steadfast belief in Him. More than any others, these men would have known if the resurrection was a hoax. Yet they were boiled in oil, sawed in half, crucified upside down, thrown to lions and speared to death. Some men are willing to die for what they believe is true, but only a madman or a fool would die for what he knew was a lie.
- The Testimony of Experts – In a court of law, experts are often called upon to evaluate evidence. Throughout time, countless scholars have weighed in on the evidence for the resurrection and concluded it to be a fact of history. As stated above, volumes have been written on this subject. As an example, consider the following quote from Thomas Arnold, Royal Professor of Modern History at Oxford and author of the book, History of Rome: “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
Ask & Reflect
- Do you think the evidence presented above is enough to establish the resurrection as a historical fact? Why or why not? If you think not, then what do you believe would establish it as fact?
- What more could God have done to give us enough evidence to believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
- Are there things you accept as fact today for which you have less actual evidence than exists for the resurrection of Jesus? Why have you chosen to believe these things?
Decide & Do
One of the disciples, Thomas, had difficulty believing that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas told the other disciples that he would not believe until he actually touched the wounds of Jesus. Then Jesus appeared and gave Thomas the opportunity to do just that. Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”
Most Bible scholars believe that Thomas went on to Persia and from there to India preaching about God’s promised Deliverer, Jesus. Some believe that he went as far as China. It is also believed that Thomas was martyred in India after having led many to faith in Jesus.1
Thomas was a man who doubted. But after being convinced, he gave himself completely to the cause of Jesus. Are you convinced about Jesus? If so, how have you responded to Him?
Many people have had (or still have) doubts about Jesus. Some like Thomas are sincere, and they just can’t believe in their heart what their mind rejects. Others, however, are just hiding behind what they call doubt in order to avoid dealing with what they know is true. If either one of these describes you, then know that the starting place for any skeptic is the same. Be honest with God! Thomas was honest about his doubt, and God met him where he needed to be met.
“...you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
For Further Study
- Josh McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection. (© Josh McDowell Ministries, 1992; © online Leadership U, 1995–2006). (http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html). Retrieved November 27, 2006.
- Matthew J. Slick, Resurrection Chronology. (© Matthew J. Slick, 1996–2003). (http://www.carm.org/diff/table_resurrection.htm). Retrieved November 30. 2006.
1William McBirnie, “Thomas” from his book The Search for The Twelve Apostles. (© 2006 BiblePath.Com, 2006). (http://www.biblepath.com/thomas.html). Retrieved November 27, 2006.