Updated: Apr 8
What is the most memorable event in your life?
Several events stand out in my own life: when I surrendered my life to Christ, my wedding day, and the birth of our four children.
What is the most memorable and significant date in world history?
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead!
If the resurrection of Jesus is true, all other religions logically can’t be true. Either Jesus is who He said He is or He was a liar. He is either the Messiah who fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, God in the flesh, our substitute to pay for our rebellion against God and the King of the Universe or He is not. There is no third option.
Many skeptics question if the resurrection really happened because they think it was made up for Christians to get power and control people.
Also, many skeptics claim that “the resurrection of Jesus is not unique because Jesus is just like every other religious claim: a story about a messiah figure dies and rises from the dead and promises the afterlife."
Are those claims true? Let's put them to the test. Below, I will layout three reasons for why we can know that the resurrection of Jesus is true:
Early testimony & Conversion of an enemy
If you would like the summarized version of these points, you can look at the infographic below. If you would like to see the points unpacked more with their sub-proofs, then keep reading below.
Before we explain each of these three, it is important that I define exactly what I mean by “Resurrection.”
The Jewish concept of resurrection was a physical or bodily one, not just an immaterial resurrection. They don’t just believe that Jesus “continued in their memories or his legacy lived on.” In the words of Bible Scholar N.T Wright:
“Resurrection” was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied “heavenly” life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death’s reversal...when the early Christians speak of Jesus being raised from the dead, the natural meaning of that statement, throughout the ancient world, was the claim that something had happened to Jesus which had happened to nobody else... “resurrection” (anastasis and its cognates) was not in use elsewhere in the ancient world as a description of nonbodily life after death.” Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright, pg. 83-84
Jews and pagans all understood that the concept of “Resurrection” meant a “physical resurrection” yet pagans denied that it was possible. (see Homer, Plato, Aeschylus). In fact, Historian Edwin Yamauchi says that Egyptians did NOT believe in a bodily resurrection.
Furthermore, most Jews expected a future bodily resurrection “at the revolution of the ages” when the soul of the righteous “return to find in chaste bodies a new habitation.” (Jewish Wars 3.374; Antiquities 18. 18.14-15; Isaiah 29:19; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Daniel 12:2-3.)
However, the resurrection of Jesus was a surprise in the First Century. In the Words of New Testament professor and author Justin Bass:
“Any Jewish belief in a resurrection was always in the future. There was no expectation for a single person to be resurrected in the middle of history.....it is not enough to attempt to attempt to to explain Christian belief that Jesus had risen from the dead by claiming that many Jews believed in resurrection. As Raymond Brown writes, “The contention that the Jewish mind hade to express Jesus’ victory over death by resurrection language is simply inaccurate, for we know of several other models current in Judaism which might have been employed. On the contrary, since there was no expectation of an isolated resurrection within history, the choice of the category of resurrection must be explained.’ (The Bedrock of Christianity, Justin Bass, pg. 127)
To further put to rest the idea that 1st Century Jews may have been believed resurrection to mean a “non-bodily” resurrection, the late Christian Apologist Dr. Norman Geisler once said:
“If Christ did not rise in the same physical body that was placed in the tomb, then the resurrection loses its value as an evidential proof of His claims to be God (John 8:58; 10:30). The resurrection cannot verify Jesus’ claim to be God unless He was resurrected in the body in which he was crucified. That body was a literal, physical body. Unless Jesus rose in a material body, there is no way to verify His resurrection. It loses its historical persuasive value. The truth of Christianity is based on the bodily resurrection of Christ.” (Geisler, BR, 36) We must understand that the death of Jesus is completely UNIQUE in history. There is no borrowing going on here from pagan mythologies.
The resurrection is a completely unique event in history. Other people rose from the dead in the Bible, but Jesus rose himself up from the dead to never die again after claiming that He is God. He was the "first-fruits" for the future resurrection that will occur at the end of the world (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
Additionally, one of the most basic reasons that the death of Jesus is NOT like the mystery religions of alleged "dying and rising gods" is that, in the words of Sean McDowell, "According to Christianity, Jesus' death was sacrificial. His death literally substituted his righteousness for the sins of each individual who has put his or her faith in Jesus. He takes on their sin and shields them from punishments so that they will not have to bear is (see John 10:11; 15:13; 1 John 3:16). With regard to the mystery religions, Dr. Ronald Nash writes: "None of the so-called savior-gods died for someone else. The notion of the Son of God dying in the place of his creatures is unique to Christianity." (Nash, The Gospel, and The Greeks, pg. 160, as quoted in Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Sean and Josh McDowell, pgs. 312-313.)
Another reason the resurrection of Jesus was unique in history is that other claims of an alleged “dying and rising god” is only superficially like Jesus, and most of them most likely borrowed from Christianity Except Osiris, which predates Christianity. When one looks at Osiris more, you see that he is not similar at all: He is cut into 14 pieces, spread all around Egypt, and then reassembled and brought back to life by the goddess Isis.
Furthermore, this “coming back to life” in pagan stories was not a physical resurrection, but a spiritual one. This is not the same thing as Jesus' resurrection.
Unlike pagan mythologies that have a cyclical dying and rising deity that corresponds to the yearly seasons or something else, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are completely unique as He died only once.
Lastly, pagan mythologies and other religions typically have one person claiming to receive a “special revelation”, whereas Jesus died and rose with many eyewitnesses to test his claims.
Jesus's resurrection is completely unique in world history. In the words of Dr. Sean McDowell:
"None of the other so-called resurrected gods of the mystery religions is a genuine historical figure. In contrast, Jesus is depicted in the Bible as a real historical person. The Gospel accounts contain many anchors that hold in place, so to speak, vessels full of evidential treasures for anyone to examine, especially for those who wonder about the truth of Christianity."
Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, pg. 307
For a thorough response to the idea that Jesus is just a copy-cat of other pagan gods, please read James Bishop’s article here:
Now, we are ready to unpack the 3 reasons the resurrection of Jesus is true:
1. The Empty Tomb
Many skeptics like to claim that Jesus would have just been thrown into a “mass grave” or ditch after his crucifixion because he was not rich and was killed like he was a normal criminal and enemy of Rome. Many criminals were thrown into pits as German Historian Martin Hengels tells us that “Crucifixion was aggravated further by the fact that quite often its victims were never buried. It was a stereotyped picture that the crucified victim served as food for wild beasts and birds of prey. In this way, his humiliation was made complete.” (Hengel, Crucifixion, 87)
If Jesus was not buried in a known tomb, then accounts of his tomb being empty, and thus being physically resurrected, should be taken with great suspicion. However, there are several solid reasons we should not be suspicious of the claim that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Below are several reasons we should trust that the tomb was empty:
The Gospels claim that Jesus was buried in a known tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, who was on the Jewish Court that sentenced Jesus. If this claim is false, why did Christianity grow? Why is there no competing burial traditions in history?
If Jesus was actually buried in a pit with other criminals, then this could have easily been refuted if false and Christianity wouldn’t have any credible truth claim.
Confirmation of proper burials: Archaeological and written evidence confirms that some Jews, even executed criminals (see Jehohanan bones below), were crucified in the first century & sometimes received a proper burial. (Josephus, 37-100 A.D. J.W. 4.317 & Philo of Alexandria, 20 B.C.- 50A.D.)
3. Jewish leaders' argument that “his disciples stole the body” assumes the tomb was empty.
4. If Jesus's body was stolen, Paul’s conversion is completely illogical.
5. If Jesus’ body was stolen, why would James, the half-brother of Jesus, believe that Jesus was truly resurrected and be listed as an eyewitness in 1 Corinthians 15:7? James was formerly skeptical of Jesus in John 7:5 but is then listed as a leader in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 15) and faced Martyrdom for his faith in his half-brother, Jesus. Also, 1st Century Jewish historian, Josephus, Antiquities, Book 20, chapter 9, part 1).
6. Women finding the tomb is considered reliable history because it is an “embarrassing detail” as their testimony was not considered valid in the 1st Century. Historians call this the “criterion of embarrassment” that can be an indicator of accurate reporting. People will lie to make themselves look good, but who lies to make themselves look bad? If the disciples were making of the story of Jesus, they wouldn’t have listed women finding the empty tomb first.
2. Early Testimony & Conversion of an Enemy
Paul was an enemy of Christ and thought that worshipping Jesus was blasphemy (Acts 7-8). What motivation did Paul Have to convert? According to Cold-Case Homicide Detective J. Warner Wallace, there are 3 reasons that people are motivated to commit and crime or lie: money, sex, or power. The problem is that Paul didn’t have any of those motivations. Paul is unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8) when he wrote one of his earliest books, 1 Corinthians, lost his Jewish reputation and faced persecution his entire Christian life. Paul already had a significant position of power and influence as a Jewish Pharisee and teacher (Philippians 3:4-8). His conversion makes no sense unless he truly saw the resurrected Jesus.
Even secular/atheist scholars will recognize that Paul wrote Galatians, Romans, and 1-2 Corinthians very early (see Paul's timeline below) while eyewitnesses were still alive. Paul writing his letters to the early Church during the “age of eyewitnesses” would make the corruption of the story very difficult.
Paul quotes a creed in 1 Corinthians 15:2-7 that most scholars agree goes back to within a month or year of the resurrection of Jesus. In that creed, Paul appeals to 500 eyewitnesses and names several other apostles in 1 Cor. 15: 3-7. Eyewitnesses did not hallucinate at the same time. Hallucinations are not a group event.
These eyewitnesses had an ‘impact event’ when they saw the resurrected Jesus. An 'impact event' is where something so important happens that you remember it in clear detail (like those that remember when 9/11 happened in the U.S.). Not all memory is created equal. Paul and the other apostles of Jesus would have a clearer memory in regards to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
[Below: Paul’s rough timeline adapted from by Dr. Justin Bass's book The Bedrock of Christianity in pgs. 58-61]
A few other brief reasons we should trust the early account of the resurrected Jesus:
Key historical leaders' timelines match the Gospels and Acts and Paul’s timeline (Caiaphas the high priest during Jesus' trial, Pilate who oversaw Jesus' trial, and Gallio who met Paul, see pictures below).
Furthermore, all 8 historical leaders mentioned in Luke 3:1-2 are known from history to be in those exact positions during A.D. 29. Click here for more on this topic.
Lastly, contemporaries of the apostles (i.e. Clement & Polycarp) quote Paul’s writing as authentic in the late 1st century and lived into the early 2nd century. Thus, the total loss/corruption of the original message is impossible. Click Here to read more on early Church Fathers' quotes on the resurrected Jesus.
3. Expected Testimony:
In the Old Testament (Genesis-Malachi), there are many predictions about the Messiah’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. Thus, if Jesus is truly the Messiah, we should expect to find their fulfillment in the first century.
Jesus explained to his disciples on the road to Emmaus that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27
All throughout the New Testament, particularly Matthew, we see phrases like this:
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet…” Matthew 1:22
“But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” Acts 3:18
“For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received: That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures...”
Floyd Hamilton, in The Basis of Christian Faith, writes, “...that there are in the Old Testament 332 distinct predictions which were literally fulfilled in Christ.” Here is a shortlist of prophecies fulfilled by Jesus:
From the seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15)
From the seed of Abraham (Gen 12:7)
From the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10)
From the line of David (Jer. 23:5: 33:15)
Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
Both God and man (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Preceded by a messenger, and he will visit the Jerusalem temple (Malachi 3:1); this would have to occur BEFORE the temple was destroyed in AD 70
Dies 33 AD (Daniel 9:24)
Raised from the dead (Is 53:11)
But didn't Christians make up the prophecies?
For years skeptics claimed that the Bible had been tampered with and that we can’t trust the Old Testament preservation. The reason is that for a while the oldest Old Testament Manuscript we had we from the 9th century A.D, the Masoretic text (MT).
This all changed in 1946 when the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered in the Qumran caves on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls confirms the astonishing reliability of the copies of the Old Testament made over the years. Although some spelling variations exist, no variation affects basic Bible doctrines. It was nearly identical to the MT. The earliest copy we had around that time was around A.D. 1000. The Dead Scrolls are dated around 125-200 B.C. This definitively shows that the Old Testament was preserved extremely well and that the Prophecies in the Old Testament were written BEFORE the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
One of the most significant finds in the DSS is The “Greater Isaiah scroll.” This scroll is “dated from 100 B.C., this twenty-four-foot scroll is the complete book of Isaiah (all sixty-six chapters) and is the oldest Biblical scroll in existence. It is currently protected in a vault somewhere in Jerusalem, but a copy of it is on display at the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem. The importance of this discovery is not just that the scroll predates Christ and is in good condition, but that it contains perhaps the clearest and most complete prophecy about the coming Messiah.” IDHEF, pg. 330
Below are some bullet points from the Isaiah 52:13-53:1 prophecy
Was rejected by men
Was a man of sorrow
Was despised by others
Carried our sorrow
Was smitten and afflicted by God
Was pierced for our transgressions
Was wounded for our sins
Suffered like a lamb
Died with the wicked
Prayed for others
Many prophecies were beyond human ability to fake fulfillment (ie. Birth, death, and rising from the dead). Thus, the most likely conclusion is that Jesus really did fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. For a more in-depth breakdown of fulfilled Messianic prophecies, click on this link here.
In summary, we know that Jesus really did rise from the dead because of these three main reasons:
His Tomb was known to be Empty
Early Testimony and Conversion of an enemy
If any of the above points challenged you, I encourage you to keep digging and engaging with the truth! If you now understand that Jesus really did rise from the dead and that you have sinned against a perfect and Holy God, I urge you to place your faith in the risen Messiah who lived a life of perfection under God's life, died the death you deserved to die for your sin and physically rose from the dead 3 days later as our victorious God, King, and conqueror of the power and penalty of sin. I would encourage you to read one of the Gospels and get plugged into a local Biblically faithful Church.
The points above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Stay tuned for more posts on the resurrection in the future.
If you still have more questions about Christianity, I encourage you to start reading the gospel of John, take notes, and write down any questions you have. From there, I encourage you to reach out to a Christian friend and talk with them about your questions.