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Evidence for the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

The Evidence for Jesus' Resurrection
Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? What Are the Facts? 

The gospel offers the resurrection as evidence Jesus is Christ, the Son of God. What testimony do eyewitnesses give that He died, was buried, then arose from the dead?

The resurrection of Jesus is a fundamental proof of the gospel that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. Yet some claim that He never really died, or that the disciples stole the body, or some other theory. What are the facts? Are there witnesses to these events? If so, what is their testimony? Did Jesus really die on the cross? How was His body buried? Was He really raised from the dead? Please examine the evidence for yourself.

Introduction:

The gospel claims that, after Jesus died, He came back to life again on the third day. The apostles and New Testament Christians repeatedly preached this claim.

Specifically, the gospel claims that Jesus' resurrection gives evidence that He is who it claims Him to be.

The resurrection proves He is:

* The Christ, the Son of God - John 20:24-31; Romans 1:4
* Lord and Christ - Acts 2:32-36; 17:3; Romans 14:9; Ephesians 1:20-23
* One who forgives sins - Acts 13:30-39; Romans 4:25; Luke 24:46,47; 1 Thessalonians 1:10
* Judge of all mankind - Acts 17:30,31

The resurrection is in many ways the most basic and most substantiated of all Bible miracles. The primary purpose of miracles was to confirm a message or messenger to be from God (Mark 16:20; John 5:36; 20:30,31; Acts 2:22; 14:3; 2 Corinthians 12:11,12; Hebrews 2:3,4; 1 Kings 18:36-39; Exodus 4:1-9; 7:3-5; 14:30,31).

Jesus and His followers claimed that He is all the above things and that His resurrection proves these claims. If these claims are not true, why would God raise Him from the dead?

The resurrection is so fundamental to Jesus' claims that the apostles and first-century Christians preached it to everyone who lacked faith or had doubts, Jews or idol worshipers. We should also preach it to lead people to faith and to strengthen believers.

Yet many different theories exist regarding the events following Jesus' death.

In order to avoid accepting the resurrection, skeptics have offered several alterative explanations.

1. The theory that the disciples stole the body. This is what the soldiers who guarded His tomb were paid to say (Matt. 28:11-15).

2. The theory that Jesus did not really die but only "swooned" on the cross and then later recovered in the tomb.

3. The theory that the disciples had "hallucinations" and only imagined they saw Jesus alive after the crucifixion.

The purpose of this study is to examine the events surrounding Jesus' death to see what conclusion best fits the evidence.

We will consider the testimony of those who witnessed the events, much like the testimony of witnesses is examined in a courtroom.

The Bible acknowledges the testimony of witnesses as valid evidence in establishing the facts of a historic event: John 8:17; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 19:15.

Testimony needs to be examined in light of the number of witnesses, their honesty, rationality, and consistency, and their opportunity to observe the events closely and personally. Consider the evidence regarding Jesus' resurrection.


I. Events Prior to Jesus' Death


A. Old Testament Predictions of the Resurrection

Luke 24:46 - Jesus and His apostles repeatedly claimed that Old Testament prophets had predicted His resurrection (see also Luke 18:31-34; Acts 17:3; 26:22,23; 1 Cor. 15:4). What prophecies would this refer to?

Isaiah 53:7-10 - This passage is acknowledged to be a prediction of Christ (cf. Acts 8:29-35). He would be led as a lamb to the slaughter (v7), cut off from the living (v8), made an offering for sin (v10), die, and be buried (v9). But then He would prolong His days and see His seed (v10). How could this be unless He came back to life?

Psalms 16:9,10 is quoted and explained in Acts 13:29-39 (cf. 2:23-32). It predicts One who would not see corruption nor His soul remain in Hades (the realm of spirits of dead men). It cannot apply to David who spoke it, because he did see corruption. Rather, he spoke as a prophet referring to the resurrection of Christ (2:30,31). He did not corrupt, because He came back to life.

B. Jesus' Predictions of His Resurrection

Jesus Himself repeatedly predicted, not just His death, but also His resurrection. He began early in His ministry to make such predictions and continued right up to the end. See John 2:18-22; Matt. 16:21,22; 17:22,23; 26:31,32; Mark 9:9,10 (and parallel accounts).

Matthew 20:18,19 - Note the details: He would be betrayed to the Jewish leaders but would be killed by the Gentiles (Romans). They would scourge Him and crucify Him (a uniquely Roman execution), but He would rise again the third day. A general prediction of ones resurrection would be surprising, but such detail is amazing.

And note that the disciples repeatedly did not understand or believe His predictions (Matt. 16:22; Mark 9:10; Luke 18:34; John 20:9). Why would they later hallucinate or make up false claims of resurrection, when they themselves had repeatedly opposed predictions of it?

No pretender would make such predictions for himself, for he would know that three days after His death, everyone would know he was a fraud. If he made them and then kept his following after his death, this is substantial evidence that His claims may be true.

If convincing evidence exists for Jesus' resurrection, this is doubly amazing. Not only would it be a natural impossibility for one to arise from the dead, but it would be even more impossible that he and others could predict it years before it happened. This multiplies the force of the evidence, proving that such an event could only occur by the power of God.


II. Events Surrounding Jesus' Death


Note that these events were recorded by people who were personal eyewitnesses (apostles Matthew and John - see John 19:35; 21:24) or by people who, as historians, recorded what was personally told them by eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark - see Luke 1:1-4).

A. Evidence during Jesus' Trials

Note the evidence during Jesus' trials that He was innocent.

Jews

Mark 14:55-64 - The witnesses produced by Jewish leaders could not convict Jesus (their testimony did not agree), yet the Jews condemned Him for claiming to be the Son of God. But that assumes He is not the Son of God - it assumes the point to be proved! What if He is the Son of God? (Cf. Matt. 26:59-66; Luke 22:66-71; John 18:19-24.)

Judas

Matthew 27:3-5 - The one who betrayed Jesus acknowledged Him to be innocent.

Pilate

Jesus faced several trials before Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate repeatedly declared Jesus to be innocent, yet condemned Him to death because the Jews insisted - Luke 23:4,14,22. (Cf. Matt. 27:18-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:1-5,13-25; John 18:28-40; 19:4-16).

Herod

Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, a King among the Jews. He also found no guilt in Jesus - Luke 23:15 (cf. vv 6-12).

Centurion

The centurion in charge of Jesus' crucifixion concluded that He was a righteous man - Luke 23:47 (Matt. 27:54).

Jesus did not deserve to be punished, let alone to die. The rulers, His betrayer, and the centurion all declared Him innocent, and those who claimed He was guilty brought no proof.

For our purposes, the point is He was a righteous man. Any explanation of the events following His death must harmonize with His upright character. No theory can be correct if it makes Him out to be a deceiver or deliberate fraud.

B. The Crucifixion

Jesus suffered the following physical abuse:

He was scourged

This was a beating with a whip of many leather thongs, often with embedded bits of metal or glass. People often died just from such beatings. (Matt. 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1)

He was nailed to the cross

Spikes were driven through His hands and feet, nailing him to the cross. Then the cross was lifted up, suspending him where he remained for at least three hours. (Matt. 27:35-54; Mark 15:24-39; Luke 23:33-47; John 19:16-30; cf. John 20:20,24-29; Luke 24:40; Psalms 22:16)

He died

All the accounts specifically state that He died (i.e., His spirit departed, etc. - Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37,39; Luke 23:46; John 19:30,33). Mark 15:44,45 - Pilate asked the centurion who had crucified Jesus, and he confirmed Jesus was dead.

His side was pierced with a spear

John 19:31-34 - Soldiers came to break his legs to hasten death, but they did not have to do so since He was already dead. So they pierced His side with a spear. This also confirms that He died on the cross.

All this was personally witnessed by multitudes of people, both friends and enemies - Luke 23:48,49; John 19:35.

The claim that Jesus did not die but merely swooned contradicts the clear testimony of the witnesses that He did die. The centurion and soldiers were professionals at such executions, and they all testified that He was dead.

But even if He did not die, consider His condition. He had been scourged, nailed to the cross for at least three hours, and then his side pierced with a spear. If He then spent three days without food and water, how would He awake and appear healthy enough to convince the skeptical disciples that He was raised from the dead? And would this harmonize with His upright character?


III. Events Surrounding Jesus' Burial


The body was prepared for burial.

John 19:38-42 - The body was prepared with 100 pounds of spices and wrapped in strips of linen. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did this, as witnessed by various women from Galilee, including Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Luke 23:50-56; cf. Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47).

If Jesus had not died but only swooned, surely during all this preparation people would have realized He was not dead. The fact they buried Him proves they too were convinced He was dead, not just swooned.

The body was laid in the tomb.

John 19:41 - This was a new tomb, in which no one else had been buried.

Matthew 27:60,61 - It was hewn from rock and had a large stone over the door. Again other people witnessed this. (Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53)

Note that Jesus' body could not have been confused with that of someone else - there were no other bodies. And when the tomb was found empty, there could be no doubt that His body was gone, since it was the only body there.

The tomb was sealed and secured by guards.

Matthew 27:62-66 - The Jews feared that, if the body left the tomb, the disciples would claim Jesus was resurrected. So they sealed the stone over the opening and placed a guard outside the tomb for the express purpose of making sure the body did not leave the tomb.

How could the disciples steal the body, as the Jews later claimed, when a guard was expressly placed there to stop them? Rolling away the huge stone and removing the body would surely awake the guards. The penalty for sleeping on guard duty was death (Acts 12:19; 16:27); so if this really happened, why would the guards admit it?

Or suppose Jesus had swooned, not died, then awoke three days later suffering from all His injuries and lack of food and water. How could He remove the grave clothes and leave the tomb? He could not dig out, since the tomb was stone. How could He roll away the rock (so large the women could not move it - Mark 16:3), evade or overpower the guards, and still appear strong and healthy to convince the skeptical disciples that He had been resurrected?


IV. Events on the Third Day and Afterward


A. Testimony of Angels

Matthew 28:1-8 - When the women came to the tomb, angels told them Jesus had been raised. (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7)

Besides the testimony of people, we have this testimony of angels that Jesus arose from the dead. This was miraculous of itself.

B. The Empty Tomb

One of the most important facts to be explained is the empty tomb. What happened to the body?

Mark 16:5-7 - The women entered the tomb and saw where the body had been laid. (Luke 24:3; John 20:11-13)

John 20:1-9 - Peter and John went into the tomb and saw it was empty (Luke 24:12). They saw the graveclothes and the headcloth, which had been folded. If Jesus had swooned and then awoke severely wounded, thirsty and hungry, seeking to evade the guards, why would He take time to fold the cloth before leaving?

Matthew 28:11-15 - The enemies explained the disappearance of the body by saying the disciples stole it while the guards slept (see earlier discussion).

If the guards were really asleep, how would they know what happened to the body? How did they know Jesus did not arise and walk out past them? Why should anyone accept the testimony of men regarding what happened while they slept?

But all this testimony, including that of Jesus' enemies, confirms that the tomb was empty!

If the appearances of Jesus were just hallucinations, the body would still be in the tomb. If the Jews still had the body of Jesus, why didn't they produce it and disprove the disciples' claims that He had arisen?

Any explanation for the events surrounding Jesus' death must account for the fact the tomb was empty and the body was missing!

C. The Appearances of Jesus

Acts 1:3 - Jesus presented Himself alive by many infallible proofs for a period of forty days. His appearances are the most important evidence to consider. Consider the evidence.

A list of the appearances

* Mary Magdalene - John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9-11 (note the other disciples did not believe her)

* Other women - Matthew 28:9,10 - They saw, touched, and heard Him.

* Two disciples on the road to Emmaus - Luke 24:13-35; Mark 16:12,13 - They saw and heard Him for a prolonged period. Again, the others did not believe them.

* Peter - Luke 24:34 (1 Cor. 15:5)

* All the apostles - He appeared to them on several occasions: Luke 24:36-43 - note that they saw, heard, and touched Him for prolonged periods; He ate in their presence. Again, they were skeptical and demanded proof. Mark 16:14-18; Matt. 28:16,17; John 20:19-23; 21:1-25; Acts 1:3-8; 10:39,41; 1 Cor. 15:5,7

* Thomas with the apostles - John 20:24-29 - He was skeptical till He saw, heard, and touched Jesus, including the wounds.

* Saul of Tarsus - Acts 9:1-9; 22:4-15; 26:9-18; 1 Cor. 15:8,9 - He was an enemy and persecutor. At noon on an open highway, a light brighter than the noon sun appeared. Jesus spoke and identified Himself to be Jesus. Saul saw and heard Jesus to qualify him to be a witness of what he had seen and heard (i.e., an apostle - 22:14,15; 26:16). He was struck blind till Ananias came and restored his sight (9:8,9,18; 22:11-13).

* 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 - A summary list that adds James and an appearance to over 500 at one time, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote.

* Jesus then ascended to heaven in the presence of the apostles - Acts 1:9-11; Luke 24:50-53; Mark 16:19,20.

Then the apostles preached repeatedly that they were eyewitnesses of these events - Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 10:39-41; 13:30-32; 22:14,15; 26:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-8,15. All were persecuted and most gave their lives for this testimony, but none ever withdrew it, denied it, or retracted it.

Summary of the nature of the evidence

To evaluate the power of this evidence, consider:

* The number of appearances

* The number of witnesses

* The opportunity of the witnesses to observe Jesus: They saw, heard, and touched Him. They ate with Him. They spent long periods with Him. Some saw Him repeatedly.

* The consistency of the accounts - While some give details that others do not (as should be expected of honest witnesses), the accounts harmonize and support one another, instead of contradicting one another.

* The tone of the testimony - the witnesses were calm and rational, not excitable or irrational

* The skepticism of the witnesses - they were not gullible. They demanded evidence. They had not expected Jesus to die, let alone be raised. When he died, they gave up and had no hope for His resurrection. All of this contradicted their preconceived ideas.

* The nature of the witnesses - Some knew Him so well as to identify Him without mistake. One was an enemy who would never have claimed such an appearance without overwhelming proof.

* The honesty of the witnesses - All suffered persecution and most died for their testimony without retracting or compromising. Why do so, if they knew it was a lie?

* The records that have come to us were written by people who had personally witnessed these appearances (Matthew, John, Paul) or who had personally interviewed eyewitnesses (Luke, Mark). They were written while the witnesses were still alive and could be questioned (1 Cor. 15:6).

How can the alternative theories fit this evidence?

If the disciples stole the body, how could they make it appear alive to convince all these people they saw Jesus again? Why would they die for their lie? Why would they invent a story that was so completely contradictory to their expectations? They themselves did not believe the reports when they first heard of them.

Does the nature of the appearances fit an hallucination? Why would so many people see similar hallucinations, many of them at the same time? Does the tone of the testimony fit an hallucination? Do they sound gullible? Why would the skeptic Saul have such an hallucination?

Had Jesus merely swooned then awaken, how could He appear healthy enough to convince all these people He had been miraculously raised?

D. Other Confirming Miracles

The resurrection itself is not the only miracle to be considered in this study. Consider other miracles that accompanied either the resurrection itself or the preaching of the resurrection.

* Other people were raised and appeared to people when Jesus arose - Matt. 27:52,53

* The appearances of the angels who announced the resurrection - Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7. These appearances themselves were miraculous, yet they accompanied Jesus' resurrection and announced it.

* The Day of Pentecost - Acts 2:1-4,24,30-33 - The first time the apostles preached the resurrection, their message was confirmed when the Holy Spirit miraculously empowered them to speak many languages (tongues) they had never learned. They claimed that their ability to do this miracle proved Jesus had been raised (vv 32,33).

* The healing of the lame man - Acts 3:1-10,15; 4:10,14,16 - Peter and John instantaneously healed a man who had never walked in his forty years of life (4:22). Even their enemies had to admit the validity of this miracle. But the apostles used this miracle to confirm their testimony as witnesses of the resurrection.

* Appearances to Saul - When Jesus appeared, the light Saul saw was brighter than the noonday sun (Acts 26:13). Others saw the light and heard the voice but did not understand it (9:7: 22:9). Saul was struck blind till Ananias came and restored his sight (9:8,9,18; 22:11-13). These additional miracles confirmed to Saul and to others the reality of Jesus' appearance.

The purpose of miracles was to confirm a message/messenger to be from God (see introduction). Jesus and His apostles did many other miracles to confirm that their message was from God. The above miracles specifically confirmed the resurrection to be a miracle from God. Hence, miracles confirmed other miracles!

Conclusion

We have examined the evidence to be considered. We have shown how alternative theories contradict the testimony of the witnesses. The only conclusion that fits the evidence is that Jesus really did arise from the dead.

But each person must reach his own decision. To benefit from the resurrection, each person must:

* Hear the message about Jesus and His resurrection - Acts 13:37-39 (2:32,36-41).

* Believe in Jesus and the resurrection (and confess) - Romans 10:9,10; (Acts 2:32-39; 13:30-39; 1 Peter 1:21; Colossians 2:12).

* Repent of sins - Acts 2:32-39.

* Be baptized into Christ's death and resurrection - Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21 (Acts 2:32-39).

* Live a life of faithful obedience - 2 Corinthians 5:15; Colossians 3:1.

This response will lead to the promised inheritance of eternal life based on Jesus' resurrection - 1 Peter 1:3 (1 Cor. 15:12-23).

(C) Copyright 2004, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Topics for further Bible study

The Second Coming of Jesus
What Claims Did Jesus Make?
Deity of Jesus: God in the Flesh
Evidences for God, Jesus, & the Bible
Significance of Jesus' Resurrection
Saul's Conversion & Jesus' Resurrection
The Bible Claims to Inspiration
The Importance of Bible Instruction

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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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