Easter is everything! The resurrection of Jesus is the center of the Christian faith. Check out Pastor Fisk’s article on ways we know the resurrection really happened and that the tomb was actually empty. It will help you as you confess the resurrection to those around you.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 Apologetics Issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Rev. Jonathan Fisk
It’s kind of an important question. I mean, if the resurrection didn’t happen, what on earth are we Christians doing? It’s not like it’s gaining us any power or money or anything. But if the resurrection did happen, then why is it that so many people in the world don’t believe it?
The resurrection did happen, and I can tell you how you can be certain of it. More than that, I can do it without telling you that you have to believe it just because the Bible says so. That’s the key thing. A lot of non-Christians in our world think that Christians are just a bunch of willfully ignorant nincompoops who believe in some book that fell out of the sky. But nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are Christians because something happened in history unlike any other thing ever: A guy named Jesus was murdered, but refused to stay dead. It’s not a leap of faith. It’s an historic fact that is as easy to prove as any other bit of history, if you aren’t too close-minded to consider the evidence.
- Jesus was a real human. Even without the Bible, modern scholars have to admit that there was a Jewish man named Jesus who lived in the first century. Non-biblical writings like Flavius Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion and the Jewish Talmud all mention Him as a real, historical figure.
- The real human Jesus died by crucifixion and was buried. In the same way, some of these extra-biblical texts mention that Jesus was killed. They don’t go into detail, but only an ignorant person who gets all their information from internet forums will try to tell you that the real Jesus didn’t die, and wasn’t even buried.
- This Jesus had real followers who took his death very hard. At this point, we have to start trusting the books of the Bible as eyewitness accounts. We don’t have to believe they are true. We just have to trust that they tell us what the people who wrote them actually thought. That’s what we do with every historical document about any piece of history, at least, until we find other history that tells us something different. So the guy who wrote John’s Gospel around 90 AD also claims he followed this real guy Jesus, and believed He was the Savior of the world before He was murdered, watched Him die, and then fell into despair.
- Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days later. Next, the followers of Jesus who despaired after His death also tell us that they stopped despairing because He appeared to them as risen. But not just to them. Extra-biblical sources from Roman historians tell us that after Jesus was killed, “a most mischievous superstition…again broke out.” Yet another document, traced to Jewish sources, tells of a gardener named Juda who stole Jesus’ body. When you put all of these pieces of history together, and combine it with the fact that Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection all started within walking distance of His tomb, there is only one reasonable historical answer: Somehow, some way, that tomb was empty.
- The disciples stopped despairing and started preaching, even though it meant their own deaths. Both biblical and extra-biblical documents tell us that Christianity came from the meeting together of these followers, in order to worship their leader “Christ” and listen to his teachings. Rather than give this up, the same disciples who once fled, willingly faced gruesome and painful deaths.
- Antagonists convert. James, Jesus’ brother by blood, and Saul, a man who made a business of killing Christians, were among these converts. More so, Saul’s own writings claim his reason for conversion was a face-to-face meeting with the risen Jesus.
- This is the event upon which Christianity is founded. Christianity is not direct proof that Jesus rose, but it is proof that people who knew Jesus personally before His death believed that He rose.
- Christianity was founded in Jerusalem. No one in the town where all this was happening could present the dead body so as to put a stop to it. Instead, the “stolen body theory” is preached even by the first skeptics.
- They worshiped on Sunday. These new Christians, a bunch of Jews (whose religion insists they worship on Saturday) start worshiping on Sunday, because Sunday is the day when they believe the resurrection happened.
- Do the math. The challenge for the non-Christian or the skeptic (which they are usually unwilling to take up) is to find an alternative historical explanation for where this Christianity came from which also fits all of these simple, documented facts. What could make orthodox Jews change their most sacred rituals, and go to the ends of the earth to tell others about it even though it only gets them killed? They say it was because they themselves saw this man risen from the dead. On top of this, the tomb was clearly empty and the man was nowhere to be found. So, what other explanation for all the facts can you come up with?
Over the last several hundred years the skeptics have tried. There’s the hallucination theory, and the swoon theory and that good ol’ stolen body theory. But none of those theories explain all of the above facts. You can’t steal a swooned body that gets up and walks away. Separate groups of people don’t experience the same hallucination. A Jesus who needed to be taken to the hospital would hardly have convinced terrified disciples to go out and die for him.
The simple reality is that there is only one explanation of the evidence that fits all the facts. It might be unbelievable, but it is anything but unreasonable. So put it in your pocket for the next time a skeptic attacks you with his claims that you are ignorant. Ask him how he explains what Tacitus says. Ask him why the Talmud called Jesus a sorcerer. Ask him to explain all the historical facts. Then, when he won’t (since he can’t), feel free to go right on believing the truth: that the resurrection did happen. Not only is it the best explanation for all of the real historical evidence, it also happens to be what the Bible says was God’s plan for the precise purpose of saving you.
Pastor Jonathan Fisk serves as pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is also on the board of Higher Things and host of the popular Worldview Everlasting videos. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.