The vast majority of Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 2014, one poll indicated that 69% of Americans believe that Jesus rose from the dead. In a similar polls in 2013 and 2012, 64% and 77% believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
These polls lack specificity about whether people believed this event was a physical or spiritual event, but these statistics show that the vast majority of Americans are still influenced by the Easter story.
REASONS TO BELIEVE JESUS’ RESURRECTION HISTORICALLY, PHYSICALLY HAPPENED
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 records 15 specific witnesses and a crowd of about 500 people who saw Jesus post-resurrection. At the time of the writing, he appeals to them because they were still alive and could give eye witness accounts. This should be counted as a verifiable event with so many witnesses.
- Jesus’ body was buried in the same place that the church would start only a few months later. If the disciples were lying, it would be easy to prove them wrong and go to the tomb to show Jesus’ dead, decaying body.
- The gospel records that women were the first to see Jesus. In this time, a woman’s testimony would not be admissible in court. This shows that the disciples were not trying to cleverly concoct a story about Jesus that wasn’t true, but they were simply recording a timeline of events.
- Jesus physically ate, talked to, touched, and walked with his disciples over an extended period of time. This was not a few seconds of bigfoot walking in the trees. This was multiple encounters in various contexts with multiple disciples for various amounts of time.
- A group of mostly religious Jews were willing to change their tradition of worshiping on Saturday to a Sunday-the day on which Jesus was raised from the dead.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 was a creed, or a traditional doctrinal statement that had been passed to Paul. This idea predates Paul and the gospels, dating it to about 30-33 AD, or 2-5 years after Jesus ascended to heaven.
COMMON THEORIES THAT OBJECT TO A CHRIST’S HISTORICAL, BODILY RESURRECTION
Objection #1: Jesus’ Resurrection was a hoax and a lie.
From the very beginning, the religious rulers were concerned that the disciples would try to fake Jesus’ resurrection. They knew it was a possibility because they remembered that Jesus predicted he would rise again. Therefore, they went to Pilate and requested special provisions be made to keep Jesus in the tomb.
Matthew 27:62-66 “The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive, He said, ‘After three day I will rise again.’ Therefore give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come, steal Him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘You have a guard of soldiers,’ Pilate told them, ‘Go and make it as secure as you know how.’ Then they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
The disappearance of his body would question the Roman authority and would challenge the Jewish leader’s religious authority. Both parties wanted to make sure that Jesus stayed in that tomb. Because they were worried that a great deception would take place by the disciples, they guarded it.
In order to protect it, Roman Guards stood by the tomb until the third day. A 3000-4000 pound stone was rolled into a divot right in front of the opening. There was probably also some kind of mortar seal on the stone and cave mouth to seal the stink in.
According to this theory, untrained disciples would have had to organize and overcome the best-trained guards in the world, break the mortar, roll the huge stone away, and disappear with the body without being seen.
The lie that the disciples stole the body was started immediately after Jesus’ resurrection by the chief priests.
Matthew 28:11-15 “As they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them. ‘Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping; If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been spread among the Jewish people to this day.”
Even if they were able to steal the body, one fact still does not make sense: liars do not make martyrs. Liars are cowards. A liar will abandon his lies as soon as his lies do not serve him. Why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus, create this lie about the resurrection, and die terrible deaths for something they knew was a lie? When faced with torture and death, wouldn’t at least one of the disciples have told the truth in order to save his life?
Objection #2: Jesus was never actually dead.
According to this theory, Jesus was whipped, beaten, hung on a cross, and stabbed through his heart without dying. Then he was cleaned, wrapped in linens, anointed with spices, and buried in a dark tomb with a boulder covering the opening. Having never died, he woke up, rolled the 3000-4000 pound stone away from his tomb, snuck by the guards, and convinced all of his disciples that he had come back to life from the grave.
The beatings that Jesus endured would have been enough to kill almost any man. At the very least, he would have been dehydrated and ridiculously weak. He would have had very little blood and infected wounds all over his body. Even if he survived his crucifixion, he would have had years of recovery time. He could not have been able to convince the disciples that he rose from the dead. The disciples would have seen right through his lie.
Considering all that Jesus’ body went through, it does not seem reasonable to think that he survived.
Objection #3: Jesus being alive again was merely a hallucination of the disciples.
This theory basically says that all of the disciples started having hallucinations and visions of their teacher being alive again. This was the result of the great stress and depression that they had because of their teacher’s death.
This objection cannot be true because it is impossible for groups of people to have hallucinations together. Individuals may have hallucinations, but groups do not have hallucinations of the same thing. According to records, Jesus appeared to large groups of people at a time: two Disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary and Mary Magdalene, 10 apostles, Thomas and other apostles, seven apostles, all the apostles, and 500 people at one time. The fact that he appeared to many crowds on multiple occasions denies the possibility of this objection against the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:6 “Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.”
Objection #4: Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual thing, not a physical thing.
This theory says that Jesus’ spirit came back and appeared to the disciples. He was a ghost or apparition, but did not physically come back to life.
If you look at what Jesus did after he came back to life, then you start to realize this theory can’t be true. After Jesus rose again, he did physical activities that required having a body. He ate, cooked, and had Thomas touch the scars in his hands and side.
Luke 24:41-43 “But while they still could not believe because of their joy and were amazed, He asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”
In fact, some of the original apostles (who ended up recording Jesus’ life and resurrection) had trouble believing Jesus was physically raised. Some of them thought he was a ghost. In response, Jesus had all of the disciples touch his healed wounds in order to prove to them that he physically came back to life.
Luke 24:36-40 “As they were saying these things, He Himself stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and terrified and though they were seeing a ghost. ‘Why are you troubled?’ He asked them. ‘And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet.”
The transparency of the disciples concerning their doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus indicates their sincerity and honesty in their testimony.
Objection #5: Christ ‘lives’ in my heart, much the same way the memory of lost love ones live in our hearts.
Christ was physically there with them as a group. He ate and drank with them. They physically touched him. The disciples could not do these things as a group with a memory.
Objection #6: Jesus was an alien.
Yah. It’s a real theory. I am not even going to give this one the dignity of a response.
If the majority of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and if all of the historical evidence points to the physical, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, then why isn’t this more important?
In other words, if someone claimed to be God, claimed that he would die as punishment for our sins, claimed that he would come back to life three days later, and fulfilled all of those claims, doesn’t that verify his message? Shouldn’t we submit ourselves to him, believe that he died to save us, and follow his commands?
Part two of this study will look at the some of the implications of Jesus’ physical, historical resurrection.
Other information and resources
- “4 Reasons to Believe the Empty Tomb” by Paul Rezkalla
- “Answering Alternatives to the Resurrection” by Michael Patton
- Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity by Alex McFarland
- New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell