As we get closer to celebrating Easter, I want to equip you to engage with your neighbors, co-workers and family members about the resurrection. This is a great time to ask; so what do you think happened with Jesus? As you have that conversation, below are five reasons we can believe that Jesus’ resurrection actually took place. These 5 reasons are condensed from a series of articles written by Charlie Campbell at “Always Be Ready”
You can remember these five reasons with the acronym: R.I.S.E.N
1. The Rise of Christianity in Jerusalem
It is an accepted historical fact that the Christian faith (a religion built upon the preaching of the resurrection of its leader) originated in approximately A.D. 32 right in the very city of Jerusalem where Jesus was publicly crucified and buried. Now, this in itself is a good piece of evidence that the resurrection actually occurred. Why?
Because a message calling people to repent and put their faith in a risen man could never have gained any substantial following amongst the Jews if the tomb had not actually been empty and had the Jewish people not seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion.
The message of a risen man, could not have been maintained for even a day in Jerusalem if the grave was still occupied. [Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, 232]
Remember, Jesus’ disciples did not run off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ rose from the dead (where the facts could not be verified). They went right back to the city of Jerusalem where they would have been quickly exposed and disproved—if what they were teaching was false. The critics could have said, “Hey! Here is the grave and here is Jesus’ body!” That would have squashed the whole movement, and Christianity would never have gotten off of the ground. But that never happened! And not only did Christianity originate there in Jerusalem, it thrived there!
Luke, whose writings have been confirmed by numerous extrabiblical writings and archaeological discoveries, tells us that 3,000 people believed the first post-resurrection sermon preached a few minutes’ walk from the tomb (Acts 2:41). Later in the same chapter there in Acts 2, Luke says that the church was growing daily (Acts 2:47). By Acts 4:4, Luke declares there were 5,000 believers comprising the early Christian church in Jerusalem. That would be considered a mega church, even today. And there were more converts coming in! In Acts 6:7, Luke says the number of disciples “continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.” Apparently, by that point, they lost count!
And not only did Christianity originate and flourish in Jerusalem, it went on to triumph over a number of competing ideologies and eventually overwhelm the entire Roman Empire.
By the early fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, historians say there were around thirty million Christians. [Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 156; Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, 297]
Imagine with me for a moment that the year is 1963. You happen to be in the city of Dallas for work. You hear that the President, John F. Kennedy, is going to be driving through the city in a motorcade on his way to give a speech. So, you go. Moments later, the horrifying shots ring out, and sadly, you witness the assassination of our 35th President. Question for you. How hard would it have been in the weeks following that tragic event, to convince thousands of people in the city of Dallas who were there and saw J.F.K. die, that he came back to life after he was buried? Pretty much impossible, right? You might convince a couple people, but you’d have an incredibly hard time convincing thousands of people. Why? People don’t rise from the grave. Well, the same was true in Israel in the first century. People didn’t rise from the grave. And yet, in the days immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion (a death attested to by Roman and Jewish historians outside the New Testament) thousands of Jews who lived in Jerusalem and who knew Jesus had died, suddenly converted to Christianity, convinced Jesus rose from the grave. How does one explain this? The critics have some theories and I’ll respond to them in a bit, but we believe the best explanation is… THE RESURRECTION.
People had seen Jesus! Acts 1:3 says that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
Jesus, the miracle-working Messiah (that so many had already become familiar with) conquered death! And they had seen Him with their own eyes! That’s how you explain 5,000+ people joining the church in the city of Jerusalem within such a short time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
So, the first reason I believe Jesus rose from the grave is the RISE of Christianity in Jerusalem.
Now some might say, “Wait a minute, Islam came on the scene 600 years after Jesus and also grew very quickly!”
Yes, it did. However, slam’s growth had nothing to do with people witnessing anything miraculous. The Quran itself makes it clear that Muhammad was not a miracle worker. How did Islam manage to grow so rapidly? Islam was forced upon tens of millions by military conquest. It is an undeniable fact of history that Islam spread by the sword.
This is far different than the spread of Christianity. Christianity spread over the first three centuries through the simple preaching of the gospel, calling upon people to repent and place their faith in a resurrected Savior.
2. The INCREDIBLE Persecution and Deaths Endured by the Disciples
When Jesus was arrested and led away to be crucified, the Gospels tell us His disciples…
• fled in fear (Matthew 26:56)
• went into hiding (John 20:19)
• lost hope (Luke 24:21)
A short time later, we read that something amazing happened. These same fearful men went through a dramatic transformation. Within a few weeks of Jesus’ crucifixion, these same men were standing face to face with the people who had crucified their leader, boldly telling them to repent and that Jesus was alive! (Acts 2:36-38). To prevent this belief from spreading, the same authorities who had Jesus crucified…
• threatened the disciples
• flogged them
• beat them
• imprisoned them
• and forbade them to speak the name of Jesus (e.g., Acts 4:16-18, 5:28)
So what did the disciples do? They told the authorities, “We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).” I love their courage and commitment to get the gospel out! But their courage had a cost—a large cost—but one the early Christians were willing to pay.
Flavius Josephus, Eusebius, Tertullian, and other independent extra-biblical sources record for us that many of Jesus’ earliest followers, including the apostles, suffered intense persecution and even death for their on-going belief and preaching that Jesus was Lord and was risen from the dead. We are told in these extrabiblical sources that…
• Matthew was slain with a sword in a city of Ethiopia
• Mark died in Alexandria, in Northern Egypt after having been cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
• Luke was hung to death upon an olive tree in the land of Greece
• John was tortured and banished to the Island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9)
• James, the brother of John, was beheaded in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2)
• James the Less (as he’s called in Mark 15:40) was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple
• Philip was hung up against a pillar at Heiropolis in the province of Phrygia
• Bartholomew was flayed alive
• Andrew was bound to a cross, and left to die
• Jude was shot to death with arrows
• Matthias (the apostle chosen to replace Judas) was first stoned, and then beheaded
• Barnabas was stoned to death by the Jews at Salonica
• Paul, after a variety of tortures and imprisonments, was finally beheaded in Rome
• Thomas was run through the body with a spear in east India
• Peter was crucified upside down in Rome
What these men endured to get the gospel out is pretty sobering isn’t it? Is it reasonable to think these men had invented Jesus’ resurrection?
I find that difficult to believe. But someone might say, “People invent stories about crazy things all the time!” Yes they do, for some sort of financial gain, or to get out trouble. But what the early Christians said about Jesus, didn’t get them out of trouble or result in any kind of benefit. What these men said and wrote about Jesus got them in trouble. What they received was rejection, persecution, torture, and martyrdom. Hardly a list of perks!
3. The SHIFT in Beliefs and Practices by Thousands of Jews
Shortly after Jesus’ death, thousands of Jews in Jerusalem and the surrounding region began abandoning at least five cherished beliefs and practices.
The beliefs and practices they abandoned had been taught to them from childhood by their rabbis and parents. They were beliefs and practices that had given them their national identity and allowed them to be accepted by society. They were beliefs and practices that had even given them a supposed right standing with God. What beliefs and practices did thousands of Jews begin to abandon?
A. The Practice of Bringing Sacrifices to the Temple
Thousands of Jews, who had for centuries been going to the temple to sacrifice animals as a way of having their sins covered, suddenly stopped! Why? What would explain such a major shift in behavior?
They realized that Jesus was “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). They realized that all of those Old Testament sacrifices were “only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1)—a foreshadowing of what God would accomplish through His Son’s death. They had heard of (if not seen with their own eyes) the veil that had been ripped miraculously from the top down there in the temple (Mark 15:38). They remembered that Jesus had told them that the temple was even going to be destroyed (Matthew 24:2). And so they realized things had changed. They realized they were living under a new covenant with God—the one Jesus had told them about on the eve of His crucifixion (Luke 22:20).
If they were mistaken, abandoning the sacrificial system would jeopardize their well-being socially and spiritually. And yet thousands of Jews began to do that very thing. And they didn’t stop there. Thousands of Jews began to change…
B. Their Sabbath Day Worship From Saturdays to Sundays
For the Jews, the Sabbath was not only a day they were to rest from physical labor, it became a day when they would meet together in the synagogue, worship God together, and study the Scriptures. They had been doing it on the seventh day of the week (Saturdays) for some 1500 years!
But now, almost over night, thousands of Jews began meeting on a new day—the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), a day they began to call “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Why did they call it “the Lord’s Day”? Because that was the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1).
So, thousands of Jews, including the disciples, said, ‘Let’s start meeting on that day in commemoration of our risen Lord!’ And they even opened up their meetings to Gentiles (Acts 15)!
These Jews, who made up the early church, believed that the coming of the Messiah, along with His death and resurrection, cleared the way for a new relationship with God. One that was based, not on bringing sacrifices to the temple or on keeping the Mosaic law, but on the sin-bearing, life-giving help of a resurrected Savior.
The fact that so many Jews were willing to abandon their previous beliefs and practices is a third evidence that Jesus’ resurrection really took place! Now, obviously, a lot more could be said about this. If you’d like to do further research on these and other beliefs and practices the Jews abandoned, I recommend reading Lee Strobel’s excellent award-winning book The Case for Christ.
4. The EVIDENCE for the Trustworthiness of the Bible
The account of the resurrection was not passed down to us in a supermarket tabloid or via a long chain of people playing “the telephone game.” It was passed down to us in a sober-minded, collection of historical documents that were written by eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life in the first century A.D.
This collection of documents making up the New Testament has been corroborated by:
• Extrabiblical historical writings (e.g., Cornelius Tacitus, Flavius Josephus)
• Dozens of archaeological discoveries
• and more
Extrabiblical historical sources have confirmed more than a hundred details recorded about Jesus in the New Testament. For example, consider the writings of Flavius Josephus. He was a Jewish historian working for the Roman empire in the first century AD. He mentions more than a dozen individuals written about in the NT Gospels, including John the Baptist, Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and Jesus. Notice what Josephus writes about Jesus:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive…” Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3:63-64
Here in this one quote we have verification that…
• Jesus was a real person
• He who was known to be virtuous
• He had many followers
• He was put to death by Pilate
• His disciples reported He rose from the dead
Incredible! Josephus corroborates five New Testament details in one paragraph!
5. NONE of the Skeptics Theories for the Empty Tomb are Convincing
Even skeptical scholars today acknowledge that the tomb of Jesus was empty. As I mentioned earlier, there is no way Christianity could have ever gotten off the ground if Jesus’ tomb was still occupied. The Roman authorities or Jewish leaders could have just gone to the tomb and paraded the body around downtown Jerusalem for everyone to see and squashed the whole movement.
So, the tomb was empty. That’s widely acknowledged by historians today. But critics have come up with other theories to explain the empty tomb…none of which is convincing. Let’s consider some of their theories. The first theory is the…
A. Jesus is a Myth Theory
Some critics of the Bible say “The reason why His tomb was empty is because He never even existed. The whole story about Him being a real person was made up by some clever deceivers back in the first century.”
Now, you’ll never hear a respected historian or scholar suggest this. But the “Jesus is a myth” theory has gained a lot of momentum as of late on the Internet. Well, the idea that Jesus never existed is ludicrous! Why? In addition to the 27 New Testament documents that tell us about Him, there are a wealth of extrabiblical sources that mention Him. Did you realize that?
Jesus is referred to by more then 30 sources outside of the Bible within 150 years of His life. These sources reveal to us more than 100 facts about Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection.
Some of these sources include first century historians like:
• Flavius Josephus
• Cornelius Tacitus
• as well as the Jewish Talmud
The Talmud is a compilation of Jewish teachings that were passed down from generation to generation and then organized and compiled after the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. The Talmud mentions Jesus. Here is one excerpt:
“On the eve of Passover Yeshu [a Hebrew word for Jesus] was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!” (Sanhedrin 43a)
Not only does the Talmud mention Jesus, it mentions His crucifixion and even says it occurred at the time of the Passover—the very time the New Testament says it occurred. So even the Jews, who rejected Jesus as their Messiah, mentioned that He existed!
The evidence that Jesus was a real person is so strong, even Bart Ehrman, one of the most zealous critics of the Bible alive today, acknowledges that Jesus was a real historical person:
“There is no scholar in any college, or university in the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, or any related field who doubts that Jesus existed…With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life…sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue…and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life…Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind…The claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground.” Source 1, 2.
So, the “Jesus is a Myth” theory utterly fails as an explanation for the empty tomb. Surely He did exist!
A second theory to explain the empty tomb is the…
B. The Stolen Body Theory
This theory suggests that the tomb was empty there in Jerusalem because Jesus’ disciples stole His body. But the “stolen body theory” raises some difficult questions:
How could the disciples have stolen the body?
That would have required sneaking past an armed and trained detachment of Roman soldiers, breaking the Roman seal that was put upon the stone (Matt. 27:66), then moving a two-ton stone away from the entry to the tomb without being detected. Certainly the Roman guards that Pilate put on guard at the tomb (Matt. 27:65) to prevent this kind of thing from happening would have heard something and quickly put an end to the attempted thievery.
Roman soldiers were highly trained in the art of defense and killing.
I find it hard to believe that the disciples who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:56) would risk their lives trying to steal a dead body from the very people who had three days earlier executed their leader.
Another difficult question “the stolen body theory” brings up is this: Why would the disciples steal Jesus’ body? What benefit would come to them for doing that? Is it reasonable to believe the disciples stole Jesus’ body only to suffer for preaching a message they contrived? I have a hard time believing that! And if they had a dead corpse on their hands, how were they able to convince thousands of people He rose from the grave? Maybe prop him up for a press conference, but answer all the questions for Him? That sounds preposterous! It wouldn’t work. So, I find “the stolen body theory” utterly unconvincing.
C. The Lost Tomb Theory
In 2007 the Discovery Channel aired a documentary called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” that claimed the actual tomb that contained Jesus’ bones had been discovered. The primary evidence for this radical conclusion was the discovery of six bone ossuaries found in a grave in Jerusalem. The ossuaries dated back to the first century and had the following names engraved on them…
1. Jesus, son of Joseph (lit. “Yeshua son of Yoseph”)
2. Mary (lit. “Maria”)
3. Matthew (“Matia”)
4. Joseph (“Yose”)
5. Mary (lit. “Mariamene [who is also called] Mara”)
6. Judah, son of Jesus (lit. “Yehudah son of Yeshua”)
Well, those names sound familiar don’t they!? And so the Discovery Channel documentary concluded that these ossuaries belonged to the very persons mentioned by those names in the New Testament. And thus, the whole story of Jesus’ resurrection was a farce. The documentary said He was actually married to Mary Magdalene, had a son named Judah, and was buried in a grave with the rest of His family.
This was an outrageous assault on the Gospels! There are several reasons why the Discovery Channel’s claims should be rejected. I’ll quickly mention two.
First, the names inscribed on the ossuaries found in the tomb in Jerusalem were very common names in Israel in the first century. Joseph was the second most popular name in the first century. Jesus was fourth. Matthew was the sixth.
Professor Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the tomb, and one of many scholars who disagreed with the documentary’s conclusions, said there are more than 900 buried tombs just like the alleged “Jesus” tomb within a two-mile radius of where this tomb was found.
He pointed out that of these tombs, 71 bear the name “Jesus” and that “The name ‘Jesus son of Joseph’ has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names.” [Jerusalem Post]
So, that is one strike against the supposed discovery. Another blow to the documentary’s conclusions is this: If the disciples were “making up a religion” and basing it on the resurrection of Jesus, they wouldn’t…
• bury His body in the very city He was put to death
• inscribe His name on the outside of His ossuary
• and then bury the other members of His family in marked ossuaries in the same grave
No! You would get rid of the body, burn it, etc. Then you could more safely move about the city telling people, “Our leader has risen!” So, those are just a couple of the problems with the “Lost Tomb Theory.”
D. The Hallucination Theory
This theory suggests that the early Christians were hallucinating and only thought they had seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion. Well, this theory is not convincing either.
Hallucinations (for non-drug users) are very rare. And the things people see and experience while hallucinating are wildly different. You never hear of a large group of people having identical hallucinations. So to suggest that hundreds of Jewish people (not known for their drug use) had hallucinations, wherein they all saw and interacted with a resurrected Savior, is very problematic. And another problem with the hallucination theory—if the disciples were just hallucinating, the religious leaders and Roman authorities could have dragged Jesus’ body out of the tomb and exposed the fact. But they could not do that
So, this is the fifth reason you can be confident Jesus rose from the grave. None of the skeptics’ theories for the empty tomb are convincing.
So there’s the RISEN reasons that Jesus has been resurrected. I hope this encourages you and equips you. May the risen Lord be praised in our city!