From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [1 Co 15:12]
Every Sunday, Christendom celebrates the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. What is the historical proof and evidence that Jesus Christ did, in fact, arise from the dead? From the viewpoint of apologetics we can easily present our case that the Son of God was crucified, buried and physically resurrected.
By apologetics we don’t mean to make apologies for our faith, or to apologize to those who disagree, but to present a systematic defense (apologia) of our stated position. You might be interested in our list of resources under Apologetics that link to a variety of recommended partners who faithfully defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And be ever mindful of Peter’s exhortation:
… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence … [1 Pe 3:15]
Many people don’t feel equipped to bear witness of their faith, but you don’t need a degree in theology to give testimony. Consider the account in John’s gospel regarding the man who was born blind. Christ opened the blind man’s eyes so that he could see, and when questioned by the Pharisees he answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and I received sight.” [Jn 9:11]
Not satisfied with the man’s answer the Pharisees questioned his parents who insisted that their son was old enough to speak for himself. When asked a second time the man responded, “One thing I do know, that I was blind, and now I see. I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again?” [Jn 9:25-27]
Our witness can be as simple as that. I was a drug addict (or alcoholic), but now I am clean and sober. I was addicted to pornography and sexual immorality, but now I am delivered. Christ Jesus has healed me, and cleansed me of all unrighteousness. To God be the glory!
Of course, your testimony may not satisfy the modern-day Pharisees. Understand that apologetics is an intellectual defense of things that are spiritual; and though the Gospel can be defended successfully in a court of law, the Pharisees, being very legalistic, were lacking in faith. They simply did not believe.
We, therefore, can lay out our defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but unless a person’s heart is receptive it would be like sowing seed in rocky ground. Some will deny that Christ was even born, or they will simply refute the authenticity and veracity of the Bible. Others might even agree that Jesus was a great man, but they reject His claim to be the Son of God. We pray the Lord to heal the spiritually blind even as He healed the eyes of the man who was born physically blind.
In the case of the assembly at Corinth, there were members who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. The city of Corinth was populated with every type of paganistic and hedonistic Greco-Roman philosophy including Stoicism and Epicureanism. They believed human fulfillment could be achieved by either denying or gratifying the flesh, but the body was too corrupt to exist beyond this world.
When Rabbi Saul (Apostle Paul) was in Athens he was confronted by that city’s philosophers:
And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,” — because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. [Acts 17:18]
While some in Corinth could believe the Son of God was raised from the dead, it was commonly held that the mortal body was destined for death and decay. Also, there were Jews of the Sadducees in Corinth who denied even the teachings of the Tanakh:
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. [Job 19:25-27]
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. [Ps 16:9-10]
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. [Da 12:2]
The Pharisees (who believed in the resurrection of the body) had little in common with the Sadducees who believed not in the supernatural, but they were united in their hardened opposition to Jesus Christ.
The Romans, on the other hand, perceived the dissension to be nothing more than a dispute over matters of Jewish mysticism, or as Governor Felix told King Agrippa at Rabbi Saul’s tribunal, “They simply had points of disagreement with him (Paul) about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” [Ac 25:19]
The evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ can be found in the extra-biblical writings of ancient historians including Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Maimonides and the Jewish Sanhedrin; but we prefer to use the Bible as our proof-text. It is, at first, the Holy Word of God. It is both literature and Law, poetry and prophecy; but, pertinent to this discussion, it is a historical record substantiated by eyewitness accounts kept with meticulous detail.
Luke was Rabbi Saul’s personal physician and travelling companion, and author of the Gospel that bears his name. In the forward to his gospel, Luke writes to Theophilus:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. [Lk 1:1-4]
Luke was a learned, well-educated man who kept detailed records of all that he had witnessed including first-hand testimony of the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
On the day of preparation (Friday) Jesus was laid in the tomb for the next day was the Sabbath, and the women planned to prepare His body on the first day of the week. At dawn on Sunday they arrived at the tomb and found it empty.
Doubters will quote the following passage from Matthew:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and [yet] no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” [Mt 12:38-40]
Skeptics will say that Christ was not in the grave three days and three nights, but they would be wrong in their interpretation. The Bible is replete with Jewish idioms, and it is a manner of speaking for Jesus to say that He will be in the grave three days and three nights. We also must consider that it was Jewish custom to count a portion of the day as a full day; and that one day is calculated from sunset to sunset thus Jesus was buried on Friday which actually began at sunset on Thursday. Sound confusing?!
Mattityahu (Matthew) clarified that Yeshua would rise on the third day:
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. [Mt 16:21]
Jesus was buried on Friday, and He rose on the third day, Sunday. It isn’t complicated.
Doubters, again, will say that the women arrived Sunday morning at the wrong tomb though Luke records that after the body of Jesus was removed from the cross they followed and saw where His body was laid:
Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. [Lk 23:55-56]
On Sunday morning the women found the stone rolled away, and the tomb was empty. An angel of the LORD said to them:
Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. [Lk 24:5-7]
The presence of angels at the tomb should not be surprising. Angels announced to Mary and Joseph the conception of the baby Jesus. When does life begin?! An angel proclaimed to the shepherds at Bethlehem the birth of Christ; at the Nativity an angel led a multitude of heavenly hosts in songs of praise to God Most High; an angel ministered to Christ during His forty days of testing; and an angel strengthened Him during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So, then, the angel told the women to report to Peter and the disciples, but they would not believe the women’s report. In that day, a woman’s testimony was not even allowed in court. But Peter and John, perhaps moved by the Spirit, ran to the empty tomb and found the burial linens neatly folded. Luke records that Peter went home marveling at what had happened. [Lk 24:12]
Afterwards, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb where she encountered the risen Christ. [Jn 20:11-18]
It is notable that the women were the first to arrive at the empty tomb, and that Jesus first appeared to Mary. In God’s evolving plan of salvation we see the important role of women beginning in the Book of Genesis when the LORD said He would put enmity between Satan and the woman; and that her seed shall bruise [him] on the head. Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman, and the One who, upon the cross, defeated Satan.
Skeptics will say that the body of Jesus was stolen from the tomb. By whom? It was not in the interests of the Jews (or the Romans) for the body of Jesus to disappear:
Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I [am to] rise again.’ “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it [as] secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. [Mt 27:62-66]
A Roman guard consisted of two or more soldiers, and these were under orders of death to secure the tomb of Jesus. We can understand this more clearly by studying the arrest of Peter as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.
Herod had sent four squads of soldiers to seize, deliver and guard Peter. At night, Peter was chained between two guards while a squad of soldiers kept watch at the door. On the night he was to appear before Herod an angel appeared in Peter’s cell, broke his chains, led him out of the cell past two sets of guards and through iron gates that miraculously opened by themselves. Peter was so amazed that he thought it was all unreal and only a vision.
When he arrived at the house of Mary (mother of Mark, the gospel writer) a servant girl recognized his voice and ran to tell the disciples who did not believe her. Does this story sound at all similar to the empty tomb?
Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. [Acts 12:18-19]
Well, there was no small disturbance when the tomb of Jesus was found empty:
Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, [and is] to this day. [Mt 28:11-15]
Of course, no one believed that the disciples were capable of stealing the body of Christ. The Gospels depict them as being demoralized and dispersed — not to mention cowardly, and afraid for their lives.
And if anyone had the wherewithal to break into a heavily guarded and sealed tomb would they take the time to neatly fold the burial cloth? No, this was simply an exclamation point to the underlying truth that Christ overcame death and defeated Satan.
Our neighbors at the local Kingdom Hall invite us every year to attend their Easter celebration which, of note, they do not celebrate on Easter Sunday. They deny the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ but, instead, celebrate the spiritual resurrection of Messiah. Their teaching is based on this passage from Peter:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit … [1 Peter 3:18]
This passage would require a devoted commentary to refute their misunderstanding of the Greek text, but it is heretical to suggest that Christ arose a spirit creature. Jesus said on the cross:
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! [Lk 23:46]
The Kingdom Hall teaches that the body of Christ dissolved into a gaseous vapor, but they have trouble explaining His appearance to the disciples:
See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. [Lk 24:39]
And to Tau’ma (Thomas):
Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing. [Jn 20:27]
The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ signifies the Father’s acceptance of His sin sacrifice, and the assurance that we have been forgiven and reconciled to the Father:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. [Ro 5:10]
When Christ stood before the tomb of Lazarus He said:
I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. [Jn 11:25-26]
The affirmation of our Lord’s resurrection is recorded in His revelation to Y’hochanan (John):
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” [Rev 1:17-18]
The world is burdened with anguish and grief for it does not know Him; but we can be assured and know that He is the Christ — HaMashiach Yeshua — our eternal hope and faith.
As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” [Jn 20:29]
Editor: Court cases are routinely decided on the testimony of fewer than three witnesses. Over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11).
Suggested Reading: The Best-Proved Fact in History
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