The Resurrection of Jesus

As Easter Sunday approaches, I think it is important for Christians to be reminded of the importance of the resurrection and some of the historical evidences that can be used to booster and defend their faith. Thus, I thought it fitting this week to post an essay on the resurrection of Jesus. Blessings!


The Christian faith is a story about God’s relationship with humans culminating in the life, ministry and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, the emphasis of the Christian faith is on knowing Jesus. The apostle Paul was such a man who, after his conversion to “the Way”[1] (Acts 9), devoted his life to knowing Jesus. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, who were boasting about possessing worldly wisdom, that he “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2 CSB). Later, while in prison he writes to the church at Philippi, “My goal is to know him [Jesus] and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).

Paul fixed his eyes on Jesus and his resurrection and this is what compelled him to travel the known world preaching the good news of Jesus even while experiencing severe trials. He describes his hardships by writing,

Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me (2 Cor 11:24-28).

In view of Paul’s faith and life, his statements concerning the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 are that much more remarkable. He explains that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then he and others are “false witness of God,” and their faith is in “vain” and “worthless,” and they should be “pitied more than anyone” (1 Cor 15:14-19). Obviously, Paul was convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and so Paul’s ἀπολογία (apologia) “defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15) centered on the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, the belief of this writer is that Christians should also be so convinced by the resurrection that it also transforms their lives. Such a confidence can be cultivated by exploring the pertinent historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Paul offers that which is viewed as a modified early Christian creed that he received from the first disciples of Jesus. Likely, Paul received this creed sometime as early as his instruction in Damascus and as late as his visit to Jerusalem in A.D. 36. Therefore, most scholars agree that this is an early tradition that formed within the first five years after the death of Jesus.[2] Paul writes,

For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me (1 Cor 15:3-5).

As is evident in Paul’s statement, the emphasis of the earliest Christian preaching and teaching was on the resurrection of Jesus. This is supported by the earliest sermons given by the apostles as described in the book of Acts. For example, while giving a sermon at Pentecost, Peter states, “God raised him [Jesus] up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death” (Acts 2:24).[3] NT Wright comments, “There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief. Nor was this belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement.”[4] In view of the resurrection as the central event contributing to the rise of Christian movement, this discussion turns to the evidence of the resurrection.

There are many historical evidences that can be given for the resurrection of Jesus, which are too numerous to discuss here, but using Paul’s creedal form, William Lane Craig presents a narrowed case for the historicity of the resurrection by identifying three solid evidential facts: “the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the origin of the Christian faith.”[5]

Death, Burial and the Empty Tomb

Paul’s creedal form states, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried. According to Douglas Groothuis, the crucifixion of Jesus and his subsequent death is an irrefutable fact of history. He explains that New Testament scholars of all stripes agree that there is no reason to question the historicity of Jesus’ death as described in the biblical and extrabiblical accounts.[6] In regard to Jesus being buried, there are multiple attestations from independent sources that claim that Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. The burial by Joseph appears independently in Mark’s gospel account, and it is considered part of the other source materials behind the accounts of Matthew, Luke, John and Acts. The burial account also appears in the noncanonical Gospel of Peter.[7] Furthermore, scholars argue that the burial account is authentic based on the mentioning of Joseph of Arimathea. “According to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable”, since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.”[8]

Therefore, if the death and burial accounts of Jesus are historically reliable, then the location of Jesus’ tomb would have been known, and if the tomb was identifiable by both Jesus’ followers and the Jews, then this supports that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. Jesus’ followers would not have gone out and preached concerning an empty tomb, if they knew that Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, and the Jews, upon hearing about the preaching by Jesus’ followers, would not have believed if the body was still in the tomb. Also, the Jews would not have accused the apostles of stealing the body (Matt 28:11-15) if the tomb had not been found empty. Lastly, the empty tomb accounts portray women discovering the empty tomb which is significant considering that at the time women were not regarded as credible witness nor could they give legal testimony. This supports the historical credibility of the empty tomb because if the empty tomb account was a fabricated story, then one would expect that male followers would have been credited with discovering the empty tomb.[9]

The Resurrection Appearances

In view of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 concerning Jesus’ resurrection appearances, William Lane Craig writes, “this is a truly remarkable claim. We have an indisputably authentic letter of a man personally acquainted with the first disciples, and he reports that they actually saw Jesus alive after his death. More than that, he says that he himself also saw an appearance of Jesus.”[10] Beyond Paul’s mentioning of the resurrection appearances, the gospel accounts give multiple, independent testimonies concerning Jesus’ postmortem appearances.[11] These appearances are described as tangible and embodied visitations. They were not apparitions, visions or hallucinations, but rather they were real external world experiences.  Jesus occupied space, he was touched, he ate with his followers and he walked with and taught them.[12]

Paul writes that Jesus appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive. This certainly is an enticement by Paul for his readers to question the witnesses. Paul appeals to the appearance to James who was Jesus’ brother and who was a skeptic of Jesus. Scholars point to this resurrection appearance as the key element to James’ conversion, and vice versa, James’ conversion and expedient leadership role in the Jerusalem church is evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Lastly, Paul mentions his own experience with the resurrected Jesus. An experience that is credited for his radical life change from that of a respected Jewish rabbi and pharisee who was responsible for the execution of Christians in order to attempt to stamp out the perceived heretical sect. In other words, Paul’s conversion and life alone are considered strong evidences for the resurrection of Jesus.[13]

The Origin of the Christian Faith

The rise and persistence of the Christian movement is difficult to explain without the resurrection of Jesus. The disciples of Jesus spent years follow their rabbi and had great hopes for a messianic reign. They experienced the power and the momentum of Jesus’ ministry, but this all came to a halt when Jesus was arrested and crucified. Jesus’ disciples must have slid into despair and confusion facing the reality that everything they had experienced the last few years was over. They were abruptly forced to move on, trying to make sense of Jesus and their own lives. Craig writes, “It is difficult to overemphasize what a disaster the crucifixion was for the disciples’ faith. Jesus’ death on the cross spelled the humiliating end for any hopes they had entertained that he was the Messiah.”[14] The Jesus movement appeared to be another crushed, false messianic movement.

However, the New Testament presents an amazing transformation of the disciples from devastated and hopeless to confident and joyful. Rather than sulking in misery, they became proclaimers of good news. Something amazing had happen, and the disciples were once again willing to forsake all and follow Jesus even to the point of persecution and martyrdom. Once again, the Jesus movement was alive and robust, and this was not a delusional revival by a few Jesus enthusiasts, but rather it was based on the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. Christianity would not have spread with such fervor throughout the Roman empire without the resurrection. Commenting on the significance of the resurrection in the rise of Christianity, C.F.D. Moule writes, “the birth and the rapid rise of the Christian church therefore remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the church itself.”[15]

In conclusion, there is good evidence for the historicity of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension and future return. This is something that Christians should enthusiastically proclaim in the Easter statement, “He has risen!…the Lord had risen indeed!” Also, this common liturgical statement, “Therefore, we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again!” As well as the statement within the Nicene Creed which states, “For our sake he [Jesus] was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” The resurrection is a vital part of the Christ faith, and so let us celebrate wholeheartedly on Easter Day.

[1] “the way” was an early designation for the Christian movement. See Acts 9:2. [2] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection.” [3] See also: Acts 3:15, 3:26, 5:30, 10:40, 13:34. [4] N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 133 quoted by Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics : A Comprehensive Case for Biblical (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 529. [5] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection.” [6] Groothuis, Christian, 540. [7] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Fact of the Empty Tomb.” [8] Raymond E. Brown, The death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1994), 2:1240-41 cited by Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Fact of the Empty Tomb.” [9] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Fact of the Empty Tomb.” [10] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Postmortem Appearances.” [11] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Postmortem Appearances.” [12] Groothuis, Christian, 546. [13] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Postmortem Appearances.” [14] Craig, Reasonable, EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 8, “The Fact of the Origin of the Christian Faith.”[15] C.F.D Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1967), 13 quoted by Groothuis, Christian, 552.

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