Those of us who grew up in church are very familiar with the core of the gospel message. Even many of those who did not grow up in church are familiar with the story of Jesus. He was the Son of God, born of a virgin, died on a cross, was placed in a tomb, and rose from the dead. As a matter of fact, Christianity completely rests on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. The event of the resurrection is the foundation on which all of Scripture and its teachings rest. The Apostle Paul went so far as to say, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17, ESV). Paul was fully aware that if the resurrection of Jesus was faked, a myth or even just a story to inspire generations to come, Christianity would collapse on itself and be proven false. It all relies on the resurrection of Jesus.
So how can we have faith today, in the here and now, 2,000 years later, that Jesus' resurrection actually took place? How do we know it's true? No one alive right now was alive back then so we need to examine the historical evidence, both inside the Bible and outside. In the culture and time we find ourselves in, simply stating it's something one knows by faith isn't enough for those who don't have that faith. Just saying, “the Bible says” doesn't work for those who are, at the very minimum, skeptical of the Bible and/or Christianity in general.
God requires one thing from us for salvation and that one thing is faith. But God in his great mercy actually gives us the very thing he requires from us. We read in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith and that this doesn't come from us, it is the gift of God. He supplies what he requires. What a loving God we serve.
With that said, far too often when people are regenerated (“born again”) they receive faith and then down play the significance of thinking and study. Intellect suddenly becomes the enemy of faith, but I beg to differ. In Mark 12:30 we read, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Sadly, believers tend to ignore the “loving God with all of their mind” portion of this passage. God has given us a brain and he expects us to use it.
So, let's use our minds to take a look at some evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need not start thinking and stop just blindly believe everything we are taught.
Sources Outside The Bible For Christ's Death:
If you were taught to be skeptical regarding what you read in the Bible, or just like to research additional resources, there are many historical sources outside of the Bible that record the death of Jesus. An example would be the Jewish historian Flavius Josephuswho lived in the first century and wrote a history of Judaism around AD 93. In his history he mentions Jesus of Nazareth twice by name. Additionally, as former atheist turned Christian author and Apologist Lee Strobel writes,"we not only have multiple, early accounts of Jesus’ death in the New Testament, but we’ve also got five ancient sources outside the Bible that confirm his execution. No wonder the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association concluded: 'Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted.'" One thing that is agreed upon is that a man named Jesus of Nazareth lived and died in the first century.
Again from Lee Strobel, "Famed classical historian A.N. Sherwin-White of Oxford said it took more than two generations in the ancient world for legends to develop and wipe out a solid core of historical truth." To put this in context, if the stories of Jesus rising from the dead would have shown up 100 years or more after the resurrection took place, enough time would have passed so that church fathers could have embellished information regarding its history. However, Paul's first letter to Corinth (1 Corinthians) is dated to the 50s AD, only twenty or so years after the resurrection. 1 Corinthians makes definitive claims about the resurrection during a time when numerous people who could have stepped forward to disprove it would have still been alive. The resurrection of Jesus was not some kind of story or legend that didn't come about until centuries later. It was an actual eyewitness account recorded within the lifetime of those who experienced it.
The Empty Tomb:
The sure fire way to have disproven the resurrection of Jesus would have been to produce a body, but no one did. Even the enemies and opponents of early Christianity, the Jewish leaders who had so much to lose if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, could not locate a body. The Romans who crucified Jesus never produced a body either. In fact, an eyewitness account states, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matthew 28:12-15, NIV). The body of Jesus was never produced by anyone, neither the Jewish leaders nor the Roman government.
Quoting Lee Strobel once again, "While we only have one or two sources for much of what we know from ancient history, we have nine ancient sources –inside and outside the New Testament – confirming the testimony of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus." One thing that can't be denied is that many people claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus, this includes over 500 people at one time. A mass hallucination of this nature is simply not possible. There have been mass hallucinations (multiple people hallucinating either from drugs, deep emotionalism or extreme stress) documented, but in each case the individuals involved claimed to have seen something completely different. What you don't have is a mass of people all hallucinating about the exact same incident, yet hundreds and hundreds of people all claimed to have seen the risen Jesus.
If the resurrection of Jesus didn't take place, if it was a lie, then the disciples would have been the ones to have made it up. They would have known (even if no one else did) that the whole thing was a hoax. And yet they allowed themselves to be arrested, put on trial, tortured, and even killed for their claims about the resurrection. Think about it from the standpoint of human nature: almost everyone would die for the truth. Almost everyone would even die for a lie that they believe to be the truth. But no one is going to die for a lie that they know is a lie. If it was a lie, the disciples would have been the ones to make it up and spread it. And yet they went through unimaginable suffering and pain for their claim Jesus was risen, and so did hundreds of other eyewitnesses who suffered through tribulation at the hands of early Jewish and Roman persecution. Their lives and ultimate deaths may very well be the greatest testimony to the fact that the resurrection of Jesus is indeed fact and not fiction.
When debating atheists they often claim that the resurrection of Jesus is just another myth, legend, or even fairly tale, but in actuality the evidence overwhelmingly points to to the opposite conclusion. In other words: it actually takes more faith to believe the resurrection of Jesus did not happen than to believe that it did. Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead and we have record of eyewitness accounts testifying to that miraculous event still in existence thousands of years later. And since Jesus really did rise from the dead, we can be assured that one day Jesus will return and we too will be resurrected and he will restore all things new.