“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:13-14
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. Without it, there is no gospel message, there is no hope of us going to heaven when we die, and there is no reason for any sort of Christian practice. This is absolutely essential to Christian belief. If you have just recently turned your life over to Jesus, you should want to be sure that the Jesus you are worshipping and following is, in fact, alive. The founders of other major world religions are dead in their graves. Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha, Joseph Smith, and others are all dead and buried. Only Jesus has conquered death. Only Jesus has proven Himself to be divine.
Seven weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, the church was born with the coming, empowering, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter and others in the first twelve chapters of Acts gave multiple messages preaching a risen Christ. Where they preached was not far away from Jesus’ tomb. If anybody wanted to stop the Christians from preaching the gospel, all they had to do was demonstrate that Jesus was in the tomb or present His corpse. Neither was done because there was no corpse to find.
During those days it was typical and customary for religious devotees to visit the tomb of a religious leader and pay homage at the site. There is no record of anybody doing this at Jesus’ grave because Jesus was not in there.
The fact that the resurrection accounts in the gospels include women make them more reliable because no one trying to sell a fictitious story in those days would have relied on the testimony of women. A woman’s testimony in a court of law was not considered valid except in very rare cases. It was nothing short of humiliating to have to write down that women were the first and primary witnesses to the resurrection.
Arguments in the past were given that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but he crawled out of the tomb. Such arguments are ridiculous since blood and water flowed from His side when He was pierced with the spear, indicating death. The soldiers didn’t bother to break His legs as they would do to speed death along because He was already dead. Jesus was dead when He went to the tomb. This nearly everyone who has studied the subject will grant.
As we said earlier, if any enemies of the Christians or of Jesus had stolen the body, they would have produced it to stop the Christian movement. But what if the disciples of Jesus stole the body? First off, they had no reason to do this because by starting a religion in contrast to the Jewish customs of the day they would likely have been killed. But more importantly, all but one of the disciples suffered martyrs’ deaths and did not recant their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. The one who was not martyred was exiled, that being John, who did not recant but wrote the book of Revelation. If they had created a lie, they would certainly not have died for it or been exiled for it.
A huge piece of evidence is the fact that all twelve of the disciples saw the risen Christ in His resurrected body. He also appeared to many others, including once to a group of five hundred people (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). He also appeared in some form to Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul also endured extreme hardship throughout his life and was eventually executed for his faith despite the fact that he was Roman citizen. He had every chance to recant, and yet he was nothing short of the greatest Christian missionary ever.
The disciples all along were expecting Jesus to come as king and set up an earthly kingdom right then and there. When Jesus died, they were greatly mystified, confused, discouraged, and disheartened. Yet their lives were transformed into bold witnesses, dynamic preachers, and men of great faith and sacrifice. What could have done this to them? They must have seen the risen Jesus, from whom they received their commission to preach the gospel to the world.
Some have argued that the disciples and the five hundred witnesses all saw a hallucination. The fact is that you do not reach out and touch a hallucination (Luke 24:39). You also don’t sit down and eat a meal with a hallucination and converse with a group of others simultaneously and cohesively with a hallucination (John 21). A group of people don’t share the identical hallucination. That just isn’t the way hallucinations work.
So, our belief that Jesus rose from the dead is very reliable. In fact, one would have to discount the entire New Testament in order to dismantle the resurrection. Yet we have ample evidence of the reliability of the New Testament. The resurrection has all of the evidence to go with it. Jesus did indeed do what no other religious leader has ever done: He conquered death and made a way for us to do it as well. Our faith rests securely on this fact.