20 Reasons to Believe that Jesus Actually Rose from the Dead
In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, the Bible states what the results are if Jesus has not risen from the dead. If Jesus is still dead, it means that:
- Our faith counts for nothing (vs. 14)
- We are misrepresenting God (vs. 15)
- We are still in our sins (vs. 17)
- Those who have already died did not go to a better place (vs. 18)
- Our faith is good only for this life, which makes us people to be pitied (vs. 19)
In other words, if Jesus did not really rise from death, it is bad news for Christians! A lot is hanging on this one event. Did Jesus come back from the dead? Is there any evidence that this actually happened? There is a lot of things that could be said, here are some significant points to consider.
- The body was missing. There is virtually no doubt that Jesus was killed by Roman execution on the cross. Yet three days later, his body was missing from the guarded tomb. Some have said that it was stolen by grave robbers, or perhaps by the disciples themselves (more on that later). Interestingly, the government even acknowledged that there was no body. This doesn’t prove that Jesus rose, but it does at least show that everyone knew Jesus’ body had disappeared.
- The testimony of women. In Jesus’ day, the word of a woman carried very little weight. So little, in fact, that a woman could not even testify in court because she was not believed to be reliable. Yet the Bible states that it was women who first discovered the empty tomb and saw the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:1-10). If someone were trying to fabricate Jesus’ resurrection, they most certainly would not base their lie on the claims of women, because it would be less credible. The only way that someone would record that women were the first to see Jesus is if that’s how it really happened.
- The transformation of Jesus’ brothers. Contrary to what some say, Mary and Joseph had other children besides Jesus. On one occasion, Jesus’ family showed up to take him home because they thought he had gone crazy (Mark 3:31-35). Yet these same brothers, who here are hard skeptics, became worshippers of Jesus. In fact, at least two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, went on to write the books of the Bible that bear their names. In addition, James became the lead pastor of the church in Jerusalem. What would it take for someone to worship their own brother as God? What would make James and Jude go from thinking their brother is crazy to believing he is God? A resurrection would.
- The transformation of the disciples. Jesus’ followers had gone into hiding after their leader was crucified (John 20:19) for fear that they would lose their lives. Yet these same men, just a few days later, are boldly proclaiming that Jesus had risen in public, even at the cost of great persecution and ridicule. It makes sense that actually seeing the risen Jesus would give them cause to come out of hiding and courageously put their lives on the line. Nearly all of the disciples suffered brutal martyrs deaths because they would not stop proclaiming they had seen Jesus risen. There is no way they would have done this if they knew it was a lie.
- The change in “doubting Thomas”. One of Jesus’ 12 disciples is famously known as the “doubter”. After the disciples come and tell Thomas they have seen Jesus, he declares he will not believe it unless he can place his own finger into the nail-pierced hands of Jesus (John 20:25). Yet Thomas too becomes a hard believer that Jesus resurrected. The only thing that could explain this is if Jesus really did appear to Thomas, just as the Bible says.
- That change in Peter. Perhaps the disciple whose change was the most dramatic was that of Peter. This disciple, who is famous for denying even knowing Jesus three times (including to a little girl), later is preaching in the streets of Jerusalem for all the people to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus (Acts 2:14-41). How could Peter go from being afraid of a little girl to facing hostile crowds unless he had a really good reason to do so?
- Jesus is seen by a crowd of 500. In 1 Corinthians 15:6, we learn that a crowd of 500 people saw the risen Jesus at one time. This could not have been a hallucination, since visions of that sort are personal and not experienced by multiple people. We also learn that most of those 500 people were still living at the time 1 Corinthians was written. Since 1 Corinthians was a public letter, the author (Paul) was essentially saying to the reader that they could go and ask these people if they really saw Jesus alive. Had Paul been making it up, he could not have made such a bold, public claim. Not only this, but there is zero historical evidence that anyone even tried to refute Paul’s claim of the 500 seeing Jesus. Apparently, no one who looked into it found any reason to doubt.
- Jesus appeared for 40 days. It was not like Jesus appeared to only a handful of people on one or two occasions. Historically, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people over a long period of time – 40 days to be exact (Acts 1:3). This kind of hoax is next to impossible to pull off. Many people saw Jesus multiple times. By sticking around for 40 days before ascending back into heaven, Jesus left no doubt that he had indeed risen from the dead.
- Mary prayed to her son as God. Again, this is not strong evidence by itself. Some might say Mary was simply crazy or deceived. But put together with the rest of the evidence, it cannot be taken lightly that someone would truly believe their own son was God (Acts 1:14).
- Jesus ate food and had scars. Some claim that Jesus rose not in a physical sense but only in a spiritual sense. This does not make sense since his body was missing. It also does not make sense because Thomas felt the scars of Jesus and there is at least one occasion where Jesus eats breakfast with his disciples (Luke 24:42-43). He could not have been a ghost if he had a body with scars and the ability to eat food.
- Jesus walked for 7 miles. Some say that perhaps Jesus didn’t die on the cross but merely passed out and was later revived. This would account for his appearances since he had not actually died at all. This is medically unsound, since the trauma Jesus received by flogging, crucifixion and stabbing would have certainly killed him, especially without medical treatment in a cold tomb. Not only this, but the risen Jesus was said to have walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two men, a distance of 7 miles (Luke 24:13). There is no way Jesus could have walked for 7 miles only days after having his feet pierced with giant spikes. So the claim that Jesus didn’t actually die makes no sense.
- The lack of motive for the disciples. If the disciples had not really seen Jesus but were making the whole thing up, what was their motive? Most people lie to gain something, but their “lie” only brought them pain and persecution and death. It makes sense instead that they weren’t lying but simply willing to die for the truth. Some might push back and say that they were genuinely deceived. But how can these men, who spent over 3 years with Jesus daily, be mistaken that they had seen and talked with Jesus numerous times? They would have had to be absolutely convinced, otherwise their boldness makes no sense.
- The conversion of Saul/Paul. Saul was essentially a terrorist. He literally travelled from town to town killing or throwing Christians into jail. It was his job to stop the Jesus movement. He even was present at the killing of the very first Christian martyr, a church leader named Stephen (Acts 8:1-3). Yet this same man suddenly became a follower of Jesus and began to travel to world, proclaiming that Jesus had risen. He started dozens of churches, wrote 13 books of the Bible, and suffered greatly for the forward progress of Christianity. There is nothing that could explain such a dramatic transformation, except that Saul had met the risen Jesus himself and changed his mind, just as the Bible records (Acts 9:1-19).
- Jewish people worshipped Jesus as God. In the Jewish tradition, it is strictly believed that there is only one God and that you should worship him alone. The concept of idolatry was extremely significant to the Jewish people. So the fact that thousands of them began to worship Jesus as God, knowing full well that they would be committing idolatry against their God if they were wrong, speaks volumes. Something very convincing would have had to happen for them to change their beliefs so significantly. A resurrection would do that.
- The change of the holy day. Jewish culture holds to Saturday as the Sabbath, or holy day. It is the day of worship. Yet suddenly people started worshipping on Sunday (the day of Jesus’ resurrection). This is no small change. This would be like going to church on a Monday; it would require gathering at the crack of dawn or very late at night, a great inconvenience, unless one was convinced that day held significant meaning. The cultural shift from worshipping on Saturday to Sunday gives weight to the fact that Jesus truly had risen Sunday morning, just as the story goes.
- The growth of the early Christian Church. These days, some people say that Christianity is good for society because of it’s moral teachings. If that’s all Christianity was good for, it most certainly would not have grown as it did during the early years. Remember that Christians were heavily persecuted! Simple moral values are not worth losing your family, house, or life over. The early church did not see Christianity as good for society because of moral values, but as the truth that needed to be fought for at any cost. Only a risen Jesus could provide that kind of motivation.
- Jesus’ tomb is not enshrined. In a religious society like that of Jesus’ day, his tomb most certainly would have been enshrined by his followers. Yet this is not the case. It makes sense only if the resurrection took place, since a tomb is meaningless if the occupant has risen.
- The account of Josephus. Josephus is an early historian who was not a believer in Christ. In his book The Antiquities, he records the devotion of early Christians and says of Jesus “on the third day he appeared to [his disciples] restored to life.” This is Josephus’ journalistic, historical, unbiased report. Keep in mind that he would have had access to many first-hand eyewitnesses of the resurrection.
- The account of Sosthenes. Sosthenes, a Roman historian, accounts the intense persecution of early Christians, whom he calls a “class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition”. By this he is referencing the fact that Christians believe Jesus is God because he came back from the dead. This “superstition” he describes as “mischievous” because it was against Roman law to have any authority higher than the Emperor. Christians would not obey the Emperor over Jesus, because they believed Christ was the higher authority. This lead to great conflict and persecution. In other words, Sosthenes understood that Christians were convinced that Jesus had risen from death to the point that they were willing to pledge their allegiance to him even if it cost them their lives.
- The account of Pliny the Younger. Pliny, who was a prominent governor, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan in 111 AD which recorded his investigation into the Christian movement. Among his findings that Christians would gather on Sunday to “chant verses alternately among themselves, in honour of Christ as if to God”. Pliny saw that Christians believed Jesus to be God as evidenced by his resurrection on a Sunday.
In short, there is a ton of evidence that point to the historical truth of a risen Jesus. What does it mean? I close with the words of Jesus himself in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”