Resurrection: Reasonable or Ridiculous?
One of the core things I believe as a Christian is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This claim is central to the faith and absolutely necessary to the Christian gospel. Without the resurrection of Jesus, our Savior is still dead and so is any hope of forgiveness of sin or life beyond the grave.
Many skeptics accuse Christians of checking their brains at the door when it comes to believing the truth claims of the Bible. It’s assumed that to believe someone rose from the dead you must take an unjustified leap of faith or, even more extreme, just be a complete moron.
When I was 17 years old I began to question the faith I was raised with. I grew up in a Christian home and believed it all to be true my entire life. Towards the end of high school, however, I began to have my faith tested by people who were staunch atheists and could put forward arguments against Christianity which I could not refute. It became clear to me that I was a believer only because I was told by others I should be, and I lacked a personal faith of my own. As a result, I set out to discover for myself what I believed and why I believed it. Are there rational, reasonable reasons to believe in Jesus Christ? Or was I being a blind follower of a popular hoax?
Since the resurrection of Jesus is the main event upon which Christianity stands or falls, it became a focus in my investigation. In short, I discovered that believing that Jesus rose from the dead was not something only quacks affirm. To the contrary, I became convinced that it is the completely logical and obvious conclusion one would come to upon an honest examination of the evidence.
The following are some of the key evidences that convinced me to believe in Jesus and worship him as God.
1. The lack of a viable alternative explanation
The Bible teaches that after Jesus’ execution by crucifixion, his body went missing and he appeared to many people risen from the dead. The burden is on those who deny these events to provide explanations for how the resurrection was falsified.
- Jesus never existed. Some believe that Jesus is a completely fictional creation, not a real historical person at all. Yet the plain historical evidence suggests otherwise. Very few historians question that Jesus existed, and those who do have their work cut out for them in trying to make sense of how Christianity got started in the first place.
- Swoon theory. Some believe that Jesus never died on the cross but merely “swooned” and was later revived. If this is the case, how did Jesus survive the brutal beatings, whippings, and crucifixion? And even if he just passed out and was taken down before dying, how did he appear only three days later in full health? It would be impossible to convince people that he had risen from the dead if his wounds were still fresh.
- Look alike. Some believe that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but that someone who looked like him did instead. Then he just showed up a few days later, giving the appearance of a resurrection. But this theory is awfully weak. How could Jesus dupe so many people after having been a wildly popular public figure for three years? Surely someone would have been able to spot the difference.
- The body was stolen. Some believe that the disciples stole Jesus’ body in order to fake a resurrection. If this is the case, it means they (1) would have to steal the body from the tomb which was under Roman guard; (2) hide it somewhere or dispose of it; (3) convince others that they had seen him afterward; (4) somehow falsify his appearances to other people; (5) be willing to die for something they knew to be a lie.
None of these refutations of the resurrection are very sound suggestions. To believe them is a stretch of the evidence, rather than an honest assessment of the facts. The truth is that it is harder to disbelieve in the resurrection based on the evidence than it is to believe in it.
2. The early church martyrs
Just because someone is willing to die for their faith doesn’t mean their faith is necessarily more valid. After all, few people take the beliefs of suicide bombers to be persuasive just because they were willing to die for a greater cause. But there is a significant difference between modern-day religious martyrs and Christians of the first century. The difference between the two is that modern martyrs are going on second hand information, while the first Christian martyrs were actually there to witness the events themselves.
Many of the apostles and first Christian converts died bloody deaths because of their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. If the resurrection was a hoax, what would convince them to believe it? Or if they were in on the hoax, what would convince them to die for it? What was in it for them? To stand firm for Jesus meant torture or death. If you don’t believe in the resurrection, what is a reasonable explanation for why the early Christians were willing to die for their faith?
3. The explosion of Christianity
Jesus started with a group of 12 disciples. After his death, his number of committed followers numbered 120. About a week later (after the resurrection) that number had reached 3,000, and within a few decades it was in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions. And all this expansive growth happened amidst great persecution of Christians. Why would a movement grow explosively in an environment that was trying to violently stamp it out? The most reasonable explanation is that was true. If you don’t believe the resurrection actually happened, what is the reason for Christianity’s early growth?
4. The conversion of Jesus’ brothers
I like to ask people, What would it take for you to worship your brother as God? I have three brothers; the chance that I would ever honour any of them as the Creator of the universe is a big fat zero. It just isn’t gonna happen. And yet we see that Jesus’ brothers went from believing their brother was crazy to worshipping him as God. Two of them even went on to write books of the Bible, and one became the main pastor in Jerusalem. What could account for such a drastic change of mind? A resurrection would!
5. The role of women as first witnesses
If you were trying to create an elaborate lie, you would be careful to craft your story in a way that makes it sound as believable as possible. In the Bible, the first people to see the risen Christ are a group of women who went to the tomb early in the morning. They see Jesus alive and run to tell others. Why is this significant? Because in the cultural setting of Jesus’ day women were considered untrustworthy. In many instances, they were thought of so lowly that their testimony was not admissible in court. Given this kind of view of women, the worst possible thing the early disciples could have done is base their lie on the reliability of women. No one would ever voluntarily make women the key witnesses in a story of such importance—unless, of course, they were simply recording the facts.
6. The public nature of the events
Most religions are founded in private. An individual claims to have some sort of divine revelation—a dream, a word from God, a visit from an angel—and then begins to tell others about it. Of course, there is no real way to verify their claims. They just say that God has spoken to them and begin a new religion, and inevitably others will believe them.
Christianity, however, is different. It was founded completely in public. Jesus taught publicly, performed miracles publicly, was killed publicly, and raised publicly. It is one thing to convince people of a lie that you made up in private. It is quite another to convince them of a lie that supposedly took place in plan view of thousands of people. The first can be done easily, but the second not so much. The fact that Jesus was such a public figure, and that his number of followers exploded during the generation in which he lived, gives a great amount of credibility to the claims of the New Testament. The resurrection would be nearly impossible to falsify, since it took place for all to see.
These are just a few of the key arguments that have won me over into a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. To say that he rose from the dead is an astounding claim, but in my estimation the evidence to support it is about as strong as it could be. As I see it, those who believe the resurrection of Christ to be a ridiculous notion are not giving a fair shake to the evidence. In fact, to believe that Jesus rose from the dead is probably the most reasonable conclusion to come to when one looks at all the data and simply follows it to where it leads.