By Josh McDowell and Don Stewart
Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? Does it really matter whether He did or He didn’t?
Ronald Gregor Smith gives a typical reply, “So far as historicity is concerned … it is necessary to explain: We may freely say that the bones of Jesus lie somewhere in Palestine. Christian faith is not destroyed by this admission.
“On the contrary, only now, when this has been said, are we in a position to ask about the meaning of the resurrection as an integral part of the message concerning Jesus.” (Secular Christianity, London, Collins, 1966, p. 103).
Contrary to this point of view, it does matter whether or not it is true that Christ came back from the dead because
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:12-19). If Jesus did not come back from the dead, then the Christian faith crumbles.
Fortunately, one of the most well-attested events in the ancient world is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. When confronted by the religious leaders of His day, Jesus was asked for a sign to demonstrate that He was the promised Messiah. He answered, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39, 40).
The sign of the resurrection was meant to set Jesus apart from anyone else who ever lived and would designate Him as the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
The accounts of His appearances are recorded for us by eyewitnesses to whom Jesus appeared alive over a forty-day period after His public crucifixion. As the Scriptural account sets forth, to these “He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Writing about A.D. 56, the Apostle Paul mentions the fact that more than 500 people had witnessed the resurrected Christ at some time and most of them were still living when he wrote (I Corinthians 15:6). This statement is somewhat of a challenge to those who might not have believed, since Paul is saying that there are many people yet living in his time who could be interviewed to find out if Christ had indeed risen.
The historical evidence is more than sufficient to satisfy the curiosity of the honest inquirer. This can be seen not only by the positive defense that can be made in support of the resurrection, but also by the lack of any evidence for an alternative explanation. The theories people have given in an attempt to present an alternative explanation to the resurrection take more faith to believe than
the resurrection itself.
Frank Morrison, who was an agnostic journalist, decided to write a book refuting the resurrection of Christ. After much investigation, his opinions were reversed and he became a believer in Jesus Christ. Instead of trying to disprove the resurrection, his writing substantiated it. This is how Morrison described what happened to him:
“This study is in some ways so unusual and provocative that the writer thinks it desirable to state here very briefly how the book came to take its present form. In one sense it could have taken no other, for it is essentially a confession, the inner story of a man who originally set out to write one kind of book and found himself compelled by the sheer force of circumstances to write another.”
“It is not the facts altered, for they are recorded imperishably in the monuments and in the pages of human history. But the interpretation of the facts underwent a change” (Who Moved the Stone? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, preface).
Morrison discovered that Christ was publicly put in the tomb on Friday, but on Sunday morning the body was missing. If He did not rise from the dead, then someone took the body. There are three interest groups that could possibly have taken the body: the Romans, the Jews, or the disciples.
The Romans would have had no reason to steal the body, since they wanted to keep the peace in Palestine. The idea was to keep the provinces as quiet as possible, and stealing the body of Christ would not have accomplished this objective.
The Jews would not have taken the body, because the last thing they wanted was to proclaim a resurrection. According to Matthew 27, the Jews were the ones who asked for the guard.
The disciples of Jesus had no reason to steal the body, and if they did, they later became martyrs for something they knew to be untrue. Moreover, the religion which they proclaimed emphasized telling the truth and not hiding behind lies. Their actions would have been inconsistent with that which they knew to be true and commanded others to observe.
The other reasonable explanation is that Christ did indeed rise, and the eye witnesses make it plain this is the case. The disciples of Jesus may not have been as
sophisticated as men in the 20th century as far as the realm of scientific knowledge is concerned, but they surely knew the difference between someone who was dead and someone who wasn’t.
As Simon Peter said, “We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (II Peter 1:16).
Yes, Christ IS risen. The Lord is risen indeed!
The above material was published by PSYCHOLOGY FOR LIVING, March-April 1993. This material may be copyrighted and should be used for study and research purposes only.