Did Jesus rise from the dead?

By Robert Kiser

This is a good question; although some would ask what difference does it make?

Well it is one thing that separates Jesus from all other religious leaders. As a matter of fact the Apostle Paul said that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then Christianity was a fraud and we are still in our sins. No other religious leader in history predicted their own death and bodily resurrection and left numerous eyewitnesses to testify to this fact.

So how do we know this is really true? How many people have you seen rise from the dead? It is certainly reasonable to question such a claim as this. Is the Bible the only evidence that we have? No it is not our only source in fact we can establish the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact without even using the Bible.

Josephus and Tacitus were both 1st century historians and neither one of them were Christians. Just between these two historians we can show that:

Jesus was a person that was alive around 30 A.D. Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross at the hands of Pontius Pilate. His death seemed to put an end to the followers of Jesus for a short time. Then Christianity arose in the same place where Jesus was crucified and buried. There were those that claimed Jesus rose from the dead. This belief spread from the location of the crucifixion to Rome.

We do not have to use the Bible at all to support this much as fact. We can quote from historians and others who lived at that time to establish this much and more of the story that is given to us in the gospels. Even the historical critics that do not believe the Bible can accept this much to be true.

Who were these people that claimed Jesus rose from the dead and is their testimony reliable? It is interesting that not all of these eyewitnesses were believers in Jesus before the resurrection. Paul and James were both unbelievers until after the resurrection. Paul was even out persecuting the followers of Christ until as he said he met the resurrected Jesus.

I find it kind of odd that Paul and James became believers only after the resurrection unless they actually believed it to be true.

Paul mentioned that there were more than 500 eyewitnesses most of whom were still alive in 1 Corinthians 15. This would be a rather foolish statement for Paul to make if it were not true. All the people would have to do is question where are these eyewitnesses? He would have been discredited immediately if there really wasn’t any.

Peter preached to a large group of people in Acts chapter 2 telling them that they themselves were aware of all of the miracles that Jesus performed. He goes onto retell the story of the crucifixion and tells them that he and others are eyewitness of the resurrection. About 3,000 people believed what Peter said and accepted Jesus and were baptized after this speech. That is rather hard to explain if the tomb was not empty because they were in walking distance from it at the time. It would also be very hard to explain if the eyewitness’s testimonies were not commonly known by the people.

The Bible mentions 20 of these eyewitnesses by name. These eyewitnesses did not just claim to get a glimpse of Jesus in some spirit form or anything like that after Jesus rose from the dead. They claimed they seen the imprints from the nails from his crucifixion and the place where the soldier pierced his side. They claimed to touch him, talk to him and eat with him on more than one occasion over a period of 40 days at which time some watched him bodily ascend into heaven. Now you can choose not to believe that it really happened, but that is what they claimed.

So we have more than 500 eyewitnesses some of who were non-believers before the resurrection claiming this to be true. Should we believe them? What if they were ALL lying? Let me share something that I find interesting. Simon Greenleaf was a professor of Law at Harvard University from 1833 to1848. He wrote a three volume work “A Treatise on the Laws of Evidence” that is still a classic in the area of law and evidence today. He took his knowledge of law and the rules of evidence and applied it to the testimony of the disciples. Simon Greenleaf said:

“Let (The Gospels) testimony be sifted, as it were an account given in a court of justice on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth.”

Now the Pharisees had political and personal motive to expose the disciples as liars if at all possible. The same could be said of the Sadducees and the Roman government. Yet the story of the resurrection prevailed in the one area that should have been the most difficult and unlikely, if it were indeed fabricated. The same area and time frame that Jesus was crucified and buried is where the story originated and grew.

Concerning these eyewitnesses what did they have to gain by spreading this story? What was their motive? John was exiled to the island of Patmos all of the rest of the disciples died violent deaths at different times for this belief that Jesus rose from the dead. What would cause someone to willingly die for a lie with no other apparent motive?

Sure today we can see that there are suicide bombers that willingly die for what they believe. What is the difference? The difference is in what they believed. The suicide bombers believe in their cause. The disciples of Jesus willingly died because they believed they seen, talked to, touched and ate with Jesus on several occasions after he rose from the dead.

Simon Greenleaf also said “If then their testimony was not true, there was no possible motive for this fabrication.” (The Testimony of the Evangelists, page 32, by Simon Greenleaf)

We are left with the historical fact that Jesus was crucified and buried. More than 500 eyewitnesses claimed to see him alive after the resurrection. These people claimed to see him, touch him, talk with him and eat with him. After a 40 day period some of them claimed to watch him bodily ascend into heaven. Many of these people died violent deaths for claiming this to be true.

Our evidence of the resurrection does not rest solely upon the Bible. We have documentation from 1st century historians and other writers that lived during that time. We have eyewitness accounts that were willing to die for their testimony of this fact.

Most people reject the resurrection not because of lack of evidence, but rather from a preconceived notion that it is impossible. I suggest to you that it is not wise to let our preconceived ideas determine truth. Rather let us carefully examine the evidence and let the facts of the case determine the truth.

If you are a currently a non-believer I must warn you. There have been other non-believers with great minds who were critical thinkers who have seriously accepted this challenge and became believers in the process.

For a more detailed examination of this subject with references see ReasonableAnswers.org

Robert Kiser is the author of 4 books and the ReasonableAnswers.org website.

His website explains and defends the Christian Faith. It also includes a section on Cults including Mormonism and Jehovah Witnesses.

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