The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the climax of the New Testament. If it really happened, it is a historical event of such magnitude that it affects every person on the face of the earth. Why? Because it powerfully demonstrates that Jesus is God (Rom. 1:4). Who else could overcome death by rising bodily from the dead? Furthermore, Jesus promised that we too can be resurrected to eternal life by accepting Him as Lord and by believing in His resurrection (10:9). Thus our salvation rests on the authenticity of His resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:17–19, the apostle Paul explains: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ [died as Christians] are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (NIV).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ not only offers the most dramatic and explicit evidence for His deity, but it also guarantees our own eternal salvation. His rising from the dead is the culmination, the capstone, of all other Christian evidences.
But how do we know it really happened? How do we know the resurrection is a matter of historical fact? Let’s consider the evidence.
1. The Prophetic Witness
When we turn to the four Gospels, we find that all of them record Jesus predicting His death and resurrection from the dead in three days (Matt. 6:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; John 2:19–21). Moreover, Jesus claimed He would raise Himself from the grave (John 10:17–18)—an obvious claim to be God because only God can resurrect the dead. And when the scribes and Pharisees asked Him for a “sign” to prove His identity, Jesus prophesied His coming resurrection (Matt. 12:38–40). It takes little reflection to realize that if Jesus did not know who He was (the Son of God) and that He would die and raise Himself again in three days, He would not have risked destroying His new religious movement with false prophecy, especially in a Jewish context that placed a high premium on accurate predictions.
2. Legal Criteria
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was observed by eyewitnesses to the event and recorded by them in documents of proven historical reliability, and no shred of historical, archaeological, scientific, or circumstantial evidence has ever been presented to disprove it.
3. History’s Contribution
The most sensational evidence found in history for the validity of Christ’s resurrection is the changed lives of the apostles. Matthew 26:56 reports that after Jesus was arrested by the Jewish leaders, “all the disciples deserted him and fled” (NIV). John 20:19 adds that some of the disciples even hid themselves behind locked doors for fear of reprisal by the Jewish religious leaders. From these and other passages, we get the picture of a group of disenchanted and extremely frightened men. Even Peter, Jesus’s most stalwart disciple, denied Christ three times to protect his own life. But something happened to these terrified men that turned them into bold spokesmen and diligent workers for Christ, men willing to forsake everything, including their lives, to spread the good news about Him. Only the resurrection could adequately account for such a dramatic turnaround.
By the time of Pentecost, just a few weeks after Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances, the same cowardly, panic-stricken apostles were boldly and publicly preaching the risen Christ in the very city and before the very authorities that had crucified Him. They no longer feared death, and no amount of persecution could silence them.
The evidence is conclusive: Jesus Christ, three days after His death and burial, rose from the grave alive in bodily form, thereby demonstrating that He is God. Every alternate explanation for the resurrection fails the tests of historical investigation. The best explanation for the empty tomb, post-resurrection appearances, changed lives of the disciples, and all the other historical facts surrounding the resurrection event is that Jesus Christ really did rise from the grave.
The Bible teaches that at the end of this present age, all believers will be raised like Christ and be clothed in a resurrected, glorified, immortal body (1 Cor. 15:40–50; 1 John 3:2). Jesus is proof of that.
All that’s left is for us to heed Paul’s words: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9 NIV).