As we are approaching Easter and I am also continuing in my series on Apologetics, I thought I would combine the two themes and look at the evidence available for the resurrection of Jesus. As this event is probably the most important aspect of the Christian faith, many opponents of Christianity have constantly sought to undermine it and come up with alternative explanations. But the case I am going to present to you today is well attested by many people and has never been successfully refuted. The case is a strong one and just as for the evidence for God, the facts are formed one upon another until a very compelling case has been built
Even secular historians will admit that there is enough evidence from history that a man called Jesus actually existed, that he was a Jewish teacher and that he died under the hand of the Romans. There is also plenty of evidence for the claims that three days after he was crucified, he somehow came back to life. His followers then spread Christianity throughout the whole Roman empire and His teachings are still followed today.
The first question to consider is “Is the New Testament reliable?” Many critics during the 19thcentury doubted its authenticity but as more and more archaeological discoveries have been unearthed, the more they have supported what was written. This adds a lot of weight to its authenticity. Also the sheer volume of the various manuscripts that are available support it. This has also led to the evidence that these accounts were written at the time or shortly afterwards, rather than hundreds of years later. To put it simply, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus has more evidence for it than any other event in all of ancient history.
The New Testament witnesses were fully aware of the background against which the resurrection took place. The body of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish burial custom, was wrapped in a linen cloth. This was covered by about 100 pounds of aromatic spices. The body was then placed in a solid rock tomb, an extremely large stone weighing approximately 2 tons was then rolled against the entrance of the tomb. This tomb was then guarded by well disciplined Roman guards who ‘sealed’ the tomb with a Roman seal. To break the seal would have incurred the wrath of Roman law and the punishment would have meant crucifixion for the perpetrators. This was one of the first facts of the crucifixion: The Roman seal was broken.
The second fact was; The tomb was empty.Both Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the “Toledoth Jeshu.” Dr. Paul Maier calls this “positive evidence from a hostile source, which is the strongest kind of historical evidence. In essence, this means that if a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favour, then that fact is genuine.” Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, put forth the suggestion that the rise of the Christian movement was God’s doing; he could not have done that if the tomb were still occupied, or if the Sanhedrin knew the whereabouts of Christ’s body.
The third fact was; That the large stone was moved the most likely ones to have done this were the disciples, but they had all fled in fear. They certainly weren’t capable of overcoming a crack squad of Roman soldiers, neither would the Jewish authorities who would have no reason to move the body. The Roman soldiers would have no reason either. It is highly likely that an empty tomb would have led to their execution for not fulfilling their duties. But the clear fact was that the next day the stone had indeed been rolled away from the entrance, the seal had been broken and no guards were to be seen (which was the fourth fact).
A fifth fact is a small point but not insignificant and that is that the grave clothes were lying in the tomb, obviously with nobody inside them. The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothes—undisturbed in form and position.
The sixth fact of the resurrection were the numerous sightings of Jesus by many people over a number of days. The more witnesses, the more likelihood of the truth of the claims. One of the earliest records of Christ’s appearing after the resurrection is by Paul. The apostle appealed to his audience’s knowledge of the fact that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. Paul reminded them that the majority of those people were still alive and could be questioned as witnesses.
Another factor crucial to interpreting Christ’s appearances is that He also appeared to those who were hostile or unconvinced. No author or informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus as being a follower of Christ. The facts show the exact opposite. Saul despised Christ and persecuted Christ’s followers. It was a life-shattering experience when Christ appeared to him. Although he was at the time not a disciple, he later became the apostle Paul, one of the greatest witnesses for the truth of the resurrection.
Next week I am going to look at a few arguments and objections people have put forward against these facts of the resurrection and see how believable they are.