- Did Jesus rise from the dead?
The entire Christian faith depends on the answer to this question. The fact is, either Jesus did, or did not rise from the dead. For the sake of time, I will briefly describe 3 facts in support of the resurrection of Jesus. However, there is a great deal of evidence outside of these which I do not bring up.
Proof #1: The short period between the resurrection and eyewitness testimonies and the nature of the first eyewitnesses
When records of a historical event are written close to the time of the event itself, they are considered safe and reliable evidence. On the other hand, if we have records of that event written long after its end, then those records are not as reliable. In regard to the New Testament, Dr. William Craig says it in this way:
The crucial gap is not between the evidence and today. It’s between the evidence and the events described by that evidence. If the gap between the events and the evidence for those events is short, then how long it’s been since the evidence of those events to the present day is just irrelevant. Good evidence doesn’t become bad evidence simply because of the lapse of time.
As for the resurrection of Jesus, the facts of His death, burial, and bodily resurrection were considered to be reliable within only months of the events because the resurrection was testified by over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus after the events. Specifically, in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, the first witnesses to come forward were Hebrew women. This is significant because in this first century middle eastern patristical culture, women were not regarded as reliable eyewitnesses or witnesses in general. Had the resurrection been merely made up, those fabricating the story would have had no motivation to make the first eyewitnesses women. They would have known the eyewitnesses being women would not hold up for their intended audience had they fabricated the story.
From this, almost right out of the gate, the resurrection was widely known and regarded as something more than a warm, cozy bedtime story, but rather as something that happened as a turning point in Israel’s (and the world’s) history because of the vast amount of eyewitnesses who testify to seeing Jesus after the resurrection.
Proof #2: The empty tomb
The Gospels claim the body of Jesus was taken to the tomb which belonged to Joseph (Mk 15:42-47; Mt 27:57-61; Lk 23:50-56; Jn 19:38-42). The tomb was discovered empty three days later (Lk 24; Jn 20). The empty tomb is crucial, for if the body of Jesus had been discovered, the entire Christian faith would have been proven false. Since the tomb was owned by a specific person, Joseph, there is also no reason to assume the eyewitnesses went to the wrong tomb (Mt 27:57-61).
Moreover, the Jewish tradition is that the disciples of Jesus took the body at night while the Roman guards were asleep (Mt 28:11-15). However, if a Roman guard were to do this, he would have been put to death for not doing his job by letting the body be “stolen.” Thus, Roman guards would have more motivation to stay awake since their lives depended on it.
The Apostle Peter, in particular, draws on a contrast between myths and eyewitness accounts; “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16). Peter reassures his original audience, and us, that these are things they (he and the other Apostles) saw with their eyes. These events happened historically, are recorded by historical antiquity as factual, and are trustworthy for you and me. This very historical inquiry of the claims found in the Bible is one of many things that sets Christianity apart from other world religions.
Proof #3: Martyrdom of the Apostles
One would be willing to die for that which they think is true (in the case of radical Muslims, for example, some claim that they do nothing different than what the Apostles did, that is, die for their faith), but the truth is no one would be willing to die for what they know is a lie. Thus, the Apostles, who claimed first-hand knowledge of Christ, would have been apt to deny the story of Christ had they had fabricated the story. As you can see, the two are in no way similar in terms of dying for their beliefs.
The Apostles of Jesus Christ were killed for the sake of the Gospel. They would not stop teaching what Jesus taught and did. Peter, Paul, and Matthew, to name a few, were all martyred for their faith. These Apostles were the ones who proclaimed these things as primary eyewitnesses.
In fact, Peter and Paul, two of the most prominent influences in the NT outside of Jesus, endured unimaginable pain because they would not stop telling the truth about Christ. To make this terrible pain stop, all they had to do was simply denounce their faith, say it was a lie, and the pain would have ceased. Why did they not do that? If it was a lie fabricated by the apostles, they would have said it was so under such horrible pain since no one would be willing to die, much less endure torture, for something they know is a lie. Instead, Paul was willing to be beheaded, and so he was. Not only was Peter willing to die for his faith as well, but he insisted that he be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and Savior. Since the apostles are eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry and sanctifying work and were willing to die for testifying about these things, it is clear their testimony is trustworthy when you take into account the pressure they experienced to say it was a lie.