The most important claim for Christianity is that Jesus has risen, a claim that have been tested and tried throughout the history of Christianity.
The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is the reason the church still stands.
When Jesus’ followers witnessed him die on a cross, they were utterly defeated. Yet, only three days later, the triumphant news, “I have seen the Lord!” would begin to rapidly spread (John 20:18).
Those who question or object to Jesus’ resurrection must face two historical facts: 1) Multitudes of people claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus, and 2) no satisfactory reason can be given for why these witnesses would lie.
The morning of Easter Sunday, Jesus’ tomb lay empty as Mary Magdalen stood outside, weeping. She supposed someone had stolen his body. However, as she stood there, Jesus himself appeared to her. “Mary,” he called out to her, and “She turned and said to him, ‘Teacher!’” (John 20:16).
What follows is a line of miraculous accounts about Jesus’ resurrected body, appearing to the disciples along road-sides (Luke 24:13-33), behind locked doors (John 19:20) and even on the beach as he made breakfast for his followers (John 21:9-10). On one occasion, Jesus was seen among 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6).
While Jesus appeared to many who followed him, he also appeared to those who did not believe he was the Messiah like his brother James and the apostle Paul. Once they saw him after his death, they gave their lives for him.
Of all of these accounts, a unifying theme can be seen: Once people had talked, walked or even felt Jesus, they were overcome with joy and compelled to tell others about their experience.
Do we have any reason to believe their testimony, though?
All of reality hinges upon whether or not the disciples were telling the truth about Jesus. If they were lying, Jesus was no more than any other historic figure for the books. If the disciples’ testimony was true, then Jesus is God. So, it’s incredibly important that we be convinced that they were telling the truth.
Perhaps we ought to approach the topic like homicide detectives would.
First, they determine what may motivate their suspect to lie. How might the suspect attempt to protect themselves or their reputation by lying? What does the suspect have to gain from lying?
Is their Testimony True?
The most common accusation against the disciples is that they lied about the resurrection and invented a religion in order to gain power, wealth and fame. This argument, however, has a few logic flaws that quickly present themselves.
First, all the disciples were Jewish theists. They were rigorously raised under the Torah, exclusively acknowledged a monotheistic God and strictly adhered to Jewish tradition. Creating a new religion would mean lying against the God of the universe, the God they were raised to fear, and risking eternal damnation.
Second, Jewish people had a different concept of the Messiah than modern believers. The vast majority were certain that the Messiah would liberate Israel from their oppressors by force. Jews would have had a very difficult time believing their Messiah did not arrive to overthrow the Roman empire. Instead, he died on a cross, the most shameful death possible, according to Jewish law: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
If the disciples were lying, why make it so difficult for others to believe, particularly people from their own culture and religious background?
Third, if this religion was based exclusively on the disciples’ falsified claims to have seen the risen Jesus, why did none of them ever departed from this claim? If it was a lie, the harsh affliction they faced—beatings, floggings, stonings, and being condemned as outcasts—would have made at least one cave and admit it was all a sham.
Instead, all 11 endured through the persecution to testify that Jesus had appeared to them. They were willing to carry out this message no matter the cost.
It’s also interesting to note that as the disciples dispersed throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe, their witness never changed the original message, even decades later. Their writings and testimonies display an overwhelming degree of continuity.
The Only Reason Left for Denial
Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, on investigating the resurrection for himself, wrote, “By the time I finished investigating those who claimed to see Jesus rise from the grave, I realized that none of these eyewitnesses had a good reason to lie. While later believers were willing to die (as an act of faith) for what they did not see with their own eyes, the original eyewitnesses were willing to die (as an act of certainty) for what they did see.”
An honest look at history reveals that something astonishing took place for these men. After examining the resurrection testimonies and the lives of these men, we cannot reasonably deny Jesus’ resurrection.
If we do, it is more likely that we are lying to ourselves than the disciples lying to us. We must take a hard look at what’s preventing us from believing in the eye-witness testimonies.
The objections to belief aren’t as airtight as the testimonies themselves.
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If this article interests you, you may also enjoy “Jesus’ Empty Tomb: Elaborate Hoax or Simple Fact”.