The resurrection of Jesus: the crown jewel of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is just simply no such thing as Christianity. Thankfully, we are at a point in history where we have a wealth of historical evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. While there are multiple lines of evidence, I want to focus on three facts related to the testimonial evidence for this epic historical event.
I. Diverse The appearances were diverse in at least a couple of ways: He appeared to not just individuals, but also to groups. Also, He appeared to people of diverse dispositions such as friends, skeptics and enemies.
-Appeared To Individuals and Groups: Jesus appeared not only to individuals such as Peter, James or Paul, but also to groups (I Cor. 15:5-9). The group appearances rule out the hallucination hypotheses due to the fact that it would unprecedented that multiple groups of people have the same hallucination at the same time. That would be a psychological miracle!
-Appeared To Followers/Friends: After His death, many of Jesus’ closest companions had an experience of Jesus which they firmly believed to be Jesus alive after His death. He appeared to the women at the tomb (John 20:14-17), He appeared to Peter (I Cor. 15:5), He appeared to James (I Cor. 15:7), and He appeared to the 12 (I Cor. 15:5). He even stayed for 40 days showing many infallible proofs before ascending into heaven (Acts 1:3)!
-Appeared To Skeptics: Jesus brother, James, was a skeptic and mocked His brother before the resurrection (John 7:1-5). After that we have James being martyred for his belief that His brother was the Jewish Messiah recorded in Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter 9).
-Appeared To Enemies: Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, was an enemy of the Christian movement and was enthusiastic about persecuting the church through the imprisonment and death of its adherents (Acts 8:1-4, 22:4). His reputation was such that when God intervened to have a Christian go and witness to him about the Gospel he was hesitant because of what he knew about Paul (Acts 9:12-16)! So what, other than a resurrection appearance, would have an enemy of Christianity worshipping its leader?
II. Appearances Were Physical/Real, Not Visionary -The Physicality of the Appearances: When Jesus appeared to His disciples they were not visionary appearances because Jesus walked through a locked door (John 20:19, 26), ate a meal with them (John 21:10-13) and even had them physically engage with His wounds (John 20:27). This does not happen in a vision that is internal to one’s own mind. The appearances were real and physical.
-Paul’s Appearance Was Physical, Not Visionary: On the road to Damascus Paul, an enemy of Christianity, experienced an appearance of the risen Jesus that He counted among the appearances in his letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15:8-9). Many try to explain this as visionary, but the record of the appearance tells us something else, namely that it was a physical experience of the risen Jesus. There were others with Paul who were affected by this event, they saw a great light and heard a voice but couldn’t understand what was being said. I think that is due to the fact that Jesus was speaking in Hebrew to Paul which Kirk MacGregor has pointed out. 1 It also blinded Paul. So this wasn’t a vision that Paul had that was internal to his own consciousness, rather this was an actual physical appearance of the risen Jesus.
III. Powerful Testimony -Friends, Skeptics and Enemies Went To Their Death Affirming the Truth of the Resurrection: We have recorded the death of Peter and Paul who as noted above were both followers of Jesus, but Peter started out that way and Paul was an enemy who because of Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus became a loyal follower.
Objection: People will do almost anything because they believe something strong enough, such as fly planes into buildings, etc. How is this “powerful” testimony that these people went to their deaths over this?
Response: While many will do extraordinary things, even terrible things, because of a strong conviction they have, this is different. This testimony differs in a serious way because while those who fly planes into buildings have a strong conviction of what they believe based on testimony which they themselves cannot verify as being true, those who claim to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus were in a position to know if it was true or false, because the belief originated with them. In other words, they knew for a fact whether it was made up or was true! Micheal Licona explains,
“No one questions the sincerity of the Muslim terrorist who blows himself self up in a public place or the Buddhist monk who burns himself alive as a political protest. Extreme acts do not validate the truth of their beliefs, but their willingness to die indicates that they are sincerely convinced of the truth of their beliefs. Moreover, there is an important difference between tween the martyred apostles and those who die for their beliefs today. Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs passed along to them by others. The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus. Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true. The disciples of Jesus suffered and were willing to die for what they knew to be either true or false.”1
Conclusion: I think that evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, once examined and weighed against other varying hypotheses is very compelling. While in the above article I haven’t surveyed the entire body of evidence, rather, I focused specifically on three facts about a small part of the evidence as a whole, I would encourage you to so! Below is a very small list of resources to help you get started on that journey:
- The Son Rises by William Lane Craig
- The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael Licona
- Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact Or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig And Gerd Ludemann edited by Paul Copan and Ronald Tacellie
- Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics 3rd edition (chapters 7-8) by William Lane Craig