Can a well-educated person really believe all that “Jesus stuff”? Is there compelling evidence to support a faith in the Jesus of the Bible—a man who claims to be God, who claims to be the giver of eternal life and who claims to be the source of absolute truth?
The answer to these questions begins with one central block, one foundation. If this central block is true, we're set. If it is false, everything we believe in Christianity is a hoax. That central block is the resurrection.
The validity of our faith is held up by the intellectual feasibility of the resurrection. Put simply, if Christ didn't die on the cross and come alive again three days later, our faith is worthless. Think I'm being over zealous? Consider what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:13, "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith is also in vain."
The writers of scripture say that if the resurrection—the literal physical bodily resurrection of Jesus—isn't true, Christianity doesn't hold water. Here are six brief reasons why the resurrection is true and ultimately why we can put our faith in Jesus.
One: The Historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is Airtight
Did He really exist? Did that really happen? Or is this like King Arthur? Is it myth, legend, or did Jesus of Nazareth historically live in space and time and walk upon the earth?
The reality of His historicity is airtight. The quality and quantity of the biblical manuscripts as well as first century Greek documents overwhelmingly demonstrate that He actually lived.
The New Testament is built on history. An example of this history stems from Luke 2:2 where we learn that at the time of Jesus' birth a census was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. In the last 30 years an archeologist has found a coin with the name Quirinius on it placing him as proconsul of Syria from 11 B.C. until after the death of Herod—confirming Luke's account (Luke 2:1).
In the last thirty years archeologists have one after the other, after the other found specific archeological facts validating people in New Testament times. For example, in the gospel of John the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1), the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7), Jacob's Well (John 4:12) and the Stone Pavement near the Jaffa Gate (John 19:13) have all been located.
Two: The Works of Jesus Went Unchallenged
Stories and miracles; feeding five thousand people, raising people from the dead, lame men walking, blind men seeking, that's pretty incredible stuff, did Jesus really do that?
One of the most important things to note is that Jesus' miracles were never disputed by his foes. His number one archenemy, the Jewish establishment, never claimed that His miracles ceased to occur. They attested to the feats Jesus had done, however they attributed His power to Satan (Matthew 12:24). Yet, Jesus disputed their claim immediately, saying, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?" (Matthew 12:25).
They never questioned the validity they only questioned the source; and Jesus knew how to deal with it. That's powerful! He was making outrageous claims and He backed His statements up with miracles -- power over nature, unprecedented teaching, divine insights into people, etc. He healed chronic illnesses in mere seconds, such as blindness and leprosy.
Three: The Identity of Jesus Was Confirmed
The third reason I believe that Jesus rose from the dead is the identity of Jesus was confirmed. Not only do we need to ask did He really exist? Did He do those works? But you have to ask, who did He claim to be? Did Jesus think He was God? Yes, He did, and not only did Jesus believe that He was God, but throughout the New Testament others refer to Him as God.
Four: The Death of Jesus Was Undisputed
One of the central arguments used by critics claims that Jesus didn't die. They argue that He was given special herbs and spices and it only appeared as though He had died or that He had faked His death. Theories such as these are just not possible. In The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel interviews Dr. Alexander Metherell on the evidence behind the crucifixion. The details are gory and, at the same time, remarkable. Much of the following information is taken from that interview.
The night before His death, Jesus stayed up all night praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He was under such stress that a medical abnormality caused by a high degree of psychological stress called, hematidrosis occurred—Jesus sweat blood. Luke 22:44 reads, "And, being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground."
Flogging involves the use of a whip made of rawhide. In the middle of the rawhide are steel-like balls and at the very end of the rawhide are pieces of bone. The Roman executioners would put them on a pole and when flogging they would swing it so it would wrap around the body. The balls would hit and cause major contusions to the organs and then the pieces of bone would cut into the flesh. As it was pulled away it would rip the flesh right off.
Thirty-nine lashes was the legal limit because few individuals ever lived past thirty-nine lashes. Jesus received all thirty-nine and was within an inch of his life when the Roman guards beat Him with their fists.
He's up all night, He's within an inch of His life, and then He gets beat up. He's in such a weakened condition that He can hardly carry the beam of His own cross, and then He was crucified (Matthew 27:1).
Crucifixion causes a person to die from suffocation rather than pain. As the criminal's arms were up on the cross the executioners would bend his legs and put a nail between both ankles so that he could push up with his legs and pull himself up, but as he hung his arms would quickly dislocate.
Then tetanus would begin to happen and his arms would start to freeze. The criminal would pull himself up, as his internal organs would begin to slide down. Trying to get a breath compensated the pain of pulling himself up and he would ultimately suffocate.
It has been called historically one of the cruelest forms of torture and death ever devised. If that's not enough, they didn't break Jesus' legs to ensure that He was dead, they instead took a spear and they gashed into His side, and what's interesting is that it says when they gashed His side water and blood came out (John 19:34).
Five: The Burial of Jesus Was Public and Secured
As the evidence for Jesus' divinity mounts critics try to disprove as many theories as they can. The two most popular stories critics use to invalidate the resurrection are that the disciples went to the wrong tomb and secondly, that the disciples stole the body.
First, let's examine the facts. The tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin (the High Counsel), who was a dissenting vote on the decision to crucify Jesus. He was a high profile wealthy man whose tomb was prominent; people knew where it was. Foremost, the disciples would not have gone to the wrong tomb, because they were the very ones who wrapped Jesus' body for burial and placed Him in the tomb (John 19:38).
Additionally, guards were placed at this tomb. Roman Guards were put there because the authorities had heard rumblings about Jesus' teachings and that He claimed He was going to come back from the dead (Matthew 27:63). Roman guards knew their job as militia and, if they fell asleep on the job, their lives were at stake. In addition to the guards, the authorities put a seal on the tomb and breaking a Roman seal was an offense punishable by death. This was a very serious, very guarded, ‘follow all the right procedures', burial. Never had a criminal give so much worry after his execution. Above all, never had a crucified man had the honour of being guarded by a squad of soldiers.
His burial is convincing beyond a shadow of the doubt; convincing in that the preponderance of the evidence points to the fact that He was dead and that He rose from the dead? See the question is: are there hard facts, hard facts that you could put in any court of law then or now that really prove and demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt, or is this resurrection just wishful thinking? Let's look at some more evidence.
Six: The Evidence for His Resurrection is Convincing
Old Testament prophets predicted both the resurrection and Jesus' entire life—it wasn't new. Hundreds of years prior to these events they were prophesied, predicted if you will. It was predicted that His side would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10, fulfilled John 19:34), His heart broken (Psalms 22:14 fulfilled John 19:34), His bones left unbroken (Psalms 34:20, fulfilled John 19:33) and that He would be buried in a rich man's tomb (Isaiah 53:9, fulfilled Matthew 27:45). These are just a few of over 300 Old Testament predictions that Jesus fulfilled.
Not only that but Jesus predicted openly and numerously that He would die on the cross and rise again three days later (Matthew 16:21, Matthew 17:9, Matthew 17:22, Matthew 20:18, Mark 9:10, John 2:18, Luke 9:22). It was public, it was known. Jesus made this claim and held onto His intentions.
He also appeared twelve different times to well over five hundred witnesses after He rose from the dead. He appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:14), the women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9), Peter (Luke 24:34), the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13), the apostles (John 20:26), James (1 Corinthians 1:7), and to the group of 500 believers on a Galilean mountain (1 Corinthians 1:6) just to name a few.
What Does It All Mean?
The resurrection is a historical fact, verifiable in the same manner and by the same means that we verify any other historical fact. There's as much substantiated evidence and history and confirmation that Jesus is all He said He was, did all He said He did, and rose from the dead, as there is of any man who was president a hundred years ago.
The implications of this history are threefold.
One, it validates Jesus' claim; "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
Second, it gives absolute hope for the future in that we have freedom here on earth (Romans 6:7).
Third, Jesus died, He rose again, He is at the right hand of the Father and He has prepared a place for every single person who would look at the evidence and, by faith, receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16).
John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world," that means you, "that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
God is not down on people. He didn't send Jesus to point out what a sinner everybody is and just leave it at that.
He sent Jesus to forgive.
The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel
Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell
Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias
Letters From a Skeptic, Gregory A. Boyd
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
Excerpted from Why I Believe, a booklet by Chip Ingram; based on the series Why I Believe.
Used with permission. Copyright by Chip Ingram. All rights reserved.
About the author: Chip Ingram is President of Walk Thru the Bible in Atlanta, GA, and Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge, a national radio ministry.