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Why Is Jesus' Bodily Resurrection So Important?

We say that Christ rose on the third day, but what evidence do we actually have to back that up?

Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 12, 2023
Why Is Jesus' Bodily Resurrection So Important?

Jesus’ bodily resurrection is an unmatched claim. Most religions hang their evidence on their philosophy. They claim secret knowledge, enlightenment, or visions—things that can’t be easily poked, prodded, and disproven. Christianity is the only religion that risks everything on a claim about a public historical event. In the Apostle Paul’s words:

“And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19, NLT)

The early church considered Jesus’ resurrection essential—and persuasive. But why? Does Jesus’ resurrection impact what he taught? What evidence did early Christians have for such a wild claim? Can we point to any evidence today?

Does the Bible Prophecy that Jesus Would Have a Bodily Resurrection?

To understand the significance of Jesus’ resurrection claim, we first have to consider the mission of the Messiah. One of the largest, most detailed messianic prophecies is found in Isaiah 53. The passage poses an interesting problem. The prophecy says that no one cared that the Messiah's “died without descendants, that his "life was cut short in midstream” (53:8). Then, after describing how the Messiah was killed despite doing nothing wrong, buried in a wealthy man’s grave, the prophecy says “when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands” (53:10). How could the Messiah have his life cut short, be buried in a grave, and die,dying with no descendants, yet enjoy a long life and see many descendants? It doesn’t seem to make sense. Still, these verses clearly refer to the same person.

When Jesus rose from the dead, after paying the price for sins, he gave all who believed the right to become God’s children (John 1:12). This is only one piece of what Jesus fulfilled from Isaiah 53, but it’s something that no one else could claim to have accomplished.

Why Did Jesus Need a Bodily Resurrection?

Jesus’ death was necessary to pay for our sins. However, his resurrection was necessary to show us his sacrifice worked. Paul describes this in Romans 5-6 and 1 Corinthians 15.

“But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either... And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-22, NLT)

Jesus’ resurrection proves that his promises are true—our sins are forgiven, our death is temporary, and our eternity is secure.

But is there any evidence for that resurrection?

What Evidence Does the Bible Give for Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection?

Many skeptics claim, “you can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible.” But let’s suppose the New Testament isn’t the inspired Word of God, and it may be mistaken or lying. That doesn’t change the fact that it is a compilation of historical documents with first-century claims about Jesus. What can we learn about the historical context from how those claims were made?

Evidence #1: The 1 Corinthians 15 Creed

Some internet skeptics claim that Jesus was just a legendary figure and that the story of his resurrection developed over hundreds of years. Serious scholarship (Christian and otherwise) laughs at this claim.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul quotes an early church creed—one even non-Christian scholars believe was in use within five years of Christ’s death.

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7, NLT)

This early creed announces the resurrection in no uncertain terms, demolishing Internet claims that a legend developed over time. It even describes multiple appearances and one with hundreds of witnesses—many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (the A.D. 50s).

It’s one thing to claim someone rose from the dead in a faraway country with witnesses nobody knows. It’s another to make that claim in the backyard of the place it occurred, mentioning several neighbors who were there to see it. But that’s what the early church was doing—and people found their case persuasive.

#2. The Empty Tomb

After the claims of Jesus’ resurrection spread, the logical solution for Jesus’ enemies should have been to take Jesus’s body from the tomb and display it to the public. But that wasn’t what happened...

“They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.” (Matthew 28:13-15)

Let’s put on our skeptics’ caps for a moment. Even if this entire passage from Matthew was fabricated, it still tells us something about the early church’s enemies. This section was clearly written against a widespread anti-Christian argument that the disciples had stolen the body. Hence, the statement implies that Jesus’ enemies couldn’t just retrieve his body to prove the disciples wrong. The body must have been gone for people to resort to this argument. Admitting the tomb was empty was not what the Romans and Pharisees would want to publicize if they had another choice.

#3. The Criterion of Embarrassment

Suppose the disciples did steal the body so they could become the respected leaders of a new religion. In that case, why would they tell a story that would hurt their credibility (and was outright embarrassing)?

In ancient times, the witness of a woman was considered less reliable than a man’s. Celsus, an early critic of Christianity, mocked the “hysterical woman” who was the first to see the empty tomb. Yet all four gospels describe women being the first to discover the resurrection, and the early Christians stood by that claim.

Even more embarrassing is the gospels’ description of the disciples. The pillars of the early church abandoned Jesus. Peter even denied he knew Jesus. Three days after Jesus’ death, the disciples weren’t anticipating Jesus’ resurrection: they were cowering in a room with the doors locked. When the women brought the news, the disciples doubted them. And even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, some still doubted (Matthew 28:17).

If the disciples wanted to inspire people to follow them, they should have offered a more polished, flattering story. Instead, their story stinks of embarrassment—and rings with truth.

#4. Persecution of the Apostles

The early church was heavily persecuted. Over and over, the Bible describes the apostles suffering for their belief in the resurrection. Acts 12:2 even describes James (the brother of John) being killed over it.

Why would anyone put themselves through incredible suffering for something they knew was a lie? Jesus had been arrested and tortured to death days earlier. John and the women brave enough to watch must have had those horrors burned into their minds. Why would they risk crucifixion themselves? As time went on and they were imprisoned, beaten, and murdered, why didn’t any of them abandon the lie to save their skins?

It’s hard for one person to maintain a lie under pressure. But for eleven people to maintain that lie? That’s not even counting the other named people (Cleopas and the women at the tomb). A single confession could unravel the whole lie.

Yet the apostles never stopped preaching the resurrection—and paid the ultimate price for it. History suggests that almost all of the apostles died violent deaths.

#5. Skeptics and Enemies Believed

It’s hard enough to explain the apostles dying for their beliefs. But what about the skeptics and even enemies of Jesus who became believers?

Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe he was the Messiah (John 7:3-5) and worried he was going crazy (Mark 3:20-21, 31). Yet two of them, James and Jude, became leaders in the church who wrote books included in the New Testament. Why would skeptics who’d known Jesus since he was a child suddenly change their minds and become leaders in the early church?

Paul, the man responsible for half the New Testament, was formerly a Pharisee who persecuted Christians. He was a rising star among the religious elite and a Roman citizen. What could inspire him to throw aside that pedigree? He was whipped, stoned, beaten, chased by murderous mobs, and repeatedly imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:16-33). Tradition holds that he died by decapitation in Rome. Why would he give up a life of comfort and power for that? Only one explanation seems to fit: he met the risen Christ (Acts 9:1-31).

How Was Jesus Different After His Bodily Resurrection?

Some claim that Jesus’ appearances after his bodily resurrection were “spiritual” or that the disciples hallucinated Jesus’ appearances. After all, Jesus appeared suddenly in the locked room the disciples were hiding in (John 20:19), and the disciples thought he was a ghost (Luke 24:37). However, Jesus had them touch him to feel that he was real, then ate some fish to demonstrate he was, in fact, alive (Luke 24:38-43).

Ghosts don’t eat, and these details hurt the hallucination theory. By definition, a hallucination happens within one individual’s mind. Perhaps one disciple could hallucinate a glimpse of Jesus’ face and persuade the others they’d all seen it too… but prolonged group conversations with Jesus? Touching him? Feeding him fish? A series of group hallucinations that were both visual, auditory, and kinesthetic would be a miracle on par with the resurrection itself!

Interestingly, the scars on Jesus’ hands, feet, and side were still there. Yet Jesus felt no pain. Thomas even put his hand in the wounds (John 20:27). From these descriptions, we know that Jesus’ body was familiar and recognizable, yet glorified and more wonderful than before.

We can be confident of Jesus’ resurrection—and one day, we will each receive a glorious body like his (Philippians 3:21).

For further reading:

What Is More Important, the Death of Christ or His Resurrection?

What Is the Significance of ‘They Found the Stone Rolled Away from the Tomb’?

Why Do We Say ‘He Has Risen’ During Easter?

Why Did Jesus Use the Same Body After the Cross?

What Is the Importance of the Empty Tomb?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kevinschreiber

Tim PietzTim Pietz is an editor, publicist, and sometimes, a writer (when he stops self-editing long enough to reach his word count). Tim’s editing business, InkSword Editing, serves a variety of fiction and nonfiction authors, and his blog offers free tips and tricks on navigating the publishing industry. In his free time, Tim enjoys roleplaying games, ultimate frisbee, and cheering on his favorite football team, the perpetually heartbreaking Minnesota Vikings. 

Learn more about the meaning and significance behind the Easter holiday and Holy Week celebrations:

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What is Ash Wednesday? and When is Ash Wednesday?
What is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What is Good Friday? and When is Good Friday?
What is Holy Saturday?

What is Easter? and When is Easter Sunday?
Easter Bible Verses
The Resurrection of Jesus 
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