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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
Evidence of the Greatest Miracle in History
The Christian faith hinges upon the very resurrection of Jesus Christ. The scriptures attest to the importance of the resurrection as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15 12-19:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Therefore, what evidence is there outside of the New Testament to prove that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead? How can we know for sure what happened 2,000 years ago on that Sunday morning?
In the newsletter “Did Jesus Exist”, the Roman historian Tacitus was cited as one of the greatest historical attestations to the life of Christ. In his writings, Tacitus also records:
Christus, from whom the name [Christians] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…
The latter portion of the text is of particular interest as Tacitus notes that the superstitious nature of Jesus stopped for a moment, yet proceeded to break out unlike ever before. A consultation of New Testament accounts for the resurrection show that after Jesus had died, indeed all of his followers retreated into hiding as it seemed that Jesus was truly dead. This is the moment in which the “superstition” ceased. However, after the resurrection, Christianity exploded as it was spread across the Mediterranean and beyond. Now, what could be the reason for this sudden outbreak of believers? Even more so, why is it that Christianity spread with such a fervor unlike before? Surely the people would not have believed in a dead person. This scenario leaves a gaping hole in the center of the story as we begin to think about what inspired so many to commit their faith to Jesus.
This hole is perfectly filled with the story of the resurrection. There is no adequate reason why so many people would put their trust in a dead man. Well, the truth is, they didn’t! The people had some reason to believe that death was not the final say in the story of Jesus and therefore, His resurrection is the only means by which they would devote their lives to Him. When thinking of the resurrection as you reread the above quote by Tacitus, it then makes perfect sense as to why Christianity broke out again after a periodic silence.
Additionally, the resurrection site itself is quintessential in proving that Jesus actually rose from the dead. An analysis of the tomb of Jesus shows strong evidence that Jesus did indeed conquer death:
The lack of tomb veneration
There is no documented evidence to suggest that followers of Jesus gathered at the tomb to worship or hold ceremonies. This is because they knew Jesus was no longer within the tomb.
The Jewish desire to explain an empty tomb
In Matthew 28:11-15, the Jewish council did not deny that the tomb was empty, but rather sought to offer an alternate explanation for the empty grave. The fact that the enemies of Christ agreed that the tomb was empty is significant as it proves that it is a common ground everyone can agree on.
Christianity could not spread had the tomb been empty
The disciples would not be able to convert so many to Christianity if Jesus were still laid in His tomb. This is because a simple stroll over to the tomb would prove that Jesus was still dead and therefore, never rose again, thus ending the ministry altogether. However, this was not the case as Jesus’ body was indeed no longer in the tomb.
So why was the tomb empty? Where did Jesus’ body go? Many skeptics would likely jump to the obvious naturalistic conclusion that the body of Jesus was stolen by his followers to make it seem as though he rose. However, there are many errors with this conclusion.
The disciples also thought someone stole Jesus’ body
Scriptures such as Matthew 28:11-15, Luke 24:1-11, and John 20:13-15 illustrate that the disciples automatically doubted the miraculous resurrection of Christ. Had they conspired to steal His body, why would they jump to the conclusion that His body was stolen? This theory does not withstand scrutiny.
The disciples’ willingness to suffer
If the disciples conspired to fake a resurrection, they would not have spent their lives preaching a story they knew to be false even when it caused them to be persecuted. The disciples had no monetary nor societal gain in preaching the gospel so then why would they uphold a lie? The only reason that the disciples so passionately proclaimed the good news is that they knew it to be true.
Ultimately, the evidence regarding the early spread of Christianity coupled with the observations regarding the early tomb leaves us with a resurrection-shaped hole at the center of these events. There is no better explanation as to why thousands of people would commit to following a man they thought to be dead, nor are there adequate alternatives to why the tomb was empty. Furthermore, what else could convince the previously timid and skeptical disciples to recommit to a life of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ even though it brought them so much despair? The evidence of the resurrection extends to so much greater lengths than what was discussed but the fact of the matter is that there exist no other explanations for what the world has witnessed. Christians and the world at large can therefore rest assured and rejoice in the fact that the savior Jesus Christ has risen, yes He has risen indeed!
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