How Do We Know the Resurrection of Jesus Is True?

For centuries, every time Easter rolls around, we have “Jesus scholars” who dismiss Jesus’ resurrection as a legend, something conjured up by blinded and ignorant followers. And, through centuries, these statements have consistently been evaluated and tossed out by incontrovertible evidence and truth.

The New Testament Evidence

When Christ rose from the dead, his body was raised to a higher level of existence—a level in continuity with, but not limited to, his former bodily form. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a simple revivification, the mere return to life of a corpse.

The New Testament accounts are clear and consistent when they tell about Christ’s resurrection body. When he was raised from the dead, the Gospels affirm that the tomb was empty; the crucified body was gone. Jesus, then, did not come back in a body that was utterly unrelated to his earthly body. The body that suffered and was hanged on the cross was transformed and raised from death’s grip, and so the New Testament affirms that the redemption that Jesus brings is not a mere retreat from physical life into pure spiritual life. His redemption is a comprehensive work, including life’s physical and spiritual dimensions.

Interestingly, after the Easter event, much of the narrative is taken up, especially in Luke, to show people that Jesus’ resurrection body was recognizably his, even bearing the visible marks of the cross. Christian tradition specifically counters any notion that the resurrection body was any less physical than the pre-resurrection body. In fact, it was more substantial. As the flower is more than its seed and the butterfly more than its larva, the resurrected person is more substantial and glorious than he was in his former earthly state.

Jesus’ resurrection can be contrasted with the experience of Lazarus, recorded in John 11. Lazarus was brought back to life by Jesus after being in the tomb for four days. He returned essentially the same man, with all his prior strengths and weaknesses. The rest of his life was an interlude, granted by Jesus to say something about Jesus’ power over death.

It is not at all correct to refer to the raising of Lazarus as a “resurrection.” Revivification is not resurrection. Jesus Christ is the ultimate model for the resurrected life, and we should not attempt to look outside the Easter event for our definition.

The Manuscript Evidence

The New Testament documents are often thought to be relatively late, written long after the events they report and composed by simple, mythically disposed minds. However, this view is not sustained by any serious study of the documents themselves, and many of those who have set out on this journey of investigation have ended their quest by becoming strong advocates of the manuscripts they had sought to discredit.

General Lew Wallace, one of the great statesmen of his time, traveled to Palestine seeking ultimately to confirm the New Testament story once and for all. In so doing, he was overwhelmed by the strength of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and returned home to pen the great biblical epic, Ben Hur.

“Inspiration for Wallace’s next project, what would become Ben-Hur, came from an unlikely source: his own ignorance. Wallace often told the story of how in 1875 he met on a train the well-known agnostic Colonel Robert Ingersoll. After hours of conversation in which Ingersoll questioned the evidence for God, heaven, Christ, and other theological concepts, Wallace came away realizing how little he knew about his own religion. ‘I was ashamed of myself, and make haste now to declare that the mortification of pride I then endured…ended in a resolution to study the whole matter, if only for the gratification there might be in having convictions of one kind or another.’” (Excerpted from Ben-Hur: The Book that Shook the World: The story behind Lew Wallace’s Epic.)

As many others, at the end of his search for the truth of the Gospel, Wallace concluded, “‘God only is so great.’ I had become a believer.’”

Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest archaeologists of Asia Minor in modern history, at first doubted the veracity of the New Testament manuscripts. But after being overpowered by the weight of evidence, he became one of the chief proponents of the New Testament records for the rest of his life.

Those familiar with the study of archeology or textual criticism will immediately recognize the names of Sir Frederic Kenyon and W. F. Albright, who towered over their respective fields and were firm believers in the essential reliability of the New Testament.

Testimonies from authorities such as those may be piled on each other, and the reader need only consult the list of sources in the back of this book for additional study. What follows is but a brief sketch of the manuscript evidence.

Investigative journalist Lee Strobel sought to debunk the claims of Christianity. Instead, he found the opposite: “The case for the resurrection of Jesus is powerful and persuasive.”

Whereas only a few generations ago, it was commonly believed that the documents were rather late productions of the church, usually written in the name of an apostle sometime after his death, recent studies both within and without the Christian community suggest that the New Testament was virtually completed before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the documents, with perhaps a few exceptions, were complete and in circulation.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. If the New Testament had been written well after the death of the original eyewitnesses, who would have been around to correct any false reports, exaggerations, or patent untruths? However, it appears that the documents enjoyed the distinct advantage of having the correcting influence not only of the community of faith but also of the hostile community, who would have been delighted to catch the Christian believers making untrue assertions about Jesus.

Also, the church Fathers, who lived during the few centuries that constitute the textual gap, regularly alluded to or quoted from the New Testament. So much so that even if no New Testament texts had survived, we would still have virtually the entire New Testament preserved.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to assert that the New Testament text is far better attested to than any of the ancient writings by prominent figures such as Caesar, Livy, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Tacitus. These facts are not a mystery to anyone involved in the field of textual criticism, and they are easily accessible to anyone through a well-stocked university library or the Internet.

Any successful rebuttal of these arguments must discover a flaw in one of these main pieces of evidence. It must show either that Jesus didn’t teach, as if he were one who had authority, one life, judgment, and resurrection, or that there is no good historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection, or that the New Testament manuscripts are not reliable. Thus far, no one has done any of these successfully.

Therefore, we possess responsible eyewitness testimony about a man who overshadowed all other human beings in power and authority and clearly stated that he alone is the definitive teacher in human life, death, and destiny. This testimony is preserved in some of the best-attested manuscripts ever to come out of the ancient world.

Daily Life Evidence

If nothing else can prove Jesus’ resurrection to us, God works directly in our lives to prove this truth. In our answers to prayers, the impossible being made possible, and through life’s grief, ups and downs, the power of Jesus’ resurrection pours into our life and shows the solid hope we have in an imaginable, bright eternal life.

These “little resurrections” in this life—the answers to prayer, the reversals, restorations, recoveries,  miracles, healings, and much more—enable us to believe with certainty that there will be a big, Grand Finale resurrection at the end.

Lee Strobel concluded in his article, An Atheist Investigates Jesus to Disprove the Resurrection, that: “Disproving the Resurrection wasn’t easy! In fact, it was impossible. My research caused me to realise: The case for the resurrection of Jesus is powerful and persuasive. That evidence led me to my own faith in Christ, and in the years since that investigation, I’ve been helping other Christians understand how we can have confidence in the biblical accounts of the Resurrection… At Easter, we’re not just celebrating a holiday of chocolate eggs, fish dinners and time with our families. No, we are recognising that Christ’s resurrection authenticates His claim that He is the Son of God.”

To God be the glory!

This Easter, may the truth of the resurrection occupy center stage in our thoughts, prayers, and actions. Let’s ask God for a spiritual recharge that will outlast the moment, transforming the daily routine into an adventure, causing us to risk whatever is necessary to fulfill his will and purpose.

Remember, we live this life only once, but then we get another! And the next one will never end.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” -Revelation 21:1-4

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John I. Snyder
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