“That’s just impossible! Since it flies in the face of everything we know, you’d have to be stupid to believe in the resurrection.”
I hear this sort of thing all the time, and it’s often spoken as though it’s the very essence of bear-trap logic. The only sensible response I can think of is something like this: “You’re right, you’d have to be an idiot to believe in the resurrection or any of miracles of the Bible, but only if the God of the Bible doesn’t exist. But if he does exist, then you’d have to be an idiot to think that this God couldn’t do what the Bible says he did.”
So the real problem of the skeptic is not so much the miraculous events at all, but God’s existence. Once that’s settled, the rest is pretty easy. But this article isn’t about whether or not God exists; it’s about the likelihood that resurrection is the natural outcome of his plan for history.
If this were an argument for God’s existence, I would just point out that the universe is hard to account for without a Creator. Without a clockmaker, how did the clock get here? The remaining three alternatives to creation don’t have much to commend them: (1) The universe had no beginning; it was always here; (2) it just somehow popped into existence by itself; or (3) it’s not really there; it’s only an illusion.
But that’s for another day. Assuming there is a God who can bring a universe into existence anytime he wants, here are ten reasons to believe that resurrection from the dead is the true, rational view of things. Many of the best intellects in history have looked into the matter and came to accept the clear testimony of Scripture that it’s true, and that it’s consistent with what we can know about the world.
Here are ten reasons why people should believe in resurrection:
1) The New Testament Claims It
The New Testament claims that Jesus arose from the dead on Easter morning and that one day his followers will too. Unless you’ve looked into it carefully, this might strike you initially as a fairly lightweight validation of the resurrection hope. Just claiming something doesn’t make it true, and holy books claim all kinds of things that are hard or impossible to believe.
Of course, the critically thinking person (as we all should be) has every right to suspect any such claim, religious or not. But if anyone takes the time and energy to examine all the evidence, the fact emerges that, in many ways, the New Testament has already been demonstrated to be head and shoulders above all the other Greek and Latin documents ever to come out of the ancient world.
The New Testament has been subjected to the hottest fires of criticism ever devised by the human mind. It’s history and the landslide of manuscript evidence has been filtered, sifted, researched, debated too many times to count, and by the best minds—for generations!
I refer you to the mountains of information already compiled in this area, not simply by believers, but by world-class historians, archeologists, paleontologists, and text critics, some who began their investigations with the intent of debunking the entire foundation of the Christian faith, but as a result were driven to accept it. A short list of works include:
The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by classic scholar F. F. Bruce; Can We Trust the New Testament? by world renowned skeptic J. A. T. Robinson; Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison; Oxford scholar N. T. Wright’s massive work, The Resurrection of the Son of God; The Case for Resurrection, by Lee Strobel. Also consider the work of Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne who transposed the documentary evidence of the resurrection into current probability theory, concluding that there is a 97% probability that it actually happened.
So if the New Testament claims that this or that happened, it has the proven credentials to be given the benefit of the doubt.
And, by the way, if you’re still struggling with the existence of God, try looking at There is A God, by the twentieth century’s most famous atheistic philosopher Antony Flew. In his latter years, he shocked everyone by changing his mind, and even suggested that we should seriously consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
2) The Early Church Didn’t Debate It
Strangely, even though every aspect of the Christian faith was debated and squabbled over within the first century Christian community, the resurrection of Jesus was not. It was never the conclusion of any argument among the apostles and earliest eyewitnesses, but rather the premise of all other arguments. If a topic under debate had any connection with the resurrection, the writers simply resolved the issue by reminding all contenders that Jesus arose from the dead. That ended the debate simply because the event was the one established, irrefutable fact the church didn’t doubt.
3) The Alternatives Have Been Discredited
Immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, alternative stories of the empty tomb began to appear among those who hated Jesus in the first place and were horrified by the news that he had risen from the dead. His physical—not spiritual—reappearance was the last thing they wanted to hear. Since those early days, other accounts have been suggested to explain why Christians might have mistakenly thought that Jesus was still alive.
But none of the alternative explanations carries any weight (see N.T. Wright’s exhaustive work mentioned above). Each theory is more difficult to believe than the straightforward claim that Jesus was raised from death by God’s infinite power.
4) The Old Testament Foreshadows It
There are only hints here and there in the Old Testament that this life is not all there is. A few references can be found in the book of Daniel (12:2) and in the Psalms (16:10) that suggest some sort of return of life after death, but it’s not clear what that might look like.
Surely, the Jews were convinced that Enoch and the prophet Elijah were still alive in some realm, and they looked forward to a future restoration of the entire creation in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). But a full-blown picture of everlasting physical life on an everlasting physical earth was not presented until Jesus came on the scene.
As in the case of the New Testament, the Old Testament carries its own weight when it comes to reliability. What it claims about any particular historical event, promise, or prophecy is to be given the benefit of the doubt. Regarding its history, the days of having to prove the Bible are over. If you research this yourself, as many others have, you’ll find it to be true too.
5) Creation Suggests It
Most of the world believes that the universe is a product of a creator, that an all powerful force or person brought it into existence. Very few think that it all came into being from nothing, and for good reason; there isn’t the slightest rational basis for this view. As far as we know now, the rule in physics still holds true: from nothing, nothing comes
The Bible affirms that God—the infinite, personal, intelligent God—designed and made all that is, that everything is heavily laden with evidences of design, and that there is nothing we see around us that isn’t designed.
Everything that God made is very valuable to him, and he regards his creation with such great love that he takes a very dim view of anyone who tries to destroy it (Rev. 11:18). What he created he very much likes and intends to keep—forever.
And of all that he made, human beings are his highest and greatest work (Psalm 8), his earthly royalty. So the resurrection is not just about Jesus, but also about any human being who wants to be part of God’s eternal program; and it’s not merely about human bodies, but about everything God ever made (Rom. 8:18-25).
From a close study of the biblical doctrines of creation and resurrection we discover that God is interested not in immortal souls, but in immortal, physical bodies dwelling forever on an immortal, physical earth.
6) Nature Illustrates It
The seasons of the year illustrate for us the cycle that God intends for all he made. Things die in the fall and winter, but come back to life in the spring. Dead things come back to life.
There is nothing so dead as a seed lying in a jar for thousands of years. Have you ever wondered what would happen if a seed were put in a jar and kept for the next two thousand years, then planted by someone who discovered it in, say, 4013? Happily, we already know the answer.
In 1963 archeologists working around Herod’s Temple in Masada came across an ancient jar containing the seeds of the kind of palm tree whose branches were used in Jesus entry into Jerusalem (Jn. 12:12-13) two thousand years ago. Out of curiosity they planted one of the dead seeds in 2005. To their astonishment it grew! An extinct species of a tree came back to life and now lives as the Methuselah Tree. Check it out on the web at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080612-oldest-tree.html. Also see, “After 2000 years a seed from ancient Judea sprouts,” by Steven Erlanger, New York Times, June 12, 2005.
7) It Is Confirmed In Life Experience
God knows how hard it is for us mortals to believe in something we’ve never seen or experienced. So, fortunately, he gives us experiences of many “little resurrections” along the way in order to prepare our minds for the great restoration at the end. These take the form of amazing deliverances, surprising turns of events, answered prayer, healings, rescue from certain death, and so forth.
After a lifetime of seeing God’s repeated interventions in our behalf, it becomes much easier to imagine and expect the final one he promises us.
8) A Universal Conviction That Death Isn’t The End
The vast majority of the human race is convinced that death is not the end of everything. Take a look at every belief system you can find in the ancient or modern world, East or West, small village or great city, and you’ll find that people just seem to have an inborn sense that this world and this life are not all there is.
This doesn’t validate any or all beliefs about it, but it does suggest that we seem to have built into us knowledge of the eternal. We’re hard wired to expect something more.
9) Resurrection Was The Opposite Of The Expected
When Jesus arose from the tomb on Easter morning and appeared to his disciples (as well as to his skeptics) in a physical body, he did something that no one was prepared for. If it was a deliberate hoax, it was pulled off in a manner that was the least expected and least convincing.
It didn’t conform to any of the expectations or paradigms of the pious Jews, the disciples of Jesus, or the pagan philosophers. It had no connection whatsoever with the “immortal soul” of the culture or any of the models of Jewish theology.
Women were the first witnesses, the last to be regarded in their culture as reliable testimony. Plus, Jesus emerged in a transformed, physical body at least as physical as the one that entered the tomb on Good Friday, but with capabilities far beyond it. This was entirely new and unlike anything imagined in the Old Testament. And it took Jesus six weeks to demonstrate and explain the whole thing to his disciples after the resurrection. As expected, they had tons of questions, and he took all the time they required to present to them a different order of things, and a completely new cosmology from what they always believed.
10) Caterpillars Fly
The reason why caterpillars morphed into flying machines doesn’t impress us much is because it happens everyday. It’s just too common to get our attention. But what if it never happened before, and you were hearing the story for the first time? Imagine someone explaining to you that a slow moving, fuzzy bug crawled into a little sleeping bag looking something like a burial shroud, and several days later emerged as an exotically painted flying flower!
“Oh, Don’t give me that!” might be your first reaction. And it should be. Just think of the massive reorganization of molecules required to produce such a thing. It might be compared to an RV driving into a large garage, wrapped up in a white tarp, left alone and untouched for several days, then, when the tarp is removed, you see that the RV had mysteriously been transformed into a sleek Lear jet.
Personally, I think that God gave us this wonderful example of his handiwork just to get our minds thinking in the right direction. Even if you don’t accept the Bible’s explanation of things (which you should), you can still read the book of nature and come up with some pretty good clues.
So do we really have to be idiots to believe in the great events of the Bible and the astonishing claim of resurrection? Do we have to check our brains at the door before entering the church? Truly, I think God loves to give enough evidence to satisfy every honest inquirer (even the honest doubter), and if we honestly desire more confirmation because we love what we’ve already found, then Christian history tells us that God gives us as much as we need to have confidence that we’re on the right path. This is definitely not the God who tells us to stop asking questions and just take a blind leap of faith, but who invites us to come and spend time reasoning in his presence (Is. 1:18).