- Eldon Peterson
Evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ
What would a visitor conclude that Easter is about by our Easter celebrations? From churches to shopping centers, the focus is often on Easter egg hunts rather than the risen Lord. I understand the seemingly harmless fun that these give to children and adults alike, but it also undermines the real story of Easter and can make Christ’s resurrection seem to be make-believe like the Easter bunny.
If we speak of the resurrection as fact, our visitor may ask what evidence we have for our belief. W. R. Miller suggests, “How do we know whether any historical event actually occurred? 1) Someone recorded it (or testifies to it); 2) They show themselves to be reliable as a source; 3) There is no contrary evidence.”
Can we know anything historically ? For example, there is no “scientific” proof that Abraham Lincoln was the president. We cannot recreate him in a laboratory or bring him back to life. We cannot create a mathematical equation that tells us about him. Nevertheless, we can assert with certainty that Lincoln was our 16th president and that he was assassinated in 1865. We do this by appealing to historical evidence, testimonies of those who saw Lincoln, his writings and even his picture. However, none of this “proves,” in a scientific sense, that Lincoln ever lived or was even president.
Similarly, we can ask, “How can we know that Jesus rose from the dead?” Can we be as certain of the facts of Christ’s resurrection that occurred 2,000 years ago as we can of something that happened 150 years ago? I think so. Let’s apply Miller’s three questions to the resurrection and see if the resurrection can pass the evidentiary test.
First, is the event recorded? Yes, we find the resurrection account recorded for us in the gospels and the letters of the New Testament. In fact, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (3-7)
The second question concerns the reliability of these witnesses, can they be trusted? Paul told the Corinthian’s, “Don’t believe me about the facts, go talk to the witnesses!” Of course, we cannot do this, so what can we do? We can ask our third question, “Is the evidence reasonable; is there contradictory evidence?”
While it may seem difficult to find evidence for an event that occurred 2,000 years ago, if we apply reason, I think we will find it not to be as difficult as we might think. First, there is little doubt about the existence of the historical man Jesus. The non-Christian historical accounts of Flavius Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Maimonides and even the Jewish Sanhedrin corroborate the early Christian eyewitness accounts of Christ’s life and death. However, what about the resurrection — is it reasonable for us to believe in it? To answer this we must examine the empty tomb. Because Jesus’ crucifixion and burial were publicly done in Jerusalem, were the resurrection a hoax, it would have been both easy and advisable for the Jewish leaders (or the Romans) to exhume the body and expose the hoax.
Chuck Colson answers those who suggest that the disciples lied about the resurrection, “I know the resurrection is afact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world — and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
The resurrection of Christ is the linchpin of the Christian faith because it is only through it that our forgiveness is secured. The gospels, the historical witnesses and reason support the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. The question is what will you do with the evidence?