The interesting thing is, this earth-shattering, life-changing belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead can be shown by two simple facts. The facts are:
1. Jesus died
2. The disciples were with Jesus
Let me switch the order of these facts and consider them in isolation.
The disciples were with Jesus
Let’s imagine we were presented with nothing but the historical accounts that deal with the appearances of Christ to the disciples after His resurrection, and had no records of anything that happened before. What do we have? We have multiple, independent accounts that the disciples were with Jesus. It is clear that the accounts in the Gospels are independent – this is why people so often try to point out contradictions between them. Clearly these independent writers didn’t get their material from a single source (because they all give very different details), and obviously they didn’t just invent their accounts (because they all report the same event). These are independent accounts of the same event.
We have the sermon summaries in the book of Acts. Luke records a summary of the preaching of Peter in Acts 2 and in Acts 10 in which he testifies to having been with Christ, even eating meals with Him (Acts 10:41).
We also have the eyewitness testimony recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. In this chapter, Paul recounts the gospel he preached (vv. 3-7) which lists the apostles as seeing Christ. He says that these apostles were preaching this very same message (v. 11). Paul is telling the Corinthians something they already knew – the apostles claimed to have been with the Lord.
Paul also says the Lord was seen by more than 500 witnesses at once, and that, at the time he wrote, most of them were still alive. The Cambridge New Testament scholar, C. H. Dodd, points out, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that the most of the 500 are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘The witnesses are there to be questioned.’”1
Another factor to bear in mind is that their reported time with Jesus transformed them. They were prepared to give their lives for their testimony that they had been with the Lord – they didn’t make this up and they weren’t in it for what they could get out of it.
Hundreds of earnest eyewitnesses, multiple locations, independent sources – the evidence is abundant and clear – the disciples were with Christ. Based on the historical evidence alone, no one would ever question this.
"Hundreds of earnest eyewitnesses, multiple locations, independent sources – the evidence is abundant and clear – the disciples were with Christ."
Let’s now look at that first fact:
Again, there is multiple, independent attestation that Jesus died by crucifixion. It’s recorded by Christian and non-Christian sources, and the testimony is so overwhelming that the radically sceptical New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan, said, “That [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”2
The equally sceptical scholar, Robert Funk, said in a “Jesus Seminar” videotape that the crucifixion was the “one indisputable fact” that neither Christians nor their opponents could deny.
Bart Ehrman, the agnostic New Testament textual critic, said, “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”3
One startling truth
If these two facts were about two different people, they would never be queried. The problem people have is that these two facts are about the same person. The one who died is the one who was then seen by His disciples over and over again.
This leads people to dismiss the facts, not on the basis of the evidence but on the basis of their worldview. There is one (and only one) explanation that fits the facts, and it’s the explanation the disciples gave – He is risen.
Rather than question the facts, why not question your heart? Why are you resistant to this truth? What is it that stops you from accepting the obvious – the God revealed by Christ has vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead?
"Rather than question the facts, why not question your heart?"
Is it because of the implications? If Christ is risen then He is who He claimed to be, and we need Him as our Saviour or we will face Him as our judge.
The implications of accepting the truth are daunting, but what about the implications of rejecting it?
- C. H. Dodd, “The Appearances of the Risen Christ: A Study in the Form Criticism of the Gospels,” in More New Testament Studies, University of Manchester, 1968, p. 128, cited in William Lane Craig, On Guard for Students, A Thinker’s Guide to the Christian Faith, David C Cook, 2015, p. 217.
- John Dominic Crossan, Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, HarperCollins, 1991, p. 145, cited in John C. Lennox, Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target, Lion Hudson, 2011, loc 3662.
- Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 261-262.