Many today, even in churches named for Jesus Christ, don’t believe in a literal resurrection and certainly don’t believe he is still alive.
For example take the following news story from 4/17/2019. With Holy Week upon us, a new BBC poll found that fewer than half of Christians in the U.K., 46 percent, believe Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of their sins. A BBC Radio program that aired Sunday said the online poll was taken in early March and surveyed more than 2,000 British adults.
Here is a fictitious letter written to a local advice column along with the response that illustrates the problem.
Our preacher said, on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think?
Beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.
"So when it comes to the Resurrection, we say 'Well, how do we know Jesus existed?' Some people even doubt that. The fact is, we have far more sources for Jesus of Nazareth than we do for many historical figures in the first century. We have at least 18. Twelve of those are non-Christian sources." – John Morrow, Christian apologist
There's more ancient evidence that Jesus existed than there is that Julius Caesar existed.
"You're talking about over 5,800 Greek manuscripts, over 8,000 Latin manuscripts. Most books that we work with in the ancient world have maybe at best a dozen manuscripts." - Prof. Darrell Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary
Let's examine a few realities about the resurrection of Jesus.
The Biblical Accounts
Matthew 28:1-11 See also: Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20-21
Matthew 28:1-11 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
Reality #1: Jesus as Messiah and God.
In the passage below we see that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection. What sign did Jesus say was the only one to be given?
The sign of Jonah the prophet, His own resurrection from the heart of the earth.
Matthew 12:38-40 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Is Jesus’ statement still true today? Is it okay to be looking for signs or should we look at the sign already given? Only if we are willing to discount the words of Jesus. All that needs to be proven has been proven by Jesus’ resurrection. There are no more "signs."
Why is it significant that Jesus predicted His own death and resurrection?
His prediction and it’s subsequent fulfillment proves Jesus a prophet but more importantly His rising from the dead authenticates His claims to be the Messiah.
Reality #2: The Beating and Crucifixion
How do following passages of scripture and the descriptions of scourging help to establish the reality of Jesus death?
The beating or scourging was severe enough to kill by itself.
John 19: 1-3 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
“The adjudged criminal was usually first forcefully stripped of their clothes and then tied to a post or pillar tin the tribunal. Then the awful and cruel scourging as administered by the lictors or scourgers. Although the Hebrews limited by their law the number of strokes in scourging to forty, the Romans set no such limitation; and the victim was at the mercy of his scourgers.” –John Mattingly
“The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinew, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” –Eusebius of Caesarea
What was the end-purpose of punishment on the cross?
A slow painful death. It was a capital punishment, it was meant to be a death sentence.
Mark 15:24-27 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
“The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries-especially a the head and stomach-became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death itself-bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release.”
The Soldier’s Spear
What does the soldiers spear prove beyond doubt?
That Jesus was truly dead, probably of a ruptured heart, brought on by the emotional stress of bearing our sin and the physical stress of the crucifixion.
It should be understood that Jesus died when He gave up the spirit, He would not die until He chose to.
John 19:34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
“We are told on eyewitness authority that ‘blood and water’ came out of the pierced side of Jesus…. Had Jesus been alive when the spear pierced His side, stony spouts of blood would have emerged with every heart beat. Instead, the observer noticed semi-solid dark red clot seeping out, distinct and separate from the accompanying watery serum. This is evidence of massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death. It is all the more impressive because the evangelist could not possibly have realized its significance to a pathologist.”-Michael Green.
Reality #3: The Soldier and the Tomb
John 27:59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
The tomb was cut out of solid rock and blocked by large circular carved rock rolled down a groove over the mouth of the cave. In this scripture we see the reality of Jesus being truly dead and safely buried without means of escape or rescue even should he be alive.
It was guarded by Roman soldiers, sworn upon point of death to keep their watch. Their failure to keep Jesus in the tomb, provided one of the strongest proofs that the resurrection had truly occurred.
John 27:63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. 65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
Reality 4: The Change of Jesus Followers
One of the strongest proofs or realities of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the change in his disciples.
Compare the behavior of those close to Christ in the following passages. The only reason that can explain their change from cowardice to bravery is that they had seen the risen Lord. They no longer had fear or unbelief, their Lord and Savior had conquered death itself.
Compare Mark 14:66-71, where Peter in fear denies the Lord three times to Acts 2:14ff, where the same man now boldly preaches to the Jewish leaders and accuses them of the death of Jesus. Declaring Him as Lord, Savior and Messiah.
Look at Matthew 26:55-56 and then Acts 5:17-25. Here we see all the apostles who on the night of the trial forsaking Jesus but then changing to those who boldly begin preaching in the Temple.
Perhaps most dramatic is the change we see taking place between Matthew 13:55, John 7:3-5, Acts 1:14 and James 1:1. In these passages the brothers of Jesus go from stark unbelief, even thinking that Jesus is crazy, to men who not only believe but become leaders in the church and writing the Bible books of James and Jude.
All the apostles were ultimately martyred in tortouous ways for their stand for Christ. If they were lying about Jesus resurrection would they have been willing, upon pain of torture and death, to give their life for a lie? No. If they were liars, who had already proven they were cowards, they would not have been willing to die for their own lies. But if they knew they would also live again just as Jesus their Master did then what was to fear about death.
Acts 4:5-14 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
It has only been a short time since Jesus’ crucifixion and those who conspired to kill Jesus are arguing with the followers of Jesus who believe he is risen. The Bible says they could say nothing. When considering the proofs of the empty tomb why is this so important?
If the disciples were only lying or hallucinating the Jews could have gone to the tomb, pointed to the body of Jesus and stopped the disciples mouths. No one would have believed them if the tomb was still sealed and held His body, but they couldn’t say anything because they knew the truth. He was risen!
“All but four of the major world religions are based on mere philosophical propositions. Of the four that are based on personalities rather than a philosophical system, only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its founder. Abraham, the father of Judaism, died about 1900 BC but no resurrection was ever claim for him. Mohammed died June 8, 632 AD at the age of sixty-one at Medina, where his tomb is annually visited by thousands of devout Muslims. All the millions and millions of Jews, Buddhist, and Muslims agree that their founders have never come up out of the dust of the earth in resurrection.”
“Faith in the resurrection is the very keystone of the arch of Christian faith, and, when it is removed, all must inevitably crumble into ruin.”
"All the evidence of the New Testament goes to show that the burden of the good news or gospel was not ‘follow this Teacher and do your best,’ but, ‘Jesus and the Resurrection.’ You cannot take that away from Christianity without radically altering its character and destroying its very identity.” --Wilber M Smith.