Resurrection: What is the biblical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection?
The biblical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is compelling and can be briefly summarized in ten points. Each of these points is consistent, and together they reveal that the Bible is emphatically and repeatedly clear on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
- Jesus’ resurrection was prophesied in advance. Roughly seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah promised that Jesus would be born into humble circumstances to live a simple life, die a brutal death, and then rise to take away our sin.1
- Jesus predicted his resurrection. On numerous occasions Jesus plainly promised that he would die and rise three days later.2
- Jesus died. Before Jesus died, he underwent a sleepless night of trials and beatings that left him exhausted. He was then scourged—a punishment so horrendous that many men died from it before even making it to their crucifixion. Jesus was crucified, and a professional executioner declared him dead. To ensure Jesus was dead, a spear was thrust through his side and a mixture of blood and water poured out of his side because the spear burst his heart sac.3 Jesus’ dead body was wrapped in upwards of one hundred pounds of linens and spices, which, even if he was able to somehow survive the beatings, floggings, crucifixion, and a pierced heart, would have killed him by asphyxiation. Even if through all of this Jesus somehow survived (which would in itself be a miracle), he could not have endured three days without food, water, or medical attention in a cold tomb carved out of rock. In summary, Jesus died.
- Jesus was buried in a tomb that was easy to find. Some seven hundred years before Jesus was even born, God promised through Isaiah that Jesus would be assigned a grave “with a rich man in his death.”4 This was incredibly unlikely, because Jesus was a very poor man who could not have afforded an expensive burial plot. Following Jesus’ death, though, a wealthy and well-known man named Joseph of Arimathea gifted his expensive tomb for the burial of Jesus.5 As a result, the place of Jesus’ burial was easy to confirm. Joseph who owned the tomb, governmental leaders and their soldiers who were assigned to guard the tomb, and the disciples and women who visited the tomb and found it empty all knew exactly where Jesus’ dead body was laid to rest. Had Jesus truly not risen from death, it would have been very easy to prove it by opening the tomb and presenting Jesus’ dead body as evidence.
- Jesus appeared physically, not just spiritually, alive three days after his death. Following Jesus’ resurrection, many people touched his physical body: his disciples clung to his feet,6 Mary clung to him,7 and Thomas the doubter put his hand into the open spear hole in Jesus’ side.8 Jesus also appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, but they were uncertain if he had truly physically risen from death. Still, Jesus was emphatic about his bodily resurrection and went out of his way to prove it: As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.9
- Furthermore, Jesus appeared physically alive over the course of forty days10 to crowds as large as five hundred people at a time.11 It is also significant to note that no credible historical evidence from that period exists to validate any alternative explanation for Jesus’ resurrection other than his literal bodily resurrection.12
- Jesus’ resurrected body was the same as his pre-resurrection body. His disciples recognized him as the same person who had been crucified,13 and Mary Magdalene recognized him by the sound of his voice.14 While Jesus’ resurrection body was the same, it was transformed. This explains why Jesus was not always immediately recognized after his resurrection,15 and seemed to appear and reappear mysteriously.17 As James Orr noted, “[In] the narratives . . . it is implied that there was something strange— something unfamiliar or mysterious—in His aspect, which prevented His immediate recognition . . . which held them in awe.”17 Paul explains this phenomenon in the lengthiest treatment of the nature of a resurrection body in all of Scripture (1 Corinthians 15): “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”18 This “spiritual body” refers to a resurrected body that has been perfected to its glorious state by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus’ resurrection was recorded as Scripture shortly after it occurred. Mark’s Gospel account of the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion mentions the high priest without naming him.19 It can logically be inferred that Mark did not mention the high priest by name because he expected his readers to know who he was speaking of. Since Caiaphas was high priest from AD 18–37, the latest possible date for the tradition is AD 37.20 This date is so close to the death of Jesus that there would not have been sufficient time for a “legend” of his resurrection to have developed. This proves that the biblical record of Jesus’ resurrection was penned while the eyewitnesses were still alive to verify the facts. Thus, his resurrection is not a mythical legend that developed long after the time of Jesus. In fact, John Rodgers, former dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, says, “This is the sort of data that historians of antiquity drool over.”21
- Jesus’ resurrection was celebrated in the earliest church creeds. In 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, Paul says, “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.” This statement is widely accepted as the earliest church creed, which began circulating as early as AD 30–36, shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Considering the early age of this creed, there was not sufficient time between the crucifixion and the creed for any legend about Jesus’ resurrection to accrue. In addition, the witnesses mentioned were still alive and available to be questioned about the facts surrounding the resurrection. The early date of this creed also proves that the church did not corrupt the truth about Jesus with fables and folklores. Rather, the early church simply clung to the plain and incontrovertible facts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
- Jesus’ resurrection convinced his family to worship him as God. James, Jesus’ half-brother, was originally opposed to the claims of deity by his brother.22 A transformation occurred in James, though, after he saw his brother resurrected from death.23 James went on to pastor the church in Jerusalem and authored the New Testament epistle bearing his name.24 He was also actively involved in shaping the early church, which suffered and died to proclaim to everyone that Jesus is the one true God.25 Also, Jesus’ mother Mary was part of the early church that prayed to and worshiped her son as God,26 as was Jesus’ other brother Jude, who wrote a book of the New Testament bearing his name.27 While it is not impossible to imagine Jesus convincing some people that he was God if he were not, it is impossible to conceive of Jesus convincing his own mother and brothers to suffer persecution in this life and risk the torments of hell in eternal life for worshiping him as the one true God unless he truly was.
- Jesus’ resurrection was confirmed by his most bitter enemies, such as Paul. Paul was a devout Jewish Pharisee who routinely persecuted and killed Christians.28 After an encounter with the risen Christ, Paul was converted and became the most dynamic defender and expander of the church.29 Had Jesus not truly risen from death, it is absurd to assume that Paul would ever have worshiped him as God, particularly when Paul rightly believed that worshiping a false God would send one into the eternal flames of hell. Simply, Paul hated Jesus and would never have changed his religious practice unless Jesus had risen from death to prove him wrong. Furthermore, Paul insisted that Jesus had risen in almost all of his letters that are saved for us in the New Testament.
Do you find these evidences for Jesus’ resurrection to be compelling or not? Why, or why not?