This content is adapted from the THE BEAT by Allen Parr YouTube channel.
How can we know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? Is his resurrection a myth or clever fable we’ve been told to believe, or is there evidence proving he really resurrected? Allen Parr gives us five good reasons to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is credible history.
Reason One: The Precautions of the Romans
The religious leaders in Israel knew Jesus had predicted he would be resurrected from the dead and presumed his disciples would try to steal his body in order to fabricate a lie about it, so they asked the Romans to take extra precautions in guarding Jesus’s tomb to prevent this from happening.
Matthew 27:64 So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead!
The Romans put a guard of 10-30 soldiers to guard Jesus’s tomb with their lives, if they failed, they would be executed for not fulfilling their duties. This is was common practice and explains why the Philippian jailer draws his sword to kill himself in Acts 16, thinking all the prisoners from his jail had escaped (Acts 16:25-28). In addition, they placed a large stone and a Roman seal over the entrance to the tomb. The stone prevented anyone from entering or leaving the tomb, and if somehow someone did get it open, breaking the seal meant punishment by death.
It is unlikely that the fishermen, tax collectors, and other common people who followed Jesus would have the equipment, strength, and skill to outfight a guard of trained, well-armed Romans – especially since they knew the controversy surrounding Jesus and would have been on high alert. It is unlikely Jesus’s dead body was stolen, despite the religious leaders’ attempt to prove so in Matthew 28:12-14.
Reason Two: The Faith of the Disciples
The apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out. -BlaisePascal, Pensees 322, 310
Before Jesus was crucified, his disciples fled in fear. After he was resurrected, they became eloquent, powerful witnesses of his resurrection who gave their lives and suffered profusely for their witness (Acts 2). But if they stole Jesus’s dead body and pretended he’d resurrected, or simply chose to believe he’d resurrected without evidence, why would they have endured that kind of suffering for their entire lives yet never contradict their testimony rather than return to their normal lives? What person, knowing such a farfetched claim was false, would allow themselves to be tortured, beaten, and executed for propagating something they absolutely knew was a lie or a myth?
The apostles and first disciples did not die for what they believed, but for what they witnessed (Acts 2:23-24). Christians who give their lives today for their faith die for what they sincerely believe. But the apostles claimed to physically see and interact with the risen Jesus.
John 20:29 Then Jesus told [Thomas], “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
Their preaching was not only, “We believe Jesus is the Christ,” but, “We saw him resurrected and know for a fact it’s true.” Christians today believe Jesus resurrected; the first Christians knew undeniably and evidentially he’d resurrected. That’s why they all joyfully suffered and died (Acts 5:41). They absolutely knew it was true, and if it wasn’t true, they had every reason to abandon Jesus and return to their former lives. They did not gain wealth or power by propagating the story of Jesus’s resurrection. By worldly standards, they had nothing to gain by lying.
The only sensible explanation is that they gave their lives for their testimony of Jesus because they knew for a fact he’d been resurrected. That is why John in 1 John writes about how he physically saw and touched and heard the resurrected Jesus.
1 John 1:1-3 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Reason Three: Jesus’s Post-Resurrection Appearances
Jesus appeared to his disciples many times over forty days after his death and resurrection. At one point, he appeared to 500 people at once. And he later appeared to the Apostle Paul – a persecutor of Christians who sought to destroy the church – on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul would later say in 1 Corinthians 15 that many of those 500 people were still alive. If the readers doubted Jesus’s resurrection, they could confirm it with the witnesses themselves. It is incredible to believe that over 500 people all saw a hallucination or were all tricked somehow into simply thinking they’d seen, touched, and been with Jesus after his resurrection. Paul was challenging the Corinthians to investigate for themselves that Christ had truly resurrected, for the witnesses of it still lived.
Reason Four: Secular History Confirms the Church Is Ancient
Ancient, secular history does not prove the resurrection of Jesus, but it does prove that a vibrant, growing Christian community existed in the first century and begs the question: where did this community come from if not from the historic reality of Jesus Christ and of his resurrection?
Secular history (such as the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 93/94 A.D.) confirms Christianity was flourishing in the first century and that John the Baptist, Jesus, and James, brother of Jesus, were considered real historical figures. While this does not prove the truth or falsity of the Bible’s claims about Jesus’s resurrection, it proves Jesus and other people important to early Christianity were not invented characters from the fourth century or later.
Early Christians suffered profusely for testifying to Jesus’s resurrection by being ostracized, hated, having their property confiscated, being beaten, and even being killed for testifying to Jesus’s resurrection and refusing to worship the Roman Emperor. The Christian community had grown so large in Rome by 64 A.D. that the Roman Emperor Nero burned Rome and blamed it on them. By 112 A.D., the Roman governor Pliny the Younger had to consult the Roman Emperor Trajan on how to deal with Christians.
Other than the Bible’s testimony of Christ’s resurrection, an ironclad alternative has yet to be provided by skeptics of Christianity showing how it could have come into existence without the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the best explanation for the church’s birth and explosion in a culture bent on destroying it and suppressing its message.
It is notable as well that modern individuals, desiring to debunk the biblical accounts of the resurrection, examined the evidence and had no choice but to themselves become Christians because the evidence was so strong in favor of the biblical account of the resurrection. Modern examples of such individuals are Josh McDowell, Frank Morrison, and Lee Stroebel.
Reason Five: Jesus’s Body Was Never Found
When therefore the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem and people responded, and when religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty. The simple fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, came into existence and flourished in the very city where he was executed and buried is powerful evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb. -William Lane Craig
All the authorities needed to do to kill Christianity at its root was bring Jesus’s dead body out of the tomb and show it to all of Jerusalem. The fact that they did not do this proves that they could not do this. They could not do it because the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. This doesn’t prove Jesus was resurrected, but then we must answer the questions from points one and two above: could the disciples have stolen the body? Could they have credibly fabricated the resurrection? And what would they gain by doing so, anyway?
It Is Reasonable to Believe Jesus Was Resurrected
We have shown above that Romans guarded the tomb, so the disciples couldn’t have stolen the body. Even if they had somehow defeated the Romans, it is incredible to believe they would have held together a false story about Jesus’s resurrection under harsh persecution with nothing to gain by doing so. Over 500 people other than the eleven disciples saw Jesus resurrected as well, many of whom were still living some thirty years after Jesus’s crucifixion, meaning interested people could go and interview those who had witnessed. Finally, history proves that a vibrant Christian community existed no later than 64 A.D even in Rome itself, with further non-biblical evidence proving Christianity had spread all over the Roman Empire no later than 112 A.D. – and this is evidence outside of the Bible itself. If not from a literal resurrection of Jesus Christ, where did this Christian community that rooted its existence in that resurrection come from?
Some may claim that believing in the resurrection is ridiculous, but common sense and evidence outside of the Bible make a compelling case that the resurrection is a real historical event. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the burden of proof now falls on you to reconstruct ancient history.
Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Why do some people refuse to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do you know someone who refuses to believe it, or does this describe you? Explain.
- Is it reasonable to believe the apostles stole Jesus’s body? Is it reasonable to believe the apostles lied about Jesus being resurrected? Explain.
- Explain the difference between testifying to what you’ve seen and testifying to what you believe. How does this apply to the birth of the church? How does it apply to your life?
- Jesus was crucified in 33 A.D. Non-Christian authors writing in the first and second centuries and later historians record that Christians existed in the Roman Empire no later than 64 A.D. If we include the Bible’s testimony, Christians existed in the Empire no later than 33 A.D. What are some important takeaways from these facts?
- Why would the Roman and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who killed Jesus and wanted to suppress his teaching, not show Jesus’s dead body to the city once the church started exploding?
- Even if all this evidence provides reasonable grounds to believe Jesus truly was resurrected, is faith still required from us? Explain.
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.