Proof of the Resurrection

Dan Lenington on April 5, 2017


The Christian faith is inextricably tied to the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul makes this absolutely clear in 1 Cor. 15:12-19, where he gives five results of a false resurrection. 1. Without it, our preaching is vain, and we are wasting our time. 2. Without it our faith is vain, and we believe a lie. 3. Without it, biblical preaching is spreading lies. 4. Without it, we are still stuck in our sins with no salvation. 5. Without it, we have no hope of an afterlife. 6. Without it, we are of all men most miserable by depriving ourselves of sin's pleasure and enduring hardship for no good reason. R. A. Torrey is quoted with the following summation: "While the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the corner-stone of Christian doctrine, it is also the Gibraltar of Christian evidence, and the Waterloo of infidelity and rationalism. If the Scriptural assertions of Christ's resurrection can be established as historical certainties, the claims and doctrines of Christianity rest upon an impregnable foundation. On the other hand, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead cannot be established, Christianity must go." (The Fundamentals, vol. 2 p. 299) The question is can the resurrection of Jesus Christ be established?

All belief requires evidence of some kind whether physical or spiritual. Many are content to trust evidence that is circumstantial or experiential that enters their heart/spirit and convinces their mind. Some, however, require more than this in the form of physical evidence such as when Thomas declared he would not believe until he thrust his fist into the side of Christ and his finger into His nail prints (John 20:26-31). God does not deny this physical evidence but He does require that it be examined with an open mind. God has given us as much evidence as we need to prove the truth of the resurrection (Acts 1:3), but many will reject any amount of evidence proving their fundamental moral (not intellectual) problem (Titus 1:9). What then is the evidence for Christ's Resurrection?

The first consideration is whether the resurrection accounts of the New Testament can be trusted. Internal evidence shows them to be complementary not contradictory and cohesive not collaborated. The gospel accounts agree perfectly but not overly. If one man had written all four gospels, or four men had worked together to write them, they would surely agree in the obvious details. But since some details seem to contradict on the surface, but when examined closely agree, they must be recorded by separate men (Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52). However, they were not created by these men independently because they agree too well and yet show clear distinction. The style of the gospels can only be made by 4 independent men writing what they saw from their perspective through the Holy Spirit's guidance.

Secondly, how can we know that the gospel accounts were not exaggerated? Certainly, they were written by followers of Christ but that doesn't automatically prove they were exaggerated. The truth is that the resurrection accounts could have been much more elaborate. A preacher often gets excited and embellishes, applies, cross references, and elaborates on the text. However, these accounts are nothing like this. They are methodical, natural, and very straight forward. Certain details are awkward and would quickly be discarded by a writer trying to present his best story rather than what he saw. Why didn't Christ's disciples recognize Him? (Luke 24:16; John 21:4) Why didn't Christ appear to Pilate or Annas the high priest to prove Himself? Why did Christ only appear occasionally? Why did Mary think she could carry Christ's body? (John 20:15) Why did Mary recognize Christ only after he said her name? (John 20:16) Why did Christ tell Mary not to touch Him? (John 20:17) Why do we learn that John outran Peter to the tomb? (John 20:4-6) Why was the napkin folded beside? (John 20:7) Why did Thomas doubt and Christ rebuke him? (John 20:27-29) Torrey remarks, "Fiction displays itself different from fact in the minute.... The more microscopically we examine the Gospel narratives, the more we become impressed with their truthfulness. There is an artlessness and naturalness and self-evident truthfulness in the narratives, down to the minutest detail, that surpasses all the possibilities of art." (The Fundamentals, vol. 2 p. 314) The incidental and even embarrassing details of the resurrection accounts prove their honesty.

By establishing the basic trustworthiness of the gospel accounts, we can be impressed by the outstanding amount of evidence offered in them for the physical resurrection of Christ. Notice first the following 12 separate eyewitness reports of the resurrected Christ: The women going to tell the disciples with Mary Magdalene, Matt 28:6-10; Mary Magdalene after returning with Peter and John, John 20:11-18; Peter by himself, Luke 24:34; 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13; the 10 disciples without Thomas, John 20:19; the 11 disciples with Thomas, John 20:26; the 7 disciples on the Sea of Galilee, John 21; 500 disciples on a mount near Galilee, Matt. 28:16; To James the half brother of Jesus, 1 Cor. 15:7; All the apostles likely at the ascension, Acts 1:1-9; Paul on the Damascus road, Acts 9:1-6; John on the isle of Patmos, Rev. 1:9-20. The eyewitness evidence is far beyond anything expected in court to prove a case, but more proof is evident. Why would the apostles die for something they knew to be false? Why could not the Jews produce any evidence to contradict Christ's resurrection? How could sleeping guards see the disciples steal the body? Why did the church change their worship day to Sunday? How did the disciples rally from utter despair if not for the resurrection (Matt. 26:56, 75)? Why did the skeptics Paul and James eventually accept Christ's resurrection? These questions can only be answered by the literal, physical resurrection of Christ.

Lastly, let’s examine the common objections to the resurrection of Christ. Did a hallucination by Mary convince the disciples of the resurrection? No, because the despairing disciples didn't believe here anyway (Mark 16:11), and this would not have convinced doubting Thomas, Paul (their enemy), or James (Christ's skeptical half-brother). Did the disciples have a vision? No, because these men didn't expect to see him. Visions don't appear repeatedly, cook, eat, last for hours, and remain touchable. Plus, it is not likely that 500 people would have the same vision at the same time (1 Cor. 5:6). Was Jesus really dead? Yes, because He was not just crucified; He sweat blood, was scourged (which could kill a man), beaten, and stabbed in the heart. Romans did not half kill a man. The accounts says he gave up the ghost or died (John 19:30). Only a dead man bleeds blood and water when his heart ruptures and the blood escapes into the pericardium, which after standing there separates into water and blood. Finally, many will object that no one has ever risen from the dead. However, Scripture records many such supernatural acts of God including, the widow's son, Lazarus, and other widow's son, and Dorcus. Just because we haven't experienced something, doesn't prove that it has never happened. Miracles are not contrary to all experience since no one and no generation has ever had all experience.

This Resurrection Sunday have confidence in the validity of the Christian faith due to the established fact of the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of Christ that brings salvation, hope, and responsibility to all believers.