The truth about Jesus hinges on his resurrection.
If Jesus rose from the dead, then his claim of deity is valid, along with his various pronouncements and his promise of eternal life. If the resurrection never happened, then nothing he said about himself, God, the Old Testament, or future events is true.
An array of credible evidence affirms the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus was popular among the ordinary folks of his day, but he was despised by the Jewish religious authorities and Roman government officials who ruled Israel.
The Jewish leaders considered Jesus blasphemous because he claimed to be the Messiah. The Roman officials considered him a threat to Israel’s social order because he spoke publicly about establishing a kingdom on earth. Both groups wanted to get rid of him for their own reasons.
The Jewish leaders were familiar with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah’s resurrection. They knew Jesus had publicly stated that he would rise from the dead. After his death, they worried his disciples would steal the body from the grave and pretend the resurrection had occurred.
To preclude this possibility, the Jewish leaders persuaded the Roman governor to seal the tomb and station sixteen elite soldiers around it to guard against theft. These soldiers faced the death penalty if they failed their mission.
After finding the tomb empty that first Easter morning, the disciples did indeed proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. The religious and social disruption feared by the Jewish and Roman authorities was about to materialize.
These leaders could have quickly stifled this unrest by finding and displaying the corpse of Jesus. However, the body was missing and could not be located because Jesus was alive and physically moving about the countryside. He began appearing publicly in the flesh soon after his resurrection.
Some skeptics speculate that Jesus fainted on the cross and staged his resurrection. However, this scenario seems unlikely.
Jesus was badly beaten the night before his crucifixion, almost to the point of death. The next day he was forced to drag his cross through Jerusalem until he collapsed from exhaustion. He then hung on it in the hot sun for several hours before being speared. He was subsequently wrapped in burial cloth and entombed for three days without food or water.
Even if Jesus had fainted on the cross, his prior mistreatment, the spearing, and the subsequent lack of hydration and nourishment would have rendered him too weak to unravel his burial encasement, break the hardened seal around the huge stone blocking the tomb entrance, roll the stone away from the inside, and then surprise and overpower sixteen guards by himself.
While hanging on the cross, Jesus was declared dead by an experienced executioner. Had he merely fainted, this man would have realized that he was still breathing. The executioner would have taken steps to expedite his death.
Several friends of Jesus prepared his body for burial. If he were still breathing, they would have refused to entomb him.
Stolen Body Theory
Many skeptics say the disciples stole the body from the tomb. This scenario also seems unlikely.
If the Jewish leaders and Roman officials knew the grave had been robbed, they would have immediately suspected the disciples. They would have hunted them down and tortured them until they disclosed the location of the body.
This theory would have also required a ragtag bunch of despondent men to defeat a squad of professional soldiers who outnumbered them and were highly motivated to fight until death. The disciples lacked this motivation.
The disciples mistakenly believed they would be courtiers in an earthly kingdom Jesus was about to establish. After his death, they were confused, discouraged, and frightened. Their group cohesion frayed.
For example, Peter abandoned the others soon after the crucifixion and denied knowing Jesus three times before the next morning.
Stealing the body and promoting a myth that Jesus had risen from the dead would have exposed the disciples to ridicule and potential execution. Plotting a comeback strategy on behalf of a dead leader, based on an easily refutable lie, was the last thing on their minds.
Wrong Tomb Theory
Other skeptics contend that Mary, Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Peter, and John went to the wrong tomb that Sunday morning. Or the body was moved to a different tomb before their visit.
If this was true, the Jewish and Roman authorities could have easily discredited the resurrection and stifled the early church by producing the corpse from its actual burial location.
Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared in bodily form for the next forty days to large and small groups, including one gathering of over 500 people. He was physically touched. He ascended to heaven before a live audience.
The Jewish leaders and Roman officials could not deny these appearances or explain them away as hallucinations.
No Contemporary Refutation
After Jesus ascended, the resurrection became a pivotal doctrine in the new Christian church, which proliferated despite systematic persecution. The New Testament books were written soon after that, and copies were distributed throughout the region.
None of this would have occurred if the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances had been refuted by his contemporary enemies.
Imagine today that a small clique started espousing that President Kennedy had claimed to be God, fulfilled ancient prophecies, healed the sick, rose from the grave three days after his burial, repeatedly appeared for nearly six weeks to audiences large and small, and then ascended into heaven.
This story would not gain much traction, because even decades after his death, there are still many people who were alive during President Kennedy’s lifetime that would testify these events never occurred.
No contemporaneous news accounts from 1963 would back up these claims. His body could be exhumed. The heretofore unknown prophecies he allegedly fulfilled would be suspect. New books belatedly proclaiming his deity would be quickly discredited.
The oldest copies of the first four books of the New Testament, which describe the death and resurrection of Jesus, can be dated to within 30 years of the actual event.
No contemporaneous writings from that era refute the resurrection, even though such texts would have been widely distributed by the ruling elite to discredit the early church.
High Price For Advocacy
Every disciple, except John, was executed for proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah.
Nobody is willing to die for an unpopular myth. Each man had ample time and motivation to recant his testimony before dying, but none did.