The truth about Jesus hinges on his resurrection.
If Jesus rose from the dead, his claim of deity is valid, along with his pronouncements and promise of eternal life. However, if the resurrection never happened, nothing he said about himself, God, the Old Testament, or future events is believable.
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. So both groups wanted him out of the picture.
The Jewish leaders knew 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.
Upon finding the tomb empty, the disciples proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The religious and social disruption the Jewish and Roman authorities feared was about to commence.
If they could have, these leaders would have stifled this unrest by displaying the corpse of Jesus, but his body was missing. He was already appearing in the flesh and moving about the countryside.
Some skeptics speculate that Jesus fainted on the cross and staged his resurrection. However, this scenario seems unlikely.
Jesus was severely 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. Then he hung on it for several hours in the hot sun 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 massive 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 he was still breathing and taken steps to expedite his death.
Several friends of Jesus prepared his body for burial. However, they would have refused to entomb him if he were still breathing.
Stolen Body Theory
Many skeptics say the disciples stole the body from the tomb. However, 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. So they would have hunted them down and tortured them until they disclosed the location of the body.
This theory also would have required a ragtag group of despondent men to defeat a squad of highly motivated professional soldiers. However, the disciples lacked this motivation.
They mistakenly believed they would be courtiers in an earthly kingdom that Jesus was about to establish. After his death, they were confused, discouraged, and frightened.
And their group cohesion frayed, as illustrated by Peter. Soon after the crucifixion, he abandoned the other disciples and denied knowing Jesus three times before 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. So 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 first Easter. Or the Jewish and Roman authorities moved the body to a different tomb before their visit.
If this were true, the authorities could have easily discredited the resurrection and stifled the early church by producing the corpse from the actual tomb. They would have known its correct location.
Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared bodily to large and small groups for the next forty days, including one gathering of over five hundred people. People touched him. 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 to heaven, his 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 his contemporary enemies had refuted the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances.
Imagine today that a small clique started espousing that John F. Kennedy, the former President of the United States of America, 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, the people alive during President Kennedy’s lifetime, who are still with us today, would testify these events never occurred.
No contemporaneous news accounts from 1963 would back up these claims. His body could be exhumed. The previously unknown prophecies he allegedly fulfilled would be suspect. New books belatedly proclaiming his deity would be universally mocked.
The oldest portions of the New Testament book of Matthew have been dated to within a few decades of the resurrection. No known writings from that time frame refute the resurrection.
If these rebuttals existed, we would have many contemporaneous copies because the ruling elite would have widely distributed them across the region 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.
Read More About Jesus
Jesus is the second person in the Trinity. His attributes are described throughout the Bible. Jesus is unique among the founders of the other major religions. There is a plausible explanation for his virgin birth.