As we celebrate Easter, I believe it is important to reflect on what we are really celebrating. We are celebrating the event that literally changed history. Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection sparked a change in the history of the world. Jesus’ resurrection is the foundational piece of history that supports our entire faith. For without it, we are all fools.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:14-19:
“And if Christ has not been raised,
our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15 More than that,
we are then found to be false witnesses about God,
for we have testified about God
that he raised Christ from the dead.
But he did not
if in fact the dead are not raised.
16 For if the dead are not raised,
then Christ has not been raised either.
17 And if Christ has not been raised,
your faith is futile;
you are still in your sins.
18 Then those also
who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ,
we are of all people most to be pitied.”
But how can we firmly believe in something that supposedly happened over 2000 years ago? Are we really to believe that a man named Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified by the Roman Empire, and then was raised back to life? Is this a supernatural story surrounded with feelings of myth and legend?
In fact, many today believe the accounts of Jesus are merely that – legend. Many believe they are mythical facts about a man who may have lived long ago. They say these are stories made up by followers of a religion – stories written by fanatics in order to get people to believe in their beliefs. These are all fair questions to ask, and ones which deserve some thought. So let’s examine the facts about Jesus Christ.
1. Was there really a man called Jesus who lived in Judea and was crucified by the Roman Empire?
We have historical accounts of Jesus found in several different documents. These were written by several different authors, at several different points in history. I am referring of course the accounts of Jesus recorded in the books of the Bible. These are all separate documents which were not formally grouped together to form the New Testament until the 3rd Century. The fact that they are all separate documents with separate authors, gives more strength to the evidence. But what if I don’t believe in the eye witness accounts recorded in the Bible? What if I believe that Jesus’ followers and people throughout history have added to those writings? Well then we can look at two other historical documents which are not from the Bible and not from Christians. Jewish historian Josephus wrote the following in his account of Jewish history, called Jewish Antiquities in A.D. 93-94.
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. –Josephus
Roman historian Tacitus also mentions Jesus in his historical writing, “The Annals”). The Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64 burnt most of the city. In the middle of Tacitus’ account of how they were rebuilding the city, with wider streets, lower buildings, etc., he explains how Nero sought to appease the gods with – with many rituals. Many people believed Nero started the fire himself. In order to divert attention Nero accused the Christians in the city of starting the fire. Here is the account as written by Tacitus:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. – Tacitus
There are other non-biblical accounts of Jesus being killed as well. So, if we are honest with the facts presented before us, we cannot deny that Jesus Christ lived and died on the cross under Pontus Pilate.
2. Jesus lived and died on the cross, but how can I believe that he rose from the dead?
Now we get into the real heart of the matter. It is easy to believe that there was a man named Jesus who taught many good teachings. Maybe we can believe that he somehow healed some people, or at least made people believe they were healed. But how is one convinced that this Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead.
The Bible records eyewitness accounts of Jesus appearing to over 500 people in 11 separate instances over a 40 day period. Not only that, but 50 days after the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter convinces 3000 other people (Acts 2:41) that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead (Acts 2:32).
Currently there are approximately 2 billion people on earth who profess to believe in this occurrence. But let’s take a step back here. What if I don’t believe in what the Bible says? After all, this is the book written by the followers of this religion. How am I to be assured that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead?
Let’s look at the alternatives:
A. Jesus didn’t really die. It shouldn’t be too hard to see the fallacy in this belief. It is recorded in accounts outside of the Bible that he was put to death. He was crucified by professional executors (ie. the Roman Empire). We covered the recorded history of his crucifixion earlier.
B. The disciples simply made up the story of the resurrection. The problem with this argument is that if it were the case, the Jewish leaders of the time would have simply had to show the dead body to the end the dramatic conversion rate away from Judaism to Christianity. The writers of the Gospels were writing the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection during the time that eye-witnesses were still around. If Jesus’ body were around, then they would have been laughed away as lunatics. The problem was that the Jewish leaders could not present a body, because there was none.
C. The disciples stole the body and hid it. This is probably the oldest argument against the crucifixion. In fact Matthew reports the chief priests of that time devised this story (Matt. 28:13) So, even back when Matthew was written, arguably AD. 60, this idea was propagated. This argument has several holes in it. It would take a longer time than we have now to go into detail on each of these areas, but here are some things to think about regarding this argument.
- How would a small group of scared disciples who abandoned Jesus at his arrest, and just witnessed the gruesome beating and crucifixion of Jesus device an elaborate plan to get p ast Roman centurions, carry the body away without eye-witnesses, and dispose of the body?
- Maybe the disciples bribed the soldiers. While this is a possibility, the penalty to a soldier for a prisoner escaping was that the soldier had to take the place of the prisoner. This would be a high risk for the soldiers to take on, and would therefore require a costly bribe. The Gospel of Matthew gives account of the Chief priests bribing the soldiers to say the disciples stole the body. Who would have enough money to bribe the soldiers? The religious leaders of the temple, or fisherman and other uneducated disciples?
- What would the motive be for the disciples to make up such a story? What advantage did they have in risking their lives to deceive people into believing Jesus was raised from the dead? In fact, not just that, but – what would motivate someone to make up a lie and then suffer tremendous prosecution because of it? The disciples were killed in gruesome ways- upside down crucifixions, be-headings, skinning and then crucified, speared, etc. It seems most likely that at some point, one of the people “in on the plan” would likely confess to their lie, instead of suffer a tortuous death.
- And then we have the Apostle Paul. What other act would cause the dramatic change in Paul’s life? He went from leading the persecution and destruction of the Christian church, to its main propagator. And for what gain?
This is what happened to Paul:
- whipped with 39 lashes (5 different times)
- beaten with rods (3 different times)
- pummeled with stones (1 time)
- shipwrecked (3 times)
- adrift at sea (one night, one day)
- journeys (frequent)
- danger from his own people
- danger from Gentiles
- danger in the city
- danger from false brothers
- toil and hardship
- sleepless nights (many)
- hungry and thirsty (often)
- cold and exposed
- the pressure of anxiety for all the churches (daily)
If not for the fact that he states he encountered Jesus, then for what reason would he trade-in his high position of honor for such suffering and disgrace? So we could go on and on, bringing up conspiracy theories to attempt to explain away the resurrection. However, I believe we would continue to find the same results.
There is simply more historical, logical, and scientific evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus than there is for the contrary. And now all of this brings us to this one question: What are you going to do with the resurrection?
Are you going to ignore it, mock it, accept it or embrace it? Will you allow the resurrection power that raised Jesus from the grave enter your heart and raise you from your death? Will you embrace wholeheartedly the reality of who Christ is and what he has the power to do in your life? Will you open yourself up to experience true life, with the one who has power over death?
That same Jesus who was beaten and crucified in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago is the same one who says to you today. Revelation 3:17-20:
17 You say, ‘I am rich;
I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
But you do not realize
that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
18 I counsel you to buy from me
gold refined in the fire,
so you can become rich;
and white clothes to wear,
so you can cover your shameful nakedness;
and salve to put on your eyes,
so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.
So be earnest and repent.
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice
and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.