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Can We Be Certain Jesus Rose From the Dead?

But what is important to note is that to believe that Jesus rose from the dead is reasonable and logical. And the implications of how we respond to this event, either in faith or disbelief, will impact us both now and eternally.

In a world skeptical of Christianity, we may need to answer a more foundational question before making an argument for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And that question is, “How can we be certain He even existed?”

To answer the latter question, we turn to outside sources: Cornelius Tacitus, writes in The Annals, “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. Elsewhere, in The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, from The Works of Josephus, we read,

Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works-a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for He appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

It is possible, if not probable, that a follower of Jesus “played with this portion of Josephus’ writings. It is unlikely that He, a Jew, would have proclaimed Jesus as the Christ or would have proclaimed that Jesus appeared to the disciples following His resurrection. Nevertheless, Josephus wrote extensively regarding Historical events during and after Jesus’ day, much of it being verifiable, and he believed, along with Tacitus in the historical Jesus.

The foundational events regarding Jesus that most secularists will acknowledge are these:

      • Jesus died on the cross.
      • The followers of Jesus claimed that He rose again on the third day.

The fact that the guards did not break the legs of Jesus while on the cross, as they did the criminals to His left and right, attests to their belief that Jesus had already died and did not need to speed the process (John 19:33). Breaking the legs of someone hanging on the cross makes it impossible for them to push up and be able to breath. Equally as convincing is that when the guard pierced the side of Jesus, a flow of blood and water gave evidence to Jesus’ death (John 19:34). Accepting of the death of Jesus leads to the case for His resurrection.

A strong case for the resurrection of Jesus can be made using the Historical-Critical method. Most historians will agree:

      1. Jesus was buried in a tomb.
      2. Roman guards were stationed outside the tomb.
      3. The body turned up missing.

So, the question is, who stole the body? The Jewish leaders would not have taken the body, because they requested that the guards be stationed there in the first place to prevent that from happening. If the body turned up missing, the disciples could have claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead, which they did indeed claim. The Roman guards would not have taken the body, because their act would have been punishable by death. And it is unlikely the disciples could have taken the body since they would have had to overpower the guards.

It is also unlikely that any followers of Jesus, had they been successful at overpowering the guards, would have proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus at the cost of being martyred for their faith. They were willing to face a painful death, rather than renounce their faith in the risen Lord. That is, with the exception of John, who is believed to have died from natural causes.

The appearances of Jesus provide further evidence of his bodily resurrection. The Apostle Paul’s testimony is most amazing:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

Paul was essentially saying that five hundred people witnessed the resurrected Christ, all at the same time. Many are still living, so go ask them yourselves.

There are many more arguments that can be made in support of Christ’s resurrection, including Christian experience and the growth of the Gospel. But what is important to note is that to believe that Jesus rose from the dead is reasonable and logical. And the implications of how we respond to this event, either in faith or disbelief, will impact us both now and eternally.

In service to Christ,

Mark Eastway

Pastor, Burket Bible Church

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