The Historical Reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

There is more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than for any other event in ancient history. There were numerous eyewitnesses who saw Him, talked with Him and ate with Him both before and after His death and resurrection. Our information for any historical event comes from either eye-witnesses of the event who recorded what they saw and experienced, or from secondary sources who had the information passed along to them by others and then recorded it for posterity. The reliability of the sources must them be evaluated to determine if the historical event really happened as stated.

The resurrection of Jesus is well-documented by the multitude of eyewitnesses who saw Him, talked with Him, and even ate with Him after His resurrection. The first person to whom He appeared after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene. He appeared to the Twelve on numerous occasions and to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. He also appeared to over five-hundred at one time, most of whom, according to Paul, were still alive at the time of his writing his 1st letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 15:6). The testimonies of these primary, first-hand witnesses are recorded in the 4 gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not a Myth

Some, of course, refuse to accept the historical facts and claim that these stories are myths fabricated by followers of Jesus who wanted to deify Him. If this were the case, then those who created these myths were literary geniuses beyond anything we can imagine, for they created a person and a narrative that changed the course of human history and continues to move millions to forsake everything to follow this mythological figure they supposedly created.

This reminds me of C.S. Lewis, the agnostic professor of Renaissance Literature at Oxford University, who exposed the shallow claims concerning the mythological character of the New Testament. Lewis was an expert in mythological literature and he tells of his astonishment the first time he read the Gospels. His surprised response was, “This is not myth!” Lewis, of course, became a believer and an astute apologist for Christianity. It was at this time that higher criticism was being popularized in German seminaries and certain theologians, such as Rudolph Bultman, were claiming that the New Testament accounts of Jesus, His miracles and His resurrection were myths created by His followers. Lewis replied, “I would like to know how many myths these people have read!” Lewis went on to explain that he had been a long-time professor and critic of mythological literature and knew how a myth sounded and felt, “And the gospel story is not myth!”

Ours is Not a Blind Faith

Yes, the evidence is there for those who are willing lay aside their prejudices and open themselves to Truth. This evidence includes, not only the eyewitness accounts, but also consideration of questions such as how the earliest disciples of Jesus were suddenly transformed from cowering individuals to bold witnesses willing to lay down their lives for their testimony of Christ and His resurrection? And why didn’t the Jewish and Roman leaders in Jerusalem, who tried to suppress the new Jesus movement, produce His body, display it publicly and, thereby, put an end to the preaching about the resurrection of Jesus? Many skeptics have been convinced of the resurrection of Jesus Christ by being willingly to lay aside their prejudices and honestly examine this sort of evidence.

A Harvard Law Professor is Convinced

Dr. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University and one of the principle founders of the Harvard Law School. He authored the famous three-volume work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which is still considered one of the greatest single authorities on judicial legal procedure. Greenleaf, an agnostic, originally set out to disprove the Biblical testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ, believing that a careful examination of the testimony of the Gospel writers would reveal the myths at the heart of Christianity. Instead, this legal scholar came to the conclusion that the witnesses were reliable, and that the resurrection did in fact happen. As a result he became a believer and wrote a book entitled, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. Greenleaf concluded that, according to the jurisdiction of legal evidence, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best-supported event in all of ancient history.

A British Lawyer is Convinced

A brilliant young British lawyer, Frank Morrison, decided that he would write a book showing that, based on the testimony of the eyewitnesses, Jesus Christ could not have risen from the dead. Unfamiliar with the earlier work of Greenleaf, Morrison’s plan was to examine and compare the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the same way he would examine and cross-examine the testimonies of witnesses in a court of law. He felt confident that by doing so he would be able to show that their testimonies could not be corroborated. His book was never written for in the process of examining the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection and the questions raised by such an examination, he too became convinced that Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead. Instead of a book disproving the resurrection he wrote a book entitled, Who Moved the Stone?, demonstrating, from a lawyer’s perspective, convincing proof that Jesus did rise from the dead.

The statement of Luke concerning Jesus was again confirmed. Luke, who is widely recognized as a careful and astute historian, stated in Acts 1:3, After His suffering, He presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs (NRSV).

Our Faith is Confirmed by the Holy Spirit

Our faith is not a blind faith--no leap in the dark. Ours is a faith that is based on solid historical evidence. Nonetheless, once we open ourselves to the Truth, the Holy Spirit does a work in our heart so that we now have, not only the outward historical evidence for the resurrection, but we now have the evidence in our heart wrought there by the Holy Spirit. And the evidence wrought in our heart transcends the outward historical evidence so that we shout and sing with joy:

He lives, He lives
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives
He lives within my heart.