Without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” [1 Cor. 15. 13-14] That is quite straightforward, isn’t it? It was written about twenty years after the death of Jesus, and was part of a letter Paul wrote in which he passed on what he had learned about the Resurrection. It is important that this teaching had been clearly formulated so soon after the event, because it shows that there had been no time for any myths or legends to grow up about the Resurrection of Jesus. It had already, even then, become the basis for everything Christians believed.
But on what evidence did they base this belief? Why should we believe it ever happened? We base our knowledge on historical evidence: eye-witness reports, judging between accounts and written reports to evaluate facts and remove fictional elements. So, what is the evidence for the Resurrection? In fact, there is so much it will be possible only to point out some of the more obvious arguments.
Let’s start with the very basics: either it is a true event, or it is fiction. If it is fiction, who made up the story and why? The people who first preached the Resurrection were the men and women who had followed Jesus during his public life. After his arrest, these people ran away out of fear they too would be taken into custody. After his execution, they locked themselves into a room out of fear that they would be next for crucifixion. But something happened that brought them out into the streets shouting and singing and telling the world that Jesus was alive. What happened to them?
What did they gain from this deception, if that’s what it was? They spent the rest of their lives travelling the world telling people that Jesus was God and had risen from the dead. They suffered deprivation, torture and death. People will do that if they believe something enough, even if it is a lie. But people don’t do that for something they know is a lie. And if the Resurrection did not happen, they knew it was a lie, because they were the ones who had made the story up originally.
The first reports of the Resurrection, according to the Gospels, came from women. Under Jewish and Roman laws, women could not testify in court because they were considered unreliable witnesses. Then why would the disciples base their claims on the testimony of women? The Gospels say that not even the disciples believed the women at first, so why should anyone else? We are told that even when Peter and the others heard the women’s story, and visited the empty tomb, they still did not believe that Jesus had risen. That took a personal visit by Jesus to their locked room, followed by many other appearances, to many other people. At one place, more than five hundred people saw and heard him. And Paul points out that most of the five hundred witnesses were still alive twenty years later and they could be interviewed to confirm the accounts.
The Gospel accounts are full of little details that ring true, some of them quite strange indeed. When Jesus, like every dead body at the time, was prepared for burial, his head was wrapped in a cloth and strips of linen were wound around his body. When the tomb was found empty, the burial cloths were found lying where he had lain. But the cloth that had covered his head had been folded carefully and set to one side. Try and imagine that scene!
When the disciples of Jesus went preaching loudly and boldly in the streets of Jerusalem that Jesus had risen, why did the authorities not just parade the corpse through the streets? The men who had worked to have Jesus executed would not have hesitated to do so if the body was available to them. And as their soldiers had been guarding the tomb, they should have been able to put a stop to the disciples’ claims immediately.
Could the disciples have taken the body? The first question would be: why? To draw more attention on themselves and become the target of more executions? They did not take the body from under the noses of the soldiers. Maybe the women went to the wrong tomb? But, again, the authorities would have corrected that misunderstanding immediately, had they been able to. Perhaps Jesus was not really dead at all? Having gone through the excruciating and tortuous process of crucifixion, been stabbed in the side with a spear, taken down and wrapped in linen with spices poured over him, left in a sealed tomb for a few days, perhaps then he recovered sufficiently to push away a very large stone, pass by the guards and make a complete recovery in order to convince his followers that he had, in fact risen from the dead. Is any of that rational or remotely feasible?
One fact remains as true as when Paul stated in so long ago: if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is a fraud and Christians are the most pitiable people. Paul was a violent opponent of Christianity, until he met the risen Jesus. Everything changed for him then. James was the step-brother of Jesus, he and his siblings considered Jesus to be insane, until the risen Jesus appeared to him. James then became one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem and was eventually executed for his faith. These were not weak-willed men who were easily fooled into believing something. They were men who met the risen Jesus, and after that there could be no more argument. And, for two thousand years, Christians, including me, have witnessed that he is indeed risen. They have encountered him, come to know him, and his Spirit lives in them. Quite a claim. If it is not true, you can forget it. If it is true, even if you think it might be true, it is something you have to investigate for yourself. Honesty and eternity demands it.