As we approach another Easter, the secular minds ask, “Is it possible that Jesus rose from the dead, and if so, what is the evidence?”
In order to tackle this question, it is quite clear that you cannot go to a scientific laboratory and expect to find any evidence. This is not an issue of science. Nor can you go to a college philosophy department, for it is not an issue of philosophy. You must look to the historian and seek historical proof. Huston Smith, the author of the famous book, The World’s Religions, put it: “Christianity is basically a historical religion. That is to say, it is founded not on abstract principles but in concrete events, actual historical happenings.”
Dr. Gary Habermas, a historian and philosopher of religion who is not only a prolific author but is also considered one of the foremost experts on the Resurrection of Christ has engineered the most comprehensive investigation ever performed on what modern scholars believe about the Resurrection. Habermas and a large team of researchers collected more than fourteen-hundred of the most scholarly works on the Resurrection written from 1975 to 2003. They included in their study only the works that were most up-to-date.
Habermas says the works they studied came from across the ideological spectrum, whether they were ultra-liberals or what he called “Bible-thumping conservatives.” He and his team collected all of this research and documented only the historical facts which they all could agree upon.
They all unanimously agreed on twelve historical facts (they called them “Agreements”) on the life of Christ. They all agreed he died by Roman crucifixion. However, it is Agreement four, five and six that are most pertinent to the Resurrection.
Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.
The disciples had experiences they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed.
They were even willing to die for their belief.
As you consider these historical facts, number five is of particular importance.
Habermas and all of these researchers agreed that the disciples had experiences “they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.” Notice their research did not conclude that Jesus had risen from the dead. This is because clearly some scholars did not believe the Resurrection to be a historical fact. This is not surprising. However, all fourteen-hundred of the scholarly works did agree, at a minimum, that “the disciples had experiences they believed were actual appearances of the risen Christ.”
Therefore, those who did not believe that Jesus had actually risen from the dead could only conclude that the disciples were hallucinating or they were lying. Keep this in mind as we examine agreements four and six in the list.
Historical fact number four states that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. All agree there was a missing body and if Jesus did not rise from the dead then one could only conclude that someone had to have stolen the body. They also all agree in historical fact number six. The disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, so much so they were even willing to die for their belief.
So, there’s an empty tomb and the disciples’ lives are transformed radically. If these are considered historical facts, how does one account for them? In relation to the empty tomb, if Jesus’ body had been stolen, scholars agree you have three groups of people who would be motivated to steal it. The Romans, the Jewish authorities, or the disciples. The problem is that the Romans and the Jewish authorities are not very plausible suspects. Once the Resurrection was being proclaimed throughout Jerusalem, all they had to do was produce the body of Christ and Christianity would have died a very quick death. As the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee said,
If they only could have found the body of that Jew [referring to Jesus] Christianity crumbles into ruins.
Toynbee seemed to be frustrated that they could not find the body.
And then you’re left with the disciples. Could they have stolen the body, disposed of it, and then have spent the rest of their lives propagating a lie, particularly when the heart of their teaching was to be committed to proclaiming the truth? Does anyone seriously believe that these men who were discouraged, defeated, and who feared for their lives, would go out, steal Jesus’ body and then proceed to boldly preach the Resurrection to hostile crowds? What would motivate them to do this? Why face prison, torture, and death, all the while knowing that Jesus’ dead body lay in some hidden place?
Historian Thomas Arnold, author of the distinguished three-volume work, The History of Rome, says this,
I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort to the understanding of a fair inquirer than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.
A number of years ago, I was working on a presentation that I entitled “Jesus, Divine or Mythological?” As I was doing the research, I began to notice just how many men had set out to debunk Jesus and Christianity. Through the study of the historical record they were convinced they could demonstrate how preposterous this claim of Resurrection really was. Yet, so many who set out on this journey, through their research, were eventually led to change their minds and become Christians.
Since I did that study that list has grown. J. D. Anderson, Lee Strobel, William Ramsay, Josh McDowell, Frank Morison, Gilbert West—each of them exceptionally reliable scholars.
Each of these men were skeptics who set out to disprove the Resurrection, only to change their minds because they found the evidence to be so compelling. They could find no other explanation to account for the empty tomb, the radical change in the lives of the disciples, and the remarkable explosion of the early church. In their search for historical truth, they all come to the same conclusion: Jesus in fact had risen from the dead.
He is risen!