Can we rationally believe Jesus is alive today?
Christians say that Jesus is alive, 2000 years after his crucifixion. To our modern ears, that sounds pretty crazy. After all, dead people tend to stay dead. For this reason, Christianity can be the butt of a lot of jokes. And here's the thing: If Jesus is still dead, this criticism is well-deserved. Even the apostle Paul himself said so. He wrote to the Corinthians:
"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)
But what follows if Jesus is alive today? Jesus' closest followers said that Jesus' death and resurrection secures eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to everyone who believes. Paul preached to the Athenians "God...now commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead". (Acts 17:31)
And Peter said to the Jewish leaders "Jesus Christ of Nazareth...whom God raised from the dead...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:10-12)
The resurrection also proves that the God of Israel exists and has validated Jesus' divine claims (Mark 8:31, John 8:58, 10:30). CS Lewis, a former atheist-turned-Christian said: "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
The argument for the resurrection:
- Either the disciples were deceivers, they were mistaken, or they were telling the truth.
- They were not deceivers.
- They were not merely mistaken.
- Therefore, they were telling the truth.
Is there any evidence for the resurrection?
We're talking about a miraculous event that allegedly happened two millennia ago. And the case depends largely on Christians sources. So on the face of it, you would be tempted to think not. But you might be surprised. Antony Flew was a philosopher and an outspoken atheist. After many years of debating on the topic, he said: "The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It's outstandingly different in quality and quantity."
The resurrection is a historical claim that is subject to investigation as a historical event. To argue for a historical claim, we need to do two things: 1. We must identify the relevant facts, and 2. We need to evaluate alternative interpretations of those facts. For starters, we need to examine some historical background regarding the death and burial of Jesus:
- Jesus was crucified. This is not only reported in all four gospels but is externally confirmed by non-Christian historians. The Jewish historian Josephus says: "Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross". (Antiquities 18:3) And the Roman historian Tacitus wrote: "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". (Annals 15:44) This strong historical data directly contradicts the Quran, which teaches Jesus was not really crucified. (Surah 4:157)
- Jesus was buried. Jewish law required burial, even for foreigners and for criminals who were executed. (Josephus, Against Apion 2.211, Josephus, Wars 4:316-317, Philo, Spec. Laws III 151-152, Deuteronomy 21:22-23) Also, it's reported in the gospels that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in one of his family tombs. This is unlikely to be a Christian invention, as Joseph was also on the same council that ended up calling for the crucifixion.
Down below is the historical facts that we'll be considering. Even further below are the most popular explanations of the facts. They're not the only explanations, but any explanation has to cover all the facts that we'll be looking at. I recommend reading them in order.
(Note: I'm drawing from Tim and Lydia McGrew's chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology as my primary source for much of what follows here. If you want to go deeper, you can read their chapter for free here.)
The disciples claimed to have had multisensory experiences, both as individuals and in groups, on multiple occasions, of conversing with Jesus. They claimed that he was able to eat and was tangible. They gave details of these encounters as found in the gospel accounts.
In the patriarchal society that was second temple Judaism, women were not highly regarded. In particular, their testimony was looked down upon in comparison to the testimony of men. Yet the Gospel writers make the then-embarrassing admission that women were the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. Why is that important?
Every piece of first-century evidence indicates that the resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem beginning at Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus' crucifixion. What's the importance of the time and the place this message was announced?
After Jesus’ death, the disciples were willing to endure persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ. Find out why that matters.
According to scholar Gary Habermas: “An intriguing development in recent theological research is that a strong majority of contemporary critical scholars seems to support, at least to some extent, the view that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was subsequently discovered to be empty” Here we look at just a few reasons why historians believe this to be fact.
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Maybe the original message of what happened to Jesus changed substantially over the years until it grew into the legend of the resurrection. This might be one of the more popular explanations, but does it cover what we know?
This is the oldest explanation, dating back to the first century and is found in historical literature several times in the early centuries of the church. Could Jesus' disciples have pulled off the biggest hoax in history?
Is it possible the disciples were seeing visions or apparitions of Jesus when he wasn't really there? This would explain the appearances of Jesus, but does this theory work?
The disciples, Paul, and others were telling the truth about what they experienced. They were not deluded or deluding others. A miracle really happened. Is it rational to consider that a miracle occurred? You might be surprised.