From the outside, the resurrection could look like the stuff of fairy tales (think King Arthur but with less proof). Wasn’t the resurrection a pious myth spread hundreds of years after Jesus’ life? And what, if anything, might we be able to say about the actual Jesus, as opposed to the invented Jesus of later? In reality, quite a lot. These days, through modern archaeology and research, we are now in the place where we can be much more certain about who he was and the claims of his rising.
Modern New Testament and 1st-century scholars (both those who are sceptics and those who are friends of the Bible) all agree this man lived. But what more can we say? Ninety percent or more of these scholars agree Jesus was a rabbi, his followers hailed from Galilee, he claimed to be the Messiah, he suffered a Roman crucifixion (from which we have no records of anyone ever surviving), he was buried, then subsequently his tomb was empty and his disciples proclaimed him risen – and they died for this belief.
Okay, you say, Jesus lived and died, and some people said he rose, but that doesn’t prove he actually did rise! True, but what is the best explanation for his empty tomb and early followers? Let’s look at some facts.
1. The eye-witness testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection. Consider for instance, that we are now certain from a scholarly perspective that Jesus’ followers began proclaiming him risen not hundreds of years after his death, but at the very latest twenty years. (This fact is verified by 1 Corinthians 15 in the Bible, which is universally agreed to have been written in the mid 1st century by Paul of Tarshish, a convert to Christianity after having been vehemently opposed to its message.) But much more likely, Christians were claiming Jesus to be alive just weeks after His death. In fact, there are early outside testimonies confirming that from virtually Jesus’ death his followers considered him a Messiah who conquered death by rising back to life. Historians and leaders of the 1st and 2nd century, including Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus and the Talmud, mention Jesus, his deeds and his followers. What this means is that the gospels are actually eye-witness testimonies, not later pious fiction.
2. It’s highly likely they were telling the truth. This story just isn’t so easily dismissed as wishful thinking. If people were claiming so early on that Jesus rose, couldn’t the authorities have produced a body to counter the lie? The best they seem to have done is to claim the disciples stole the body. We know that the Romans passed a law in AD 41 in Israel that forbade the robbing of bodies from tombs. This is odd in itself – normally people steal valuables, not bodies! What contributed to such an odd law being passed? And is it credible that Jesus’ followers, who wrote the New Testament and claimed to have seen Jesus risen, just lie? Well, if they did, why? Their testimony ended up getting them persecuted, beaten and eventually killed. All this points to strong evidence, datable to within 10 years of Jesus’ death, that Jesus’ followers believed he was alive, and that the leaders of the country could say nothing credible in response!
3. The resurrection was foretold. But it’s not as if this rising from the dead idea came about only in the 1st century. The Bible makes it clear that all along God would use one man to pay the price for mankind’s sin. See Isaiah 53, a chapter in the Bible written six hundred years before Jesus which includes these words, ‘It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, after he has suffered he will see the light of life’.
So then how do you respond to the empty tomb and so many who claimed Jesus to be alive? Be sure to look into this matter yourself: perhaps start reading the Bible or looking at the evidence from scholars such as Gary Habermas or NT Wright