Why is the resurrection of Jesus important?
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross at Calvary. He was buried in a tomb and rose from the dead three days later. It was through this death, burial and resurrection that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world and paid our debt for us so that we could freely receive salvation if we accept this gift (please see our page on how to be saved for more information on this). Therefore, belief in Jesus’ resurrection is fundamental to our salvation, as Romans 10:9 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Salvation is dependent upon Jesus being raised from the dead.
If it were not true, we are not saved, 1 Corinthians 15:17 “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
Also, it is one of the principal teachings of the Bible, so rejecting it would make God a liar, and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2 “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;”). If we put our trust in the Bible to save us, we must also believe that it gives a true account of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection.
Furthermore, alongside the clear accounts given within the Bible, the resurrection is also supported with other historical evidence, for example external eyewitness reports. Acts 1:3 says “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:”. Jesus appeared to the disciples among others, which gives us infallible proofs of his resurrection.
Those who reject the Bible have theorised a range of alternative explanations to attempt to disprove the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and explain why a ‘fable’ became so popularised and essential to Christianity, but we will explore this in detail and try and explain some of the flaws with them, arguing why the resurrection of Jesus is true.
Why we cannot deny the resurrection of Jesus:
Many skeptics argue that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was invented by the disciples after Jesus’ death. However, there are a number of arguments against this. For example:
Nobody expected it:
- Mark 9:31-32 “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
- John 20:9 “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.”
- Luke 18:31-34 “Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” Jesus clearly told the disciples exactly what was to happen to him, but they did not understand it. When the time came for Jesus’ death, they did not expect him to be raised because they had not recognised it when he told them.
- John 2:22 says “When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” It was not until after Jesus was raised that the disciples understood the prophecy that foretold it.
Nobody would have invented it:
- Acts 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” The disciples were known to be uneducated men. None of them were scholars, just ordinary men and the majority of them were fishermen. Only in Jesus were they transformed, and their new knowledge was a sign that they “had been with Jesus.” They would not have been able to invent a cohesive story that was infallible and faultless if they were creating it by themselves.
- 1 Corinthians 15:6 says “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” Jesus appeared to many people after his resurrection, this account says that over five hundred people saw him at once. If the resurrection was fake or made up, this means over five hundred people were aware of a hoax but not one of them dissented.
Nobody would have believed it unless it was undeniable:
- Belief in the resurrection radically changed Christianity. This change would not have occurred unless the apostles were working based on their actual physical experiences of it.
- There are certain aspects of the resurrection accounts that were highly unlikely to have been fictional. For example, the Gospels tell us that Jesus appeared first to women. Mark 16:9-11 “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.”
- Luke 24:10-11 “It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” In patriarchal Jewish society, the testimony of women was not well-respected. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus said that women should not be permitted to serve as witness in a court of law. However, Jesus chose to first appear to women. If the resurrection account was fabricated, the men who wrote it would never have described Jesus’ first appearance as to women, as this would have been an embarrassment. Rather, this is best explained by the fact that the women were the first witnesses of Jesus risen from the dead, and the Gospel writers faithfully recorded this. Unless this was undeniably true, it would not have been documented.
Nobody could deny it:
- There were undeniable eyewitnesses of Jesus risen from the dead. For example, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” Other accounts describe Jesus appearing to women, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus, and so on. Jesus’ appearances were vital in encouraging the disciples after his death, but also because he appeared to so many different people, this provided a huge number of eyewitnesses to establish a reliable basis for believing Jesus rose from the dead.
- Even disciples who were very familiar with Jesus were assured this meant he was literally risen, for example, John 20:27-28 says “Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” Thomas could see and touch the physical nail prints in Jesus’ hands, this was undeniable evidence for a physical resurrection from the dead.
- Furthermore, there is also undeniable evidence from external historical records. Historian Flavius Josephus recorded in ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ book 18, chapter 3, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” This is a valid historical account outside of the Bible that is both consistent with the Bible, and reaffirms that Jesus rose from the dead and “appeared to them alive again the third day.”
Nobody would die for a lie:
- The Bible records many examples of people who were martyred for following Jesus. For example, Acts 12:2 records James’ death when it says, “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Acts 7:59 says “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Many of these come from church tradition as well, so exist outside of the Bible.
- Often in the New Testament it records the apostles being put to death for teaching Jesus was resurrected. If this was a fictional story created by the disciples, why would they die for it? If it was a lie, there would be no benefit to them for preaching it, so why would they willingly be martyred for it without rejecting it? They did not benefit in terms of financial gain, power, status, comfort, etc. They selflessly spread the gospel, often at risk to their own lives and well-being.
- With a claim that over five hundred witnesses saw Jesus risen from the dead, a large number of these were killed and yet not one of them turned against their story and admitted it was untrue. There would be no alternative explanation for this other than them believing it was the truth because they were direct witnesses of it.
Nobody would worship their own brother:
- John 7:5 tells us of Jesus’ family, “For neither did his brethren believe in him.” Jesus’ own brothers did not believe that he was the Son of God, which was prophesied in Psalm 69:8 “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.”
- However, in Acts 1:14, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension back to heaven, it says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” After Jesus rises from the dead, Jesus’ mother and brothers believe on him. Galatians 1:19 says “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” James is now called an apostle. The only explanation for this is given in 1 Corinthians 15:7 “After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.” James went from ridiculing and criticising Jesus to believing he was the Son of God purely because he saw Jesus alive after he was raised from the dead. This would only have happened if the resurrection was real.
Nobody can explain the explosion of Christianity:
- After Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity exploded. The disciples saw Jesus raised from the dead and he gave them a final command in Mark 16:15, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Countless Jews and Gentiles alike converted to Christianity, but only after Jesus’ death, because they saw him risen from the dead. This would not have occurred or been so powerful if the basis of it were not true.
- Acts 17:5-6 says “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;”. Some of the disciples had preached at Thessalonica in a synagogue of the Jews, many of which converted, while others caused an uproar. They said the disciples had “turned the world upside down”. They caused a revolution and a radical change, not only in the teachings of the Jews, but also in the fulfilment of prophecy, conversion of many, and promise of salvation. This would only have happened if it were true.
Nobody can deny its prophetic fulfilment:
- The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus clearly fulfilled a huge number of prophecies. It was foretold by the prophets writing hundreds of years previous in the Old Testament, and as they were so perfectly fulfilled (even parts the Jews did not expect to happen to their Messiah) this is evidence that Jesus was the true Son of God who performed everything exactly as he was supposed to, rather than a concocted story by a small sect.
- Jesus would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, prophesied in Zechariah 11:12, fulfilled in Matthew 26:15.
- Jesus would be betrayed by one of the disciples, prophesied in Psalm 41:9, 55:12-14, fulfilled in Matthew 26:47, Mark 14:10, Luke 22:47, John 18:3.
- Jesus would be accused by false witnesses, prophesied in Psalm 27:12, 35:11, 109:2, fulfilled in Matthew 26:59, Mark 14:56.
- Jesus would be beaten, prophesied in Isaiah 53:5, Micah 5:1, fulfilled in Matthew 26:67, Mark 14:65, Luke 22:63-65, John 19:1-3.
- Jesus would be spat on and reviled, prophesied in Isaiah 50:6, fulfilled in Matthew 26:67, Mark 15:19.
- Jesus would be silent when he was accused, prophesied in Isaiah 53:7, fulfilled in Matthew 27:12,14, Mark 15:5, Luke 23:9, John 19:10.
- Jesus was given vinegar and gall, prophesied in Psalm 69:21, fulfilled in Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:23, Luke 23:36, John 19:29.
- They cast lots for Jesus’ garment, prophesied in Psalm 22:18, fulfilled in Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24.
- Jesus was killed alongside criminals, prophesied in Isaiah 53:9,12, fulfilled in Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27, Luke 23:32-33, John 19:18.
- Jesus was laughed at, prophesied in Psalm 22:7-8, fulfilled in Matthew 27:39-43, Mark 15:29-32.
- Jesus would say “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, prophesied in Psalm 22:1, fulfilled in Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34 .
- Jesus’ tomb would come from a rich man, prophesied in Isaiah 53:9, fulfilled in Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50, John 19:38.
- Jesus would be resurrected, prophesied in Psalm 16:10, 49:15, Mark 9:31, fulfilled in Matthew 28:6-7, Mark 16:6, Luke 24:6, John 20:20.
- Jesus would ascend to heaven and sit on the right hand of God after his resurrection, prophesied in Psalm 110:1, fulfilled in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51.
How can people deny it?
People who deny that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real event as described in the Bible have come up with a range of theories to try and explain why the account became so widely spread and believed. However, these have many flaws and fail to explain the radical change, as we will examine below.
Theory 1 – Imposter:
The imposter theory argues that at some point either just before or during the time when Jesus was trialled and condemned to death, he was replaced by a lookalike imposter. This person pretended to be Jesus and died on the cross in his place, while the real Jesus hid somewhere else. Then after three days, Jesus came out of hiding and falsely claimed to be resurrected.
There are a large number of flaws with this theory. First of all, they would have needed to find an imposter. This person would not only have had to look enough like Jesus to fool all of the accusers, but also would need to have been willing to die in Jesus’ place. Not many people would do this to continue a lie with no benefit.
Another problem is that the switch had to be accomplished in a time and manner that no one, even the people condemning him and having conversations with him would have noticed. It seems highly unlikely that after Jesus had been arrested he would have been left alone or with his disciples long enough to be exchanged with someone else, and that this change would not have been noted.
Furthermore, when Jesus appears to the disciples after his death, it says in John 20:27 “Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” Luke 24:39-40 reads, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.” Jesus showed Thomas and the other disciples the injuries he had received during his crucifixion, such as the nail prints in his hands and feet and his pierced side. It is highly unlikely that Jesus would have gone to this length to fake his resurrection, and also almost impossible to recreate the exact injuries the imposter would have actually received.
Theory 2 – Hallucination:
Hallucination theory argues that the disciples were so miserable after Jesus’ death that they had auditory and visual hallucinations of Jesus resurrected and believed that this was a physical appearance.
One primary error with this is that psychologically, a large factor in hallucinations is that they usually involve something expected or anticipated, but the Gospels tell us that the disciples had no expectation of Jesus being raised from the dead as they did not understand when he prophesied it to them (Mark 9:31-32, Luke 18:34, John 20:9). Therefore, they were not mentally prone to hallucinating a resurrected Jesus because they were not anticipating it or even expecting it to happen.
In fact, both James the brother of Jesus and Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) were both converted to Christianity after they saw Jesus appear to them after his resurrection. They were both highly skeptical of Jesus before his death, Paul was a persecutor of the early Christian church. Neither of them were expecting to see Jesus raised, or likely to be changed so radically by a hallucination.
Furthermore, the Gospels record a large number of appearances of Jesus risen from the dead. Most of these were to groups of people, for example 1 Corinthians 15 tells us he appeared to the group of disciples, and also over five hundred people at one time. This would require a massive group to be hallucinating the same situation at the same time, and all come out of it with cohesive and compatible accounts.
However, clinical psychologist Gary Sibcy said, “I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.” We do not even have reported cases of two people having a shared hallucination, let alone five hundred!
Another problem of the hallucination theory is that it cannot explain the empty tomb. If Jesus being raised was purely a hallucination, why was the tomb still found empty? Where is Jesus’ body? It has never been found. If the disciples had only had a hallucination of the resurrection of Jesus, this would quickly have been discredited when they found his body was still in the tomb, rather than ascended up to heaven, however it was not, supporting the Biblical account that Jesus was physically resurrected.
Theory 3 – Body was stolen:
A third theory used argues that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb either by his disciples, family or someone else and hidden to make it seem as though he was risen. This theory cannot explain the resurrection accounts by themselves, they require another theory, such as that the disciples hallucinated a resurrected Jesus, or an imposter pretended to be him. However, again a range of reasons show this to be false.
For example, there were guards set outside the tombs. In Matthew 27:62-66, the chief priests and Pharisees ask Pontius Pilate to increase the guard outside the tombs, it says, “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” The stone was used to seal the tomb shut, and guards were set to watch it. How would the disciples be able to break into the tomb and steal the body of Jesus without anybody noticing?
Some people argue that the body was stolen by grave robbers, however grave robbers are only known to steal valuable possessions that people are buried with, why would they break in and try and escape with the body of a fully grown man, leaving his clothes behind? Also why would they risk stealing from a guarded one when many unguarded ones would have been around?
Matthew 28:12-15 says, “And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” This describes the elders and chief priests paying the guards off to pretend that they had seen the disciples steal Jesus’ body while they fell asleep.
However, in these days, if a guard had fallen asleep while on duty they would usually be beaten or even killed. Firstly this means that the disciples (or another person trying to steal Jesus’ body) would have been unlikely to get past the guards, as they were so careful to stay awake and avoid punishment. The account also says that “this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day”, meaning that the body being stolen is still a common hypothesis for explaining the empty tomb.
However, there is one fatal flaw that undermines the whole story – if the guards were asleep (so that the disciples could slip past them), how did the guards know it was the disciples? They were told to say, “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept”, but how could they have known this if they were asleep?
Clearly a level of presumption is involved, but the theory also presumes that the disciples would have been able to sneak into the graveyard by night, past the sleeping guards, roll back the stone covering the tomb’s entrance, remove Jesus’ body but leave the clothes laid exactly as they were and wrap the cloth from around his head separately (John 20:7 “And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.”), then roll the stone back and escape carrying a body. This seems highly unlikely when the guards knew how badly punished they would have been for making a mistake.
Theory 4 – Jesus passed out:
Another argument that skeptics use is that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but he passed out from his injuries and woke up in the tomb three days later, rolled the stone away, escaped and pretended to be resurrected. Clearly there are a huge number of issues with this already, and yet it is still one of the most common objections used to attempt to discredit the resurrection.
One major problem with this theory (also known as swoon theory) is that it suggests that the Roman soldiers could not tell whether or not Jesus was dead. Not only would they have been killed or punished severely for taking a criminal down from the cross before they died (so they would have been very careful to make sure they were fully dead), but the Romans had also performed a large number of crucifixions so were likely to be familiar with the signs of someone either being dead or alive.
Furthermore, John 19:32-33 says, “Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” The Jews wanted the bodies taken off the cross before the Sabbath, so they asked Pilate to order the guards to break the legs of those being crucified to speed up their death. However, when the guards reach Jesus, they saw that he was dead already, so do not break his legs but pierce his side. The passage goes on to explain that this was all to fulfil the prophecies of Jesus’ death. If the guards could recognise that he was already dead, they would have been sure to know this before removing him from the cross.
Another problem is that crucifixion has been argued to be the most painful way to die ever created. In Luke 22:44 it says, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Before he had even been arrested he was sweating drops of blood due to the extreme stress of awaiting his death. This is a condition known as hematidrosis.
After this, Jesus is arrested and led to stand before a range of accusers and judges who mock him, spit on him, falsely accuse him, blindfold him, beat him, smote him, scourged him (which often killed people in itself), had a crown of thorns (each thorn was over an inch long) put on his head, and then hit into his head, then carried his cross until he was nailed to it through his hands and feet. He would have struggled to breathe for hours, been in unimaginable pain and torture, and then once he appeared dead he had his side pierced (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19).
It would have been impossible for Jesus to survive this. Also, if he had only passed out from this and woken up three days later, he would have been incredibly weak and almost paralysed by the pain. He would not have been able to get up (also why would he leave his clothes behind?), roll away the heavy stone (which traditionally was placed in a ditch so it would have to be rolled uphill) from the inside (there would be no easy way to grip the stone from the inside because there was no need for it), escape (having the energy to and without leaving a trail of blood or sign of where he went) without being seen (by the guards set outside his tomb), appear resurrected (without signs of damage or weakness and appearing that he had conquered death) and then vanish again. The theory makes no sense.
Mark 15:44-45 reads, “And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.” When Joseph of Arimathaea came to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body, it says Pilate checked to see Jesus had been dead for a while. This was yet another person who had to be convinced that the body of Jesus was actually dead.
This theory also does not account for the missing body. After Jesus escaped the tomb, he either would have died soon after (so where is his body?) or he would have sought medical help and recovered and died later in life (again, unlikely after the brutal torture he had experienced also, where is his body?). If the disciples had seen a weak, crippled Jesus they would not believe that he was risen from the dead, which would not explain the radical change in their behaviour.
Is believing in the resurrection of Jesus realistic?
As we have seen, the resurrection of Jesus is not only reliable, it is the only theory that can account for all of the facts. Through his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled many prophecies and caused changes in people that were both undeniable and unexpected. No theory proposed by the skeptic can explain all the information we find both within the Bible and external historical records, they either require another theory to work alongside, or they are full of flaws and mistakes.
The only way to explain it is that the disciples were telling the truth that they saw a resurrected Jesus. Not only is this clear from the evidence given, it is also necessary for our salvation. Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, died on the cross in the most painful death imaginable, was buried and rose again on the third day to pay the debt for our sins so that we can freely go to heaven by believing on him and accepting his salvation. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
1 Corinthians 15:13-19 says, “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” If Christ did not rise from the dead, the apostles and Christians since are made liars, they were deceived when they saw him risen, our faith is in vain, we are still sinners without forgiveness, anyone who has died with faith in this lie is in hell, the Bible and secular history is contradicted and we have no heaven to look forward to. What seems more believable?