What is Easter all about: bunnies, beautifully decorated eggs and marshmallow treats that could survive a zombie apocalypse? That’s the message we hear: Easter equals spring. But in reality, Easter equals good news for you. And our world needs some good news. Maybe we’re not even sure what’s wrong, but we know this world is broken. Suffering and death fill the nightly news. Sadly, the television doesn’t keep suffering and death at bay. In addition to all our weekly worries, bigger and more personal problems gnaw at our existence. I know I’ve wronged others. I know I’m going to die. And I know I’m powerless to solve my problems of guilt, suffering, and death. I need rescue.
If you’re drowning in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean, do you need Michael Phelps coaching you on your butterfly stroke, or a Coast Guard helicopter to rescue you? So, when it comes to humanity’s greatest problems, do you need a religious guide, coach or guru telling you what to do and how to behave, or a Savior who’ll rescue you from suffering, guilt, and death? What you and I need isn’t some new spiritual fad, how-to book, or self-help program. We need a Savior.
Jesus—and no one else—claims to take your wrongdoings, shame, and failures and nail them to His cross. Buddha doesn’t promise to die for me. Mohammed doesn’t promise to take away my guilt. Moses didn’t live a perfect life for me. Christianity isn’t about whether or not I’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad, or if I’ve behaved better than someone else. Easter is Jesus’ declaration: ““I’m your Savior. I suffered for you. I was judged for you. I conquered death for you. Heaven is yours.”
It may sound too good to be true. But Christianity’s claim isn’t just another myth like the Easter bunny. Christianity’s claim is unique: a real guy did real things in history.
So why is Jesus’ resurrection such a big deal? Death isn’t the end of the story. Easter joyfully announces: Jesus died and rose for you! And by rising from the dead—that is, by having power over death—Jesus is in the greatest possible position to solve our biggest problems: suffering, guilt, and death. What you couldn’t solve on your own, Jesus has already solved for you. Jesus’ death and resurrection is your rescue. That’s what Easter is all about.
Let's investigate one of several logical arguments for Christianity’s historical claim of Jesus’ resurrection.
Did Jesus Actually Rise From The Dead?
Jesus’ death is among the best-attested facts in ancient history. But what about his resurrection? Believe it or not, this issue doesn’t require a blind leap of faith. Rather, Christianity’s central claim is a historical one. Namely, that a real guy did real things in history. And this affects you in the most personal way imaginable. Jesus was crucified, then seen alive again three days later, in real human history. Therefore, it can be investigated like any other historical event.
Investigation must precede conclusion. For example, why do you believe Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865? Because someone told you, or you read it. For trained historians, that’s not enough. Historians must apply objective methods to the events in question to determine their reliability. Apply these same objective methods to Christianity’s claim and see what happens. Although space prohibits a detailed and documented citation of these claims, the argument follows a logical step-by-step process (Not, “God says so, I believe it, end of story.”).
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are reliable primary source documents. Begin by treating them as ancient sources not books of the Bible. These books were written by eyewitnesses, or close associates of eyewitnesses and have been reliably transmitted over time. This is historical gold: four biographies about the central figure traceable back to his contemporaries. No ancient historical figure has such thorough documentation. Moreover, many non-Christian historians confirm events recorded in the Gospels, and archaeology substantiates many of these claims.
- In these primary source documents, the central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, claims to be God in human flesh. This is the primary charge against Jesus in the trial preceding his crucifixion.
- Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead proves His deity. When someone says, “I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead,” I ask, “What happened to his body?” I’ve heard numerous theories, but none comport with the evidence acknowledged by a vast amount of scholars. The best explanation that takes all the facts into account is that Jesus rose from the dead.
- If Jesus is God, whatever he says is true. Normally, dead people don’t rise from their graves. But if Jesus rose again, He’s in the best position to tell us what His resurrection means. Jesus proclaims that He has power over His death and yours. Therefore, his promise to give you eternal salvation is also trustworthy.
(For more information: garyhabermas.com)
Next, we’ll examine specific historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
Just The Facts!
Is Christianity playing pretend for adults, like believing in the tooth fairy or a flying spaghetti monster? Many say, “Yes.” But in reality, Christianity appeals to facts and historical evidence to support its central claim. Namely, Jesus was crucified; then seen alive again three days later. Not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but in real human history. Every credible historical account begins with facts. Facts are like bricks. Constructing a building requires a solid foundation. Similarly, demonstrating that Jesus’ resurrection really happened requires facts. So, what bricks support Christianity’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead? The following six facts have a pattern of well-established evidence for their veracity and acceptance by a wide range of scholars.
- Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
- The disciples claimed to experience actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
- The apostles’ proclamation of the resurrection dates to within three years of Jesus’ death.
- Two people, Paul and James, who did not believe in Jesus during his ministry, were later convinced Jesus rose from the dead.
- Despite their counterclaims (i.e. Jesus’ body was stolen or devoured by dogs) no corpse was produced either by Jewish or Roman authorities opposed to Christianity.
- The disciples were utterly transformed by their conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus, and were willing to die for this belief. Moreover, tens of thousands of Jews, including priests and Pharisees, converted, undermining Christianity’s opposition.
In court, when the plaintiff and defendant agree, this amounts to the strongest evidence. That both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree on these points, lends trustworthiness to the claim. Moreover, these facts derive from a wide range of eyewitness, both hostile and supportive, which increase their credibility. Finally, these facts appeal to common ground, building an argument solely on data that is known and generally accepted by scholars in this field.