Our belief as Christians is based on the fact that Christ died to pay for our sins, was buried and rose the third day and is alive today. The apostle Paul stated that if Christ is not risen from the dead then our preaching is in vain.
The body of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish burial customs, was wrapped in linen cloth and covered with spices. The body was placed in a solid rock tomb. This tomb was owned by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, an important and well known man in Jerusalem. An extremely large rock was rolled by means of levers against the entrance of the tomb. Roman guards were stationed to guard the tomb. A normal Roman guard unit was made up of 16 men, with 4 on alert at all times. This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal. The situation at the tomb after the resurrection is significant. The Roman seal was broken, which meant automatic crucifixion upside down for those who did it. The large stone was moved up and away from not just the entrance but from the entire sepulcher, as if it had been picked up and carried away. The guard unit had fled, an offense punishable by death.
A.M. Ramsey in his book “God, Christ and the Tomb” “states that the empty tomb was too notorious to be denied. The resurrection could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day or even for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.” Remember this was the big news item at that time. This was front page stuff. A minute walk from the center of Jerusalem would confirm the empty tomb. No one denied that the tomb was empty.
Both Jewish and Roman sources and traditions acknowledge an empty tomb. Historian Ron Sider concludes: “If the Christians and their Jewish opponents both agreed that the tomb was empty, we have little choice but to accept the empty tomb as a historical fact.”
John R. W. Stott in “Basic Christianity” said the silence of Christ’s enemies “is as eloquent a proof of the resurrection as the apostles witness.”
Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection.
James, the brother of Jesus never believed that Jesus was deity. Even though he grew up with Jesus, he never accepted that he was Christ, but that changed after the resurrection. James saw Jesus died on the cross. He knew He was dead, but then he saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. He went from not believing Jesus to being one of the early church leaders. James was martyred for his faith. Why such a radical change in James? Because he knew Jesus was alive and with God in heaven.
After his death, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people and he appeared several times to the apostles before his ascension. The apostle Peter says in Acts 2:32 “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of the fact.” Acts 3:15 says: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. ” In Acts 10:41 Peter confirms to Cornelias that he ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Scripture tells us some of the people Jesus appeared to:
- Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, John 20:10-18
- To the other women, Matthew 28:8-10
- To Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-32
- To eleven disciples and others, Luke 24:33-49
- To the ten apostles and others less Thomas, John 20:19-23
- To seven apostles, John 21:1-14
- To the disciples, Matthew 28:16-20
- With the apostles at the mount of Olives at His ascension, Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:4-9
Prominent British theologian Michael Green said: “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity…There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”
In 56 A.D. Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6).
John Warwick Montgomery states that “it passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
The earliest Christians didn’t just endorse Jesus teachings, they were convinced they had seen him alive after the crucifixion. The empty tomb by itself did not cause the disciples to believe, It was Christ’s post-resurrection appearances that assured His followers that He had actually risen from the dead. That’s what changed their lives so dramatically and started the Church. After the resurrection, the suddenly emboldened disciples went right back into the city of Jerusalem to preach that he had been resurrected. If the resurrection had not been a known and accepted fact, they would have been laughed out of Jerusalem. Would they have done this if His resurrection was a lie? The disciples were closer to Jesus than anybody. They would have known whether it was real or not. Nobody will die for a lie, but they will die for the truth. Because they had seen Him, touched Him, spoke and ate with Him they knew He rose from the grave and was alive. They knew He was in heaven with God the Father, for they watched Him ascend to heaven from the Mount of Olives. Because of this, they each endured pain, hardship, and death in order to spread the good news of Christ. They knew beyond any doubt, that the grave couldn’t hold Him; that He was alive, and one day they would be reunited with Him in heaven.
“We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) NLT
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.” (Acts 2:32)
“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” (Acts 1:3)
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you………so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
Just five weeks after He was crucified, over ten thousand Jews were willingly giving up the social institution that they were taught since childhood and following Him, claiming He is the Christ.
William Lane Craig states that there is a substantial amount of evidence that within twenty years of the crucifixion there was a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, had been a Christian for eighty-six years, and was a disciple of John the Apostle. He wrote: “So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them.
The disciples, in recording the events of the resurrection, would have adhered to the Jewish tradition which commanded them to be honest witnesses. “The fact that the apostles constantly appealed to such eyewitness testimony is all the more believable in light of their own unique Jewish heritage. No religion has ever stressed the importance of truth or truthful testimony more than the Jewish religion.”
The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies which would at once be exposed by those who would only be too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, “We are witnesses of these things,” but also, “As you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.
The New Testament accounts of Christ were being circulated within the lifetimes of those alive at the time of His life. These people could certainly confirm or deny the accuracy of the accounts.
Dr. J. P. Moreland, a well known theological wrote: “When Jesus was crucified his followers were discouraged and depressed. They no longer had confidence that Jesus had been sent by God, because they believed anyone crucified was accursed by God. They also had been taught that God would not let his Messiah suffer death. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then after a short time we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message, that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them. And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. It’s not as though there were a mansion awaiting them on the Mediterranean. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead. What you can’t explain is how this particular group of men came up with this particular belief without having had an experience of the resurrected Christ. There’s no other adequate explanation.”
Bible expositor Alexander MaClaren wrote: “There is only one explanation……Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. That drew them (the disciples) together once more. You cannot build a church on a dead Christ; and of all the proofs of the resurrection, I take it that there is none that is harder for an unbeliever to account for, than the simple fact that Christ’s disciples held together after he was dead and presented a united front to the world.”
Dr. Moreland notes: “They faced hardship, ridicule, hostility, and martyrs death. In light of all this, they could have never sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie.”
The apostles were willing to die horrible deaths. Not for a lie, but for what they knew to be the truth. Consider how they died:
- Matthew: Suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, Killed by a sword wound.
- Mark: Died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by Horses through the streets until he was dead.
- Luke: Was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous Preaching to the lost.
- John: Faced martyrdom when he was boiled in huge Basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution In Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered From death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison Island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to serve As Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully
- Peter: He was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. According to church tradition, it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die In the same way that Jesus Christ had died.
- James: The leader of the church in Jerusalem was thrown over a hundred feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. * This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
- James the Son of Zebedee: He was a fisherman by trade when Jesus Called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the church, James was beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and Knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
- Bartholomew: Also known as Nathaniel Was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed for our Lord in present-day Turkey. Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.
- Andrew: Was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: ‘I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.’ He continued to preach to his tormentors For two days until he expired.
- Thomas: Was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the Sub-continent.
- Jude: Was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
- Matthias: The apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot was stoned and then beheaded.
- Paul: Was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational Doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament.
The apostles were willing to die for something they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands. They were in a unique position not to just believe Jesus rose from the dead but to know for sure. And when you’ve got eleven credible people with no ulterior motives, with nothing to gain and a lot to lose, who all agree they observed something with their own eyes – now you’ve got some difficulty explaining that away.
The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But, so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position. Think of the number of witnesses, over five hundred. Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense.
Paul Little in his book “Know Why You Believe” wrote “men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know to be a lie.”
Sir Lionel Luckhoo, an attorney whose astounding 245 consecutive murder acquittals earned him a place in The Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most successful lawyer. Knighted twice by Queen Elizabeth. A former justice and diplomat. He subjected the facts about the Resurrection to his own analysis for several years before declaring, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”
“The crux of the problem of whether Jesus was, or was not, what He proclaimed Himself to be, must surely depend upon the truth or otherwise of the resurrection. On that greatest point we are not merely asked to have faith, in its favor as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”
To me there is no greater miracle and evidence for Jesus than a changed life for God. When someone finds the Lord in their life and does an about face in the way they are living, it is without a doubt a miracle, because it is so hard for us to even make small changes in our lives by our own strength.
There is no greater example of a changed life than the apostle Paul. As Saul he was a Christian hater Jewish zealot, who became even more zealous for Christ. As a Jew, he looked down upon the despised Gentiles as being inferior to the Jews. But after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, he became a missionary to the Gentiles.
“Though Paul still loved his Jewish heritage, he had changed from a bitter antagonist to a determined protagonist of the Christian faith.”
“What integrated Paul’s life, however, and lifted this almost neurotic temperament out of obscurity into enduring influence was a profound and revolutionary religious experience.”
“The conversion and apostleship of Saint Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a Divine Revelation.”
After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Saul was transformed. Even his name was changed to Paul. He then spent twenty-five years telling the world about Jesus, while enduring numerous hardships. Why? Because he had seen the risen Christ.
Paul’s life had one purpose and that was to preach that Jesus was the Christ and only through Him was heaven attainable. For this he suffered much.
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ than you already know he is alive. You have that assurance within you, that you will be spending eternity with him. You have a peace that someone who doesn’t know Jesus cannot even comprehend. You can say with complete assurance, the tomb is empty! Jesus is alive! https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B06XK4GJT1