Did Jesus really rise from the dead? How can we know? Most people, both Christians, and non-Christians alike, will tell you that if you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it has to be on either the basis of a religious experience (for example, you were addicted to drugs but prayed to Jesus to free you and if He did, you would follow him all the days of your life) or blind faith. The general public is under the impression that Jesus' resurrection cannot be believed on the basis of evidence. However, while this perception is common among the general population, it isn't true. There is actually a wealth of historical evidence for the truth of Christianity, and many skeptics have become Christians by looking at this evidence.1 I'm glad that such evidence exists for a number of reasons. For one, I consider myself a generally skeptical and critically thinking person. I like that I can believe that Christianity is true on the basis of more than "The Bible tells me so". If there were no evidence for Jesus' resurrection other than the claims of The Bible, I would have a hard time maintaining belief in it. Especially since other religions make equally radical claims. How would I know to accept The Bible's claims about God rather than, say, the Quran's? Secondly, it is important to our eternal fates whether we know that Jesus rose from the dead if He actually did. As C.S Lewis eloquently put it: "Christianity, if false, is of no importance. But if true, it is of infinite importance. The only thing I cannot be is moderately important."2 Christianity is of no importance whatsoever if it isn't true. If Jesus were just a wise teacher or a false prophet who met an untimely demise, who cares? On the other hand, if The Bible is true, if Christianity is true, if Jesus was God incarnate who died and rose from the dead, then it is infinitely important that we listen to what He has to say and that we apply it to our lives. If Christianity is true and we don't believe it, we're in for one Hell of an afterlife (pun intended), since The Bible teaches that whoever does not believe in Jesus will be under God's wrath (John 3:18, John 3:36), who will be thrown in a lake of fire to be tormented forever and ever (Revelation 14:10-11). It is therefore vital that we believe Jesus' claims about Himself. Not to do so result in us dying in our sins (see John 8:24). This is why C.S Lewis said that Christianity is infinitely important if it's true. But if it's not true, then the warnings of judgment in scripture are nothing but empty threats.
So if it's true and we don't believe it, eternal agony awaits.3 If it's false and we don't believe it, no biggie. This is why Lewis said it's either infinitely important or not important at all. But under no circumstances can it be somewhat important.
Why The Resurrection Is So Important
As you've probably noticed, I used "Christianity" and "Jesus' resurrection" interchangeably in the paragraphs above. There's a reason I did that. If the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth can be historically established, then that means that the entire Christian worldview is established as well. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true and any worldview or religion that contradicts Christianity is false.
Why do I say that? Is this some unjustified leap? "Are you seriously saying that validating one of The Bible's claims validates the entire Bible? Aren't you committing the hasty generalization fallacy in making this assertion?"4 I understand why you would raise this question. Before I get into making a case for Jesus' resurrection, I need to first unpack why it would validate the entire Christian worldview.
First of all, there is strong historical evidence that Jesus claimed to be God. If Jesus said that he was God but he wasn’t, then he was either a lying heretic or else he was crazy. If that were the case, there’s no way God The Father would resurrect Jesus from the dead knowing that that would vindicate his blasphemous claims and lead many people astray. God would never raise a heretic and a blasphemer. But if God did raise Jesus from the dead, then God implicitly put his stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. If Jesus rose from the dead, then that means God The Father agreed with Jesus’ claims for which his enemies killed him as a blasphemer. If God The Father raised Jesus from the dead then that means He agrees with Jesus’ claims to be divine.
If that’s the case, then whatever Jesus teaches carries a lot of weight. Well, what did Jesus teach? He taught (1) that the Old Testament was the divinely inspired Word of God. He believed and taught that every word in The Old Testament was true. (2) Since he handpicked the writers of the New Testament, this means the New Testament is divinely inspired given that Jesus is God, (3) He also seemed to believe that Adam and Eve were historical individuals, that (4) the flood story in Genesis 6-9 actually happened, that (5) angels and demons really do exist, and (6) that if you place your faith in him, you will have eternal life but that if you don’t place your faith in Him, you’ll end up in Hell (John 3:16-18, John 8:24).
So if Jesus rose from the dead after allegedly blaspheming the One who raised him, we can believe all of these things as well simply because Jesus believed them. This is why you'll often hear Christian Apologists say "I don't believe in Jesus because I believe The Bible. I believe The Bible because I believe in Jesus".
But, how do we know that Jesus actually claimed to be divine and that he believed the Old Testament was inspired, that he believed angels and demons existed, etc.? I unpack this in my blog post "What Is The Significance Of Jesus' Resurrection?"
"Oh no! Not Another Blog Series!"
I've come to learn that not everyone likes blog post series5, so I plan on making this both a blog post series as well as a book. I know of no one interested in researching these matters who hates books, so if you're one of those people who hate blog posts series, you can wait and the series compiled in book form. Though this particular paragraph and subsection will be missing.
Be Willing To Follow The Evidence Wherever It Leads
If you understand the importance of knowing whether or not Christianity is true, then you'll take the time to either read this blog post series or read the book adaption of it. If you do take the time to listen to my arguments, please follow them to their logical conclusions. My friend Neil Mammen has a saying "Don't let the consequences of your logic cause you to abandon that logic." 6 Not everyone who denies the resurrection of Jesus does so purely on intellectual grounds or on the grounds that the evidence isn't sufficient. Some people deny that the resurrection occurred simply because they want it not to have occurred. Some people aren't Christians because there isn't enough evidence to establish that it's true, but because they don't want it to be true.
If Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then several implications follow. It means that if you're living in sin, you'll have to repent. Jesus said that if you even look at a woman with lust, you've committed adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:28), and adultery is one of the things God said not to do (Exodus 20:14). If you like to spend your evenings downloading and looking at pornography, you'll have to get that out of your life or answer to God for it (2 Corinthians 5:10). But porn watchers don't want to do that. Watching porn is fun! It's exciting! Porn watchers don't want to give up porn because they enjoy it too much. Others may want to sleep around, bouncing from woman to woman as Charlie Harper did on the hit sitcom Two and A Half Men. According to Hebrews 13:4, this is a no-no. If someone engaged in this behavior doesn't repent, they'll be facing judgment. Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:9-11 prohibit homosexual relationships. Some people don't want Christianity to be true because it means they'll have to stop having sex with their same-sex partner. 2 Corinthians 6:14 prohibits a believer marrying an unbeliever. Some people may not want Christianity to be true because they know that if it is, they need to become Christians or else they face Hell, and if they're Christians themselves, they'll be prohibited from marrying their boyfriend or girlfriend who is also an unbeliever.
For many people, it's a purely intellectual issue. Merely being presented with the evidence in this blog series will be sufficient to persuade them to become Christians. For others, they're resistant to following the evidence where it leads because they're in love with their sin, and don't like the idea of having to exchange their pet sin for a relationship with Jesus. Jesus talked about this when he said "This is the verdict: that light has come into the world. Yet men loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will come nowhere near the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." (John 3:19-20). Echoing Jesus' words, the mathematician and Christian Apologist John Lennox said: "If religion is a fairytale for those afraid of the dark, then atheism is a fairytale for those afraid of the light." 7
So again, "Don't let the consequences of your logic force you to abandon that logic." Don't let the consequences of Christianity being true to force you to swim against the current of evidence pointing against it. The Christian Apologist Frank Turek of CrossExamined.org often exposes someone as resisting Jesus on emotional or moral grounds by asking them one simple question: "If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?" That's the question I'm posing to you, dear reader. If you knew beyond a reasonable doubt that Christianity is true, would you be willing to give up whatever lifestyle Christ might not approve of in order to follow Him and serve Him? If you were convinced that God exists, would you bow to Him as your Savior and Lord? If you hesitate or if your answer is "no", then your problem isn't in your head, it's in your heart. In that case, this series and its e-book adaption will be of no use to you, since your problem isn't intellectual to begin with. So, before you proceed, do some introspection and determine whether you're on a truth quest or whether you're on a happiness quest. If your answer to that question is "Yes", then keep reading! God promises that those who sincerely seek Him find Him when they seek Him with all their heart (see Jeremiah 29:13).
Moreover, if your answer is "No, let me ask you something. Isn't it better to live in the truth than in a lie? Wouldn't it be wonderful if life didn't end at the grave, but that an eternity of uninterrupted bliss followed? Wouldn't it be infinitely awesome if the death of a loved one wasn't a final goodbye, but an "until we meet again"? If Christianity is true, life doesn't end at the grave, death is the beginning of an eternity of uninterrupted bliss, and I will see my loved ones again someday. I would think you would want Christianity to be true, not false! Yeah, you'd have to give up some worldly pleasures, but isn't eternal life worth more than a night of porn or a marriage to someone of the same sex?
Of course, what we want to be true doesn't matter one iota. What matters is where the evidence points. My point in the previous paragraph was an attempt to change your desire if you fell into the category of people who say "No" to Frank Turek's question. I wanted to make you want it to be true, or at least find Christianity attractive so you might be less prone to suppressing the truth (Romans 1:18-20).
Addressing The Elephant In The Room
Moreover, when you examine the evidence, make sure you don't go in with a presupposition that miracles cannot occur. What is a presupposition? Josh and Sean McDowell explain that "A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance. ... A presupposition is something that is assumed to be true and is taken for granted. Synonyms include: prejudgment, assumption of something as true, prejudice, forejudgment, preconceived opinion, fixed conclusion, preconceived notion, and premature conclusion." 8 If you go into this concluding from the outset that miracles cannot occur, that will distort your ability to interpret the evidence.
The biochemist Michael Behe gives an amusing illustration of this in his book Darwin's Black Box:
"Imagine a room in which a body lies crushed, flat as a pancake. A dozen detectives crawl around, examining the floor with magnifying glasses for any clue to the identity of the perpetrator. In the middle of the room, next to the body, stands a large, gray elephant. The detectives carefully avoid bumping into the pachyderm's legs as they crawl, and never even glance at it. Over time the detectives get frustrated with their lack of progress but resolutely press on, looking even more closely at the floor. You see, textbooks say detectives must "get their man," so they never consider elephants." 9
Behe was writing in the context of Darwinists ruling out Intelligent Design theory out from the outset, but the analogy is just as applicable in looking at the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. If you presuppose that a miraculous resurrection cannot occur and then interpret the evidence in light of that presupposition, you're like the detectives who refuse to consider that the corpse on the floor may have been killed by the elephant standing directly adjacent to it. Of course, if a naturalistic explanation can account for the data, that's one thing. But to think, either consciously or subconsciously "No matter what the evidence says, Jesus could not possibly have come back to life" is wrongheaded. If a human culprit could be found, tried, and convicted for the murder of the person in Behe's analogy, that would be one thing. But to say "No matter what the evidence says, an elephant couldn't possibly be the culprit" is wrongheaded.
Why I'm Writing A Whole Series On This
I have written about the evidence for Jesus' resurrection elsewhere. I've written about it in "The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus' Resurrection PART 1" and "The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus' Resurrection PART 2". I've also written an abbreviated version of that first article called "A Quick Case For Jesus' Resurrection". And I've done a 20-page chapter on it in my book Inference To The One True God: Why I Believe In Jesus Instead Of Other Gods. Given this, one may wonder why I'm doing a whole series on it. The answer: because the evidence is far more powerful and plenteous than I was able to present in the space allotted to me in those linked articles and book chapter. For example, I gave 3 reasons to believe Jesus' tomb was empty in the writings above, but there are actually a lot more reasons to believe that this is true. Other criteria of authenticity establish that Jesus' tomb was empty and that Jesus did die by Roman crucifixion. I just didn't mention these in these above writings because (1) I didn't know about a few of these arguments until recently, and (2) I didn't want the above writings to be lengthier than need-be.
In this series, I'll be covering familiar ground while also talking about evidence I had not talked about in my prior writings on this subject.
In the next blog post, I'll explain the methodology of how we get from the question "Did Jesus rise from the dead?" to the answer "He is risen!". Most of the non-Christians I engage with simply don't understand the reasoning behind the arguments, and therefore make all kinds of misguided accusations, such as that we're reasoning in a circle. It's vital to understand the process of the case for Jesus' resurrection if one is to properly respond to it (either by falling to their knees or in rebuttal).
1: Such as Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, Frank Morrison, and C.S Lewis. They came to believe that Jesus claimed to be God and rose from the dead on the foundation of the historical evidence that we will be looking at in this series.
2: C. S. Lewis Quotes. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2017. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/cslewis164517.html, accessed November 6, 2017.
3: Some people think The Bible's teachings on Hell impugn God's goodness. I don't, but it's beyond the scope of this series to get into why. If you're bothered by The Bible's teachings on Hell, I recommend checking out my book A Hellacious Doctrine: A Defense Of The Biblical Doctrine Of Hell which addresses this biblical doctrine in depth. Each chapter takes on a different objection to the doctrine of Hell, from the "Eternal torment is overkill" argument to the "What happens to the unevangelized" question.
4: The Hasty Generalization fallacy occurs when someone takes a small sample of a class and then makes an unjustified conclusion about the totality of that specific class in which the sample was found. For example, someone would be committing the hasty generalization fallacy if they said "All men are pigs" based on their past relationships, or if they said "All white men are racists" just because they knew a couple of white men who were indeed racists.
5: Tony Lee Ross Jr. expressed his dislike of blog post series in an article he wrote titled "Why You Should Stop Writing Blog Post Series (Part 1). -- https://www.sinnersinthehandsofanangryblog.com/2017/09/why-you-should-stop-writing-blog-post.html
6: Neil Mammen, "Who Is Agent X: Proving Science and Logic Show It's More Rational To Believe That God Exists", page
7: I could never find a place where Lennox said this in writing, but I know he said this in a debate he had with Stephen Hawking. In fact, it's a rather popular quote of his.
8: McDowell, Josh; McDowell, Sean. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (p. lxi). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
9: Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box (New York: Free Press, 1996), 192.rft