Did Jesus rise from the dead?
by Adrian Warnock
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins
1 CORINTHIANS 15:17
HAVING EXAMINED THE resurrection accounts (see Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:25) we must address the most important question we can ever ask: Did Jesus really rise from the dead and ascend to heaven to rule over the universe? As John MacArthur said:
Neutrality is not an option. Either Jesus rose and rightly demands your attention, repentance, trust and obedience, or he stayed dead. If he only became a rotting corpse why should you follow him?1
Jesus predicted his resurrection repeatedly. Was he a liar, misleading his followers deliberately to think that he was divine? Could he have been that evil? Could the man whose teaching has never been surpassed also be a con man on such a massive scale? How likely is it that instead he was a deluded fool who falsely believed death could not hold him? Jesus’ credibility is destroyed if he did not rise from the dead. You can- not believe in him as a savior or a good teacher if he deceived us or was himself deceived so completely about something so fundamental. Either he rose and is therefore divine, or he did not, in which case he is no savior, and certainly not God. God is immortal and is not rotting in a tomb somewhere in Judea.
Gary Habermas2 reports that there is now a remarkable degree of agreement among ancient historians irrespective of their beliefs about Jesus’ resurrection:
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At least twelve separate facts are considered to be knowable history. (1) Jesus died by crucifixion and (2) was buried. (3) Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended. (4) Although not as widely accepted, many scholars hold that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later. Critical scholars further agree that (5) the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. Because of these experiences, (6) the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection. (7) This message was the center of preaching in the early church and (8) was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before. As a result of this preaching, (9) the church was born and grew, (10) with Sunday as the primary day of worship. (11) James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed that he saw the resurrected Jesus. (12) A few years later, Paul was converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.3
Some of these events may seem implausible, but the very early reports of them are historically accepted facts. Seemingly improbable things do happen, even if they are above our human comprehension. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suggested the following approach to investigation: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”4 One by one we will consider what explanations could make sense of these documented historical facts.5
IS THE RESURRECTION JUST A MYTH OR A LEGEND?
It was once popular to argue that the stories of an empty tomb arose long after the life of Jesus, prompted by a supposedly fertile ground of other ancient mythology about resurrection. We now know that resurrection was not commonly believed possible, even in the realm of mythology. Some people outside of Judaism did believe in the survival of the soul after death, but not in a bodily resurrection. The news of Jesus’ resurrection had to conquer this skepticism. The Jews did not believe that the prophecies concerning the suffering servant referred to the same person as the Messiah. It is only in the light of Jesus’ death and victorious resurrection that we see these two figures as the same person.6
N. T. Wright7 has carefully studied all the historical evidence and concludes…
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE BY ADRIAN WARNOCK FOR FURTHER READING: