Christ’s resurrection from the dead is one of the best-attested events
in the history of mankind. The Bible not only records what happened,
but also mentions numerous eyewitnesses, all of whom suffered
persecution and even death rather than deny what they knew to be true
(1Corinthians 15:6). In fact, because the evidence that Christ rose
from the dead is there for anyone willing to examine it, the only
people who refuse to believe that Christ rose from the dead are those
who close their minds to that evidence.
The Bible tells us that when Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea (who had secretly been a disciple) asked Pilate for His body (John 19:38). However, Pilate did not allow Joseph to take the body, until he had first checked with the Centurion in charge of the crucifixion, and made certain that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-45). Joseph and Nicodemus then wound the body of Jesus in strips of linen cloth (with spices) as was the custom of the Jews, placed it in a new tomb that Joseph had hewn out of solid rock, and rolled a large stone in front of the entrance (Mark 15:46). The Jews then asked Pilate to post a guard in front of the tomb in order to make certain that the body of Jesus remained in the tomb (Matthew 27:62-65).
Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, some of the women who had followed Jesus then went to the tomb in order to anoint the body of Jesus with sweet spices. However, when they arrived, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled back the stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb, and said, “Fear not... I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here for He is risen. Come see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:1-6).
After seeing that Christ’s body was not in the tomb, the women then hurried to tell the disciples what they had seen, and Jesus appeared to them on the way. Nevertheless, upon hearing what the women said, the disciples were initially skeptical and did not believe them (Luke 24:11). However, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves, and, seeing that it was empty, left wondering what had happened (John 20:3). Later that day (in the evening) Jesus then appeared to the disciples, and showed them His hands and His side. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred witnesses, to James, and finally to Paul. [John 19:38-42, John 20:1-31, Luke 23:50-56, Luke 24:1-53, Mark 15:42-47, Mark 16:1-14, Matthew 27:57-66, Matthew 28:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.]
Upon hearing that Christ had risen from the dead, the Jewish leaders who had been responsible for having Him crucified, bribed the soldiers who had guarded the tomb, instructing them to say that the disciples had stolen the body while they slept. Nevertheless, that claim is ridiculous for several reasons.
First of all, why should the disciples steal the body when Pilate had already given it to them? [Matthew 28:11-15] In fact, as I have already pointed out, it was disciples who placed the body in the tomb, disciples who rolled a stone in front of it, and disciples who spent a good deal of money on spices to embalm the body. So why would they steal the body when it was exactly where they wanted it to be?
Second, if the guards had really fallen asleep how would they know who had taken the body? Is it reasonable to believe that they all slept so soundly that they had no idea that the body was being taken, yet knew exactly what had happened and who had taken it?
Third, Roman guards who fell asleep at their post were put to death. Not only had they never fallen asleep on the job at any other time, but because they stood watch in shifts, they did not even have to stay up all night. It was customary for four to stand watch at a time, while the others slept in front of them. Then, every four hours another group of four was awakened. Is it reasonable to believe that they all just happened to fall asleep on the same night, and slept so soundly that the disciples could step right over their sleeping bodies, roll aside a large stone weighing perhaps several tons, and carry a body away without waking a single soldier?
Fourth, the Jewish leaders never denied that the tomb was empty or attempted to find the body, instead they tried to keep people from finding out what had happened (Acts 4:18-20 and 5:27-33). Nevertheless, during the forty days following the resurrection several hundred Jews saw Jesus, and, as a result, almost three thousand became Christians on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Not long after that almost five thousand more became Christians (Acts 4:4).
Fifth, all of the disciples suffered persecution, and most were put to death, because of their faith in Christ. Is it reasonable to believe that they endured persecution, suffering, and death for a lie, when they could escape it simply by denying that He had risen from dead? Isn’t it more realistic to believe that they endured persecution because they couldn’t deny what they knew to be true?
Finally, why would someone who hated Christians as intensely as Saul (Paul), suddenly become a defender and promoter of the faith, even though it meant persecution and eventually death? Before his conversion, he was so hostile to Christianity that he obtained special permission to travel to other cities in order to find Christians and jail them (Acts 9:1-2). He seems to have been in charge when Stephen was put to death (Acts 7:58, Acts 8:1-4). Yet he not only was converted, but was later willing to die for his faith. Why? Because after Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road, he knew as a fact that He had risen from the dead (1Corinthians 15:8, Acts 9:1-9 and 19-31).
[Note: The following books deal with the evidence that Christ rose from the dead. “An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered In The Courts of Justice” by Dr. Simon Greenleaf. “The Resurrection Factor” by Josh McDowell. “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona. “Examine the Evidence” by Ralph O. Muncaster. “Leading Lawyers Case for the Resurrection” by Ross Clifford.]
Because Christ rose from the dead, we can be confident that He was without sin, that He won the victory over death, that He was exactly who He claimed to be, and that He is indeed “the resurrection and the life” (John 5:23 and 11:25). For that reason, the fact that He rose from the dead is the basis for our faith (Romans 4:25, 1Corinthians 15:14). And, even though we base our faith on the testimony of Scripture, because the evidence is there for anyone willing to examine it, those who refuse to believe the gospel are without excuse.