The only sign Christ gave to His generation that He was the Messiah was about His resurrection. Is there solid evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?
Followers of Jesus Christ should have absolute confidence that the resurrection of our Savior is fact. As we will see, the promise that all converted people will be resurrected and changed to spirit at His return to earth depends upon it. Yet much of the world around us rejects the idea of a resurrection. Even some who profess to believe Jesus is the Christ nullify the need for the resurrection of believers described in the Scriptures by their traditional beliefs about what happens after death.
In the days of the apostle Paul, some people proclaimed that there is no resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12). A significant group of religious leaders in his day, the Sadducees, also denied it. Yet, as Paul points out, if this were true, then we would have no Savior. We would still be in our sins, and members of the Church of God would have no hope of being resurrected (verses 17-18)!
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an essential element of the gospel (verses 1-4). Jesus’ death and resurrection are vital to the redemption of all mankind—first for those from Abel to Jesus Christ’s first coming (the patriarchs and prophets) and for those in the Church who are given access to God’s Holy Spirit in this age in order to be the first fruits of God’s spiritual harvest, and then for the rest of humanity in the age to come.
If Christ’s resurrection has been fabricated, ministers of Jesus Christ, along with the apostles, are liars (verse 15); and there is no real hope for the future. Men and women can continue on with their lives, choosing whatever way seems right.
Two forms of witness
To counter those who denied the resurrection of Jesus, Paul called upon two forms of witness. First, the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (verses 3-4), the details of which would have been impossible for Jesus’ disciples to fulfill on their own! Second, Paul names people who saw and spent time with the resurrected Jesus (verses 5-8).
These individuals included Peter, who had denied Christ when accused of being one of His followers (Luke 22:61-62); the Twelve, who had all deserted Jesus when He was taken by the guards (Matthew 26:56-57); 500 brethren, many still alive at the time Paul was writing (1 Corinthians 15:6); James the half-brother of Jesus, who had earlier been a skeptic of His messiahship (John 7:3-5); and finally by Paul.
Paul himself was a zealous Pharisee, well known for his support of the establishment and for being a persecutor and enemy of anyone who followed Christ. Prior to his conversion, he was definitely not someone you would expect to support the existence of the resurrected Christ (Acts 8:2-4; 9:1-7)!
A harmony of the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ shows yet more proof of the resurrection. God adds perspectives and details from one account to another. Events are logical, and they reveal how God gave support to a community devastated by the cruel death of its Leader—the One they thought would free Israel from the Roman occupation.
Luke, the physician and historian
Luke “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14) traveled with Paul on several of his journeys. He recorded actions and events in fine detail and in logical order (Luke 1:1-3). Sometimes on a journey he was the lone human support for Paul (2 Timothy 4:11). Perhaps he was with Paul as he wrote the first letter to the Corinthian congregation in which Paul mentions people who had seen the resurrected Jesus.
Luke records that Jesus proved He was alive “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). In his Gospel account and the first chapter of Acts, Luke recorded what Jesus did and taught right up to the time of His ascension to heaven (Acts 1:2).
Consider some of the Scriptures fulfilled by events surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Note that there is no way that a man (if Jesus was only a man) or group of disciples could engineer the fulfilment of these prophecies to deceive potential followers. Here are some of the reasons:
- Too many people not associated with the disciples would have had to be complicit.
- The disciples themselves were uncertain of how everything would turn out, even believing they needed weapons to defend Christ.
- Jesus’ followers were enthusiastic and did not think that the venture they were on would end in His death, let alone a resurrection.
- They could not have influenced the Roman soldiers to cast lots for Jesus’ clothing or to pierce His side.
- Because the chief priests and Pharisees had set guards around the tomb and had sealed the stone to prevent it from being rolled away, the disciples could not have removed Jesus’ body.
There are many other considerations that made a deliberate deception impossible.
The first witness: fulfilled prophecy
Paul knew that the Holy Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament today, are God’s words to mankind. If Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection fulfilled what God had foretold of His Messiah, that would set the seal of approval on Jesus Christ. It would also prove God’s existence and involvement in our life and future.
Here are some of the quotations in the New Testament and the scriptures they fulfilled. Consider the infinitesimal probability that all 17 of the prophecies below could have been fulfilled by chance or by Christ’s followers if they were trying to orchestrate these events themselves.
1. Matthew 21:5 (John 12:15): “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Zechariah 9:9).
2. Matthew 21:9 (Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 12:13): “Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” Hosanna in the highest!’” (Psalm 118:26).
3. Matthew 26:31 (Mark 14:27): “Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered”’” (Zechariah 13:7).
4. John 13:18: “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me’” (Psalm 41:9).
5. Matthew 27:9-10: “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me’” (Jeremiah 32:6-9; Zechariah 11:12-13).
6. Matthew 27:26 (John 19:1): “Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified” (Isaiah 53:5).
7. Acts 8:32-33: “The place in the Scripture which he read was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth’” (Isaiah 53:7-8).
8. Matthew 27:35 (John 19:24): “Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots’” (Psalm 22:18).
9. Mark 15:28 (Luke 22:37): “So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’” (Isaiah 53:12).
10. Matthew 27:46 (Mark 15:34): “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Psalm 22:1).
11. Luke 23:46: “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, “into Your hands I commit My spirit.”’ Having said this, He breathed His last” (Psalm 31:5).
12. John 19:33-37: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced’” (Psalm 34:20; Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10).
13. Matthew 27:57, 59-60: “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. … When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed” (Isaiah 53:9).
14. Acts 13:35 (Acts 2:25-28): “Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption’” (Psalm 16:8-10).
15. Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Jonah 1:17). (See more about this in the article “Sign of Jonah: Did Jesus Die on Good Friday? Was He Resurrected Easter Sunday?”)
16. Hebrews 10:12-14: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Psalm 110:1; Daniel 9:26-27).
17. Galatians 4:4: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Daniel 9:26-27).
The famous 70 weeks of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27) pinpointed when the fullness of time would come and the Messiah would be made known, counting from the order to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. It also tells us He would be “cut off,” His life ended, for the sins of all mankind. Jesus’ death ended the need for His followers to offer animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, as His life paid the penalty for all of us (Hebrews 10:4-14). (Read more details in the article “70 Weeks of Daniel: What Does the Prophecy Mean?”)
Psalm 110:1 states that the resurrected Jesus would sit at the Father’s right hand, awaiting the time to return and finally put all enemies under His feet. Then there will be no hiding from or denial of the resurrected Savior and Messiah.
Now read how the various eyewitness accounts in the Gospels fit perfectly together in the article “Jesus’ Resurrection: Eyewitness Accounts” and “The Power of His Resurrection” With all the eyewitnesses of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His resurrection could not be denied, then or today. The testimony stands.