The Big Question 61: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
May 18, 2021 44
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
The entirety of the Christian faith stands or falls on the question of whether Jesus really did rise from the dead!
Contrary to what you may thought before, the resurrection of Jesus is actually one of the best attested events in ancient history.
Historians are like lawyers. They look for evidence. One difference is that historians can’t put eyewitnesses up on the stand and cross-examine them. They have to weigh up the evidence of the historical record, as well as using circumstantial evidence to come to a conclusion about what happened.
Circumstantial evidence isn’t bad evidence. Various pieces of circumstantial evidence can together make for a very strong case, so strong in fact that in the USA, plenty of people have been sentenced to death in court solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
I once read a report from a law professor from an Australian state university in which he argued that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
So, what historical evidence do we have?
Well, we have written eyewitness testimony, which is some of the most reliable testimony from ancient history, and the some of the historical sources that are closest in time to the events they describe.
You find this eyewitness evidence in the Bible, specifically the New Testament. And, against accusations of bias, you have to recognise that all historical sources are written by someone, and you have to evaluate them on their merits. And on their merits, the writers of the four Gospels in the Bible stand as superior to all other written sources from ancient history.
There were literally so many hundreds of people who saw Jesus after his resurrection, that it couldn’t be denied. And this is a key reason for the rapid rise of Christianity. While other religions were founded on myths and superstition, Christianity was actually founded on an abundance of evidence.
In addition to the multiple eyewitness testimony, we also have the dramatic impact of the resurrection of Jesus on history. Without the resurrection of Jesus, what happened in the Roman empire in the first two centuries simply cannot be explained.
If ever a religion was set up to fail, it was Christianity. What did it offer that was attractive to the first century mind? The idea that a criminal who had been executed on a cross was God? The claim that he had risen from the dead? The promise of the scorn of society, and persecution and death? Ridiculous! What religion like that could ever hope to succeed?
However those early Christians triumphed, and eventually conquered the empire itself, and set up the principle of modern civilisation which transformed the world as we know it today for the better. And all because the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus was so strong from the beginning, that so many were willing to join this movement and even die for it.
As an ancient historian, I’m also convinced that there is more than enough evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. So I’ve cast my lot in with the risen Saviour too!