How can we be sure that Christ rose from the dead?
Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is absolutely essential to the Christian Gospel, for, as Paul states: 'If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God', 1 Cor. 15. 14. Non-Christians often ask how we can be sure that this greatest of all miracles actually took place. The answer is overwhelming, indeed, as it has often been said, the resurrection of Christ is the best attested fact of history. The following brief notes summarize the more obvious evidence.
1. Historic Writings
Our knowledge of the resurrection is based primarily on the testimony of six witnesses: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Peter. A considerable part of this testimony dates from early New Testament times (e.g., the Gospel of Mark is thought by many modern scholars to have been in existence in A.D. 44, just over 10 years after the event) and must be accepted, at least, as substantially the records of eye-witnesses. Their testimony is such that it cannot be disregarded by unbiased critics.
2. Post-Resurrection Appearances
At least ten are recorded in the Scriptures. These were to individuals, small groups and large companies of believers, and extended over a period of forty days. After His resurrection our Lord was seen by a large number of people (500 on one occasion saw Him at the same time, 1 Cor. 15. 6) and in a wide variety of circumstances. Men heard His speech and were encouraged by His teaching. They saw Him, they touched Him and ate with Him. How could so many be mistaken? In such conditions how could there be the possibility of fraud or hallucination?
3. Apostolic Witness
(a) The resurrection transformed timid apostles and disciples into Christian commandos; it re-established their faith in the Lord.
(b) It was an integral part of the Gospel they preached, (c) The resurrection was preached within fifty days of the event, when all details and witnesses could be examined. This preaching took place in Jerusalem only a short distance from the empty tomb, and among the very people who would have made every effort to disprove their testimony had this been possible, (d) 'He appeared to James', 1 Cor. 15. 7. The resurrection resulted in the conversion of the erstwhile unsympathetic 'brother' of our Lord.
4. The Religious Leaders
Many of them believed. These men knew all the facts; the scaling of the tomb, the close guard, the soldier's report and the false story to hush up the truth. These men would never have believed a hoax. (e) The fanatical persecution of the early Church by unbelieving priests was evidence that they had no answer to the apostles' testimony. Violence is invariably the last argument of despair.
5. Evidence in Brief What made devout Jews observe Sunday as the Lord's Day, rather than the Jewish Sabbath, as had been the practice throughout the Old Testament? Apart from the resurrection how can we explain the growth of the Christian Church? How can we explain the Old Testament predictions of the resurrection? There can be only one answer that will satisfy these and many other problems - the fact of the resurrection.
6. The Final Proof
The ultimate proof of the resurrection lies in a personal experience of the risen Christ. When we know 'the power of his resurrection' Phil. 3. 10, in our own lives we can say with assurance, 'But now is Christ risen from the dead'.