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Because He Lives – 10 Reasons to Believe the Resurrection

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In the previous post, we looked at how the resurrection of Jesus changes us; we have hope to face tomorrow and need not be afraid “Because He Lives.” Those truths are powerful, but they are contingent upon the reality that Jesus Christ truly did rise from the dead. One of the things that distinguishes the Christian faith from other faiths is that Christianity is a “historical religion” – it is not just a statement of beliefs, but is about historical events that actually occurred. In fact, the Apostle Paul notes that if Jesus rose from the dead, our hope is true, but if it did not happen, then Christians are people to be pitied (as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19), since we are still in our sins and misrepresenting God (1 Corinthians 15:15, 17).

Therefore, I wanted to ground our hope in the truth of the resurrection by looking at various reasons we have for believing this truly outrageous claim that there was a man named Jesus who died and then came back to life.

1. The Similarities and Differences in the Accounts of Empty Tomb and the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus
When we read the New Testament accounts that describe the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Jesus, we see things that are similar, but also some that are different. While some people think the variations (such as Mark 16:5 saying there was as young man in a white robe at the tomb, while Matthew 28:2-4 speaks of an angel coming down, John 20:11 having two angels, and Luke 24:4 having two men) are reasons not to believe the resurrection account, I find them to be supportive because these variations show that this was not just a story that someone came up with and then started spreading. These differences are the sort of findings you would expect if there are a number of people independently telling stories about the same event (and I think they can be harmonized). If the resurrection was a story the disciples concocted and started spreading, they would have had their details straight!

2. The Key Role of The Women As Witnesses
The stories of the empty tomb and Jesus’s resurrection have women as first and key witnesses – even though their testimony was not accepted in the court of law during that time. Why would someone make up this key detail about women being the first witnesses if such a claim would not “count” in the eyes of the world at the time? 

3. Embarrassing Details in the Accounts
One of the things that I love about the story in the Gospel of Mark is that the women go to the tomb without any sort of plan on how to get to the body of Jesus – remember, there was a big, heavy rock in the way (Mark 16:3). This detail is embarrassing and shows the confused state that the disciples of Jesus were in – they were in no position to hatch a story about Jesus and include something that shows how unexpected the event was.

4. Hesitant in Belief
The gospels show that the disciples first doubted  – and not just “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:24-29). In Luke 24:11, they think the story told by the the women is an “idle tale.” The women seem to doubt in Mark 16:8, but Matthew 28:17 speaks about some worshipping Jesus and others doubting. Jesus has to prove to the disciples that he is not a ghost by eating fish in Luke 24:36-43. Mary Magdalene thought someone took Jesus’s body (John 20:2), and the women at the tomb were perplexed by the missing body (Luke 24:4). Their first thought was not that Jesus had risen from the dead! Even when Peter and the other disciples went to the tomb in John 20:1-10, they don’t seem to immediately think that Jesus was risen from the dead.

5. Key Details in the Accounts Refuting Common Objections
Some have tried to argue that the women did not find Jesus’s body because they were at the wrong tomb. However, this exact claim is refuted in the text, as Matthew notes that the women did know what tomb they were at (see Matthew 27:66). Pilate was surprised to learn that Jesus died so quickly and checked to make sure he was dead (Mark 15:44-45) which is proof that Jesus didn’t just faint. Finally, Paul notes that Jesus appears to “more than five hundred brothers at one time” (1 Corinthians 15:6), showing that these appearances were not just “remembering Jesus” or a hallucination — there is no way that many people had the same hallucination or the same memory at the same time! The idea that Jesus’s body was stolen is also one that we see handled in the earliest texts (Matthew 28:11-15), showing that this idea was there from the earliest times as well. None of those modern theories denying the literal resurrection of Jesus are new or compelling. 

6. The Proclamation of Jesus’s Resurrection in Jerusalem
The message of Jesus’s resurrection was first proclaimed in Jerusalem – the city where Jesus died and was buried. No one says “Wait a minute, the body is in the tomb!” If the disciples started preaching in a far off land where no one could verify the story, that would be one thing, but they proclaimed the message at the place where the death and resurrection occurred. 

7. The Appeal to Many, Living Witnesses
Similarly, when Paul gives a list of people who saw Jesus, he notes that many of them are still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6) – as if to say, “Go ask them, it really happened!” This is not a story that grew many years after the events, but one that was proclaimed early. In addition, we see references not to a few witnesses, but to many witnesses, some who saw Jesus at the same time.

8. The Gentile Mission
People often point out the change that happened to the disciples from running away from the authorities out of fear to boldly proclaiming the message about the resurrection – even in the face of suffering. It is also interesting that the disciples began to share the gospel with the Gentiles, even though during Jesus’s ministry (and even his early instructions to the disciples) they would only preach to Jews. What accounted for this change? It would seem to be the instructions of Jesus to be witnesses to the ends of the earth and to preach to all nations (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). Jesus never totally said this in his pre-resurrection life, and no Jew of the time would have thought of it — pointing to the historicity of these words.

9. The Transformation of the Disciples
Something must have happened that changed these disciples from running away from authorities to boldly proclaiming Jesus in the place he was executed – knowing the same fate could be awaiting them. It seems that they certainly believed  Jesus physically rose from the dead.

10. The Transformation of Paul
The conversion of the Apostle Paul and transformation from being one who persecuted the church to advocating for the church requires some explanation. He was not one who was easily deceived, and even the way he describes the appearance of Jesus to him versus the other disciples seems to show the resurrection of Jesus being different in light of the fact that it happened after the ascension (see 1 Corinthians 15:8). 

There are many reasons the truth of the resurrection could be offered, but this seems to be a good start and gives us plenty of justification for saying, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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