According to any religious or secular criteria, Jesus Christ is the most influential Person in Western culture. Two millennia after His life on this earth, we divide human history into two parts: before Christ (BC) and after Christ (AD [anno Domini]). Throughout the centuries, the Christian religion has influenced science, art, politics, economics, and ethics.
No one debates whether Jesus was a historical person. But some scholars doubt that Jesus actually rose from the dead and state that Jesus’ legacy is confined to His moral teachings. Based on this doubt, they suggest that Christianity should downplay or eliminate the doctrine of the Resurrection. They describe the Resurrection story as a myth created by the disciples to deal with the disappointment of Jesus’ death at the hands of Roman soldiers. They suggest that the Resurrection story was a conspiracy hatched by desperate disciples whose motive was to hide their shame in discovering that they had followed a false messiah.
At Easter, our attention is focused on the story that Jesus died for our sins, was resurrected, and returned to heaven. Christians believe that because Jesus was resurrected, He can offer everlasting life to those who believe in Him. How should we respond to the claims that a literal resurrection of Jesus did not occur?
The Bible record presents convincing evidence that the Resurrection was an actual event—an event that makes an enormous difference to every believer. Let’s look at three objections to the Resurrection and then examine their validity in the light of Scripture.
objection 1: whether or not the Resurrection literally happened is irrelevant to Christianity
The apostle Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, explained that without the Resurrection of Christ, the Christian religion is pointless. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:14–19). Paul makes it clear that belief in a literal resurrection is not optional for the Christian. And Paul’s claim is not an isolated statement; it is supported by scores of texts from the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles that refer to the resurrection of Jesus. For Christianity, the Resurrection is fundamental. Jesus, Himself, declared: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).
objection 2: the Resurrection account is a myth
Studies demonstrate that at least two generations are needed to corrupt a story to the point of turning it into a myth. No more than 30 years had passed since the death of Jesus when the facts of His death and resurrection were documented “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). This statement was penned around AD 57. At that early date, if the story of the Resurrection had been false, it would have been relatively easy to deny. Eyewitnesses would have made it difficult for false accounts to flourish, and the historical proximity to the events would have exposed any inaccuracies.
objection 3: the Resurrection story was a conspiracy created by Jesus’ disciples
The idea that the Resurrection story was a conspiracy is one of the more popular objections. But several facts invalidate the conspiracy argument.
The idea that the Messiah would die and be raised from the dead was not part of Jewish tradition or beliefs. The anticipated Messiah was expected to be a political and military hero who would liberate the Jews from foreign occupation. Even though Jesus had predicted His death and resurrection, the disciples’ preconceptions prevented them from understanding what He told them. Consequently, they were astonished and bewildered by the women’s story of finding Jesus’ tomb empty. The disciples were unlikely to explain the empty tomb by creating a story about a resurrected Messiah.
The second fact that supports the truth of the Resurrection is that women were the witnesses who confirmed the Resurrection. In ancient Jewish society, Gentiles, shepherds, and women were disqualified as witnesses in legal matters. Their testimony was not considered reliable. If the disciples were trying to sell a conspiracy, it would have been more reasonable to employ witnesses who would be deemed more trustworthy than women.
A third fact supporting the Resurrection story and denying the possibility of a conspiracy is the response of the Roman and Jewish officials. If the tomb was empty because His body had been stolen, the authorities would quickly have uncovered the “conspiracy,” located Jesus’ body, and displayed it to the public. They certainly had the motivation and the means to extract confessions from any suspects or perpetrators. However, we have no record, either Roman or Jewish, of a search for Jesus’ body or prosecution of the disciples as robbers. Even if Jesus’ body had been stolen and then recovered, we would have to ask why no one seemed to know the location of Jesus’ final resting place.
We would also have to explain the transformation of His followers, who went from being timid disciples hiding in the upper room in fear of Jesus’ executioners to valiant witnesses willing to proclaim a risen Savior at any cost. It would be most unusual for the disciples who denied following Jesus when He was arrested to have been willing to die proclaiming the truth of the Resurrection if they knew it to be a myth they had created. History reveals that all of the disciples except John were executed for refusing to renounce their convictions.
It’s simply inexplicable that Christianity flourished if its Founder was killed and the story of His resurrection was false. Recent historians point out that the Romans crucified at least half a dozen Jewish leaders who purported to be the messiah. What resulted from those executions? Their movements and their followers quickly disintegrated and disappeared. With Christianity, the story is different: the same Roman Empire that condemned Jesus was ultimately converted. Today, a third of the world’s inhabitants profess Christianity.
The only reasonable explanation for the growth of Christianity is that the disciples of Jesus witnessed a resurrected Jesus Christ. The authenticity of the Resurrection changed their lives. And not only theirs but also the lives of the generations that followed.
Many Christians will congregate to celebrate the Resurrection during Easter. According to recent statistics, nearly four out of five Americans believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and profess to be Christian. For those who celebrate it, the Resurrection offers the promise of everlasting life. It offers the certainty that death doesn’t have the last word but that eternal life awaits the believer.
What does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you? Will it transform the empty tomb of your life as it transformed the first disciples from skeptics and captives of fear into persons so full of enthusiasm that they revolutionized empires? Will you join Job in declaring: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25, 26)?
Angel H. Hernandez is a retired university professor.