What is the Resurrection?
The resurrection of Jesus is the most crucial moment in history. So why do so many people think that it didn’t happen? Here are twelve undeniable facts that prove the resurrection.
The resurrection is Jesus's return from the dead. He appeared in his physical, scarred, and glorified body, never to die again.
The Gospels give four eyewitness accounts. Combined, they tell of the torture, crucifixion, and stabbing of Jesus (Matt. 27:26-50). After his death on the cross, they laid him in a tomb (Matt. 27:57-61).
Jesus resurrected on Sunday, the third day after his death (Matt. 28:1-10).
Why is Proving the Resurrection So Important?
The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. Paul wrote that without the resurrection, Christianity would be meaningless (1 Cor. 15:14). The resurrection is evidence that Jesus is God. And that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross.
There are no valid arguments against the resurrection.
But is there evidence to prove the resurrection occurred? And could that evidence come from scholarly work?
When I Was an Agnostic
I was an agnostic during college, medical school, and the first of my three residencies. But I was an honest scientist. I considered any worldview that seemed reasonable.
And that is what happened in my late twenties when I became a Christian. There is indisputable evidence that Jesus is God and that he resurrected from the dead.
When harmonizing the four gospel accounts, they tell the complete story. Each gospel gives a different perspective. That difference in viewpoints indicates they are independent witnesses.
And independent witnesses support the truthfulness of the resurrection. There are no suggestions of conspiracy or collusion.
Twelve Historical Facts that Prove the Resurrection
All four Gospels report the resurrection and emphasize the empty tomb. But each is somewhat different in the post-resurrection appearances they share (Matt. 28:1–20; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1-53; John 21-22).
When putting together the four accounts, they tell the complete resurrection story.
- He surveyed New Testament scholars
- They were theologians, historians, and philosophers
- They varied from conservatives to progressives
- And he reviewed critical scholarly writings over the past several decades
So what do the full spectrum of scholars across the decades believe? What does history say happened? There is near-unanimous consent on these twelve historical facts that prove the resurrection.
1. Jesus Died by Crucifixion
Then crucifixion demanded the pounding of nails into his hands and feet. And he hung on the cross slowly suffocating from nine in the morning until just before sunset (Mark 15:25, 33).
To ensure Jesus’s death, the governor Pilate had a Roman soldier stab his side with a spear (John 19:34). Then Pilate allowed Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’s body for burial (Mark 15:44–45).
2. Jesus Was Buried in a Tomb
Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus’s body in his new tomb and rolled a large stone across the entrance (Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:39-42). Concerned that someone might steal the body, the Jews requested a guard at the tomb (Matt. 27:64-66). Christ’s body remained there until Sunday morning.
3. Jesus’s Death Caused the Disciples to Despair and Lose Hope, Believing That He Was Dead
The disciple’s desperation is understandable. Jesus’ shameful execution marked him as a criminal, a heretic, and a man accursed by God.
4. Jesus’s Tomb Was Empty a Few Days Later
This point is not as accepted by scholars as much as the other eleven. But many scholars do believe that on Sunday, witnesses discovered Jesus’ tomb empty.
Each gospel provides an “empty tomb” scene (Matt. 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–8) with an angel appearing to confirm that “He is not here. He is risen” (Matt. 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6; John 20:12).
5. The Disciples Had Experiences Which They Believed Were the Literal Appearances of the Risen Jesus
Jesus appeared to more than 500 different eyewitnesses (1 Cor. 15:6) in various settings.
He appeared on at least ten occasions during the forty days after his resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10, 16-20; Mark 16:9-12, 14-19; Luke 24:34-52; John 20:18-28; 21:1-23; 1 Cor. 15:4-7).
6. The Transformation of the Disciples
The transformation of the disciples resulted from their experiences with the risen Lord. They went from doubters (John 20:19) to fearless proclaimers of Jesus’s resurrection. They even died for their faith.
7. The Resurrection of Jesus Was the Center of Their Message
Christ’s resurrection was the subject of Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:22–40). His following address was at the temple (Acts 3:14, 26) and then before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:10).
Everywhere the apostles went, they preached the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 4:33; Acts 4:2).
8. The Disciples Proclaimed the Resurrection in Jerusalem where Jesus was Killed
Jesus was killed and buried in Jerusalem. And it was here where the apostles told others about his resurrection (Acts 19:39).
The apostles had repeated confrontations with the Jewish authorities. These Jewish leaders could not produce the body, nor did they even organize a search.
Instead, these leaders bribed the soldiers who had guarded the tomb to lie (Matt. 28:11–15). The actions of the Jewish leaders show that the tomb was empty.
9. As A Result of Their Preaching, the Church was Born and Grew
There are lots of good reasons why the Church should never have started! For instance, the first church was predominantly made up of Jews. Jews are monotheistic (Deut. 6:4), yet they proclaimed that Jesus (a man) was God.
Also, there was a host of problems almost immediately. The difficulties included persecution, threats, and death (Acts 7:57-60).
Yet salvation came to 3,000 people when Peter preached in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41). And the numbers of new Christians swelled daily (Acts 2:47).
Within days, 2,000 more became believers (Acts 4:4). And the number of disciples continued to increase rapidly. As a result of the growth, care for the widows fell to appointed “deacons” (assistants to the church leaders) (Acts 6:1).
10. Sunday Became the Primary Day of Worship Instead of the Jewish Sabbath On Saturday
Jesus’s resurrection was on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1). So Christians made Sunday their primary day of worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
11. James, The Half-brother of Jesus, Had Been a Skeptic but Converted
Before his resurrection, Jesus’ half-brothers were unbelievers (John 7:5). But after James saw the resurrected Jesus, he converted (1 Cor. 15:7).
James became an early church leader in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). He wrote the New Testament book that bears his name, and he died for his belief in Jesus.
12. A Few Years Later, The Skeptic Paul Converted
Jesus’ last physical appearance was to the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9; 22:5-11; 26:12-18; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8-10). Before his conversion, Paul was an opponent of Christianity. He was present at the disciple Stephen’s stoning (Acts 8:1).
The “Minimum Facts Argument” For Proving Christ’s Resurrection
From these twelve facts, Dr. Habermas has identified a minimum fact argument. These are four “core” facts that prove the resurrection is true.
He calls this the “minimum facts argument.” All serious New Testament scholars accept these four historical facts.
The four facts that prove the resurrection are:
- Jesus’ death due to crucifixion
- The disciples were convinced they had seen literal appearances of the risen Jesus
- The transformation of the disciples
- Paul’s conversion experience (and that he believed that he saw the risen Jesus)
So, where does this historical evidence lead us? The resurrection is indisputable!
We have presented twelve undeniable facts to prove the resurrection occurred. And scholars are in near-unanimous agreement on these facts.
We have some rock-solid evidence that Jesus resurrected from the dead. History and the Bible prove the resurrection. And this changes how we see Jesus.
How Do We See Jesus?
How do you see Jesus? Is he a helpful teacher to listen to occasionally? Or is Jesus the risen King who is in heaven ready to save any who trust in him?
Habermas, G. R. (1996). The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company.