Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). Celebrated at Easter, it is the most important miracle of all time. Jesus’ resurrection is necessary to confess for our salvation (Romans 10:9-10). And without it, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
Jesus’ resurrection is an objectively irrefutable historical event. That is if the seeker is unbiased and open-minded. Jesus came back from physical death to newness of life with a glorified body, never to die again.
Resurrection differs from resuscitation. Resuscitation brings a dead person back to life only to die again. For example, Jesus resuscitated:
- Lazarus (John 11:39-44)
- The son of a widow (Luke 7:11–17)
- Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-43)
But Jesus was resurrected. He will never die again! And his glorified body is the prototype for our glorified bodies.
I. Nine Facts, Proofs & Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection
1. What Is a Glorified Body?
The glorified resurrected body is:
- Incorruptible, immortal, and imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42-54)
- A physical body that is dominated or energized by the Spirit (1 Cor. 15:44)
2. Roadblocks to Believing in Jesus’ Resurrection
Whether or not you are a Christian, most people believe Jesus lived during the first century AD. Where we tend to disagree is concerning the resurrection story. In other words: “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?”
Why is Jesus’ resurrection such a matter of debate?
The reason is that many people don’t believe miracles can occur. Therefore, they are skeptical that a dead person can come back to life. For them, there must be some other non-miraculous (naturalistic) explanation!
3. What are the Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection?
If we believe in Jesus’ resurrection, it means we believe he came back to life from physical death. He resurrected in a glorified physical body, never to die again (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
We read about this incredible event in all four gospels (Matt. 28:1–15; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–10). Also, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 provides essential information.
What do we learn when we combine these five accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection? We learn that after he resurrected, Jesus appeared:
- On (at least) twelve different occasions
- To more than five hundred people in a span of forty days (1 Cor. 15:1-8)
The witnesses who:
- Saw the empty tomb and empty grave clothes
- Saw the crucifixion scars on Christ’s body
- Touched Jesus, ate with Jesus, listened to Jesus teach, and watched Jesus do miracles
This evidence proves that these people believed their Savior had risen. Jesus could not have more unmistakably convinced these witnesses of his resurrection.
4. Do the Four Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection Contradict Each Other? NO!
Many people criticize the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as contradictory. Allow me to address and debunk these critiques.
Firstly, it is possible to harmonize the various accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Secondly, these differences make the resurrection narrative more certain to be true.
That may lead you to ask: “How is that possible?”
a. A Useful Analogy
Let’s use an analogy. Imagine that you are outside getting your mail when you see one car slam into another. Shocked, you run forward to check on the two individuals involved.
Thankfully, a local pedestrian and a motorcyclist have also stopped to help. Before long, a police officer shows up and asks you and the others to give evidence about the accident.
In total, the police officer gets five reports of the accident.
Will each report give the exact same details? Of course not!
For example, you hardly noticed what prompted the crash, but you did witness the collision. The pedestrian and motorcyclist, on the other hand, saw the entire event unfold from different vantage points.
In all, five people witnessed the accident. Yet evidence from each will differ in detail. That is the nature of reliable and independent eyewitness testimony.
On the other hand, what if the five eyewitnesses told the same story in exact detail?
The officer would suspect the witnesses got together and “colluded” to give an identical statement. And collusion calls into question the truthfulness of the witnesses.
b. Applying the Analogy to Jesus’ Resurrection
Now, apply this same principle to the death and resurrection of Christ. We know that all the testimony has come from eyewitnesses. And since their accounts are independent and reliable, their viewpoints will be different.
On those grounds, the argument that the resurrection stories are contradictory fails.
You might be wondering how we can be sure.
It is like the detective comparing the eyewitness testimony to the car accident. Once all the information is known and studied, a complete picture emerges.
Analogously, the biblical eyewitness narratives are different. But when harmonized, a clear picture of the events surrounding the resurrection emerges. And this harmony of the eyewitness accounts adds credibility to their truthfulness.
5. Harmony of Jesus’ Resurrection Narratives
Harmonizing—or reconciling the differences between—the resurrection accounts is possible. For example, Dr. Norman Geisler presents one possible harmony (The Big Book of Christian Apologetics, p. 718-719).
a. Jesus’ Burial
- Jesus is buried as several women watch (Matt. 27:57–61; Mark 15:42–47; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:38–42)
- Sealing of the tomb and establishing a guard (Matt. 27:62–66)
b. Women’s First Visit to Jesus’ Tomb
- Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome prepare spices to go to the tomb (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1).
- An angel descends from heaven, rolls the stone away, and sits on it. There is an earthquake, and the guards faint (Matt. 28:2–4).
- The women arrive at the tomb and find it empty. Mary Magdalene leaves the other women there. And she runs to tell the disciples that someone had taken Jesus’ body (John 20:1–2).
- The other women enter the tomb, where they see an angel (Matt. 28:5) who is with a companion (Luke 20:4; John 20:11).
- The angels tell them that Jesus has risen and will soon meet the disciples in Galilee (Matt. 28:2-8; Mark 16:2–8; Luke 24:1–8).
- The women leave to bring the news to the disciples (Matt. 28:8).
c. The Jews’ Reaction to an Empty Tomb
- The guards report the empty tomb to the Jewish authorities, who bribe them to say the body was stolen (Matt. 28:11–15)
d. Peter and John Visit the Empty Tomb
- After Mary Magdalene’s report, Peter and John run to the tomb. They see that it is empty and find the grave clothes (Luke 24:12; John 20:2–10).
e. Mary Magdalene and the Other Women See Jesus
- Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb. She sees the angels, and then she sees Jesus (John 20:11–18).
- While on their way to the disciples, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women see and worship Jesus (Matt. 28:9–10).
- The women relate what they have seen and heard to the disciples. The disciples do not initially believe the women (Luke 24:9–11).
f. Jesus’ Additional Appearances on Resurrection Sunday
- Later on, Jesus appears to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5).
- Then, still, on the same day, Jesus appears to Cleopas and another disciple on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–32).
- That evening, the two disciples report the event to the other eleven disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:32–35).
- Jesus appears to ten disciples; Thomas is missing (Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–25).
g. Jesus’ Appearances Over the Following 40 Days
- Jesus appears to the eleven disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26–31). Thomas says, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). There were 11 because Judas took his life (Matt. 27:3-5).
- Jesus appears to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1–25). He eats with them and restores Peter (John 21:2-19).
- Jesus appears to five hundred followers in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:6).
- Jesus appears to all the apostles and gives the “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:16–20).
- Jesus appears to his half-brother, James—likely in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 15:7).
- Jesus appears to all his apostles (1 Cor. 15:7), presenting convincing evidence to them (Acts 1:3) and eating with them (Acts 1:4).
- Jesus teaches his disciples the Scriptures. And he promises to send the Holy Spirit when he departs (Luke 24:44–49; Acts 1:4–5).
- Jesus answers the disciples’ last question (Acts 1:6–8) and then ascends into heaven (Mark 16:15–20; Luke 24:46–52; Acts 1:9–11).
- Several years later, Jesus appears to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1– 8; 1 Cor. 9:1; 1 Cor. 15:8). Saul, later is known as the apostle Paul.
6. Scripture Supports Jesus’ Physical Resurrection
Some people argue that Jesus’ resurrection was only spiritual. But Scripture is clear that Jesus was raised in the same physical body in which he was crucified. His complete resurrection is further proven by:
- The empty tomb without Jesus’ corpse is in all four gospels (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20)
- Jesus’ grave clothes, including a folded headcloth, are left behind without Jesus’ body (John 20:7).
- The crucifixion scars on Jesus’ resurrected body (Luke 24:39; John 20:27)
- The note that Jesus’ resurrected body was flesh and bone—not a “spirit” (Luke 24:39)
- Numerous occasions on which Jesus ate food in his resurrected body (Luke 24:30; Luke 24:42-43; John 21:12-13)
- Others who touched Jesus’ resurrection body (Matt. 28:9; John 20:27-28; cf. Luke 24:39-40; John 20:28)
- The human visibility (Matt. 28:17) and sound (John 20:15-16) of Jesus’ resurrection body
7. The Historical Evidence that Jesus Resurrected
- Jesus died by crucifixion (Matt. 27:32-44; Mark 15:25; Luke 23:33; John 19:18).
- Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s new tomb, and a large rock was rolled across the entrance (Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:39-42).
- Jesus’s death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that he was dead.
- Jesus’ tomb was empty a few days later (Matt. 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–8).
- The disciples believed they experienced literal appearances of the risen Jesus (Matt. 28:1-10; Matt. 16-20; Mark 16:9-12, 14-19; Luke 24:34-52; John 20:18-28; John 21:1-23; 1 Cor. 15:4-7).
- The disciples were transformed. They went from doubters to bold proclaimers of the risen Jesus. And they were willing to die for their faith.
- The resurrection of Jesus was the focus of the disciples’ message (Acts 2:22–40)
- The disciples proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem. The city where Jesus was crucified (Acts 19:39).
- As a result of their preaching, the Church was born and grew (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47; Acts 4:4).
- Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship. Sunday is the day of Jesus’ resurrection. This change was significant since the Jewish Sabbath was, and is, on Saturday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
- James, the half-brother of Jesus, had been a skeptic. But he was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7).
- A few years later, the skeptic Paul was converted (Acts 9:1-9; Acts 22:5-11; Acts 26:12-18; 1 Cor. 9:1; 1 Cor. 15:8-10).
8. Refuting “Naturalistic” Explanations for Jesus’ Resurrection
Many people are skeptical about the resurrection. What’s more, there have been several alternatives. All of them are naturalistic explanations for the resurrection of Jesus.
In another blog, I refute nine arguments against the resurrection. Because of that, I will only review five common arguments.
a. What if… the women & the disciples went to the wrong tomb?
Firstly, the claim that the women and disciples all went to the wrong tomb is doubtful. The Jewish and Roman leaders had a perfect recourse. They could have gone to the right tomb and cleared up the confusion by presenting the dead body of Jesus. After all, they had placed a guard to watch it.
But secondly, the disciples didn’t believe in Jesus as the resurrected Messiah based on an empty tomb. They believed because they saw the resurrected Savior.
b. What if… the disciples stole the body?
The claim that the disciples stole Jesus’ body is irrational. The eleven frightened disciples abandoned Jesus after his arrest in the garden. It is unreasonable to think these untrained men could overpower a Roman guard. And then move the massive stone guarding the tomb.
Lastly, they would have stolen and hidden Christ’s dead body (Matt. 28:13). If that were the case, and they had known Jesus was dead, why would they have died as martyrs for what they knew to be a lie?
c. What if… Jesus “swooned” on the cross but wasn’t really dead?
This idea suggests Jesus merely passed out or “swooned” on the cross, reviving later in the tomb. This claim is not believable for a few reasons
- Firstly, it doesn’t account for what we know about Roman flogging and crucifixion. These were brutal and effective means of killing a man.
- Secondly, it also doesn’t consider the stabbing of Jesus’ side with a spear (John 19:32–34).
- Thirdly, a professional Roman executioner proclaimed Jesus dead (Mark 15:39).
- Finally, how could Jesus revive without medical attention? He had been flogged, crucified, and stabbed.
d. What if… all the witnesses were hallucinating?
Some have suggested that all the witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were hallucinating. But there were more than five hundred witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). It is impossible to believe all these people had the same hallucinations. And that these same shared hallucinations lasted for forty days.
e. What if Jesus is a myth?
Fifthly, some say Jesus—his life in its entirety—is a myth. This proposal is impossible for several reasons:
- There must be at least two generations, or more than sixty years, following an event for a myth to develop. But three of the gospels were written within thirty years of the resurrection. This time frame means that eyewitnesses were still alive. They could have quickly shut down or refuted a fictitious story about a man named Jesus.
- Myths require isolation to develop. In other words, a myth needs few or no people to be around to witness the events. But the events of Jesus’ life, death. And resurrection occurred in and around Jerusalem, crowded with people!
- Paul recites an early Christian creed proclaiming the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:2-3). The creed is dated within two to eight years (AD 32-38) of the resurrection.
- In Christian Reflections, C. S. Lewis reacts to critics’ claims that the gospels are a myth. He writes, “I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading…If he tells me that something in a gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read… I know that not one of them is like [the gospels]” (p. 154-155).
9. Why is Jesus’ Resurrection So Important?
The resurrection is critical for several reasons. Specifically, the resurrection proves that:
- Jesus is God, and everything he said was true (Luke 24:36-43).
- Jesus’ atoning death paid for our sins on the cross. But the process was not complete until Jesus defeated death. And he defeated death by being physically resurrected in the same body (1 Cor. 15:17).
- God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice.
- Someday, all Christians will be resurrected to eternal life in heaven with Christ (Rom. 6:4–5).
- Belief in the resurrection is essential to our salvation, as Paul writes in Romans 10:9–10.
II. What Is Your Next Step?
Jesus is God. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. Why would he willingly subject himself to a humiliating and painful death for us?
He sacrificed himself because he loves us! That is a staggering truth!
Furthermore, his resurrection proves that (1) he is God and (2) God the Father accepted his sacrifice
While the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is overwhelming, many refuse Jesus’ invitation. Please do not be one of them. I invite you to hear Jesus calling:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29).
If you are a Christian, let me offer you three challenges:
- Reread each section of this article, slowly meditating on its truths
- Then, consider memorizing some of the verses mentioned
- You may even want to spend time teaching them to others
What will you do with this information if you have not yet become a Christian? It is one thing to have “head knowledge” of the truthfulness of Christianity. But it is another to humble yourself, repent of your sins, and place your faith in Jesus.
So, why not place your faith in Jesus today? Then along with millions of other brothers and sisters, you can proclaim with Peter:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3–4)
Cook, Bill, “Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary ed. Chad O. Brand, et al., 1380–1382, Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Geisler, Norman L., and A. Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent In Light Of The Cross, 2nd ed., 244. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2002.
—. The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A To Z Guide, 718-720. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books , 2012.
—. and Ron Rhodes: Conviction Without Compromise (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2008), 109-13
Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996.
Clive S. Lewis Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, 154-155