It either happened this week 1,984* years ago or it didn’t. If it did, God came to earth and can provide the flourishing and eternal life He promised. If it didn’t, anyone who believes the Easter myth is a fool. The past four weeks I’ve responded to six common objections to Jesus’ bodily resurrection that first Easter morning. But there is a seventh objection worth considering…
Some may object that what I’ve presented are only reasons against alternative explanations of the empty tomb, but not direct evidence in favor of the resurrection. I offer five responses to this objection.
1. Resurrection the Only Option Still Standing
If no other explanation is plausible, this is an argument in favor of the resurrection. In logic this is known as a “disjunctive syllogism”: either A or B or C is true. If A is not supported by the facts, either B or C must be true. If B is not supported by the facts, C must be true.
In this case, as discussed these past few weeks, the facts count against all other explanations of the empty tomb, and so they are eliminated. The only option left is the physical resurrection of Jesus. One can only rule out the resurrection by assuming a priori (literally “before looking”) that supernatural events do not occur. But for the one who is seeking to be honest with the data and follow the facts to the reasonable conclusion, the resurrection is proven by the failure of all other options.
2. Post-Crucifixion Sightings of Jesus
The physical appearances to over 500 people after his crucifixion are additional evidences in support of his resurrection. The objection to this is these were hallucinations, not actual appearances. I’ve responded to this objection here.
3. Transformation of the Disciples
Only the resurrection can explain the cataclysmic change in the first believers’ attitudes and actions. From the historical record we know most of them were not naturally bold, fearless leaders. They were fishermen, tradesmen and one accountant. Apart from Peter, none showed in word or action the disposition to be the leaders they became.
So this radical change in their attitudes and behavior must be explained. The best explanation of this data is the explanation they gave—they were with the resurrected Jesus, and from that experience they gained the boldness to live and die as this new movement’s leaders.
4. Immediate Changes in the Understanding of Judaism by many Jews
Only the resurrection can explain the vast changes to deeply held religious convictions among many devout Jews shortly after Jesus’ death. These beliefs were taught to each new generation from their earliest days and strongly reinforced by centuries of persecution.
Yet a number of these fundamental beliefs changed quickly and radically. Many Jews suddenly came to believe Judaism was ultimately about Jesus as their Messiah, and what he taught was the full understanding of their Jewish faith. Some then and now would disagree with this understanding of Judaism. But the point is that for thousands of staunch Jews of the first century, this was exactly what they suddenly came to believe. Such a quick and radical change demands an explanation.
To understand how monumental these changes were, here’s an analogy. Say you and I lose contact and reconnect two months later. I then tell you that I am now an atheist and a Marxist. This would be such a radical change in my beliefs and practice that you would demand to know what caused such a radical shift. The cause would have to be something pretty significant!
The change in the beliefs of these first century Jews was even more radical, for these changes meant they were now social outcasts, and if wrong, facing the eternal judgment of God! Specifically, just after the death of Jesus many first century Jews changed at least six major, deeply-held beliefs:
- The importance of the sacrifices. The Jewish belief was that sacrificing animals was the only way sins were paid for. Yet many first century Jews immediately repudiated the sacrifice of animals as payment for sin.
- The importance of keeping the Law. The Jewish belief was that each person had to keep the Law of Moses to be acceptable to God. Yet immediately many first century Jews gave up on this idea.
- Changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. The Jewish Sabbath had always been on Saturday. This day was so sacred that very strict regulations were developed to restrict the slightest activity. Yet immediately many Jews changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
- The concept of Monotheism (One God). Jewish belief had always understood God as “one” both in essence and in person. This was an extremely central belief of the Jewish religion. Yet suddenly many Jews came to believe God exists in one nature but three persons.
- The concept of the Jewish Messiah. The Jewish people understood their promised Messiah to be a human person who would liberate the Jews politically and then live forever. They had no concept of a non-political, crucified Messiah. Yet suddenly the believed the Messiah was a spiritual, not political king who reigned as King through his death.
- The concept of resurrection. Jewish belief understood resurrection as happening for everyone at once at the end of time. Yet suddenly many believed in the resurrection of an individual, before the end of time.
What caused these cataclysmic changes so shortly after a carpenter from Nazareth, a Jew found guilty of serious crimes by Jewish authorities, was executed by the Roman state?
Important here is a rule of logic known as the “Principle of Sufficient Reason.” It basically says that a cause has to be adequate to explain an effect. For instance, assume a structural engineer is investigating the collapse of a building, and she finds one exploded firecracker among the rubble. She would not conclude this was the cause, because the firecracker is not powerful enough to cause the effect--this much structural damage. However, if she found evidence of a large plastic explosive being detonated, she would conclude this was the cause of the building’s collapse, because that cause would be sufficient to explain the effect.
In the same way only the physical resurrection of Jesus is a sufficient cause to adequately explain these monumental effects.
5. Existence of the Church Itself
A number of practices of the early church are odd, at best. They immediately began celebrating the execution of Jesus. The cross became the central symbol of their faith. What explains this fact? If there were no resurrection, there would be no reason to celebrate their leader’s execution. Only if he also resurrected does this make sense.
Furthermore, the early believers immediately began to celebrate Jesus’ death through the Lord’s Supper. By eating bread together they remembered their leader’s body being broken by crucifixion, and by drinking wine together they remembered the blood he lost in the crucifixion. What explains this fact? Again, if there were no resurrection, there would be no reason to begin such an odd ritual of remembering his ghastly execution. But if there were a resurrection, this makes sense—the crucifixion is not the end of the story.
Finally, the early believers quickly began the practice of baptizing new converts—dunking them under water to symbolize their death to the old way of life, as Jesus died, and then coming out of the water to symbolize their triumph over death and new life, as Jesus also did. Once more, the fact of this new, odd ritual requires an adequate explanation. And once more, the best (most adequate) explanation is the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Conclusion: We can celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection as a Fact of History
Throughout history, as the data I’ve presented these past five weeks is carefully evaluated, the conclusion is almost always the same: the resurrection of Jesus is a firmly established fact of history. If you have not taken a close look at the evidence, I invite you to do so. If you have and conclude with me that Jesus resurrected, we can rejoice in the fact that through this He proved He is the eternal God in human form who came to die in our place and be the first to conquer death through His resurrection!
As we celebrate this during Easter Week, I conclude with the beautiful words of the hymn In Christ Alone (click here for a beautiful rendition of this hymn--the verses below begin at 1:12):
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
Until next week, grace and peace.
*Assuming the A.D. calendar begins with the year of Jesus’ birth and he died at 33 years of age.
For further reading I suggest Chapter 8 of Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig.