The resurrection of Jesus Christ lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Without this historical fact Christianity would not be true; therefore, as the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, it is of the utmost importance. The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming and it is very important that Christians be able to make this case.
Most of the evidence for the resurrection comes from the New Testament, by far the best-attested document from the ancient world. Its trustworthiness is discussed in the following AppReasons Apologetic Minutes:
Christ’s resurrection is recorded in Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; and John 20:1–21:25. The last appearance of the resurrected Christ is recorded in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1-11). These passages contain an abundance of cumulative evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. We will consider this evidence within the framework of the following four issues:
(1) The death of Jesus
(2) The burial of Jesus
(3) The empty tomb
(4) The eyewitnesses
The evidence will be discussed over the course of several Apologetic Minutes that will follow shortly.
(1) THE DEATH OF JESUS
The first step in considering the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is to establish that He actually died as a result of crucifixion. A major reason for this is that some people try to “explain away” the resurrection as a mere recovery from near death.
The reports of Jesus’ execution by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate are not restricted to the New Testament. Josephus (A.D. 37-100), a Roman Jewish historian, recorded it in his Antiquities of the Jews. Tacitus (A. D. 56-117), a Roman senator and historian, commented on it in his Annals.
Crucifixion was a slow and painful execution commonly used by the Romans. Jesus’ crucifixion was preceded by a flogging and the pressing of a crown of thorns into his head. The Romans used a flagrum for flogging, a whip with pieces of metal and bone attached to it such that many prisoners died from the flogging alone. The extent of Christ’s torture prior to His crucifixion was truly horrific and made Him too weak to carry His cross to the place of execution. After being nailed to the cross Jesus survived for an additional six hours (Mark 15:25 and Mark 15:34) prior to laying down his Spirit (Mark 15:37).
The New Testament record provides three confirmations that Jesus was dead before His body was taken down from the cross:
(1) Pilate sent soldiers to ensure Jesus and the two criminals crucified with Him were dead before removing their bodies. The soldiers, who found Jesus was already dead, made sure He was dead by piercing Him with a spear.
(2) Jesus’ disciple John, an eyewitness to the crucifixion, saw a flow of blood and water from His pierced side. This is evidence of massive blood clotting, indicating that Jesus was dead before the spear thrust.
(3) When Joseph of Arimathea asked permission to bury Jesus’ body, Pilate took the precaution of first checking with the centurion who supervised the crucifixion to ensure that Jesus was dead.A seasoned soldier, the centurion would have known a dead body when he saw one.
Note: This article is based on material in John Lennox’s Gunning for God (see recommended resources below).
(1) Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004).
NOTE: This book can be found in our Lending Library…it is excellent!!!
(2) John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2011), Chapter 8
(3) The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson (Icon Productions, 2004), DVD (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2004)