The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation stone of Christianity. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he was clearly the Son of God. If he did not rise from the dead, then his claims to be the saviour of men were false.
Paul states this in his letter to the Corinthians:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:12-17 ESV)
To answer this question today, the evidence we have is circumstantial. We have the testimony and the actions of people.
1. Did Jesus really die on the cross?
Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:44-46)
Could anyone survive crucifixion and a sword through their side, and without any medical care, walk away from it a few days later? This is very unlikely. According to the centurion, he was dead, and this was never questioned.
2. Was the tomb really empty when the women visited it?
And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:3-6)
The Jews tried to refute the claims of resurrection by saying that the disciples stole the body. In this claim, they acknowledged that the tomb was empty. They also never discovered a stolen body.
3. Could the disciples have stolen the body?
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)
The Jews themselves had provided assurance for themselves that this could not have happened. Considering that the women were coming with burial spices, it was not their intention to pretend he had been raised from the dead.
4. Why were the guards not punished if they had supposedly allowed the disciples to steal the body?
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)
If the guards had indeed allowed the disciples to steal the body, it is unlikely they would have gone unpunished. Clearly there was some sense of uncertainty here.
5. Were the disciples mistaken about seeing Jesus?
But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:37-44)
The disciples all saw Jesus. They all believed it was him. In fact, he appeared to over 500 people who all believed it was him (1 Corinthians 15:6).
6. Is it possible that people would be willing to suffer persecution and die themselves for something that they knew wasn’t true?
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1-4)
Most people will not choose to die for something they know is a lie. And most people need very good reason to believe in something that is going to lead to suffering and possibly death. The survival and spread of the Christian church speaks to it’s veracity.
For further investigation:
Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morrison
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (book and movie)
The Hole in History: Examining Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus