1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
The historical event of the resurrection vindicates the claims of Christ and the theological significance of his death. With so much hanging then on the claim that Jesus’ physically rose from the dead, how can we have confidence that it did in fact happen?
The resurrection of Christ was a historical event, like the crucifixion. The Apostle Paul says pointedly: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Our faith is built on the sure Word of God and that word is supported by good historical evidences which support the historical reality of the resurrection. Below are some compelling circumstantial evidences for historical event of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead:
• The Transformation of the Disciples – After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples were timid and fearful. Following the resurrection, the disciples were transformed into bold witnesses for the risen Christ, to the point of being willing to die for their convictions. Many of them did.
• The Location of the Early Church – The church began in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus was crucified. Further, the earliest Apostolic preaching took place at the temple and its surrounding environs, the same locations where the opponents of Jesus had condemned him and crucified him just days before, and not some distant location.
• The Message of the Church – Early church preaching was in large measure centered on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. On nearly every occasion of preaching and teaching recorded in the book of Acts, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the central truth being communicated.
• The Day of Worship – The earliest Christians were Jews who recognized Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish day of worship was the Sabbath which was observed on Saturday. From the very start, the earliest Christians began recognizing Sunday as the significant weekly worship day, since it was the day that Jesus was resurrected.
• The Object of Worship – Considering that Jews were strict monotheists (Dueteronomy 6:4), it is simply inconceivable that devout Jews would begin worshipping Jesus as the one true God apart from compelling proof of the resurrection.
• The Form of Worship – Christians began practicing baptism and observing the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The person of Jesus and the events of his crucifixion and resurrection lay at the heart of Christian worship.
• The First Eyewitnesses of the Empty Tomb – The Gospels record that women in the early church were the first to discover the empty tomb and report back to the disciples. This detail was maintained even in light of the fact that the testimony of women was simply not respected in that culture.
• The Empty Tomb – The location of the tomb was publicly known by many including Joseph of Arimathea, the disciples, Jewish opponents, governmental leaders and their soldiers who were assigned to guard the tomb. Further, it was covered securely with a large stone, branded with a Roman seal, and guarded by Roman soldiers. And yet, the fact that the tomb was empty three days later was never disputed by contemporaries (only why it was empty), even among those who opposed the Christian movement.
• The Physical Nature of the Resurrection – The disciples were dogmatic that the resurrection was a physical, bodily resurrection. Had the story been fabricated, it would have been far easier and more acceptable in the first century to claim a spiritual resurrection. Jesus appeared physically alive over the course of forty days (Acts 1:3) to crowds as large as five hundred people at a time. As the New Testament documents were beginning to be penned, there remained many eyewitnesses alive to verify the facts (1 Cor. 15:6).
• The Conversion of Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul) – A devout Jewish Pharisee and persecutor of the church (Philippians 3:4-6; Acts 7:54-60). After an encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 9), he became a convinced follower of Jesus Christ and proclaimed the resurrection to many around the Mediterranean world of his day.
As the two man who were present at the tomb, asked the women who arrived early that resurrection morning looking for Jesus: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5). I can’t resist saying: he has risen, indeed!