Nathan Schneider


What About the Resurrection?

This past week I was speaking with a non-believer who claimed the reason she couldn’t become a Christian is because she couldn’t believe in the Resurrection. If you think about it, she makes a great point: everything about Christianity being true or not hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I wrote an article last year summarizing a few basic arguments that favor the resurrection’s validity. You can read that article here.

This year, I’d like to point out one fact about the resurrection which I find most convincing: the changed lives of the apostles. Think about what happened to these men. The Bible tells us that after the death of Jesus they were afraid. This was the end. The Man they had been following, who Himself claimed to be God, was now dead. Yet, as history tells us, all of these men were willing to suffer for their faith. They claimed to have seen Him after His death. Now, people may die for something they believe is true, but what is actually false. However, no one dies for something which they know to be false. The disciples could have easily denied that Jesus rose from the dead in order to save their lives, but they didn’t. In fact, this is the evidence that convinced Lee Strobel, a journalist investigating Christianity to prove its falseness, that Christianity was actually true. Here’s how he ends his book The Case for Easter:

I started my original investigation as a spiritual skeptic, but after having thoroughly investigated the evidence for the resurrection, I was coming to a startlingly unexpected verdict. One final fact – described by a respected philosopher named J. P. Moreland – clinched the case for me.

“When Jesus was crucified,” Moreland told me, “his followers were discouraged and depressed. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then, after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message – that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them.

“And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.”

Yes, people will die for their religious convictions if they sincerely believe they are true. Religious fanatics have done that throughout history. While they may strongly believe in the tenets of their religion, however, they don’t know for a fact whether their faith is based on the truth. They simply cannot know for sure. They can only believe.

In stark contrast, the disciples were in the unique position to know for a fact whether Jesus had returned from the dead. They saw him, they touched him, they ate with him. They knew he wasn’t a hallucination or a legend. And knowing the truth, they were willing to die for him.

That insight stunned me. The disciples didn’t merely believe in the resurrection; they knew whether it was fact or fiction. Had they known it was a lie, they would never have been willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Nobody willingly dies for something that they know is false. They proclaimed the resurrection to their deaths for one reason alone: they knew it was true.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

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Can the Resurrection Be True?

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” -John 11:25-26

If indeed Jesus was raised from the dead it would prove the need for a divine miracle which would not only be proof for the existence of God, but also the validity of Scripture and the claims of Christ.  However, it is highly unlikely that the resurrection can ever be proven and most people remain skeptical.  Although, I do not believe one should say “Well, I’ll just have faith.”  It’s important that we know what Scripture teaches and it’s significance for life, especially when we’re talking about the central doctrine of the Christian faith.

There are at least four events to consider when thinking about the resurrection (see William Lane Craig’s God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Athiest):

First, after his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. Craig points out that given the understandable hostility between early Christians and the Jewish leaders, Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the high court that condemned Jesus, is unlikely to be a Christian invention.  This fact is also highly significant because it means the location of Jesus’ tomb was known to Jews and Christians alike.  So, it is highly unlikely that the first women to arrive at the empty tomb were mistaken as to the right tomb.  Paul Copan jokingly points out that “if the disciples (who had gone after the reports of the women) had gone to the wrong tomb, Jesus’ enemies would conveniently have pointed them to the right tomb!”  Certainly the appearance of an angel also suggest the wrong-tomb theory was never taken seriously from a biblical perspective.

Secondly, on the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. Notice the tomb was first “found empty by a group of his women followers.” In these times a woman’s testimony was considered highly unreliable –  they were even prevented from testifying in court. So then why would the apostles, if fabricating a story, use the testimony of females when they could have just as easily stuck men’s names in their place to establish credibility? Craig states, “The fact that it is women, rather than men, who are chief witnesses to the tomb is best explained by the historical facticity of the narrative in this regard.”

Third, on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. “The number and variety of people in a variety of circumstances who saw the Lord after His resurrection give overwhelming proof of the fact that He did rise from the dead” (James Kennedy). During the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) 500 people witnessed the resurrected Christ.  Some have suggested that those witnesses were all hallucinating, but to assume the incident at Pentecost was an episode of hallucination is to assume that all 500 people hallucinated the image of Christ, when not one of the over five hundred was expecting any such thing. There are no recorded hallucinations of some 500 people, especially 500 people from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages.  The same hallucinating could not possibly have occurred to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days.

Finally, the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. Originally the disciples had such a hard time believing in the resurrection that Jesus had to convince His own followers it was indeed Him standing right in front of them. Thomas, one of the twelve, expressed a hesitation many share today: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” About a week later Jesus appeared to all the disciples in their room and Jesus instructed Thomas to look and feel the prints of the nails as well as his sides. Thomas responded with sheer joy, “My Lord, and my God.”

Don’t miss this: Within a matter of weeks from the resurrection the disciples had left their families, jobs, and all familiarities in order to proclaim the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. This would eventually cost them their lives (see above) and change the course of human history forever.

Some have said, “People will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.”  Each of the disciples was willing to suffer for their belief and millions of others have followed in their footsteps by becoming martyrs for Christ.

Here is a list of the disciples and their fate: Andrew, crucified; Bartholomew, beaten and then crucified; James (son of Alphaeus,) stoned to death; James (son of Zebedee,) beheaded; John, exiled for his faith and died of old age; Judas (not Iscariot), stoned to death; Matthew, speared to death; Peter, crucified upside down; Philip, crucified; Simon, crucified; Thomas, speared to death, and; Matthias, stoned to death.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pinnacle of all human history, but if Christ has not risen, as some claim, then the Christian faith is “empty” and those who follow Jesus should be “of all men the most pitiful.”  Indeed, as Erwin Lutzer wrote, “If the resurrection of Christ can be proved to be a hoax, I for one will cease believing in Christ.”

However, I do not believe with the story as it is and the testimony of so many believers that one should take this lightly.  If Christ has risen, Christians have a future hope and a present victory.  If Christ has risen, then His death and resurrection has been for all.