The resurrection is the centerpiece of Christianity. If Jesus did not arise from the dead, everything is for naught. If He didn’t rise from the dead, he would be just a man. If he was just a man, he wasn’t even a wise man (like Ghandi or Khalil Gibran); he was a madman or a liar because no wise man is confused about his deity.
Most modern scholars accept, at a minimum, that the people who followed Jesus in the 1st Century believed that He arose from the dead and appeared to them in his body after his death. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, recounting a list of people who had seen Jesus alive after His death on the cross, including more than five hundred (500), some of whom Paul said were still alive.
Think about that: about 35 years after Jesus died, most of more than five hundred people who claimed to see Jesus risen from the dead in his body were still alive.
This is not proof that Jesus arose from the dead, of course, but we can’t just write it off either!
Absolute proof is impossible, even for recent events, but we don’t require absolute proof for anything, not even to convict people of murder. We rely on circumstantial evidence in our court system, and we accept testimony and circumstantial evidence for most of what we know to be true because none of us have witnessed most of what we know to be true firsthand.
Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians about the people who had seen Jesus risen from the dead, was at one time a hater of the followers of the Jesus. Paul was a zealous student and teacher of Judaism and believe the followers of Jesus were a cult that was threatening to undermine Judaism in the place of its origin. He rounded up Christians to imprison them and to stop the movement.
Then, all of a sudden, he becomes the greatest ambassador of this new Way, and his focus is not Jews, but Gentiles (non-Jews). What caused such a change in him? According to his own words, Paul encountered the risen Jesus.
Consider the men and women who were the friends of Jesus, who ate and drank and lived with him. One of them betrayed Jesus to the Roman authorities. They saw him beaten and tortured publicly on the cross, where he shamefully died next to a common thief. That Jesus from Nazareth died on a cross in the 1st Century is widely attested in ancient literature, and he had many followers after his death.
The amazing thing is that the following did not end after his death. There were others who came, initiated a following and died, and the following dispersed. There was much unrest in 1st Century Palestine, and the political zealots were a cause of some of that unrest. But when those zealot leaders died, nothing came of it.
“Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.” (Acts 5:37-38)
Jesus was different. For one thing, he was not a zealot, though many certainly wished he was. The 1st Century Palestinian Jews had been waiting about 400 years for a Messiah. The Old Testament prophets had spoken and written of the coming of a Messiah, and the 1st Century Jews believed that the Messiah would overthrow Roman rule and set up a Palestinian Jewish State that was self-governed.
Judas, some speculate, betrayed Jesus because he came to realize that Jesus did not plan a political coup like the zealots hoped. Jesus spoke of heaven more than earth, and he seemed to focus on individuals rather than the Jewish people. Jesus also talked about his own death – a lot.
From the accounts of what Jesus said and how his followers responded, they did not understand much of what he said while he was alive. He talked about rising from the dead, but they didn’t seem to get that. Judas betrayed him, some believe, because he became disillusioned. When Jesus was captured, the disciples abandoned him.
When Jesus died, his followers huddled together and mourned. They were defeated. Their dreams were dashed. Their leader and savior, they man they left careers and family for, was dead. He died a cruel and shameful, public death. They were so negatively affected Peter, one of the closest friends of Jesus, even denied even knowing him.
Not many days later, however, that all changed! On the day of Pentecost, with travelers from all over the Jewish world congregating in Jerusalem for the festival, these same followers, got up boldly in the city square and proclaimed that this same man, Jesus, was the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world!
None of these things are absolute proof of the resurrection. Even if you were there at the time, you could not have been absolutely sure of what had happened. But the change in the outlook of the followers of Jesus is compelling. Others had come and gone. Claiming to be messiahs, these others died and their followers scattered.
After Jesus died, the early church literally exploded! Within weeks of the public death of Jesus, his followers claimed that he appeared to them, back from the dead in his body! as noted above, the number of people who claimed to have seen him was greater than 500. Instead of scattering, these followers of Jesus began to proclaim what they saw, and thousands of people began to join them, and thousands more were added in the short time that followed.
That is just the beginning of evidence for the resurrection. Following is another account of the evidence of the Resurrection.
In this video, go to about the seven (7) minute mark for evidence of the resurrection (unless you want to start from the beginning):