The resurrection is the central tenet of Christian theology. Not only does the resurrection witness to the immense power of Jesus Christ, the resurrection also proves to us that Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Son of God and Messiah. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). In that statement, Jesus also claimed to be the source of both. Apart from Christ, there is no resurrection and apart from Christ, there is no eternal life. The amazing thing about the power of Jesus is that He does more than give life, He is life, and that’s why death has no dominion over Him. In resurrecting from the grave, God reminds us of His absolute sovereignty over life and death. Here are seven historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus most scholars agree upon.
Jesus Died By Crucifixion
A central statement in traditional Christian creeds is that Jesus was crucified “under Pontius Pilate.” But the majority of Christians have only the vaguest sense of what the phrase represents, and most non-Christians probably can’t imagine why it’s such an integral part of the Christian faith. “Crucified under Pontius Pilate” provides Jesus with its most obvious link to larger history. Pilate was a historical figure, the Roman procurator of Judea; he was referred to in other sources of the time and even mentioned in an inscription found at the site of ancient Caesarea in Israel. Linking Jesus’ death with Pilate represents the insistence that Jesus was a real person, not merely a figure of myth or legend. More than this, the phrase also communicates concisely some pretty important specifics of that historical event.
For one thing, the statement assets that Jesus didn’t simply die; He was killed. This was a young man’s death in pain and public humiliation, not a peaceful end to a long life. Also, this wasn’t a mob action. Jesus is said to have been executed, not lynched, and by the duly appointed governmental authority of Roman Judea. There was a hearing, and the official responsible for civil order and Roman peace and justice condemned Jesus. This means that Pilate found something so serious as to warrant the death penalty.
Jesus Was Buried
New Testament scholars agree that the burial story is one of the best established facts about Jesus. One reason for this is because of the inclusion of Joseph of Arimathea as the one who buried Christ. Joseph was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, a sort of Jewish supreme court. People on the ruling class were simply too well known for fictitious stories about them to be pulled off in this way. This would expose the Christians as frauds. So they couldn’t have circulated a story about him burying Jesus unless it was true. Also, if the burial account was legendary, one would expect to find conflicting traditions – which we don’t have.
The Tomb Was Empty
The burial account and empty tomb account have grammatical and linguistic ties, indicated threat they are one continuous account. Therefore is the burial account is accurate, the empty tomb is likely to be accurate as well. Therefore, if the burial account is accurate then everyone knew where Jesus was buried. This would have been decisive evidence to refute the early Christians who were preaching the resurrection – for if the tomb had not been empty, it would have been evident to all and the disciples would have been exposed as frauds at worst, or insane at best.
Jesus’ Death Caused the Disciples to Despair and Lose Hope
Jesus’ death caused the disciple to despair and lose hope, believing that his life had ended. One of the most perplexing things about the Easter story is that Jesus’ own disciples didn’t get it. All the way up to (and even beyond) Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples – who had traveled, studied and ministered under Jesus for most of His public ministry – seemed remarkably confused about what’s happening. Even after the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were unclear about what had happened until Jesus explained it to them.
The Disciples Had Experiences Which They Believed Were Literal Appearances of the Risen Jesus
One key argument to the resurrection comes from the New Testament writing known as First Corinthians, written by the Apostle Paul to a group of Christians in Corinth to address controversies that had arisen in their community. Paul is thought to have written this letter around the year 52, about 20 years after Jesus’ death. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul gives a list of people to whom the risen Jesus appeared. These witnesses to the resurrected Jesus include the Apostle Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and, most intriguingly, a group of more than 500 people at the same time. Many scholars believe that Paul here is quoting from a much earlier Christian creed, which perhaps originated only a few years after Jesus’ death. This passage helps to demonstrate that the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead originated extremely early in the history of Christianity.
The Disciples Preached the Message of Jesus’ Resurrection in Jerusalem
The disciples believed so much in the resurrection that they gave their lives to sharing the news. The first to die was James the brother of John, who was killed by the sword upon the order of King Herod (Acts 12:1-2). Church tradition holds that John miraculously survived being put into a cauldron of boiling water, then later was exiled to the island of Patmos. Peter was crucified in Rome upside down; Matthew was slain by a sword in a distant city in Ethiopia; James the son of Alphaeus was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple, then beaten to death with a blacksmith’s tool; Philip was hanged against a pillar at Hierapolis in Phrygia; Bartholomew was skinned alive; Andrew was bound to a cross – and preached to his persecutors until he died; Thomas was run through with a lance in the East Indies; Jude was shot to death with arrows; Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded; Mark died in Alexandria in Egypt after being cruelly dragged through the city.
The Disciples Were Transformed From Doubters to Bold Proclaimers
No one will argue that the resurrection didn’t cause some dramatic changes in the lives of Jesus’ followers. It’s undeniable. One of those changes, which might not appear significant to many, is how the disciples changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. The Sabbath day was Saturday, the day God rested after six days of creation. Honoring the Sabbath was a part of Mosaic Law, the fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days and you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-10). And yet Sunday, rather than Saturday, became the Sabbath for the early church.
Perhaps the greatest change caused by the resurrection was in the character of the disciples. They had previously been timid, afraid and depressed after witnessing the arrest and suffering of Jesus. But after His resurrection they became bold, aggressive and full of joy. Peter is a prime example. He was the one who had earlier denied the Lord to a lowly servant girl. But after the resurrection, he stood in the temple courts defying the very men who put Jesus on the cross (Acts 4:20).
The resurrection ended the separation between us and God that sin had created. As Christians, we believe that Jesus will come again and those who have died in the faith are now with the Lord and those of us who are alive will join our Heavenly King and be a part of the kingdom that has no end.