In this post-Easter blog, I wish I had time and space to share all of the evidences for the resurrection of Jesus, the “predictive evidences,” the “circumstantial evidences,” the “experiential evidences,” the “sociological evidences,” etc. I could spend more time discussing the Biblical narratives themselves, the remarkable independent personal testimonies we find in the four gospels of the New Testament. including the witness of two who were “eyewitnesses,” Matthew and John. The other two, Mark and Luke. had talked personally with them and other eyewitnesses who had seen the resurrected Lord, including all the apostles to whom the risen Christ appeared during the days between His resurrection and His ascension.
These historical records were obviously not stories made up by the authors in collusion with each other, for if this was true there would not be so many differences in their accounts, including the apparent contradictions (i.e. the number of angels at the empty tomb, the number of women who went to the garden on the morning of the resurrection, the time of their arrival, etc.). However, in spite of these differences, it is obvious to any serious student of the scriptures that these four gospels can be harmonized. Furthermore, these apparent discrepancies could have been eliminated if the writers had gotten together to invent a plausible story, or if they had known that their separate writings were going to be put together in what we know as the New Testament. Also, it should be apparent to any open-minded person that these writers did not make up a story separately, for if they had done so there would never have been the large amount of repetition in the four accounts of the life of Jesus, His teachings and public ministry, as well as His death and resurrection. Surely they would have wanted to eliminate such repetition, to make their accounts more different, including other words and deeds of Jesus shared by other witnesses, including a few parables and healing miracles not included in the other gospel accounts.
So, the only sensible and believable conclusion is that these four gospels were not made up at all, but are reliable historical records. They are simply four accurate accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, four true and independent writings by four men who knew from their own personal experiences, and/or from first-hand reports about life-transforming experiences with the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. How are the remarkable changes in the lives of the apostles going to be explained apart from the resurrection appearances of Jesus, their actual encounters with Him? Then, of course, there is the empty tomb itself, and the fact that the body of Jesus was gone when the women visited the tomb, and when Peter and John entered the tomb and saw for themselves that the testimony of the women was indeed true—and added to that the evidence of the stone that had been rolled away, and the undisturbed grave clothes lying there on the stone slab where the wrapped body of Jesus had been placed, “dead and buried,” as we say in the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostle John tells us in his gospel that when he and Peter saw the grave clothes, and the napkin that had been placed around the head of Jesus, still in the tomb exactly where the body had been, not on the floor of the tomb as if the body had been unwrapped and taken away, that is when they believed! For it was as if the physical body had been transformed into a spiritual body, a different state of existence, the old body which had been taken down from the cross, had simply de-materialized, and the wrappings that had been around His body had just been left behind, not in a disheveled pile on the floor of the tomb, but still lying where the body had been on that cold stone slab, undisturbed. (John 20:8)
Some skeptics and critics have imagined and suggested that either the Roman or Jewish authorities had moved the body so the disciples would not come and steal it, claiming Jesus had been raised from the dead, and this is precisely the lie that is still circulated in the attempt to find some plausible explanation for the empty tomb. Of course, the question this lie immediately raises is why then did the authorities not produce the body of Jesus, if they had moved it, once His followers began proclaiming His resurrection? Then there are unbelievers who have maintained that the disciples of Jesus did return themselves to the garden and take the body from the tomb. That suggestion is even more absurd! How could anyone steal the body when Roman soldiers were guarding the tomb from Friday until Sunday, and the tomb had also been sealed with the official seal of Rome? Who would have dared to trifle with the tomb, even if someone had been able to approach it during the night or in the early morning hours? It is also inconceivable that the true circumstances would not have been made known far and wide after the disciples had appeared in Jerusalem boldly proclaiming the resurrection, in spite of the great risk, possible imprisonment and even the threat of death. Furthermore, the followers of Jesus would hardly have been willing to die for a lie. Also, what other explanation is there for the fact that those cowardly disciples, who had been hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities during the trial and execution of Jesus, had been so radically transformed into courageous preachers of the Good News of the resurrection?
Finally, we must add their common testimony and witness to the resurrection appearances of Jesus, not just to the few women in the garden on the Day of Resurrection, not only to Peter and John who ran to the garden to see for themselves that the tomb was empty, but to all the apostles, and also to more than five hundred believers on one occasion. The resurrected Lord appeared to a wide variety of people at different times and under different circumstances. The Apostle Paul lists many of His appearances in his Corinthian correspondence (I Corinthians 15). Then we also have the unexpected change of the day of worship for the early Christians from Saturday to Sunday, the first day of the week, the Day of Resurrection. It should be noted that those believers who were converts from Judaism also initially continued to observe the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday), as well as other Jewish traditions, but Sunday gradually came to be recognized as the Christian Sabbath, and every Sunday was a celebration of the resurrection and the abiding presence of the risen and glorified Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Savior and Lord for believers in the Apostolic Church. Nothing but the truth and reality of the resurrection can possibly explain such a drastic change, for no devout Jew would have dared to tamper with the Law of God!
So, what are we to say about the force of these evidences for the resurrection? I am personally convinced that it is not overstating the case to say, as Matthew Arnold once did: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested fact in history.”