In the early Church, when one Christian would greet another, often he would say: “He is risen.”
And the other would respond, “He is risen, indeed!”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest fact in human history. Yet throughout the centuries to our present time, skeptics have argued against the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Recently, well-known atheist Richard Dawkins said, “Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’”
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Rene Lopez, author of the new book The Jesus Family Tomb Examined: Did Jesus Rise Physically? I was surprised when Rene told me about his background. His life used to be like an episode of Miami Vice. Back in the 1980s, he could well have been one of the bad guys on that show-selling drugs, using violence, robbing people, etc. Today, he is a Ph.D. candidate, pastor, and author.
When I interviewed him about the resurrection of Jesus, he said one reason he believes in the resurrection is the power of the resurrected Christ in his own life. If Jesus could change someone like him, with his 30-plus arrests and make him a new man from the inside out, then He could walk out of the tomb. Rene tells his story in his scriptureunlocked.com website and is currently working on a book about his conversion.
Rene says this about Dawkins’ notion that the resurrection of Jesus is about as historical as “Jack and the Beanstalk”: “The gospels are more reliable accounts in ancient history than any other document we have, before and after.”
Dr. Sam Lamerson of Knox Theological Seminary says this: “There are so many pieces of evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that if we reject the truth of the resurrection, I believe, we must then become total historical agnostics and reject virtually everything that we know about ancient history.” According to Lamerson, “There is no ancient historical event that is more certainly testified to both by number of witnesses and by evidence than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Let’s consider some of the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. We begin with the empty tomb. “Now, we often overlook the empty tomb,” says Dr. Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University. “But I think the empty tomb is very important, because that is something that an ancient historian can get at.”
According to Liberty University professor Dr. Gary Habermas, “The fact that women reported the empty tomb is the best reason to believe it, ’cause it’s not a scenario anybody would make up.” The empty tomb was a fact of history.
Another piece of evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ deals with the first eye-witnesses and the first to testify they had seen Him risen from the dead. Rene Lopez observes, “If the resurrection was to be a hoax, you would never use women to validate something like the resurrection, if you wanted to lie about it, because in the first century, according to the rabbinic writings, a woman’s testimony was as valid as a thief’s.”
Furthermore, the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time after His resurrection. Many of these were still alive at the time Paul wrote that. He basically encourages his readers to go talk with them.
Another reason Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead is that the whole Christian movement began in Jerusalem. Dr. Maier points out: “Where did Christianity first begin in terms of the organized proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead? Only one place on earth-Jerusalem. There, least of all, could Christianity ever have gotten started if the moldering body of Jesus of Nazareth were available any time after Sunday morning. That would have been a wooden stake through the heart of Christianity. There wouldn’t have been a Christian church ever organized.”
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the change in the disciples. Just as Rene was changed, so also were the disciples. Rene points out: “In the gospels, you have the disciples running scared. They were all hiding, and overnight you have them then making a radical turnaround and then going before the authorities and proclaiming the very resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
And they were not just changed, but willing to die for what they believed. Dr. Lamerson points out: “According to early church history, those 12 disciples all met horrible deaths, except for John. Judas, of course, went out and committed suicide. But of the remaining 11, every one of them, except for John, met a martyr’s death. That is, they were killed because they continued to preach the Resurrection of Jesus Christ….They died because they knew that Jesus really had risen from the dead in history.”
Finally, Rene Lopez observes that Christianity itself would have died, along with its Founder, if it all ended at the cross: “Christianity would have died, if Christ had not risen from the dead. There’s no possible way to explain the growth of the church…. That in itself must be answered by the critics today.”
He is risen.
He is risen, indeed!