Introduction to "RISEN: Evidence of the Resurrection"
Is Jesus risen from the dead?
Literally, there is no greater question to consider, when considering the Christian faith. Many misunderstand the resurrection as an inspiring idea of optimism and hope rather than an actual event. But this domestication completely misses the message of Easter. Jesus risen from the dead is either the world’s greatest historical event or greatest historical hoax, and there is no in between.
Jesus certainly viewed his resurrection this way, claiming it to be the fullest vindication of his outlandish claim to be both God and Savior of the world. Likewise, his followers saw the resurrection as the central tenet of their faith. The early Church’s announcement to the ancient world was that Jesus is risen from the dead, which means he is God and Savior, which means everyone must worship and trust him as such. And they also had the courage to accept the counter of that brazen claim, admitting that if Jesus is not risen, then he should be dismissed as false and foolish.
Still to this day, Easter remains a historic dividing line. If it happened, then Jesus is true. If it didn’t, then his followers are fools. It really is that simple.
So did it happen? Of course not, says our skeptical, enlightened world, and to believe it happened is to deny obvious scientific evidence. The problem, however, is that to disbelieve that it happened is to deny obvious historical evidence.
Whereas science studies the repeatable, history studies the unrepeatable. In other words, the discipline of scientific historiography studies things that by definition happened only once, and therefore, like a forensic investigation, all the evidence around that singular event is examined to derive a conclusion. Surprising to many, there is actually more evidence around the resurrection of Jesus than any other ancient event. Here are the most established facts widely accepted by historical scholarship:
- Rome crucified and buried a very public and popular revolutionary named Jesus of Nazareth.
- A few days later, his tomb was discovered to be empty, and neither the Roman or Jewish authorities were able to produce a body to account for this.
- On multiple occasions and in many different circumstances, individuals and entire groups of people had post-mortem encounters with Jesus.
- Out of nowhere and against all odds there arose history’s greatest movement based not necessarily on teachings or revelations, but upon a very falsifiable historic event—Jesus risen the dead.
On a most basic level, these are the facts, the crime scene evidence of Easter, so to speak. Now the question becomes: what is the best explanation of these facts?
If we were talking about anything else, the answer would be quite obvious. We could say, with unrivaled historical certainty, the event happened. But we are talking about a conclusion so extraordinary, with implications so demanding, that intense scrutiny of the historical details is both appropriate and expected. So, let’s explore the evidence together. Following the acronym “RISEN,” I’m going to present 5 reasons why the best explanation for the evidence is that Jesus is, in fact, risen from the dead:
The scholarship is certainly not my own. Instead, I’m going to do my best to summarize and explain the most compelling works I have read, specifically that of N.T. Wright (Wright is brilliant on the resurrection, but I cannot commend his theology of the cross).
However, it must be said from the outset that at some point, debating evidence gives way to debating worldviews. If you steadfastly believe that supernatural events cannot and do not happen, then no amount of evidence will convince you. That being said, a worldview void of the supernatural is a very bold and unsubstantiated belief that one chooses to accept by faith. And it is a faith that resurrection evidence is sternly challenging.
Either your worldview will have to expand to account for the evidence or you will choose to stubbornly deny the evidence to maintain your worldview. But if a worldview has room for miracles, then all the evidence makes perfect sense, and suddenly the unbelievable becomes believable: He is risen indeed.