Looking at Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

The Importance of the Resurrection of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus is probably the most important single event in the entire history of mankind. It fulfilled countless prophecies, some made over a thousand years earlier and some made by Jesus Himself. It was a demonstration that Jesus was who He said He was, and it provided the inspiration for the rapid growth of the early Christian church. In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright comments, “the resurrection validates a ‘supernatural’ view of the world, it means there really is a ‘life after death.’”[1]

Old Testament Predictions of the Resurrection

The life of Jesus fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies.[2] One thousand years before Jesus was born, His ancestor King David wrote Psalm 16, where verse 10 prophesies the resurrection, “because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” Similarly, Psalm 22:22-24 and Isaiah 53:10-11 are widely regarded as predictions of the resurrection.

During His later Judean ministry, Jesus compared the “sign of Jonah” to Himself as a sign to the then-current generation, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”[3] This suggests that Jesus regarded His forthcoming crucifixion and resurrection experience as being similar, or analogous, to that of Jonah and the fish some eight hundred years earlier,

Jesus Prophesies His Own Fate

In addition to the Jonah reference, the Bible records that Jesus made many predictions of His crucifixion and resurrection, as in Matthew 20:17-19, the final sentence of which is “On the third day he will be raised to life!” These predictions stand up in the light of stringent historical examination, as Licona states in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, “it is my opinion that the strong case for the historicity of Jesus’ predictions of his passion and resurrection stands.”[4]

The Gospels: Eyewitness Testimony to the Resurrection

The four gospels provide the most comprehensive reports of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and between them, act as reliable, multiple, eyewitness reports. The truth of the gospels with respect to these events, which ultimately changed the lives and characters of the authors to the extent that they willingly endured martyrdom, carries with it the foundation of Christianity. After reviewing the “Story of Easter” in the gospels, Wright states, “This belief about Jesus provides a historically complete, thorough and satisfying reason for the rise and development of the belief that he was Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true lord.”[5]

In his book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, J. Warner Wallace, a career cold-case detective, evaluated the truth claims of the gospels in a manner similar to his cold-case investigations. Using abductive reasoning, he came to the conclusion that “The most reasonable inference is that the gospel writers were present, corroborated, accurate, and unbiased. If this is the case, we can conclude with confidence that their testimony is reliable.”[6]

The Writings of Paul – as Early as A.D. 54?

In his book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Licona refers to Paul as “the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus” and that “Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus Himself.”[7] He further states, “Oral traditions played a large role in the Greco-Roman world, since only a small minority, perhaps less than 10 percent, could read and write.”[8] Using Romans 1:4, where Paul writes that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” Licona refers to scholarly opinion that Paul was using an oral tradition that could go back to the early church in Jerusalem, and which would, in any event, predate the authorship of the book of Romans, itself “typically dated between A.D. 55 to A. D. 58.”[9] This demonstrates that Paul’s writings began as early as A.D. 54, less than 25 years after Jesus ascended, and answers suggestions that New Testament books were written much later than that.

For me, the fulfillment of many prophecies made hundreds of years earlier is evidence of a supernatural element in the life of Jesus. The truth of the gospels, demonstrated by experts in widely different fields, is confirmation that Jesus represents the truth behind our earthly lives.

[1] Wright, N. T., (2003-03-17). Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press, 2003) 722.

[2] According to the Scriptures, January 20, 2015, http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html, accessed November 27, 2016.

[3] Matthew 12:40, NIV.

[4] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 300

[5] Wright, N. T., Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press, 2003), 681-682.

[6] Wallace, J. Warner (2013-01-01). Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Kindle Locations 4548-4550). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

[7] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 437.

[8] Ibid., (p. 220).

[9] Ibid., (p. 221).

Paul: The “Rock Star” of the New Testament

Paul before his conversion

The story of Paul is the classic “poacher turned gamekeeper” tale. In his early life, Paul was called Saul, or more completely, “Saul of Tarsus.” A Roman citizen of Jewish ancestry, he was raised and educated as a Pharisee, a member of the group which, together with the Sadducees, brought about the crucifixion of Jesus. He was a man of unusual ability, excelling among his peers, and his enthusiasm for Judaism and the Law lead him to actively persecute the followers of Jesus and the early church. He was present at the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and was responsible for the imprisonment and beatings of many others.

Paul Sees the Post-resurrection Jesus

On a journey to Damascus to further persecute Christians, Paul had an encounter with Jesus which left him with temporary blindness and an unquestionable realization of the Truth in the Word of Jesus. The dramatic nature of Paul’s conversion to Christianity has resulted in a reference to “the Road to Damascus” becoming a popular metaphor for any sudden human transformation of ideas or ideals. Yet in his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright describes Paul as not “’changing religions’, but receiving, so he believed, a fuller revelation from the god he had always worshipped.”[1] The “revelation, not conversion” theme continues when, in his subsequent testimony, Paul told of his new found knowledge coming, not from “flesh and blood”, but by revelation from Jesus, “For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”(Gal. 1:12) The fact that it was not just a change of heart, but a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of Christianity, that was imparted, appears to support this. Furthermore, in the first verses of 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul talks, in an account thinly disguised as being in the third person, of an out-of-this-world experience in the “third heaven”.[2]

Paul After His Revelation

After being the worst enemy of the early church, Paul became its strongest and most skilled advocate. The “poacher” referred to above would have a complete and personal knowledge of the ways of the poacher, and this, when becoming a “gamekeeper”, would be of enormous value. In a similar way, Paul was able to use his old knowledge and scholarship to support his exceptional prowess in his new role. His new understanding could, conceivably, have answered many of the questions that had troubled him before, and he was now in a position to pass on these answers with a measure of authority.

Paul’s travels and writings were a major part of the growth of the early church, and his writings form the backbone of the New Testament. As a biblical author, Paul is credited with writing 13 (14, if Hebrews is included) of the 27 books in the New Testament, more than anyone else, although statistics indicate that Luke wrote more of the original Greek New Testament words than Paul did.[3]

What Does This Mean for Us?

Paul’s conversion was symbolic of the opportunity God offers to all of us. Paul was originally an enemy of God, but was ignorant of the Truth. (1 Tim. 1:13) When presented with the truth in Jesus, he immediately repented and became an obedient servant of God. Following this, the Lord guided him into a growing understanding of what it means to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom. In a similar way, we, as sinners in this world and ignorant of the Word of God, will at times be presented with the Truth and have opportunities to repent and become obedient to God. If we accept this opportunity and become a Christian, we will be welcomed, and our own, personal, journey of growth will begin.

[1] Nicholas T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (Fortress Press, MN), 2003, (p. 376).

[2] Ibid., (p. 387).

[3] Felix Just, September 2, 2005, http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/NT-Statistics-Greek.htm, accessed November 14, 2016.