The Bible teaches that Jesus' resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:13-15).
Is there objective evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?
David Hume was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, known today as the "Father of Skepticism." He made it his life's work to debunk assumptions which he considered to be unprovable, among them the veracity of miracles. He argued for six criteria by which we should judge those who claim to have witnessed a miracle. They should be:
- Of unquestioned integrity
- Willing to undergo severe loss if proven wrong
- Their claims should be capable of easy validation (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding [LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1966] 128-9).
They were numerous: over 500 saw the resurrected Lord (1 Corinthians 15:6). They were intelligent and well-educated, as the literature they produced makes clear (the Acts 4:13 claim that they were "unschooled, ordinary men" meant only that they had not attended rabbinic schools). Paul was trained by Gamaliel, the finest scholar in Judaism (Acts 22:3). They were men and women of unquestioned integrity, clearly willing to undergo severe loss, as proven by their martyrdoms. And their claims were easily validated, as witnessed by the empty tomb (cf. Acts 26:26, "this thing was not done in a corner").
So the witnesses were credible. But is there objective evidence for their claims? It is a fact of history that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried, and that on the third day his tomb was found empty. Skeptics have tried to explain the empty tomb ever since.
The earliest explanation was that while the soldiers guarding his tomb slept, the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:11-15). But how would sleeping guards know the identity of the thieves? How could the disciples convince 500 people that the corpse they stole was alive? And why would these disciples then die for what they knew to be a lie?
A second approach claims that the women stole the body. But how would they overpower the guards? How would they make a corpse look alive? Why would they suffer and die for such a fabrication?
A third explanation is that the authorities stole the body. Then, when the misguided disciples found an empty tomb, they announced a risen Lord. But why would the authorities steal the body they had stationed guards to watch? And when the Christians began preaching the resurrection, wouldn't they quickly produce the corpse?
A fourth approach is the wrong tomb theory—the grief-stricken women and apostles went to the wrong tomb, found it empty, and began announcing that Jesus had risen from the grave. But the women saw where he was buried (Matthew 27:61); Joseph of Arimathea would have corrected the error (Matthew 27:57-61); and the authorities would have gone to the correct tomb and produced the corpse.
A fifth explanation is the "swoon theory." According to this view, Jesus did not actually die on the cross. He or his followers bribed the medical examiner to pronounce him dead, then he revived in the tomb and appeared to be resurrected. But how did he survive burial clothes which would have suffocated him? How did he shove aside the stone and overpower the guards? How did he appear through walls (John 20:19, 26) and ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9)?
There is only one reasonable explanation for the empty tomb, the changed lives of the disciples, and the overnight explosion of the Christian movement upon the world stage: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He is therefore the person he claimed to be: our Lord and God. He was justified in making the most stupendous claim in human history, one no one else has made in all of recorded history: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). The resurrection shows us that Jesus is God and Lord.