“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they which are fallen asleep in Christ perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:17-19, King James Version).
Every Easter, Christians worldwide celebrate Jesus rising from the grave. For believers, this is the single greatest moment in history: Jesus rose from the grave, conquered Satan, and defeated Death. His resurrection is what gives us confidence that we too shall be raised from death to live with Jesus forever. But while Easter is a day of rejoicing for many, it is also a day of doubt for others. His death and resurrection can be difficult to believe and leads people to wonder, “Do we have proof that Jesus is alive?” The answer is yes! Here are several factors to consider when grappling with the truth of this miraculous occurrence.
The sheer number of people Jesus appeared to who didn’t expect it yet testified to His resurrection is striking. The first to see Jesus was Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18). Salome, another Mary, and Joanna also saw Him (Mark 16:1). Shortly after, he appeared to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34). He appeared to the two men on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). He appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas, and He ate fish to show that he was flesh and blood (Luke 24:30-43). Eight days later, he appeared to his disciples again. This time, Thomas was there and felt his side and hands because He doubted (John 20:26-31).
A few weeks later, he appeared to Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two unnamed disciples at the Tiberias Sea. The men were catching nothing, and demonstrating his power as the Son of God, He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat where they suddenly caught so many fish that the net broke (John 21:1-23). He saw eleven disciples with 500 other people at a mountain in Galilee (Mat. 28:12-17). Shortly after that, James saw Him and then all of the Apostles (1 Cor. 15:7).
Jesus appeared to hundreds of people in the time between His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. These witness accounts add credibility to the claim that He truly rose from the dead, especially since none of these witnesses expected to see Jesus. Despite the disciples having heard Jesus talk of rising after death, none of them believed it would happen. They were hiding in an upper dark room heartbroken and terrified about what would happen to them after having followed this now “defeated” Messiah (John 20:19-29).
Questions to Consider: Why would the disciples suddenly and radically change their minds? Why would they spread lies about seeing Jesus alive when they clearly had no belief He would rise? Why would 500 people who were not followers of Jesus testify to His appearance? Why, if it was made up, would the account record Thomas doubting? Wouldn’t the story be stronger if they were all in agreement?
Another person who witnessed Jesus alive after His death was Saul of Tarsus, and his radical conversion is a huge indicator of the truth of the resurrection. On the way to Damascus to slaughter more Christians, Saul of Tarsus encountered Jesus (Acts 9). A light blinds Saul, after asking who it is, Jesus responded, “I am Jesus whom thou persecuteth.” As a result of this encounter, Saul converted and became the Apostle Paul, who went on to establish many of the first churches and write a majority of the New Testament. Why? Why would a man so bent on destroying Christianity suddenly turn and die for it, especially when Jesus was dead? Nothing but seeing Jesus could have incurred this type of transformation.
It’s important to note that, before converting, Paul was not on the fence. He was passionately against the religion: “And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5).
Paul later goes on, saying, “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:10-11).
This is Paul’s life before Christ: hunting Christians and becoming one of their most notorious enemies. However, after converting, Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). And die he did.
In addition to Paul, almost all of the apostles were martyred. Stephen was stoned. Peter was crucified. Paul was beheaded. Andrew was crucified while preaching in what is now Russia. Thomas was stabbed by four men with spears while preaching in India. Philip led the wife of a Roman proconsul to Jesus, and the proconsul was so enraged that he had Philip “cruelly put to death.” James, the son of Alpheus, was most likely stoned and beaten to death with clubs. The Zealot Simon was likely killed in Persia after refusing to bow down to their sun god. Matthias, who replaced Judas, was burned to death. John, the beloved disciple, was not martyred but was exiled by the Romans to Patmos, Greece to live out his life in isolation where he wrote the book of Revelation.
Why would the disciples continue to preach a message that would get them killed unless they knew it was the truth? And they were not just dying for something they were told like many martyrs today. They were dying for something they testified to witnessing. It’s one thing to be tricked into believing a lie. It’s quite another to die knowing it’s a lie.
The Empty Tomb
Since Jesus lived and died, we know he had to be buried. But the tomb was empty. As a very public issue, people knew where His grave was, so it wasn’t the wrong tomb. One has to wonder where did the body go? Some claim His body was stolen, but if it was, where is it? Not only that, but it says in John 20:7 that His burial clothes were “wrapped together in a place by itself.” When people steal, they do not take the time to fold the laundry. Also, Mat. 27:64-65 states the tomb was guarded. How did the thieves get past the guards? Some might propose that the guards fell asleep, but this is highly unlikely as they were ordered on the threat of death to guard the tomb and had expert training. Additionally, they knew and were taking seriously Jesus’ claims to rise again. And if they fell asleep, how did the thieves move the massive stone quietly? Another question is who stole the body? Surely not the disciples who were cowering in fear in a dark upper room, believing they were doomed after following an apparently “false” Messiah. While Christianity spread like rapid fire in Acts after the resurrection, it was not widely believed before, narrowing the candidate for thievery considerably.
Also, the tomb was first discovered by women. Women were not legal witnesses back then, nor were they very prominent in Jewish culture in Biblical days. John 20:2 states Mary Magdalene, “runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved,” and then proceeds to tell them about the empty grave. They believed her enough to go and look. John then includes not just himself and Peter as the witnesses but lists Mary as the first to witness it. If the disciples were seeking to strengthen a false story, they would not have listed women as witnesses because that instantly discredits their account.
If Christ is dead, nothing we believe means anything, and life has no real point. However, we can rejoice in the everlasting life Jesus brought by triumphing over death. Paul highlights this good news in 1 Corinthians when he writes, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept… For as in Adam all die, even in Christ shall all be made alive” (vs. 20, 22).
The resurrection is the single most important event in history because there is no hope without it. However, with it, there is hope for all who believe. Thus I encourage you to share the Gospel or invite someone to church with someone this Easter season. Nothing has, had, or will have meaning if not for this single fact: Jesus is alive!