As Christians, everything we believe hinges on Jesus and what he did. Even more specifically, it all hinges on one climactic event – his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus did not rise again, we should tear down all the churches in the world because Christianity is not true.
If there was no resurrection, we should go skiing on Sundays or perhaps fishing or maybe just sleep in. But whatever we do, if the resurrection did not actually happen, we should NOT waste time by going to church or pretending to worship.
It is his resurrection that is the primary proof that he is God and that everything he said was true. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote the following: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty…And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:14; 17).
The words “empty” and “futile” in these verses show us just how important the resurrection of Jesus really is. Without it, Christian preaching is empty and Christian faith is futile. They are like soap bubbles, soon to pop and disappear altogether.
So there is a lot that depends on the resurrection. The entire Christian faith is on the line! To be a Christian means to believe what seems to be impossible: that Jesus actually died, was buried in a tomb, and after three days physically came back to life. In this article, I will present several lines of evidence that demonstrate that the resurrection event actually happened.
Old Testament Predictions
The Old Testament predicted that Jesus Christ would come, that he would be a great teacher, that he would die, and that he would rise again. That’s a very big deal because the Old Testament is just that – old! It was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born and yet it predicts events in his life in precise detail.
For example, we read the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). These are the very words Jesus uttered as he was dying upon the cross. When Jesus spoke these words, he was not merely speaking random thoughts, but rather showing the world that Psalm 22 is an incredible, direct prophecy of his crucifixion. A few verses later we read this:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6-8)
This is Jesus talking, even though these words were written approximately one thousand years before he was born! This is how he felt upon the cross as he was being ridiculed by the Jewish leaders, as detailed by the Gospel of Mark:
So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:31-32)
The mockery and derision against Christ grows even more intense as the next section in the ancient Psalm reveals:
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:16-18)
The “dogs” of this passage refer to the Roman soldiers who tortured and crucified Jesus. Jewish people often referred to Gentiles as dogs, which they viewed as unclean animals. Jesus felt these evildoers surrounding him and inflicting him with tremendous pain (Mark 15:15-20). These are things that Jesus could not have faked, since it is impossible to plan one’s own crucifixion in such detail that the soldiers who carry out the execution gamble (“cast lots”) over your clothes (Luke 23:34)!
The prophecies of Psalm 22:16 also indicate that when the Messiah was killed, it would be through a piercing of his “hands and feet.” Amazingly, King David made a prophecy about crucifixion, probably not even realizing what was involved in crucifixion. He predicted that the Messiah would be pierced, but surely David himself could not have fully understand what that meant. Of course, he did not have to fully understand it, since it was God who was superintending this entire process.
Psalm 22 also states that the Messiah would have no bones broken, another fact that the Gospel accounts confirm: “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (John 19:36).
Beyond the Grave
As you read deeper into Psalm 22, you see that death is not the end of the story for this anointed One.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. (Psalm 22:19-22)
These are not the words of a person who plans on staying in the grave. Notice the last statement, “In the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” That is future tense! “After I am tortured and ridiculed and crucified, I will praise you!” Jesus plans on more than just death. He plans on a future after death.
In Psalm 16, Christ’s resurrection is spoken of as well. In Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon in Acts, he quotes directly from this ancient Psalm of David:
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence. (Acts 2:27-28)
Peter later spells it out for his listeners, interpreting David’s words as an incredible prophecy of the resurrection of Christ. “[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31).
Peter wanted to make it clear that this was no simple coincidence; that he was not just reading Christ’s resurrection into an Old Testament passage. David really was talking about Jesus rising from the dead, even though David lived around a thousand years before Jesus was born!
This point is made even clearer by the prophet who became a meal for a large marine creature. Jonah is more than a story about a guy who was swallowed and vomited by a big fish. Remember how long Jonah was in the fish’s belly? “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).
Okay, big deal. He was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. But look at what Jesus says about this.
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:39-40)
Amazingly, the story of Jonah is a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! The Old Testament overflows with these types of prophecies. Check this one out:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
It was the “will of the LORD,” that is, God the Father, to “crush” Jesus Christ the Son. This is the only way God could be just and justify sinners at the same time (Romans 3:26). The Father crushed the Son in order to redeem guilty sinners for his glory.
But notice the rest of the verse: “He shall see his offspring.” What offspring? The offspring is referring to God’s children, adopted into his family and saved by his grace. If you are in Christ you are a child of God. He (Jesus) will see his offspring. But how will he see his offspring if he is dead? How will his days be prolonged if he is crushed by the Father? Of course the answer is resurrection. He will be crushed but he will live!
One more verse to prove the point that the Old Testament thoroughly predicted the resurrection of Jesus.
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10, emphasis mine)
This is actually a prediction of the second coming of Christ. When he comes, people will mourn because of their refusal to trust him. But notice that they will look on the one “whom they have pierced.” In other words, people will see the same Jesus who was crucified and killed. In order to see a person who was killed, that person has to rise again from the dead!
Jesus did not simply spring up from out of nowhere on the pages of history and say, “Hey everybody, I’m God.” Rather, he personally fulfilled hundreds of ancient prophecies written about him, including his resurrection from the dead. This substantiated his claim to be God.
In order for the resurrection to have been a hoax or a fake, Jesus would have had to plan some things that he had no control over – like his death by crucifixion and the actions of the Roman soldiers and the Jewish leaders. This is impossible unless God was controlling all of the events, and fulfilled prophecy is mighty powerful evidence that he was.
I once served an intriguing week of jury duty. I was elected as the jury foreman in the criminal trial of a man charged with multiple armed robberies. We listened carefully as the witnesses were brought into the courtroom one after the other. We were informed by the judge and attorneys that the witnesses were not allowed to speak with each other before they testified, assuring they could not share their stories.
One store owner angrily identified the defendant with a pointed finger, as the man who stole several hundred dollars from him. The security camera in his store provided an unclear, grainy picture of the gunman, but even though his face was obscured, the assailant in the photograph shared many similarities with the defendant sitting in the courtroom.
Next, the clerk of a check cashing business, wiping her tears as she spoke, recounted to the jury her story. She said that the defendant, whom she also pointed out in the courtroom, had held her at gunpoint and sprayed a mace-like substance in her face as he fled with the money.
Other witnesses were also questioned, confirming to one degree or the other that the defendant was guilty. When the trial was over and the jury gathered to make our decision, it did not take long for us to agree upon the verdict. Because of the testimony of several independent, eyewitnesses, this guilty man will be sitting in jail for a long time. Such is the power of eyewitness testimony.
If a number of independent sources inform us that they saw Jesus alive after his death, then this provides solid evidence that he rose from the dead. Paul wrote about this reality to people who were skeptical regarding the resurrection:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also re ceived: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)
Paul states that Jesus “appeared” to Cephas (Peter) and also “to the twelve,” meaning the twelve disciples. In other words, they saw him, spoke with him, and ate with him after he had been put to death (John 21:1-14).
But these men were not the only ones to see him. He also appeared to Mary Magdalene and other women who had come to the tomb on the first Easter morning (Luke 24:10). Here are at least fifteen people all making the same claim – that Jesus was alive. Imagine if Peter was the only person who claimed to have seen Jesus alive. We would then have reason to seriously doubt that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
If one person came and told you he saw a flying saucer land in his backyard, you probably would not believe him. In fact, you might think his chair had fallen clear off its rocker. You’d suspect he lives on the outskirts of left field. But if fifteen different people came, one after the other, and told you about the flying saucer, you would be more prone to take seriously what they were saying. The greater amount of independent eyewitness testimony, the more assurance we have to believe that something is true.
At least fifteen people all claimed that they saw him alive after he had died! But there is more. Paul recounts that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). What an incredible verse! When Paul wrote this he knew that many people would find it hard to believe that Jesus had actually come back from the dead. So he points out that not only fifteen or so people had seen Jesus, but on one occasion he appeared to over five hundred people, all at the same time!
Paul challenges skeptics to ask those witnesses about the resurrected Christ. He says that many of them “are still alive” and this evidence can be verified by interviewing them. Of course, in the present day, all of those five hundred witnesses are now dead. We cannot question them like people could in Paul’s day. But here is the point: Paul would not have written those words in his day, challenging people to interview witnesses, unless he actually believed Jesus had risen from the dead. Put yourself in Paul’s shoes and think about it. He was laying the Christian faith on the line with this challenge. He was opening the door for skeptics to prove him wrong if they could. That says a lot! And he goes even further: “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:7-8).
Paul points out that he too had seen Jesus Christ face-to-face after Jesus had been crucified. Remember, Paul was not always a Christian. In fact, the book of Acts tells us that Paul hated Christians and sought to kill them. He was on his way to a town called Damascus in order to throw some of the Christians there into prison when something astounding happened. Jesus Christ showed up!
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:3-5)
So Paul also saw the resurrected Savior. We cannot see Jesus today (yet), but hundreds of people saw him back then. All of these people claimed the same thing – Jesus is alive. They verified it personally. Did they all lie? Where they all deceived? I don’t think so. The number and diversity of independent eye-witnesses is overwhelming, especially considering that belief in the resurrection of Christ often led to severe persecution in their day. In that type of environment most people would not say they believed the resurrection, unless they actually did, since this belief often led to severe suffering or death.
The Actions of the Guards
Another line of evidence pointing to the actual resurrection of Jesus involves the Roman guards who sealed the tomb and were commanded to guard it. The seal involved a cord that would have been stretched across the outside of the tomb, and sealed with wax on both sides. The purpose of this sealing was to show that the tomb was under the official protection of the Roman government and to ward off vandals. The tomb was protected with maximum security. “Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:65-66).
It is very important to note that Matthew wrote his Gospel when there were people still alive who could have verified the setting of this guard and the Roman seal. When a Roman guard was given an assignment, these trained killers took their jobs seriously. If they failed in their tasks, they often were threatened with death! This becomes clear in the biblical text.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said,
“Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)
The Pharisees made a bargain with the soldiers after the body came up missing, offering to protect the soldiers from Pilate. All they had to do was lie and say they fell asleep while guarding the tomb. The Pharisees and the soldiers both knew that if Pilate found out that the body of Jesus was missing, the poor soldiers would probably be put to death.
The Pharisees were trying to minimize the damage done by the missing body of Jesus. But they could not cover up the story even though they bribed the Roman guards to lie. If the tomb were sealed and guarded by the Romans, then it is clear the disciples did not take the body of Jesus. They could not have breached this type of protection. Something else had to happen – something extraordinary.
Another line of evidence supporting the actual and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the empty tomb. He was buried in a tomb, but after he was buried, that tomb was empty!
But how do we know the tomb actually was empty? None of us were alive back then. None of us went to the tomb to check and see if it was really empty. Today we do not know exactly where the tomb of Jesus was located, so we still have no way to know that the tomb was really empty. Right?
Not so fast. Actually, we can make some powerful, logical deductions showing that the tomb was actually empty. Think for a moment. What happened in Jerusalem fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead? It was the day of Pentecost. The Apostle Peter preached a powerful sermon then, the same one mentioned earlier in this chapter. Here is another part of it:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)
What is it that Peter is preaching in front of thousands of people in Jerusalem on Pentecost? It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ! “God raised him up!” That is the central message of the sermon.
Now if I were in Jerusalem and heard Peter preach that message, but I was skeptical about the resurrection of Christ (after all, I have never seen anybody come back from the dead), what could I do to prove Peter wrong? How could I show the world that this crazy preacher was saying things that are impossible?
Well, obviously, I would go to the tomb of Jesus and pull out the body and show it to everyone. Peter’s message would then be immediately dismissed. Remember, the tomb was located in Jerusalem, the very place where Peter was preaching this message. Plus, the tomb belonged to a well-known Jewish leader, Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-58). In other words, the tomb was not obscure or hidden, but rather it belonged to a familiar man, and people would have been aware of its location. If Jesus’ body was in the tomb, then his body no doubt could have been produced. But his body was not produced. He was not in the tomb.
So here we have strong evidence that the tomb was indeed empty. The question still remains – how did it become empty? We know that the disciples could not have stolen the body, because the Roman guard was there and the tomb was sealed. We also know that the Jewish leaders would not have stolen the body. That would have worked against them. They were trying to get rid of Jesus, not promote a resurrection idea. If they had the body hidden (so that the disciples would not steal it perhaps), then they could have produced the body when Peter was preaching on Pentecost in order to squelch the growth of the early church. They did not do this, because they did not have the body.
So how did the tomb become empty? Are you starting to see how all the evidence points to the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? When we take all the information together, the resurrection makes more sense than any other alternative.
Now an unbeliever will probably not be convinced by all of this evidence. This is because he has already decided that people cannot come back from the dead under any circumstances. So even though all the evidence points to the resurrection of Christ he will still not believe it, because in his mind it is impossible.
But think about it. Sure, people do not normally come back from the dead. We can all agree on that. But if we have good reason to believe that there is a God and that he is the God of the Bible (and we do), then the idea of resurrection is not so hard to conceive. If God is the giver and taker of life, then he can give and take life as he pleases. If there is a God, then the possibility of resurrection is not only likely, but highly probable. And there is even more evidence pointing toward the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ. Keep reading.
Large Stone Moved
Historians and archeologists know quite a bit about Jewish burial practices in Jesus’ day. Tombs were commonplace and large stones were rolled in front of them. These stones were designed to move back and forth so that others could be buried in the tomb, usually other family members. But it was not easy to move these enormous and heavy stones. Some suggest that the stone covering Jesus’ tomb weighed one to two tons and would have required several men to move.
If this is true then it leads to several conclusions. First, the women who came to the tomb in order to anoint the body of Jesus could not have moved it by themselves. This was indeed a major concern for them, as Mark points out: “They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” (Mark 16:3). Even if they could have moved the stone on their own, remember the Roman guard was stationed there to be sure there was no stealing of the body.
As it turns out, they did not have a problem with the stone at all. The Bible makes it clear that when the women arrived at the tomb, the stone was already moved away and the Roman guard had already left the scene. The Roman soldiers would never have fled the scene like this without good reason. In fact, as we have already seen, their lives depended upon them succeeding in their tasks. Something big must have happened! The Gospel of Matthew tells us what this “something big” was.
And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)
The movement of this large stone also shows that Jesus’ disciples could not have taken the body. They might have been physically able to move the stone, but they could not have done it with the Roman guard there. Even if the guard had fallen asleep, the noise involved in moving the stone would have awakened them. Besides that, it is unlikely that all the guards would have fallen asleep since it was their job to be guarding the tomb!
Our knowledge of this giant stone in the mouth of the tomb is another powerful line of evidence that shows the resurrection of Christ makes more sense of the data than any other scenario.
Women Saw Him First
Historians speak of the criteria of embarrassment which raises the credibility of historical documents. If a historical document includes embarrassing statements it is more likely to be true, since manufactured stories usually attempt to make the heroes look as good as possible. Scholars Gary Habermas and Mike Licona explain, “An indicator that an event or saying is authentic occurs when the source would not be expected to create the story, because it embarrasses his cause.”
As we read the Gospel accounts of the resurrection we find a major case of the criteria of embarrassment. In fact, considering that cultural context, it is startling to find that Jesus’ male disciples did not find the tomb empty first. Nor did they see Jesus alive first. The first people to have this honor were women (Luke 23:55).
Now there is nothing at all wrong with being a woman, but we have to put ourselves into their first-century sandals. According to Jewish principles of legal evidence, “women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable, certainly not as credible as man’s.” In other words, in a court of law the words of a woman were considered unreliable and might even damage a case. So what?
If a deceitful person or group of people were making up the story of the resurrection, which many skeptics say this is exactly what the disciples did, then would they have included in their story women finding the empty tomb first? Of course not!
If a person is contriving a tall tale in order to create and promote a religion for personal gain, he would want to make the story seem as convincing as possible. He would not want the first witnesses to be people whose witness did not count! If the resurrection accounts were manufactured in order to convince others that Jesus had come back from the dead, women would never be included in the story as the first witnesses.
The fact that women found the empty tomb first does not prove the resurrection of Christ by itself, but it does lend a great deal of historical credibility to the Gospel accounts. And when you take this fact with all the other evidences we’ve seen so far, the resurrection makes a lot of sense. Here’s another fact to add to our list of reasons to believe Jesus actually came back from the dead.
Courage of the Disciples After They Saw Him
Scholars and historians inform us that after the life of Jesus, the church grew at an astounding rate. In fact, within four hundred years, Christianity was adopted as the official state religion of the Roman Empire. That was incredibly rapid growth in a hostile environment! This type of growth would be very surprising if there had been no resurrection. Jesus’ followers were unremitting preachers of his resurrection, and they paid a high price for their belief and public bravery. The Romans and Jews wanted them either silenced or dead.
After the crucifixion, the disciples were basically hiding out for fear of their lives. The cruel death of their Master had shaken them up pretty badly and understandably so. Jesus was their leader, the One they expected to deliver them from the Roman oppressors and restore Israel. Now he was dead! He was not the Messiah after all.
But several weeks later, we see Peter and the other apostles no longer afraid. In fact, we see them laying their lives down in order to boldly preach that Jesus had risen from the dead. According to tradition, all of the disciples of Christ, with the exception of John, were martyred for their faith that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. In John’s case, he was exiled to the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9) as punishment for his tenacious and faithful preaching. All of these men were willing to sacrifice everything, including their very lives, because they believed that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. What happened to change the disciples from a frightened and confused group who were hiding out for fear of their lives, to being radical and bold preachers of the gospel? The answer is clear – they were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him personally! How do we know? It is a psychological reality that people will generally not die for what they know to be a lie. They will not give up everything in order to promote a message that they know is false.
Let’s be careful here because, yes, some people will die for a lie so long as they believe it is true. For example, militant Muslims often become suicide bombers, because they actually believe Allah will reward them for their “bravery.” But if those same Muslims knew that Allah was a false god and that there was no reward for suicide bombing, then they would not go through with blowing themselves up. People do not die for what they know is a lie.
What is the point? If the disciples knew that the resurrection did not actually happen, then they would not have been willing to die for it. But they were willing to die for it. All of them were willing to die for it (not just one or two crazy lunatics). This tells us at the very least, that the disciples actually believed Jesus rose from the dead or they would not have preached so boldly in such a hostile environment. This evidence, taken in conjunction with everything else we have seen, points clearly to the reality of the resurrection.
No Contradictions in the Resurrection Accounts
Some people who deny that Jesus rose from the dead say that we cannot trust the Bible because it is filled with contradictions. The accounts in the four biblical Gospels about Jesus coming back to life are often attacked as being inconsistent with each other. If the four Gospels are all telling different stories, should we trust them?
However, a close look at these four accounts of the resurrection of Christ, comparing them with each other, will show them to all be entirely consistent. There are no contradictions between what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John says about the resurrection.
Sure they read a little bit differently. But any time you have multiple authors, they are going to write in different styles, and focus on different points. That is not a problem at all. In fact, this proves that the Gospel writers were not teaming up to manufacture a false religion. The relevant question is: Do the contents of the resurrection accounts mesh with each other or do they contradict each other? A fair reading of the texts shows that they mesh perfectly.
For example, the objection is often raised that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all disagree on the number and identification of the women who found the tomb empty. Here are the texts in question.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mark 16:1)
Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. (Luke 24:10)
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)
Outspoken atheist, Michael Martin, says that these accounts are hopelessly irreconcilable. That means no matter how hard you try, you cannot make them fit together. He says they contradict, and there is no way to make them mesh.
If Martin is right, then clearly we cannot trust the Bible. If it contradicts itself at any point then there is error in it. If there is error in it, then we cannot truly trust any part of it. But is he right? Are these four passages contradictory? Is Martin giving the text a fair reading?
Notice first of all that Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all four of the accounts. In fact, it seems clear that she is the main character in all the resurrection narratives, other than Jesus of course. John only mentions her and none of the other women that Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention. Does that mean that John contradicts Matthew, Mark, and Luke?
Of course not! Just because he does not include the other women in his version of the story does not mean they were not there. John has a special interest in focusing on Mary Magdalene and so he only mentions her. This is not lying, but rather an example of selective history. A story will show how selective history works.
The Sunday School Party
Becca went to a Sunday School party last night. There were thirty people at the party. While there Becca spent some time talking to Nick and Gerard. They had a long and enjoyable conversation about their ministry project coming up at Children’s Hospital. Becca soon walked over to Sarah, who seemed to be crying.
“What’s wrong?” Becca asked. Sarah told her that her dad had been diagnosed with cancer and her family was really struggling right now. So Becca spent the rest of the time at the party right beside Sarah, being a friend in a time of need.
After the party, Becca went home. Her mom asked her, “How was the party?” Becca told her it went well. Her mom then asked, “What did you do?” Becca recounted to her mom the conversation with Sarah about her dad’s illness and then the conversation ended.
But wait a minute, what about Nick and Gerard? Was Becca lying or being deceitful when she told her mom she talked to Sarah? After all, she talked to more people than just Sarah. Of course she wasn’t lying or being deceitful. She was giving her mom a selective history. She was not giving all the details of the party, but just the ones she thought were important and relevant.
It is the same in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. John only mentions the presence of Mary Magdalene, but that does not mean the other women mentioned by the other Gospel writers were not there! John does not see the need to list them out in his account. There is no contradiction here at all. There is just a difference in emphasis among the Gospel writers. As you read the Gospel accounts you will see this type of selective history all the way through, just as you will when you read two different news articles of the same event. So the objection that the resurrection could not have happened since the Gospels contradict is faulty and should be abandoned.
Jesus Is Alive
As we study all of these evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and take them all together as a group, it becomes amazingly clear that Jesus actually came back from the dead. All the other theories that people have considered look silly in the face of the evidence.
For example, some have suggested that the women went to the wrong tomb. They say it was still dark and the women were very emotional, so they simply went to the wrong place. They saw an empty tomb, but it was not the tomb Jesus had been buried in. They only thought Jesus had risen, so they went and told the disciples that he was alive. The disciples then began to preach that Jesus was resurrected, merely taking the word of the disoriented women.
But we know this could not have happened! John informs us that Peter and he checked out the tomb very carefully (John 20:3-9) and verified that it was empty. Plus the tomb was identified clearly as the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a well-known person during that time. The women were not going to some random tomb, but to a specific tomb.
In addition to this, if the women went to the wrong tomb, then the body of Jesus was still in the actual one. So when the disciples were preaching the resurrection, the Jewish leaders could have produced the body from the “real” tomb to disprove the disciples. But we know they did not do that.
Some who deny the resurrection suspect that the disciples had mass hallucinations. They so much wanted to believe that Jesus was alive that they worked themselves up into a high-pitched hysteria. In this atmosphere of hysteria, they “saw” Jesus in their midst. The skeptics say this explains why the disciples would be willing to die for their faith that Jesus came back from the dead. They believed they saw him, when in fact they did not.
This kind of theory is ridiculous in the face of the evidence. The Bible tells us that Jesus appeared to different people in different places. It does not say there was just one appearance, but we read this in the book of Acts: “To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Luke (who wrote Acts) makes it clear that Jesus gave “many proofs” that he was alive. Plus, if the disciples simply had mass hallucinations, then (again) when Peter was preaching on Pentecost the body of Jesus could have been produced to disprove his claim that Jesus came back from the dead. These facts deny the possibility of the mass hallucination theory.
The Best Explanation of the Facts
Given these clear historical evidences and the trustworthy nature of the Bible, it is totally reasonable to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Perhaps even more reasonable than the belief that LeBron James can do a three-sixty! In fact, it is by far the best explanation of the facts.
Though it seems strange to us that a resurrection might have actually happened (since we do not normally see people come out of their graves), the resurrection of Jesus, nonetheless, makes much more sense of the data than any alternative explanation.
Of course, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then everything he said was true! His resurrection authenticates his words. The Bible is true, God exists, Heaven is real, Hell is real, and salvation is possible through Christ. If you have never come to this risen Savior to experience his life-giving grace, I encourage you to set aside your pride and rebellion, and bow your knee to the living King:
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)