These times are uncertain. Many people struggle sleeping through the night. Many people have serious financial struggles because of the response to COVID-19. The news seems to be bad, and other times it’s worse.
But Easter bursts in with the message that Jesus conquered death, and by faith in Him, we can be “more than conquerors” through Him who loved us. But can historians prove that Jesus of Nazareth literally, bodily rose from the dead 2000 years ago?
The Scottish Enlightenment skeptic David Hume opined that Jesus could not have risen from the dead because dead men don’t rise from the dead. Well, generally, they don’t. That’s why the Easter story is so significant.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead was so momentous it ended up changing the world. The very year you were born is indirectly tied to that event. Time is measured by the birth of Jesus because His coming was so significant.
The resurrection is so significant because if it is true, it means all the other claims of Christ are true – that He was the Son of God, that He died for sinners, that He will one day judge us all. Every beat of the human heart is dependent on Jesus. Even the most hardcore skeptic draws every breath he draws courtesy of Christ. We all have a vested interest to know what happened on that first Easter morning.
Dr. Paul L. Maier is a best-selling author and a retired professor of ancient history from Western Michigan University. He’s a first-rate, Harvard-trained historian. I’ve had the privilege to interview him for TV and radio several times through the years.
He once told me in an interview for Christian television, “The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, into which Jesus was buried on Friday, was in fact empty on the morning of the resurrection. Now I’ll be the first to say that an empty tomb does not prove a resurrection, but reverse it: You can’t have a resurrection without the tomb being empty as its first symptom. And the empty tomb can be proven.”
Maier notes that it can be proven by sources hostile to Christianity.
He states, “Where on earth did Christianity first begin? The answer would be Jerusalem. The first proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah who rose from the dead took place in Jerusalem.
But there it would have been least likely that the resurrection would have been announced if the moldering body of Jesus of Nazareth were still available.”
“Imagine the scenario,” opines Maier, “[The Chief Priest] Caiaphas – confronted by the apostles claiming the resurrection – would say, ‘Oh you poor, benighted fisherman, follow me; let’s go over to the tomb.’ Then he would have had the stone removed and say, ‘Behold, the moldering body of Jesus. What is this claim about a resurrection?’ If that had been the case, if that tomb had the body of Jesus, there wouldn’t have been a Christian church on earth at all. It would have died out as some peculiar Jewish sect.”
The temple authorities claimed the disciples stole the body during the night. This claim, notes Maier, is positive evidence for the empty tomb from a hostile source. Why would they see the need to explain away the empty tomb? Only because it was actually empty – thus establishing this historically-inarguable fact.
Another convincing proof that Jesus rose from the dead is the sudden transformation of the apostles, the original skeptics of the resurrection. They were dejected and ready to move on to other things (or even back to fishing or their previous occupations). They hid for their lives out of fear after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus.
And then something happened that changed them – they claimed they had seen Him risen from the dead – in a multitude of appearances, over many weeks, in a variety of settings, day and night. And seeing the risen Jesus transformed them into bold, unstoppable witnesses. They became fearless, even in the face of martyrdom, which many of them experienced.
Through the ages, Christians from all walks of life have found great comfort in the resurrection of Christ. Take, for example, George Washington, the father of our country.
Behind George Washington and Martha’s sarcophagi in Mount Vernon, chiseled in stone, are these words from Jesus in John 11:25 KJV, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” You can see these words for yourself in what is reported to be the most visited home in America.
During these days of great upheaval and uncertainty, what a privilege it is to trust in Jesus Christ, the only one who ever conquered the grave.
The Bible is a compilation of sixty-six blessed and unique books. Among those books are four we refer to as the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these is an account of the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the key figure in all of the Word of God. He is present in all sixty-six books. Yet again, the four Gospels share specifically about Christ’s earthly life and ministry.
Each of them shares a unique picture of the life of Christ. Each of them shares stories or instances in the Lord’s life which may or may not be included in one or more of the other Gospels. Yet each of the four Gospels contains the story of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some might ask, “Why do we need four Gospels and why, of all the aspects of his life, does each Gospel make sure to include the story of Christ’s resurrection?” These are important questions to consider.
Why four Gospels? One very important reason is, each Gospel is an account, a telling of the life, actions, and events of Christ and each author shares his account from his own perspective. No two accounts are just alike.
A reporter on the scene of an event may receive four very different accounts of the same event from four people he chose to interview. Similarly, the four authors of the four Gospels each share their unique point of view. And none of them tell their story quite the same.
The four Gospels together paint a much fuller, brighter, and more detailed picture of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Each Gospel adds to our view details of Christ’s love, His beauty, greatness, and fullness – Jesus the Messiah, our Savior, the Son of Man, the Son of God – and God.
So, those who read all four Gospels come away with a much more detailed, fuller, and richer picture of Christ than those who only read one of the four.
Each Gospel tells the story of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Each one gives an account of the events of His passion. They each include details of the times and events that led up to His suffering, humiliation, death on the cross, entombment, and His rising from the dead.
So, the story of the passion of Christ is told four times through four different accounts. Once again, the question arises “Why tell this story over and over – four times?” It can be difficult to read about Christ’s passion one time. Why should it be told four times over – with all the cruel and heavy details that each particular story reveals?
Again, the four accounts paint a fuller, richer, and much more accurate portrait of the suffering, torture, and the harrowing treatment Christ endured – all because He loved us just that much. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit loved the world so much that they were willing to endure all of this – so that we could spend eternity with them.
Each Gospel shares truths that help us better understand God’s amazing love for us as He paints the picture of the love demonstrated in the life of Christ. Each Gospel contributes wonderfully to the full picture we have.
Matthew’s Gospel account of Christ’s resurrection is found in Matthew 28. This chapter includes the resurrection of Christ and the Great Commission. Here, the church of Jesus Christ is told in no uncertain terms what our mission and priority is as the church now that Christ is risen! We are to go and make disciples!
Mark’s Gospel account of the Lord’s resurrection is in Mark 16. In Mark, we not only hear of Christ’s glorious resurrection, but Christ also reminds us of the power of God that will follow those that believe as we faithfully spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15-18).
In the Gospel of Luke, the resurrection story is found in chapter 24. In this chapter, the Lord Jesus has risen from the dead and appears in some unique circumstances to his astonished yet joy-filled disciples. The powerful chapter ends with His ascension into heaven.
Then in the Gospel of John, the resurrection story of Christ is told in chapter 20. Here the disciples are commissioned by Christ and in chapter twenty-one, (the only gospel to include this particular story) Christ spends some time and teaches His disciples important truths before His ascension.
A fruitful goal for you and your family could consist of taking the time to read through one or all the passion stories in the Gospels. These are found in Matthew chapters 26–28, Mark 14–16, Luke 22–24, and John 18–21.
If you take the opportunity to do this, the activity is its own reward.