Why do people believe Jesus was raised from the dead? It’s a historically, politically, and socially vital question. Whether or not you’re one of the people who believes He did, it may be one of the most important questions you search to answer. It’s a question that changes lives, cultures, and kingdoms. Good for you for asking.
As this is written, churches are preparing for Christian holidays like Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. You may know why Christians celebrate Easter. If not, the story of Easter centers around the belief that God sent His Son, Jesus, to Earth to eventually give up His perfect life in exchange for the imperfect lives of people who might decide to follow Him.
Basically, understanding the story of Jesus, climaxing with Easter, is a big deal if you’re trying to figure out your reason to be alive. Billions of mathematicians, presidents, painters, scientists, plumbers, evolutionists, creationists, cat owners, yoga instructors, country music fans, and other people have lived their entire lives with Jesus at the center. The Jesus of Easter claimed He’s the answer to questions like, “Why should I live? How should I live? And, do I really matter?” But could His claim to have risen from the dead really be true?
Why do all these people believe in Jesus’ resurrection?
This isn’t a new question. It’s been asked and written about by people who’ve spent much of their lives with the question. Eyewitnesses of Jesus like Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, and John have written about it. Paul fought passionately against the story of Jesus and killed people who believed it. Then, by his account, he had an encounter with Jesus which led him to become second only to Jesus in his impact on furthering Christianity.
It wasn’t just biblical writers, though. Ancient historians like Josephus, Mara Bar Serapion, writers of the Talmud, and Roman politicians like Pliny and Tacitus recorded accounts of Jesus. The majority consensus of scholars is that Jesus did in fact live and was killed on a cross.
But did Jesus really come back to life? Obviously, a lot of Christians, including philosophers, scientists and scholars like Robert Boyle, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, and so many others believe Jesus not only lived, but He was crucified and was raised back to life. Below is a list of some of the evidence these and other scholars cite as they argue the probability that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
- The story of Jesus’ resurrection was immediately being told in the city where Jesus lived, died, and was buried. Probably the least strategic place to try to pull a fast one.
- There are multiple accounts that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was discovered empty by women. In a culture that highly undervalued women, a falsified story would’ve been far more successful if it cited reputable men as the first to discover the empty tomb.
- The biblical accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb actually vary slightly indicating there was not some well-planned collusion amongst Jesus followers.
- Based on geography, it would have been a short walk to the tomb for anyone to check for themselves and then record for history whether or not the tomb was, in fact, empty.
- The earliest arguments against Jesus’ resurrection are based on a stolen body theory, confirming an empty tomb. If Jesus body were stolen, Jewish and Roman authorities both had great cause to find it and/or hold accountable those who’d theoretically stolen it. Such a discovery would have quashed an uprising of Jesus followers. Yet, there are no records of a discovered body.
- The disciples and early Church leaders report spending time with Jesus, in physical form, after resurrection. Paul summarizes these reports in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 where he also mentions Jesus appearing to 500 people.
- After Jesus was arrested, many of His closest followers hid and even denied Jesus to save their lives. Then, after personally seeing Jesus alive again, these same disciples completely changed course and ultimately gave their lives to spread His story. The Bible and today’s Christian Church exist as evidence of their sudden, otherwise unexplainable turn toward bravery.
Okay, but what about science?
These are social and historical reasons to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. What about modern scientific evidence? The closest thing we have to evidence is the lack of a body. Some argue history would have preserved the body of such a pivotal human being. But that’s not really scientific evidence for human death turning into human life. MIT physicist and nuclear engineer Ian Hutchinson suggests that the resurrection is not a scientific claim to be proven or disproven, but rather a miraculous one to be believed or disbelieved. Christians like Ian do not see the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead as opposition to science, but rather as addition to science.
This may be the area where doubt arises for many. Most live life without seeing miraculous occurrences happening around them. The sun comes up as it should and my grass grows because of it. Time passes with extreme consistency and eventually the lawn needs to be mown. Then the grass cuttings die and become part of the soil. They do not come back to life. As surely as we breathe, scientific laws seem to obey themselves. All of life on this earth seems to be moving eventually toward death. Jesus’ resurrection, and what it means for humanity, is a grand statement against the natural process of life toward death, instead offering life toward life forever. That’s a lot to process for the average person.
So, why might we believe Jesus was raised from the dead?
Why might we still believe? Two famous thinkers can help explain. On Sunday, June 23, 1946, not quite a year after atomic bombs took 129,000 souls in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while the whole world was struggling to understand how to reverse this deadly science, Albert Einstein wrote an essay in the New York Times. Einstein, who brilliantly helped discover the physics that led to the nuclear bomb suggested that the real problem did not lie in the technology, but in the heart of men. He said, “It is a problem not of physics but of ethics. There has been too much emphasis on legalisms and procedure: it is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man.” British mathematician, Nobel laureate, and atheist Bertrand Russell distilled the truth further when he said, “It is in our hearts that evil lies, and it is from our hearts that it must be plucked out.” That is why so many believe Jesus was raised from the dead. He has denatured our souls and plucked evil from the deepest places in our lives.
Some may not believe because of a historical record, though all of that is worthwhile. Many will believe Jesus was raised from the dead not just because the tomb was empty, but because the closer we get to Him, the less empty we feel. The more we live His words, the less we yell at our kids, the better we love our spouses, and the more we enjoy the scientific truth and beauty of this world. We believe Jesus came back to life because each step we take toward following Him reverses the natural process of death. We believe Jesus rolled back the stone and walked out of that tomb because nothing else has been able to roll back pride like walking with Him, because no other voice calms anxiety quite like His. So, maybe death can become life.
There’s an account in the Bible of Jesus patiently showing His nail-scarred, resurrected hands to His friend, Thomas. Many Jesus followers can relate. Not just because we might doubt, but because Jesus’ scarred hand—His living proof of life-giving death—is a lot like us. The fact that we many of us walk around with deep joy, hope, love, peace, kindness for others, and freedom from addiction, is living proof of Jesus’ life-giving death. We believe Jesus does something we could never scientifically prove. He loves us. Those three words are not just words to Jesus followers. They are healing, kids, pain, jobs, sunsets, mistakes, mountains, funerals, prayers, laughs, and a life of experiencing the tangible, incredible, death-reversing love of Jesus.
Want to make a bet?
But listen, no one expects you to believe Jesus was raised from the dead because of someone else’s experience any more than we believe because Mary Magdalene met Him at an empty tomb, or just because our pastor, or anyone else made a powerful case. Rather, the challenge is to personally make a bet on Jesus. On the chance that there’s a God who created this world and its science. A God who gave up His Son, Jesus, out of love for you.
Do you know Blaise Pascal? He was a French mathematician who lived 400 years closer to the life of Jesus than us. He described his personal wager with Jesus like this, “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”
Want to join Pascal and give Jesus a chance to reverse the death in your life? Simply pray this prayer in your heart or out loud:
“God, I know I’ve let a lot of death into my life. I’ve messed up. I need Your grace. I need Your forgiveness. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for me. Thank You for raising Him back to life. I’m ready to put an end to all the death in me and start living for You. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
If you prayed this prayer or you just want to know more, let a real person know. We’d love to hear about your wager.