Christianity is unique among the world’s religions in that it grounds itself in a single historical act: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ did not raise His physical body from the grave after He died then the remaining claims of Christianity are irrelevant. Christianity itself freely admits this (1Co 15:14); if the Resurrection didn’t occur as the Apostles claimed, Christianity is a lie. (15)
This begs the question: Does the evidence assure us that Jesus Christ actually did rise from the dead? The answer is: Yes. Assuming the Resurrection is False generates a contradiction. This proves the Resurrection is True.
The strength of the Resurrection claim lies primarily in the recorded witness of those who claimed to experience the risen Christ: the Twelve Apostles, the Apostle Paul, and over 500 eye-witnesses who all saw Him at one time. (1Co 15:6-8) This evidence comprises not only what these witnesses said, but also what they didn’t say, and how their lives and actions aligned with their testimony.
The validity of the biblical record itself, our primary evidence for the Resurrection, is established by New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. As an atheist who rejects the historicity of the Resurrection, Erdman may be admitted as a trustworthy authority here: we may be confident that these writings accurately convey eye-witness accounts of historical events pertaining to the Resurrection. So, we’re left to consider the reliability of the witnesses themselves.
People may indeed be unreliable; we’re easily deceived and often dedicate ourselves to unworthy causes. But 500 eye-witnesses of the Resurrection were not all deceived about the Resurrection. The Apostles claimed they saw Christ repeatedly over a 40-day period, eating and drinking with Him, conversing, interacting with and touching Him. If the Resurrection is false, these eye-witnesses knew they were lying.
The salient fact of human nature here is this: sane people ultimately act in their own best interest. When people deceive it is to achieve some end perceived as desirable; they expect some benefit in lying. They may sacrifice themselves and even their families to serve the highest good. but they will not do so for what they know is an empty lie.
Further, when intelligent people fabricate a lie to obtain a following, they don’t lie about things which can easily be debunked, they don’t make themselves out to appear weak, cowardly and faithless, and they don’t deliberately repel and offend those they seek to win. A resurrection lie would have been promptly debunked by Roman guards producing the body; the narrative shows the disciples to be unfaithful, timid and unbelieving (Mk 16:14); and a crucified/resurrected Messiah was not only deeply offensive to their own Jewish community, it was regarded as stupidity by most everyone else. (1Co 1:23) This is not the kind of lie a cult of ambitious charlatans would invent, nor would they entrust it to a very large group of supposed eye-witnesses over which they had no direct control, nor any ability to monitor and protect.
Note that all eye-witnesses of the Resurrection were devout Jews with a Torah-centered world view, a truth-based value system, and many suffered fiercely for their faith. If a single witness had ever recanted, even under the most severe distress, this would have been published broadly. It wasn’t. They were boiled in oil, crucified, pulled in pieces … and every single one of the Apostles went to their death testifying of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
None of the Apostles were ever offered any promise of worldly ease through their testimony, only hardship and suffering. (1Co 4:9-13) People with a truth-centered world view do not do this consistently, sacrifice themselves for what they know to be a lie. This contradicts human nature, and in this particular instance it is on a massive scale.
Assuming Christ did not rise from the dead as the apostles claimed thus implies a basic contradiction in human nature, based on the overwhelming, historically reliable witness of those who gave their lives to tell us about it. The very existence of Christianity is living proof: if Christ didn’t rise from the dead we cannot rightly account for Christianity. Dismissing the Resurrection is therefore irrational, out of step with reality itself, an error of profound magnitude — with sobering consequences.
In any proper court of law, evidence for the Resurrection of Christ would be considered overwhelming, utterly convincing, undeniable. As we stand in the court of Heaven … judged in our response (Re 20:12), what would be our defense for neglecting it? (He 2:3) We will be held accountable for our response, if for anything at all.
Is it our love of truth that turns us away? Do we have compelling evidence contradicting the apostolic claim? Or does our neglect prove our unwillingness to believe no matter what the evidence?
The Resurrection of Christ is the pivotal event of human history: it changes everything, defining who we are … and what we’ll become.