Q: What evidence do we have that Jesus really rose from the dead?
A: Your question touches on the very basis of Christian faith. As St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain … [and] we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
But our faith is not in vain. It is based on eyewitness accounts of historical events. Let’s look at some of the reasons to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
- The disciples did not expect or even hope for it. All the Gospel accounts indicate that the disciples firmly believed Jesus was dead and were preparing to embalm his body, which is why the women went to the tomb. They were mourning their lost friend, not expecting him to rise from the dead. The Resurrection, then, is not wishful thinking but an event that transformed the disciples beyond their wildest hopes.
- The disciples steadfastly witnessed to the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus even when it cost them their lives. Who would defend a lie, or something they weren’t sure of, with their very lives? Only someone who knew without any shadow of doubt would stand firm in the face of death.
- Many people saw Jesus physically alive after his death on the cross. St. Paul writes that “he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once” (1 Corinthians 15:5-6).
- No one has ever claimed to have the body of Jesus. All that the Roman and Jewish leaders would have needed to do to quash Christianity was produce the body of Jesus. But no one ever did. Early efforts to disprove the Resurrection included claims that Jesus didn’t really die or that the body was stolen. However, the Gospel accounts provide reasons why those claims must be false, including the Roman centurion’s piercing Jesus’ side to confirm his death and the Jewish leaders’ requesting guards from Pilate to watch and seal the tomb.
- The accounts of the Resurrection demonstrate no effort to perpetrate a fraud. If the early church had wanted to fake the Resurrection, they would have “discovered” the empty tomb in a public way, or at least presented credible witnesses. But the first witnesses of the Resurrection were women, whose testimony was not considered reliable or legally acceptable in the ancient world. If the early church had wanted to fabricate the Resurrection, they would have made up a more credible story.
And the list could go on. But remember, proofs of the Resurrection serve not to convince those who do not believe but rather to show the rationality and reasonability of the Resurrection to one who does believe. There is no contradiction between faith and reason, especially when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus.
Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is truly risen!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - April 2020