The resurrection of Jesus is the central part of Christianity. If Jesus had not resurrected from the dead, then our faith is useless, and we are still dead in our sins. It would mean we should all find something better to do with our time and energy. This is why it is so important that we know with confidence that the resurrection truly took place. And we need to be able to share the evidence for the resurrection with others, whether it is unbelievers to whom we are witnessing or to our children whom we are raising in the faith.
There’s a beautiful hymn that says, “He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” That is true, but in the wrong order. We know He lives because of the evidence, and because of the evidence we believe in Him, and because we believe in Him, He lives in our hearts. We believe in Jesus because He proved He was the Son of God, because He was crucified, and because the tomb was empty three days later. How can we have confidence that Jesus really resurrected from the dead?
1) The women found the tomb empty. That early morning on the first day of the week, the women were returning to the tomb of their beloved Jesus to further prepare His body for burial. They even questioned how they would move that big stone away. But when they got there, they found the tomb empty! They encountered an angel who told them the good news - that Jesus is risen! They immediately ran back to tell the other disciples.
How can we believe they really found the tomb empty? Maybe they just went to the wrong tomb? Well, when the women announced the tomb was empty, Peter and John raced to see for themselves. They too found the tomb empty. So if the women went to the wrong tomb, then Peter and John went to the wrong tomb as well. It is not logical to think they all went to the wrong tomb. They would not have forgotten in three days where their beloved friend had been buried. Besides, if they had gone to the wrong tomb, once they announced Jesus had risen, the authorities would have wasted no time going to the correct tomb and showing them the body. So we know they weren't at the wrong tomb.
Granted, the accounts of what happened at the tomb is different across the four Gospels. In Matthew, two Marys see the tomb opened by an earthquake with an angel sitting on top of the stone. They meet Jesus on their way to announce it to the disciples. In Mark, the two Marys plus Salome find the tomb already open with an angel sitting inside. There’s no mention of their encounter with Jesus in the garden. Luke just says “women” went to the tomb to find it empty with two angels standing. He also doesn’t mention their encounter with Jesus. John says only one Mary goes to the tomb to find two angels sitting in the tomb. He mentions how he and Peter race to the tomb and that Mary encounters Jesus on her way to tell the others.
With these variations, does that mean the resurrection didn’t happen? Not at all. It means four people are giving their account of the same event. Though they include different lists of people, they agree women went to the tomb early in the morning. Though they describe differently how the tomb was opened, they agree the tomb was open and empty. Though they describe the angel differently, they agree there was an angel who announced Jesus had risen. Though they describe what happens as the women go to tell others differently, they agree the women were instructed to tell others and that they did.
What we find in these accounts is natural variations of different people observing the same event and recalling this same event from their own perspective, writing style, and recollection. This does not invalidate the event.
When I taught high school apologetics, I used the example of assigning them to write an essay about last weekend's high school football game. Each student would have different details based on their experience of the game, whether they were on the football team, a cheerleader, in the band, or just a spectator with a younger sibling. Their essays better have differences or I would know they had cheated. But they better agree on the essentials, like who won, the time of day, the location, the size of the crowd, etc., or I would know they had not actually been there. That is what we find in the variations of the Gospel accounts.
2) There is a drastic change in the disciples. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples all scattered. When He was crucified, only John was at the foot of the cross. When the women went to the tomb, they were hiding out in the upper room. They were understandably afraid of what the religious leaders would do to them. But after the resurrection, the disciples boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God and that Jesus resurrected from the dead. They were no longer afraid to be called one of Jesus’ followers; they were now willing to be persecuted and killed for these claims.
But what if they made it all up? After all, people from other religions die for what they believe. We have to consider a very important thing about human nature. People will lie to get out of trouble, but they won’t lie to get into trouble. If the disciples made this up, it cost them everything – their families, their jobs, their homes, their safety, and their lives. People may die for something they think is the truth, but they will not die for something they know is a lie.
What if they stole the body and told everyone He resurrected? The religious leaders were very concerned that this might happen. That’s why they posted guards and sealed the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). But when the soldiers came back and told them what happened, the religious leaders bribed them to lie and tell everyone the disciples had stolen the body. This could get the soldiers killed for not fulfilling their duties. So the religious leaders even promised to bribe the officials if they got in trouble.
But why bribe the soldiers if the body were still in the tomb? This confirms the tomb was empty. And for the reasons above we know it the disciples did not steal the body. They were too afraid to be seen at the trial of Jesus, so they’re certainly too afraid to overpower the Roman guards posted at the tomb in order to steal the body of Jesus so they can stage a resurrection they didn’t think was going to happen. Besides, whatever lie the religious leaders wanted to spread about the empty tomb, it couldn't explain the resurrection appearances.
3) Jesus appeared to multiple people on multiple occasions. The resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), to the disciples in the upper room two separate times (Luke 24:33-43 and John 20:26-29), and to seven of the disciples while fishing at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-23). The resurrected Jesus also appeared to 500 people at one time, to James (his brother), and to Paul on the road to Damascus (1 Corinthians 15:6-8).
These were clearly appearances of a resurrected Jesus because we know Jesus truly died on the cross (see The Death of Jesus for more on that). If He had not died on the cross, then these appearances would be of a beaten, bruised, and bloodied Jesus who somehow managed to unwrap the linen burial cloths, roll away the stone, and escape the grasp of the guards, all while in that kind of physical condition. When the disciples saw Him in that state, they would not have fallen at His feet in worship, they would have rushed to His aid.
So maybe these were these just hallucinations? Hallucinations do occur, but they will trigger only one sense at a time. So you may think you see something, or think you hear something, or think you feel something, but not all at the same time. With the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, He was walking, talking, touching, eating, and still working miracles (for the disciples to catch a boatload of fish).
Furthermore, the same hallucination will not occur for multiple people at the same time. As Paul said, there were more than 500 people seeing, touching, and hearing Jesus at one time. Besides, if these were hallucinations, the religious leaders would have simply gone to the tomb and retrieved the body to remind everyone that they had killed Jesus. But they didn’t do that because the tomb was empty.
4) There is evidence of the resurrection in the reactions of those who did not believe in Jesus. Before the resurrection, Jesus’ half-brothers did not believe He was the Son of God (John 7:5). Can you imagine growing up in the house alongside Jesus, knowing the circumstances of His birth, yet not believing He was God? After the resurrection though, His half-brother James became the founder of the church in Jerusalem, while His half-brother Jude authored the book by his name. James was later martyred for his faith in Jesus as God. The change all happens because they had seen the resurrected Jesus.
There is the drastic change in the life of Saul. He was present for the stoning of Stephen and was headed to Damascus to arrest and imprison others who followed this man Jesus who, in Saul’s mind, was destroying Judaism. After Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus, he completely changed his mission. He went from hunting down followers of Jesus to bringing new followers to Jesus. He went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. He went from hating Gentiles to bringing the message of salvation to Gentiles. And this change cost him everything – his family, his job, his home, and eventually his life – but it gave him so much more – eternal life. Such a drastic change can only be explained by the resurrection of Jesus.
There is also the reaction of the religious leaders. No matter how hard they tried they could not stamp out the work that Jesus did, and they could not stop the spread of the name of Jesus. In Acts 3 when Peter and John healed the lame man in the name of Jesus, the religious leaders were furious. They arrested and beat Peter and John to intimidate them into silence. Here’s what happened:
The religious leaders could not deny that a miracle had taken place in the name of Jesus. And they could not prove to the disciples that Jesus had not resurrected - which is further confirmation the tomb was empty. And they could not deny the resurrection appearances. So they settled for beating Peter and John to get them to stop preaching the name of Jesus. But as we know, that would not work either.
There are also many extra-biblical writings that confirm Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian, wrote in his account of the burning of Rome by Nero:
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”
While Tacitus does not believe himself that the resurrection really happened, he does give evidence that the claim of the resurrection, this “mischievous superstition,” began in Judea and by the time of Nero, had spread to Rome. It tells us how quickly word spread about this man Jesus Christ who had been crucified under Pilate and who had resurrected.
There is sufficient evidence to know with confidence that Jesus resurrected from the dead. No alternate theory can explain the empty tomb or the resurrection appearances. This is why we follow Christianity. No other religion has a God who sacrificed Himself on your behalf and resurrected from the dead. No other religious leader would be willing to lay down his life for all people, even those who killed him. No other religious leader is even qualified to lay down his life on our behalf. Only Jesus could.
As Jesus said to Thomas, “You believed because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Though we cannot see His hands and touch His side, we have the testimony of those who did.
May you believe today, and by believing you may have life in His name. Because Jesus has risen, He has risen indeed!
Though it might seem obvious that Jesus died on the cross, there are many people out there that doubt this point. Granted, the reason why they want to question the death of Jesus is because you can’t have a resurrection without death. And the resurrection is everything to Christianity. If Jesus did not resurrect, as Paul states, our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). By questioning the death of Jesus, a person can unravel the resurrection and thus unravel all of Christianity. So let’s explore this idea. How can we know with confidence that Jesus really died on the cross?
1) First, the idea that Jesus didn’t die on the cross is really insulting to Romans. The Romans perfected the art of killing. They built their empire on it. They invented new and creative ways to kill people. They killed for entertainment and sport. Besides, Jesus and the two thieves were not the first people the Romans had crucified. In fact, in 71 BC Spartacus, a Roman slave, led a slave revolt in Italy. They were defeated and he and many of his fellow slaves were crucified, their crosses lined up along the roadside of the Appian Way. So the Romans have been crucifying people for decades at this point. Given all of this, it is quite unbelievable to imply the Romans would not have effectively killed Jesus or would not have known if Jesus were dead.
2) Second, we must consider the physical torture Jesus endured. By the time Jesus is sent before Pilate He has been awake for two days and has already been hit and beaten during the trial with the high priest. After the crowds chanted for Pilate to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas, there is one small verse that simply says, “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” (John 19:1) What a short verse to describe such a horrible, gruesome thing. It sometimes makes it tempting to read right passed it.
In our modern vernacular, we use “scourge” to mean something that just causes suffering and pain. But we must consider the historical context as it was written. In Roman times, a scourge was a whip usually made out of leather with multiple endings with stone, bits of rock, or shards of pottery tied to it, something like this picture. It was used to inflict severe punishment on a criminal. This was no switchin’ from your momma. The purpose of this device was torture, to rip the flesh off of the bone, to weaken a person so they would die faster.
Add to this the crown of thorns stuck in Jesus’ head and you can see what level of pain and torture Jesus went through before His execution. Was this effective at torturing and weakening Jesus? Absolutely. How do we know? Jesus was too weak to carry His cross up to the hill where He would be crucified (Luke 23:26). At Golgotha, He is then nailed to the cross and lifted up. Even though Jesus had endured such excruciating pain, this did not kill Him. And it didn’t alone kill the two thieves on the cross beside Jesus.
The Romans didn’t employ execution methods that were quick and painless for the prisoner. They wanted long drawn out, excruciating methods for killing the accused. When a person was crucified, they were able to live for some amount of time by pushing their body up so they could still breathe. They could do this until they were too weak to push themselves up, and then they would eventually suffocate. This is the significance of the soldiers breaking the legs of the thieves on the crosses beside Jesus. They needed to hurry up this process so the bodies weren’t hanging up there during the Passover Sabbath. Therefore, they would break their knees so they could no longer push themselves up, speeding up their death.
Keep in mind all that Jesus endured and what physical condition He was in when He was lifted up on the cross.
3) Third, now we can look at the evidence of Jesus’ death.
When we consider everything Jesus endured and the evidence of the people watching the crucifixion, it is clear Jesus died on the cross in accordance with God’s perfect timing, the Scriptures, and Jesus’ own prophecies. The religious leaders and Roman soldiers may have thought they were in control of this and were responsible for killing Jesus, but God was still in perfect control.
Jesus could have done the very thing the people were taunting Him to do – He could have come down off of that cross and turned the tables on the executioners. He could have called down legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have done any number of miraculous things in that moment. But the most miraculous thing is that He chose to die. That was the true miracle. His love for humanity and His obedience to God the Father conquered over His desire to avoid the cross. He chose the moment that He would allow them to take Him. And He chose the moment when He yielded up His spirit.
I pray that you take a moment to consider the price He paid to show His love for you.
The Halakha is the collective body of Jewish religious law, which includes the biblical, the Talmudic, and the Rabbinic law, as well as the Jewish customs and traditions. There is one law for religious, civil, and criminal law. Therefore, when a person committed blasphemy, a religious violation where a person claims to be equal with God, they would be tried through the same courts as if they had stolen or committed murder.
The Halakha provided strict rules for how trials were to proceed in order to maintain a fair system of legal justice and to administer the law honestly. However, this legal system, as all others, operated under the hands of sinful men and thus, failed to always operate in fairness and honesty. In first century Judea, the religious leaders stoned Stephen in the streets, several times they picked up rocks to stone Jesus, and they were going to stone the woman caught in adultery. These examples violated the Halakha to fairly seek justice.
When a person was properly charged with a crime and taken to trial, there were specific rules for how the trial was to proceed.
John 18:12 – [At night] Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
John 18:19-23 – The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” And when He said these things one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand saying, Do you answer the high priest like that?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”
John 18:24 - Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Matthew 26:57-60a – And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end. Now the chief priests, the elders and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward they found none.
Mark 14:55-56 – Now the chief priest and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree.
Matthew 26:60b - But at least two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’”
Mark 14:57-59 - Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another made without hands.” But not even then did their testimony agree.
Matthew 26:62- 68 - And the high priest arose (Caiaphas) and said to Him, “Do you answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?”
They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palm of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?”
Mark 14:65 – Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” and the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.
Luke 22:65 – And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.
After reading how trials were supposed to be conducted and reading how the trial of Jesus was conducted, we see the council violated their own laws in their rush to convict Jesus. Jesus was arrested and tried at night at the house of the high priest, not in the Temple during the daytime. The trial was not open to the public. The charges were brought forward by the council not by a third party. And the charges were never read aloud because they didn’t even know what to charge him with at first. Jesus was not granted any defense, on the contrary, was asked to incriminate himself. No credible witnesses were brought forward. The only evidence presented was hearsay from perjured testimony stirred up by the council itself. These witnesses should have been subject to the same punishment that awaited Jesus.
The vote for conviction was not taken individually from the youngest member to the oldest but was declared by the high priest. There was no two day waiting period until sentencing, nor a three day waiting period before execution. There was no fasting and praying by the council to consider the weight of the decision to execute someone. Mercy was not valued.
When Jesus was arrested there was never even a pretense of justice. The trial was a ruse for them to execute Jesus. The verdict and death sentence were not based on careful consideration of full impartial evidence and testimony. All legal decorum had been tossed aside as they spat on and slapped Jesus.
The charge they finally landed on for conviction was that of blasphemy. Jesus did indeed claim to be God, but this is only a blasphemous statement if you are not God. According to Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him.” The punishment for blasphemy is stoning. Why was Jesus crucified then? Because in God’s Sovereignty, the Roman empire was ruling over Judea and the Jews were unable to carry out an execution. This was why the high priest needed Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to agree to execute Jesus. The Roman form of execution for any non-Roman citizen was crucifixion, thus fulfilling the Scripture that his bones would not be broken (Psalm 34:20 and Numbers 9:12) and that He would be pierced for our transgressions (Zechariah 12:10 and Isaiah 53:5).
Of course the trial before Pilate was not a real trial either. There were no witnesses nor evidence provided, only the charges brought forward by the Sanhedrin. In even this though, Pilate seemed more concerned about mercy for a man who appeared innocent than any of the Sanhedrin did. Scripture even tells us that he sought a way to release Jesus. But alas, he feared men more than God. As the angry mob chanted, “Crucify Him!” Pilate released to them Barabbas and sent Jesus to be executed.
But we must remember, none of this happened without God allowing this as part of His divine plan. As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” God was in complete control, and this was the appointed time He chose to redeem His creation by sacrificing Himself in their place.
Last night I did something I have never done before. I prepared a Passover Seder meal for our family. We started by reading the original institution of the Passover in Exodus 12. We stood there in our robes and sandals with sticks as our walking staffs. I had saved some blood from the lamb I roasted, and we painted that around the front door. Then we went upstairs (my son’s suggestion to be like eating in the upper room) to eat the Passover meal. We ate the bitter herbs to remind us of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. We dipped the bitter vegetables into the salty water to remind us of their tears while in bondage. We broke and passed the unleavened bread to remind us that the Israelites fled quickly. We ate of the lamb, the spotless lamb, chosen as the sacrifice, whose blood would cover over them as God’s judgment passed through the land.
It was a beautiful reminder of the reason why Jesus left Heaven to come down to earth. But the Passover instituted in Exodus and observed since then was just a picture. A symbol. The perfect had not yet come. The real Passover Lamb had not yet been sacrificed.
Jesus did not come to abolish the law or the Scriptures, but to fulfill it. Christianity is an extension of Judaism, the final conclusion to the cliff-hanger given in Malachi for the story God began in Genesis. God had promised out of His love for His creation to provide a remedy for the brokenness that sin had caused.
God said in the garden that one day a Savior would come to crush the head of the serpent forever. He promised Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed. He promised David that of His kingdom there would be no end. And when God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt it was a perfect picture of the rescue that would one day be for all people.
God instructed the Israelites to observe this Passover feast and told them that they should “keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12: 14) This is the feast that Jesus was having with His disciples in the upper room.
Though they didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus was showing them how He was fulfilling the Passover by being the sacrificial Lamb. He said, “This is my body broken for you and this is my blood poured out for you,” yet they still did not understand.
After the resurrection Jesus interpreted to the disciples on the road to Emmaus “all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 23:27) And to the disciples in the upper room He said, “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 23:44-47).
It is from understanding the Old Testament – the Scriptures – that we can see what Jesus was doing. He was the perfect, spotless Lamb who went willingly and silently to the altar. It is His blood that covers over us and protects us from the wrath of God’s just judgment on our sin. It is by His sacrifice that God breaks the chains of our slavery to sin. It was His body broken and His blood poured out so that we could live.
But, just like the Egyptians, if you refuse the blood of the Lamb, if you refuse to acknowledge the one true God and trust in His promises, then you will face the just judgment of your sins.
The Egyptians didn’t listen to the warnings God gave them. They trusted in their own strength, in their false gods, and in their own wisdom. They did not trust in God’s mercy and did not fear God’s wrath. That is a terrible place to be in because both of those are very real things. Do not delay in turning your heart to God and trusting in the blood of Jesus to cover over your sins.
During this festival, the time of Jesus had finally come. The perfect, unblemished sacrifice would be made, only this time it would be once and for all. As John the Baptist proclaimed, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."
Over the next few days, as we remember the sacrifice Jesus made, I want to leave you with a few verses from the book of Hebrews that tie together the Old Testament Passover lamb to the New Testament Lamb of God.
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
This Easter will be a little different than our typical Easter celebrations. With the social distancing and isolation in place, there won’t be the large church services with new spring dresses, the family gatherings for lunch, or the community egg hunts.
But instead of looking at what this Easter will be missing, choose this time to refocus Easter on what Easter is actually all about. We can celebrate this Easter more like the first Easter – in quiet awe of the miracle of the resurrection.
On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went alone to the tomb when she saw the resurrected Jesus. She fell at His feet in worship then ran to the tell the others (Matthew 28:9-10). When John and Peter heard the news, they ran to investigate for themselves, then went home to tell their families (John 20:3-10). The disciples on the road to Emmaus were taught by the resurrected Jesus how the Old Testament scriptures had been fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27). The disciples were together in the upper room when the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. Jesus showed them His hands and His feet, and Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-27). And Jesus taught them from the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms so they might comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:40-45).
This Easter, may we fall at the feet of Jesus and worship Him, and then run to tell others the good news. May we investigate the accounts of Jesus and the empty tomb to understand its truth, and then teach our families. May we consider His wounds and cry out to Him as our Lord and our God. May we study the Scriptures to comprehend what He has done for us.