The resurrection of Jesus: did it really happen?

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If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then Christianity is false. We have believed in vain, and are to be most pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14; 19). Therefore, we need to evaluate the evidence and know whether it happened or not.

What are some of the key claims about Jesus’ death and resurrection and how can we know that he really did rise from the dead?

1. Jesus died by crucifixion

Crucifixion was a common form of execution used by the Romans. The crucifixion of Jesus is reported in both Christian sources (Matthew 27:32-56; Mark 15:21-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-37) and non-Christian sources. Josephus wrote “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified…”[1] Tacitus wrote of how “Christius, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberus at the hands of one of the procurators, Pontius Pilate.”[2] On the basis of Christian and non-Christian sources, we know that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion.

2. The tomb was empty

Firstly, both biblical and non-biblical sources record claims that the tomb was empty. Early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body (Matthew 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30). Ironically, this implies that the tomb was empty because if there was a body in the tomb then there would be no need to attempt to account for a missing body.

Secondly, the primary witnesses to the empty tomb were women. In the 1st-century Jewish and Roman world, a woman’s testimony was discredited and considered equal to that of a robber (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 1.8). On account of this, if the gospel writers invented a story to persuade people that Jesus had resurrected from the dead, they would not include women as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb. Therefore, the gospels would not feature women as the first witnesses to the empty tomb unless it really happened.

3. People claimed to see the risen Jesus

Furthermore, people claimed to see the risen Jesus shortly after his death.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

The passage above contains a creed – a concise summary of the Christian faith. Creeds were the best way to preserve important information in a format which could be easily memorised. This is a reliable source as 1 Corinthians was written in 55-56 AD, just over twenty years after Jesus’ death. Additionally, many scholars date this creed within two to eight years of Jesus’ death. Paul indicates that he previously passed on it on to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), which suggests that he received it from the disciples Peter and James when visiting them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18-19). Accordingly, the early date of the creedal statement rules out the possibility of the claims of Jesus’ resurrection being an evolved legend.[3]

4. Lives were transformed

Lastly, the conversion of sceptics suggests that the disciples’ claims to have seen the risen Jesus were true. Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) was a relentless persecutor of the church who suddenly became a follower of Jesus (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18). James, the brother of Jesus, was a sceptic during Jesus’ life (Mark 3:21; John 7:5). He was also converted and became a pious Jewish believer and a leader at the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:12-21; Galatians 1:19). These conversions are significant as they demonstrate that the claims of a resurrected Christ were not fictitious tales to comfort Jesus’ followers. They were also the assertions made by Jesus’ enemies and sceptics who also claimed to see the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:7-8).

Proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection led to the execution of the apostle James (Acts 12:1-2), James the brother of Jesus (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200), Peter, and Paul (1 Clement 5:1-7; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.25, 5-6). Although religious devotees die for causes they believe to be true, the death of the witnesses to the resurrection is different. They were the ones who knew directly whether the “cause” they promoted was a fabrication or a real experience – and no one dies for a lie they know to be a lie![4]

As the evidence is weighed up, the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the aforementioned facts. He is risen, hallelujah! We have a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) and assurance that the Christian message is true. This is good news to celebrate and share today.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities 18.64 Jospehus in Ten volumes, vol. 9, Jewish Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library, Louis H. Feldman, trans. (Cambridge, Mass; Harvard University Press, 1981)

[2] Cornelius Tacitius, The Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115)

[3] John Dickson, Is Jesus History (The Good Book Company, 2019), 140

[4] Dickson, 142


  • Shumi Mararike

    Alongside his Law undergraduate studies, Shumi is on the teaching team at Abide campus fellowship. He is also a youth mentor in both London and Manchester. Shumi joined the writers team with the desire to help readers live gospel-driven lives and develop their confidence when sharing their faith.

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