Two thousand years ago, a man named Jesus lived in ancient Palestine and was executed on a Roman cross. Shortly after, a group of his followers went out into the city of Jerusalem and all around the Mediterranean and spread the message that Jesus was crucified, but three days later, He rose again. The core of Christianity is the Gospel message, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is empty but if it did, then it changes everything.
This post is for those of you who need a faith check-up. You believe, but sometimes you wonder, “Is this thing for real? Can I trust this?” Maybe you watched a documentary on the history channel and you’ve got some questions. And you just need a faith check-up.
For others of you, you’re just checking it out. Maybe you didn’t grow up in a religious home and you don’t really care one way or another. Your philosophy of life is, “I’m just here to have a good time and when I die, then I’ll deal with whatever comes next.”
Then there’s a third category of people, you’ve already decided that you’ve checked out of faith. Perhaps you grew up in a Christian home and you were handed a childhood version of faith. But then you became an adult and what you experienced in the real world didn’t match the version of faith that you grew up with. Perhaps you experienced a tragedy or someone close to you did, maybe a prayer went unanswered or a college professor said something that made you question everything you believe in. So you decided to check out of the whole faith thing.
But today, maybe we can help remove one potential stumbling block to faith and perhaps provide a bridge that may help you consider believing again. Today, you can have incredible confidence that the resurrection is a historical reality.
The primary argument against the resurrection is that it’s a myth. That the written accounts of the resurrection are far too removed from the actual events to be accurate accounts of actual events. This belief states that over a period of a few hundred years, the story got exaggerated and by the time that anyone had written anything down, the story became so exaggerated and there were no eyewitnesses around to dispute it. If we look at New Testament scholarship today, it will show that theory isn’t even possible.
There’s a college textbook titled, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction To The Early Christian Writings. In it, the non-believing author, Bart. D. Ehrman, agrees with Christian scholars about the timeline of the New Testament writings on the life of Jesus. Ehrman has his PhD in New Testament documents and is also an atheist. Atheist scholars don’t believe the bible is inspired, they don’t believe in the resurrection. They try to find some other explanation as to why the New Testament authors believed in the the resurrection and study the New Testament documents like they would any other ancient text.
Scholars, including non-Christian ones, believe the New Testament is not just a book but is a collection of biographies and letters written in the first century. Biographies were written of the life of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There are also letters from Paul, James, Peter and John. Here’s a timeline, pulled directly from Ehrman’s textbook:
These dates mean that the idea of the resurrection as a myth isn’t even possible. The Gospels are the four earliest accounts of the life of Jesus ever written. They all talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
You may not trust the Bible, but even if you don’t believe the Bible is inspired by God, you still have to wrestle with the fact that these are first century texts, written by different people, at different places, with different perspectives, yet they are all talking about the resurrection of Jesus.
Scholars know that Paul lived in the 1st century and was incredibly intelligent. In the New Testament, there are 13 letters with Paul’s name on it. Not all scholars agree on all 13 letters, but they do have a list of 7 letters they call the undisputed letters of Pauline.
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
All scholars agree Paul wrote these letters around 50-60 AD. In every single one of these letters except Philemon, Paul explicitly mentions the resurrection.
In the very first sentence of Galatians 1 written around 55 to 57 AD, Paul says:
“Paul, an apostle, sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” Galatians 1:1
Now, obviously atheist scholars doubt that the resurrection actually happened. They try to find another theory to explain why the New Testament authors came to believe in it. Whatever theory they come up with, it has to match evidence. Even if the Bible is not inspired, the resurrection cannot be the result of legend because within 20-30 years Paul was already writing about it.
Scholars believe that preserved in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which he wrote in 55 ad, is a creed of the earliest Christians. The first century church created creeds in order to transmit important information. A creed is a carefully crafted, usually memorable series of statements, used to insure accurate transmission of important information. Because at that time, very few people could read or write. People would create these creeds as an easy way to memorize important information.
1 Corinthians 15 Creed
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-5
No one debates that Jesus was executed, even crucified sometime between 30-33 AD. It’s the resurrection that brings up the disagreements. Notice the word, appeared. He appeared to Cephas (Peter) and the twelve disciples. Then he goes on to tell about other people Jesus appeared to:
“After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Corinthians 15:6-8 NIV
When Jesus appeared to people it meant they saw the resurrected Jesus with their very own eyes. It wasn’t just something they heard about, but they saw Him directly.
What this creed means is that Paul, and others, believed Jesus rose from the dead within 22 years after the event. More than that, they believed that the resurrected Jesus appeared to many people. In terms of history, 22 years is nothing. The earliest documentation that we have for Alexander the Great was written 400 years after his death. And historians consider it reliable evidence.
We know quite a bit about Paul: he was a persecutor of the church and then 1 to 3 years after the crucifixion, he converts to Christianity on the road to Damascus. Some scholars think Paul received the creed then, in Damascus. Others believe he received it 3 years later when he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem. In Galatians 1, Paul tells us that 3 years after became Christian he visits Peter and James in Jerusalem to learn the gospel story from them.
“Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.” Galatians 1:18-19 NIV
The word Paul uses to say ‘get acquainted is the Greek word ἱστορῆσαι (historeo), which means to inquire into or to get an historical account. Paul visits Peter with the purpose of hearing the Gospel from his perspective.
Paul must have received the 1 Corinthians 15 Creed between 1-6 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. This is extremely early evidence. What scholars agree on, is that this creed and Paul’s letters prove that the followers of Jesus believed in resurrection just a few years after the event.
The primary point, is that the resurrection was the event that launched Christianity. It’s at the core of our faith.
What’s A Witness?
Luke says it this way, in Acts 2 that on the first day of the church, Peter walked into the crowd and said:
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.” Acts 2:32 NIV
The idea that these men and women saw the resurrected Jesus gave them boldness to tell everyone they knew about it even in the face of suffering and death. Most of the apostles died for their faith in resurrection. Don’t miss the word witnesses.
Do you know the difference between a witness and a believer?
A believer can believe something and not know whether they’re right or wrong.
A witness bases their belief on what they directly experienced.
Someone may willingly die for what they believe to be true, but people won’t die for what they know to be false. When it comes the the resurrection of Jesus, a whole group a people all claimed to have seen the risen Jesus.
If the resurrection was a lie, then all the people who said they saw appearances of the risen Jesus wouldn’t be willing to die for it. But they did. They lived lives of poverty while traveling around the Mediterranean so that they could spread the message of the resurrection. Even in face of death, to tell anyone about the resurrection of Jesus.
Now, this doesn’t prove the resurrection with 100% certainty, but we don’t know anything from history with 100% certainty. There is really good evidence and the best explanation of the evidence is: it really did happen!
For those of you who have checked out of faith, you just can’t believe anymore, now that you’ve read the evidence, what do you do with it? You can come up with another theory because typically, when people die, they usually stay dead. Even if you don’t believe the Bible is inspired, even if can’t answer every question about faith, no matter your theory or worldview, it has to fit the facts. The fact is, that within 1-6 years, followers of Jesus believed He was resurrected from the dead because they had seen Him. They boldly spread the message that Jesus is alive. Scholars don’t debate that. Look for yourself. Look up the undisputed letters and the 1 Corinthians creed.
Maybe you are thinking, “If there’s so much evidence that even the non-believing scholars agree too, then why don’t they believe in the resurrection?” The answer they would give is, “It doesn’t matter how much evidence you show me, because resurrections are impossible. Miracles, by nature, are impossible. No matter how much evidence you have or how short my alternate theory falls. It still outweighs the evidence for the resurrection because miracles just don’t happen.”
If that’s your worldview, we will tell you, of course resurrections are impossible, that’s the point! If resurrections happened every day, what would be special about Jesus? Because it’s impossible, we know Jesus is real deal. If you can’t believe in the resurrection because you can’t allow miracles into your worldview, that’s fine. But what you can’t say is that there’s no evidence for it.
We believe that the resurrection is the most important event in history. It changes everything, it changes everything about you, everything about your life and it says that there is a God out there who loves you. He loves you enough that He’d be willing to send his Son to die for you and then 3 days later, He came back to life.
Jesus can bring you back to spiritual life as well.
Check back on what you discussed last week. Does anyone have any more thoughts on what you discussed last week about the goodness of God?
Hear the Word
This week we looked at the question, “Is Jesus Alive?”
The Resurrection of Jesus is the event that launched the Church into existence. According to the apostle Paul, if the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t true, then our faith is empty. However, if we look at the first century documents that make up the New Testament, we can have incredible confidence that the resurrection is a historical reality.
Read: 1 Corinthians 15
- What stood out to you in the message? What did you hear?
- What was your family’s perspective on the resurrection and Christianity growing up?
- Have you ever heard any objections or arguments against the resurrection?
- How did some of the evidence Zach presented change how you think about the resurrection historically?
Tell Someone Else
Who do you need to share this message with? Is there someone you’re better equipped to have a conversation with because of this message?