How can we believe Jesus was rasied from the dead?

Was Jesus raised from the dead? What evidence is there for this event? What difference does it make? I want to suggest that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history that none of us can afford to ignore!

Non-Christian information:There are a number of early writers who mention Jesus—people who were not sympathetic to his cause. One of them was the Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 36-100). The following is an extract from one of his writings:

Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man . . . for he was the doer of surprising works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles . . . And when Pilate, at the suggestion of principle men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who loved him at first did not forsake him . . . And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct to this day.

From this we can conclude:
1. It was believed that Jesus actually lived.
2. That he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
3. And people followed him after his crucifixion.

There are other ‘non-sympathetic’ sources (e.g. Pliny the Younger, Tacitus) who can confirm that Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire in the years after Jesus’ death. What can explain why this happened?

The New Testament:The New Testament is unambiguous about the answer. It claims that the reason that Christians followed Jesus after the crucifixion is because he was raised from the dead, appeared to the disciples, ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit. But can the New Testament be trusted as a reliable piece of evidence?

The four gospels were written in the first century. There would have been eye-witnesses who could have exposed their fraud if they were making the story up. While we do not have any of the originals we have many early copies.

For example we could take a trip to Dublin and visit the Chester Beatty library. That library has manuscripts for most of the New Testament that date to around two hundred years after their composition. In the John Rylands Library, in Manchester, there is a fragment of John’s Gospel dating to, perhaps, seventy years after it John wrote. There is something called the Bodmer Papyrus containing most of John’s Gospel dating to, perhaps, seventy years after it was composed.

If those dates don’t seem impressive compare the fact that the earliest existent copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars (a document whose authenticity is not questioned) dates to some nine hundred years after composition. There are nine ancient copies of Gallic Wars— whereas there are thousands of ancient New Testament manuscripts. By comparing the many manuscripts of the New Testament, and quotations in early writings, we can be sure of what is contained in the originals. The only reason anyone doubts the authenticity of the gospel accounts is because of the spectacular nature of their contents. The late Professor F.F. Bruce wrote, ‘. . . if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.’

Objection 1: Perhaps the writers were mistaken!
The earliest such theory is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel—there, on hearing that the body was gone, the chiefs tell the guards on duty say ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping (Mt. 28:13). But if they were asleep how would they have known it was the disciples who stole the body, besides these were highly disciplined soldiers, no-one else would have reason to take the body, and if the disciples had taken Jesus then they were to later suffer and die for what they knew was a lie!

Some say that Jesus did not really die and was merely resuscitated. But the soldiers were experts in crucifixion and knew when someone was dead. Besides how would a weakened man remove the heavy stone from a tomb and get out unnoticed, if the disciples helped him they would know the whole thing was a fraud?

Others say that the resurrection appearances were a mass hallucination. But the risen Jesus appeared to a number of people. Hallucinations happen individually not communally—on one occasion Jesus is reported to have appeared to more than five-hundred people at once (1 Cor. 15).

Objection 2: But don’t the gospel accounts of the resurrection differ?Yes they do! But that is to be expected. In fact this adds to the feeling of authenticity.

If four of us were to witness a road accident we would each tell the story in a slightly different way because we would have noticed different things and seen it from a different angle. If the police come across witness statements that are too identical that suggests that the witnesses have conspired to create the story. None of the differences suggest contradictory events, for example none of them suggest that the location of the crucifixion was different. The differences that do exist can easily be harmonised.

What difference does it make to me?Acts 17:31, For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.
If God has raised Jesus from the dead then none of us will escape the consequences, for one day we will face this Jesus as our judge. The Scriptures are clear that those who have rejected his rule will be punished for their rebellion and sentenced to hell.

However, because of the resurrection there is also hope, for Jesus died that we might have eternal life. On the cross he took the punishment for our rebellion. The risen Jesus now freely makes God’s forgiveness and acceptance available to all people. And if we have crowned him as our king we can anticipate an eternity enjoying God and his people.

Recommended reading:
Kel Richards (2001) Jesus on Trial, Matthias Media.
F.F. Bruce (2000) The New Testament Documents—Are they reliable? Sixth edition, Inter-Varsity Press