Historical Evidence of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

There are many skeptics of Jesus Christ and of His resurrection.  Can it be proven as an actual historical event?  Are we to believe only on faith?  What empirical, concrete evidence do we have today that Jesus Christ indeed was resurrected from the dead?  Can His resurrection be proven?

Historical Evidence of The Resurrection of Jesus

Christians believe in Jesus Christ and know that He lives today.

History is His-Story

Christians believe in Jesus Christ and know that He lives today.  They also believe the Bible.  They trust what is recorded in sacred Scripture.  They trust in the Savior and His atoning work for their redemption at Calvary.  But what about those who can not believe or choose not to believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead?  They might believe that Jesus existed – that He was a good person, a teacher, or a prophet, but they just can’t believe that He died and was raised to life.  What can you tell your non-believing friends that will persuade them that Jesus did die and was raised to life so that they can trust in Him with their life?  There is actual evidence that trusting in Christ is more than a hope-so faith but a know-so faith.

Expert Evidence

More secular or non-Christian historians have written about Jesus Christ than any other single person in human history.  It is no fluke that historians have long focused on the God-man Jesus Christ who is the single, most influential person of all time.  He had more impact on the world than did the most powerful human leaders and dictators ever dreamed of.  Many of these men have come and gone and have left little influence on the world around them.

Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was and still is known as the greatest expert in judicial testimony ever.  This America attorney wrote a book called, “Testimony of the Evangelists” in which he recounts the hundreds of eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection.  He views these recorded testimonies in the New Testament as lines of evidence that would hold up in a court of law even today.  This is important because there is no statue of limitations on murder.  Part of Greenleaf’s evidence included the thousands and thousands of martyrdoms, the global spread of Christianity, and a persistent-through-persecution faith that millions of believers have died for as proof that this God-man and His ministry was no fake.   As has been stated, many people would live for a lie, but few would be willing to die for one, yet millions over the years have died for a faith that they believe in to the uttermost.

Secular Historians on Jesus Christ

When Jesus was crucified, He was crucified on a hill and the way that Romans executed criminals at the time, it was widely known and those who were crucified had their crosses placed by high-traffic roads which served as a warning to anyone who dared to rebel in the Roman Empire.  Paul gave an answer to King Agrippa for his faith in Christ, stating that it was done openly and for all to see and even the king knew about it, saying “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).  King Agrippa had a chance to dispute this testimony but could not since he had been aware of this fact and Paul said that everyone clearly knew about it “because it was not done in a corner.”  The Bible is seen largely as a historical document that has clear support in archeology, paleontology, and history.  The book of Psalms predicted the punishment of crucifixion hundreds of years before it had actually occurred or was known of (Psalm 22, Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12, etc.)

Scholar Gary Habermas has written that five historical facts about Christ have never been disputed as being true about Jesus Christ:  His earthly life as a man, His ministry on earth, His crucifixion, His death, and His resurrection by the hundreds of eye witnesses who saw Him after His resurrection (Luke 24, Mark 16, John 20, Matt 28, Act 1:3-4, 2:31-32, 9:3, 17, I Cor 15:4-8, 9:1, II Pet 1:16, etc.). Perhaps the most famous of all Jewish Historians, Flavius Josephus, who was not a believer, wrote Jewish historical annals for the Roman Empire. He also wrote about Jesus Christ, including His widely testified life after death in the Antiquities of the Jews.  Even the  19th century, world-renowned historian and professor at the distinguished Oxford University, Dr. Thomas Arnold wrote publicly that “I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer…” than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Look at this list of famous historians, including Roman ones, that risked their reputations and in some cases, their very lives, on reporting the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Pliny the Younger (62-114AD)
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (75-130AD)
Cornelius Tacitus (55-120AD)
Pontius Pilate’s wife’s written letter Recollections of the last occurrences from the Life of The Jesus Christ (she was known to believe that He was from God)
Publius Lentulus (ruler of Judea) wrote a letter to Roman emperor Tiberius (resides in a private library in England, found 1865 AD).
Pontius Pilate, Roman governor, wrote a report to Roman Caesar Tiberius in Jerusalem, 28.III 4147.year since creation)
Celsus (170 AD)
Lucian of Samoset (160 AD)
Tacitus (70 AD)
Others included Africanus, Origen, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Eusebius of Caesarea, and even the Syrian philosopher, Mara Bar-Serapion.

Biblical Lineage of Jesus Christ

Much of the Bible is a historical document in itself.  The lineages of the patriarchal fathers are recorded because they eventually lead to The Seed, which is Jesus Christ, the prophesied coming Messiah.  The actual census that was ordered by the king for taxing purposes has been validated as a historical fact.  What is recorded in the Bible has been authenticated by archeological digs, paleontological finds, and historical records.  Even the Creed is a historical document of the doctrines of the Christian faith and they record the certainty of Jesus life, death, burial, and His resurrection.

The family lineage of Jesus Christ recorded in Luke chapter one is precise, historical data that the meticulous Jewish historians never argued with.  The Jews were notorious for strict, religious recordings of their history and their dealings with the peoples that their nation was involved in.  The names of all of these men and some women were historical facts as well.  The genealogies found in the Old Testament are connected with those of the New Testament (e.g., in Numbers and in Luke 1) and they point directly to the fact that Jesus was of the royal family of David of whose seed would come the promised Messiah (Isaiah 9:5-7, 2 Samuel 7, Ezek 37:22-28, Matt 22:41-45, Mark 12:35-37, 2 Chron 21:7, etc.).

The Creed

The Modern English version of the Creed states the foundational beliefs of the church that Jesus Christ founded:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Christians lived and died for believing in and writing the Creed that stands as a historical testimony to the faith that was once delivered.  In fact, the knowledge of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection was so important to the early church that within the first three to eight years after His death, a Creed was created. The Creed’s purpose was intended to protect these eye witness accounts and codify their testimonies accurately, both for present and future generations. Within a few years, some churches had already been infiltrated with other doctrines like Gnosticism. The Gnostics felt it was through knowledge that salvation comes and was only for a special few. The Creed announces to everyone publicly that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12, 16:30-31, etc.). The Creed may have grown over the years, yet its basic tenets have not. The only reason that it has grown was to resist un-sound biblical doctrines and has acted as a hedge against heresy and other (false) gospels. The Creed was not written from a blind-faith perspective or suppositions, but from eye-witnesses who initially had seen these things with their own eyes.

Even agnostics and some ex-atheists have come to realize that Jesus Christ lived, died, and was raised again. C.S. Lewis came to this knowledge through experience.  He was raised in a Christian home yet left his belief to become a stated atheist but after years of intellectual struggle, this former staunch atheist became one of the greatest Christian apologists in history.  Another famous ex-atheist is a leading British philosopher, Anthony Flew.  He was a stalwart atheist for over 50 years but later came to the conclusion that God must exist.  Flew reasoned that, “The evidence for the resurrection alone is better than [that] for claimed miracles of all other religions.  Their leaders are buried and still in their graves.  Jesus tomb was found empty!”

A Definition of Faith

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a God-given definition of faith and it is not what the world believes a Christian faith is.  It says that faith is the “substance (literally “grounded confidence“) of things hoped for, the evidence (proof) of things not seen (Jesus’ and the Passion)”. Even the dictionary defines faith that seems to perfectly fit the Christian’s faith as being an “allegiance to duty or a person… loyalty”, “belief and trust in God”, and “confidence in something/someone.”  Faith actually involves an act of the will. A person chooses to believe in something based upon what they know or have come to know.  Faith is a verb (action) not a noun. Even a tight-rope walker acts on their own belief that they can make it across and chooses to walk the tight-rope. It is impossible to please God without faith but faith in Christ is so simple that even a child can follow it (Heb 11:6).  It is also a gift of God (Eph 2:8).  No one seeks after God (Rom 3:11) but it is not blind faith either.  Faith in God has proof, evidence, substance, certainty, and confidence.

Evangelist, pastor, teacher, and author Ravi Zacharias  said that the resurrection from the dead was the ultimate proof that in history — and in empirically verifiable means — the Word of God was made certain. Otherwise, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration would have been good enough. Even the apostle Peter says that “We have the Word of the prophets made more certain … as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Pet 1:19).  Peter certainly testified to the authority and person of Christ, and the resurrected person of Christ, being an eyewitness and he paid with his life for it.  Christ told Peter and all who would believe will be resurrected some day, for if God has said it, it is certainly a fact and God can not lie (Heb 6:18, Rom 3:4, (I. Cor. 6:14).

One of my degrees is in history.  In fact, I was a charter member of the Historical Sorority on Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, a private university that was one of the top 15 highest accredited universities in the nation at the time.  I am not bragging because I too was a skeptic at one time, but the more I studied the historicity of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, the more I became certain of its factualness.  As I said earlier, it is not a hope-so but a know-so faith.  You can believe it. And when you choose to believe it, the truth will set you free (John 8:32). My prayer is that you will also believe and in believing, you will have eternal life (John 5:24, 1 John 5:13).

Check out this article also with some interesting Bible facts of Jesus:

10 Interesting Bible Facts About Jesus

Resources:

New International Version Bible
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

Drawing Credit: Sara Telling





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