Of all the beliefs held by followers of Jesus the Messiah, the doctrine of the Resurrection is by far the most challenged and attacked. This is because it is absolutely central to the salvation message; it is the very basis for the truth of New Covenant faith. They stand or fall together. Without the historical reality of the resurrection there is no salvation, no victory at Calvary, no redemption from sin, no eternal life. Paul made this clear when he confessed: "And if Messiah has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and so is our faith...And if Messiah has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Messiah are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Messiah, we are more pitied than all men." (1 Corinthians 15:14, 16-17)
Is the resurrection a hoax? Is the resurrection nothing more than a myth that has been promulgated through the last two millennia, an attempt of a few to deceive subsequent generation of sincere seekers of truth? The answer is a resounding no. The Bible is very emphatic that Jesus, the Messiah did resurrect from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:20)
For true believers in Yeshua (Jesus), the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. But how do we know for sure the resurrection is fact and not fiction? What proof do we have? In fact, there is plenty of proof and when one looks at the facts with an open mind; it is actually easier to believe than not to believe. As two scholars observe:
There is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus than for just about any other event in history."
(Dr. Simon Greenleaf, former Professor of Law at Harvard)
"Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historical incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Messiah. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it." (English Scholar Brook Foss Wescott)
The resurrection must be examined by the same criteria as is any other past event in history. The apostles declared that He showed himself alive to them by "many convincing proofs." The Greek word used here is tekmerion, which means "demonstrable proof."
Let's look at some of the proofs for the resurrection:
First, it is important to understand that the primary support for the resurrection is contained within the Bible itself. But is the Bible accurate? Can we trust it? The answer is yes. Noted scholar Clark Pinnock of McMasters University in Toronto notes concerning the text of the New Testament: "There exists no other document in the ancient witnessed by so excellent a set of textual art historical testimonies, and offering as superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest person can not dismiss a source of this kind. Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of new Testament faith is based upon an irrational bias."
The trustworthiness of the resurrection claims are established by the fact that they were written by eyewitnesses or from the eyewitness accounts. As scholar George Eldon Ladd correctly observed, "Faith does not mean a leap in the dark, an irrational credulity, a believing against reason. It means a believing in the light of historical facts, consistent with evidences, on the basis of witnesses."
Peter himself established this fact when he declared: "we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our lord Yeshua the Messiah, but we were eyewitnesses" (2 Peter 1:16).
According to the Gospels, not only did Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and the eleven disciples see the risen Jesus, He appeared to over 500 disciples: "That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:4-6).
Keep in mind that the accounts of the resurrection were circulated during the lifetimes of those alive at the time of the resurrection. Therefore, the accuracy of these accounts could have been confirmed or contradicted at that time. The writers of the New Testament were arguing their case to many of those who were alive at the time all these things occurred and they were appealing to what was apparently common knowledge concerning the facts of the resurrection.
Another reason there was no room for myths, legends or inaccuracies in the accounts of the life and teachings of Messiah is that they were circulated during the lifetime of the knowledgeable people who were extremely hostile to the followers of Yeshua. They certainly would have put an end to this outrageous claim if they could have. Think for a moment about Paul of Tarsus. He was one of the most hostile opponents of what was then called "The Way." What possible reason would he have for supporting the reality of the resurrection unless he also had experienced the risen Messiah on the road to Damascus?
The resurrection is also mentioned in other Jewish sources outside the Bible. One is Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian that most scholars consider a highly accurate accounting of events during that period of time. But another, more significant source, is a Jewish writing called "Taladot Yeshu", dated from the 5th century. What is interesting to note is that although this rabbinic work is very negative toward the claims of the New Testament and asserts that the apostles stole the body of Yeshua to support their claim, they acknowledge an empty tomb. They can not deny this historical fact.
Another powerful proof for the reality of the resurrection is that the disciples were willing to die for what they believed. What transformed this rag-tag crew? The gospels tell us they all fled in fear when Jesus was arrested. Peter did not have the courage to stand up for his faith when he was confronted and denied his Messiah three times. What happened that so drastically transformed them into the great men of God they became? The only logical conclusion is an encounter with the risen Lord. Most died for their faith, some were tortured and crucified as their master had been. It is foolish to conclude that they would have been willing to endure this fate if the resurrection was nothing more than a myth or lie.
The final proof I offer is that of transformed lives. Millions upon millions have experienced a supernatural transformation through Yeshua since the first century. How could this be possible if our faith is based upon a lie? You would think that this whole movement which has eventually become known as "Christianity" would have just died out if it were based on myth, legend and fable. But it hasn't. Lives continue to be touched and transformed through the ages by the power of God, my own life included. This is perhaps the greatest single proof of the reality of the resurrection of Messiah.
In conclusion, if one reviews all the facts with an open mind, they will reach the conclusion that Jesus was, in fact, resurrected from the dead. But it is impossible to prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It requires faith. God planned it this way; we must have faith, for "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
He has been raised from the dead, and we also, because of his resurrection, will be raised from the dead: "For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, and the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:52-54).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
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Jonathan Bernis, Jewish Voice International Ministries.