It may seem incredible that in the 21st century there are still people who believe in the resurrection, but the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead is crucial to the whole Christian message. The apostle Paul went so far as to say that if Jesus has not been raised then Christianity is a lie!
What evidence is there for the resurrection? Well, as soon as we start thinking about this issue we find that the evidence lies in two distinct areas:
a. The Empty Tomb.
Firstly, there is the empty tomb. Now there are a number of possibilities that could explain why the tomb was empty:
i. The Body was stolen. For example Jesus' body could have been stolen. But that immediately raises a further question as to who stole the body?
A number of suggestions have been made over the centuries. Some have thought that the disciples stole the body, but this is highly unlikely. After the horrific death of Christ they were not in a fit state to organise a raid on the tomb and even if they had been, how would they have been able to get past the guards who were posted in order to stop this very thing? Also most of the disciples died for their faith, but would they really have been prepared to die for a message that they knew was not true?
Another explanation has been to suggest that Jesus' enemies stole the body. They were well aware of the fact that he had said that he would rise, so perhaps they stole the body to make sure that the disciples did not get there first? But if they were responsible, why did they not produce Jesus' body as soon as the disciples started proclaiming the resurrection?
A third group that could have been responsible for stealing the body were grave robbers. But this is also unlikely. They probably knew that Jesus was a convicted criminal with very few earthly possessions and even if they didn't, would they have risked mounting a raid on a guarded tomb?
ii. Jesus was not dead. Another possible explanation for the empty tomb is the idea that Jesus did not actually die. Some people have suggested that when Jesus was taken down from the cross, he was in something like a comatose state and that he revived whilst in the tomb.
But when considering this possibility we need to remember that Jesus had been severely beaten and whipped before his death. He had also been crucified by having his hands and feet nailed to a cross, where he was to hang for several hours. Not to mention the fact that a spear was driven into his side by Roman soldiers who were then convinced that he was dead. Now is it likely that a man in this condition was able to remove the heavy stone placed over the doorway of the tomb and walk a considerable distance into Jerusalem, without been detected either by the guards or someone else?
So if Jesus' body was not stolen and he did not revive in the tomb, then there is only one other possibility and that is that Jesus rose from the dead.
b. The Appearances.
The second area of evidence is the various appearances of Jesus after the resurrection. Now once again there are a number of possibilities:
i. A Hoax. One possibility is that it was an elaborate hoax organised by the disciples.
But this still doesn't explain the fact that the tomb was empty or how the traumatised disciples were able to organise such a sophisticated deception.
Also the very nature of the appearances makes it unlikely that this was a hoax. Jesus appeared to individuals, couples and groups (one numbering 500). The appearances took place in various locations and at different times. Also if this were a hoax would the disciples really have admitted that some of them initially refused to accept the fact of the resurrection and that some failed to recognise Jesus? Whatever explanation we give to these appearances, the idea that this was a hoax seems very doubtful.
ii. A Hallucination. Finally, some people think that the resurrection appearances are the result of hallucination. From time to time we do hear of people, who having gone through the trauma of losing loved ones, see the departed as a result of hallucination. So is this a potential explanation of Jesus' appearances?
Well it is virtually impossible that so many people could have experienced the same hallucination at exactly the same time and place. Also when grieving relatives see their loved ones as a result of hallucination, they always recognise those who have died, but as we have said already some of the disciples did not immediately recognise Christ. Plus the fact that Jesus eat with his disciples, walked and talked with them, and even allowed some of them to touch him, rules out the possibility that this was a hallucination. This means that the only other possible explanation is that Jesus really did rise from the dead and that through his resurrection those who trust in him can also have hope that they too will rise again.
Some helpful Bible verses:
Psalm 16:9; Matthew 16:21 & 28:1-20; John 20:1-30; Acts 1:1-3; Romans 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 & 15:22-23; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 & 4:14; 1 Peter 1:3.