If a stranger approaches you and says they know your buddy “John,” but all their facts are wrong concerning him, you could safely conclude they are referring to a different John. Mark Spence uses this illustration to show why many non-Christians say they “know” Jesus Christ.
March 26, 2018
The resurrection has been called the “cornerstone of Christianity.” Jesus was “delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). When Jesus rose from the dead, He was being declared the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Jesus’ resurrection affirms that He was no mere man, that His teachings were true, and that salvation is only through Him. Alternatively, as the skeptic would claim, if Jesus didn’t rise, Christianity is a house of cards and everything falls apart. It’s no accident that, alongside the cross and the fulfilled prophecies, the fact that Jesus was seen after His resurrection was consistently mentioned in the book of Acts when the apostles evangelized. First Corinthians 15:5–8 lists six appearances of Jesus after He rose, including to 500 people at one time. While the apostles didn’t always list how many saw the resurrected Jesus, they sure did mention that He was seen after He rose. The eyewitness accounts were critical information to be shared for several reasons, and they still have incredible value today as well.
“Jesus’ resurrection affirms that He was no mere man, that His teachings were true, and that salvation is only through Him.”
The eyewitnesses prove the resurrection is an irrefutable fact.
Jesus said that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Mt. 18:16; quoting Deut. 19:15). Critical evidence in any legal case is the testimony of witnesses: who, and how many, saw what. From ancient courts at the city gate to our current judicial system, the word of eyewitnesses has always been the smoking gun.
The scenario has been replayed in countless movies: a man is on trial for a crime he didn’t commit; shortly before a guilty verdict is pronounced, a passionate investigator tracks down a hesitant eyewitness who ultimately testifies and proves the hopeless man’s innocence. One word from a credible witness can radically change a jury’s perspective in a case. It’s been said the man with an experience is not at the mercy of a man with an argument. No objection, no matter how compelling, can stand up against the word of someone who was there.
Referring to the over 500 eyewitnesses, John Wesley called them “a glorious and incontestable proof!” Charles Spurgeon said, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the best attested facts on record. There were so many witnesses to behold it, that if we do in the least degree receive the credibility of men’s testimonies, we cannot and we dare not doubt that Jesus rose from the dead.” He concluded, “Brethren, such is the evidencing power of the resurrection of Christ, that when every other argument fails your faith, you may find safe anchorage in this assured fact.” Sir Lionel Luckhoo, world-renowned for holding the Guinness World Record as “Most Successful Lawyer” for his 245 consecutive murder-charge acquittals, wrote, “I have spent more than 42 years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world and am still in active practice. I have been fortunate to secure a number of successes in jury trials and I say unequivocally the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”
When Paul said of the over 500 eyewitnesses that “the greater part remain to the present,” he was in effect saying to cross-examine them; they are here to be questioned. Multiple witnesses, especially 500 in one instance, means corroboration. If we were to write a book of eyewitness statements, and each of the 500 took ten pages to describe their experience of the resurrected Christ, the book would be 5,000 pages thick. If the 500 were in a courtroom and each testified for 10 minutes, there would be over 83 hours of onlooker statements.
In his award-winning publication The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel shares a provocative story about catastrophe and logic:
In 1963 the body of fourteen-year-old Addie Mae Collins, one of four African-American girls tragically murdered in an infamous church bombing by white racists, was buried in Birmingham, Alabama. For years family members kept returning to the grave to pray and leave flowers. In 1998 they made the decision to disinter the deceased for reburial at another cemetery.
When workers were sent to dig up the body, however, they returned with a shocking discovery: The grave was empty.
Understandably, family members were terribly distraught. Hampered by poorly kept records, cemetery officials scrambled to figure out what had happened. Several possibilities were raised, the primary one being that her tombstone had been erected in the wrong place.
Yet in the midst of determining what happened, one explanation was never proposed: Nobody suggested that young Addie Mae had been resurrected to walk the earth again. Why? Because by itself an empty grave does not a resurrection make.
“If indeed the resurrection was a hoax, then Jesus is not God, and everything else written in the Bible is a lie.”
While among those of Jesus’ era it wasn’t disputed that there was no body in the tomb, it was heatedly argued that it was some sort of a mistake or a hoax that the grave was empty. God in His unparalleled wisdom refuted these allegations, and all that would come in future centuries, by showing His risen Son alive to chosen witnesses who would testify of Him.
Think of the questions and objections that flash through a skeptic’s mind as the good news is shared. Perhaps Jesus was just a good teacher who died, and His resurrection was a legend that grew over time. Maybe a disciple had a hallucination or a dream that Jesus rose and, like any brainwashed cult member devastated by the loss of their beloved teacher, the early disciples blindly believed. It could be similar to the telephone game: over time as the message passed from one to another, the details morphed into a fairy tale. There is also the possibility of a conspiracy, that a few lied for personal gain and mourning zealots bought into it. If indeed the resurrection was a hoax, then Jesus is not God, and everything else written in the Bible is a lie.
However, all of that gets dismantled when the eyewitness evidence is produced. The high volume of eyewitness testimonies, proclaimed from the start, with witnesses able to be questioned during their lifetime, who confessed the same story to the death, plucks Christ’s resurrection from the realm of fantasy and plants it firmly as an intersection in history.
The eyewitnesses set Christianity apart and above every other religion.
“Jesus’ resurrection is the bedrock of the Christian faith, and God made it so that we could verify this truth 2,000 years later through the original eyewitness testimonies.”
Second Peter 1:16 says, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Other religions began by someone having a private concept of God, or a private vision about God, or a private encounter with an angel. Then that individual told others, who told others. Because it all ultimately rests on the experience of a single person, it is impossible to verify; there were no other eyewitnesses to the event. However, with Christ, in addition to His public teaching ministry, public miracles, public crucifixion, and burial in a public tomb, Jesus also showed He was alive to the public (over 500 at one time). Jesus’ resurrection is the bedrock of the Christian faith, and God made it so that we could verify this truth 2,000 years later through the original eyewitness testimonies.
The eyewitnesses credibly confirm the resurrection.
George Whitefield pointed out, “It was never heard since the world began, that any man, much less a whole set of men, died martyrs for the sake of an untruth, when they themselves were to reap no advantage from it.” The eyewitnesses weren’t gullible, mistaken, or deceitful; they preached the highest ethical standards the world had ever known without personal gain. Many were willing to die for their faith, revealing their genuineness of belief and that what they said was authentic and trustworthy.
Early Christian apologists cited hundreds of eyewitnesses, some of whom documented their own alleged experiences. Many of these eyewitnesses willfully and resolutely endured prolonged torture and death rather than repudiate their testimony. This fact attests to their sincerity, ruling out deception on their part…Granted, while martyrdom is remarkable, it is not necessarily compelling. It does not validate a belief so much as it authenticates a believer (by demonstrating his or her sincerity in a tangible way). What makes the earliest Christian martyrs remarkable is that they knew whether or not what they were professing was true. They either saw Jesus Christ alive-and-well after His death or they did not. This is extraordinary. If it was all just a lie, why would so many perpetuate it given their circumstances? Why would they all knowingly cling to such an unprofitable lie in the face of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death? (GotQuestions.org)
Paul said, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17). Belief in the resurrection is essential to the Christian faith. Bringing to light this critical piece of evidence—the hundreds of eyewitness accounts—corroborates the truth. It is with great power that the apostles “gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33).
The eyewitnesses inspire faith.
At the end of a chapter about the post-resurrection appearances, John says, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30,31).