Focal Passage: John 20:1-2, 11-18
Christianity is a historical religion. While there are many historical events recorded in Scripture for our benefit, two events form the basis of the Christian faith — the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. Apart from these two historical events there is no Christian faith.
As I Corinthians 15:12-19 notes, if Jesus has not been raised from the dead: (1) Jesus is still dead, (2) our preaching is meaningless, (3) our faith is in vain, (4) we are still in our sins, (5) all who died believing were fooled and are still dead and 6) we are to be pitied among all people. But then, in I Corinthians 15:20, Paul writes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died).”
But how do we know Jesus has been raised from the dead? How do we explain this historical event to our unbelieving friends and family members? How can we assert that what John recorded is true? There are four historically, indisputable truths that can lead a person to one conclusion — Jesus was raised from the dead. What are these four truths that even the harshest critics of the Christian faith affirm as historical realities? And what is the best possible explanation that explains these interrelated events?
(1) Jesus was crucified. Rome was especially adept of killing convicts by crucifixion. In addition to the Bible, Jewish historian Josephus referenced the death of Jesus, as did the Roman historian Tacitus (116 A.D.), the Stoic philosopher Mara, the Roman historian Suetonius, and even the Babylonian Talmud all speak of the death of the one who claimed to be the Messiah. Truth No. 1 — Jesus died.
Even Matthew 27:62-66 reports that the Roman authorities were so concerned about the post-crucifixion body of Jesus they put an armed guard at Jesus’ tomb to keep the disciples from removing the body of Jesus, a political and military act that would not have been ordered had Jesus not died.
(2) The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion. All the evidence, both in the Bible and outside the Bible, affirms the claim that on the first day of the week following Passover the tomb in which Jesus was found was empty. Truth No. 2, then is, the tomb was found empty. But why?
(3) Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ. Again, both biblical and extra-biblical historical documents reference the fact that the early disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive following His public crucifixion and burial. Several non-biblical authors (see point 1) mention these reported appearances as does I Corinthians 15:1-11. Truth No. 3 — Jesus bodily appeared to His disciples after His death.
(4) As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew. The early believers were convinced that they had seen Jesus not as a ghost or an apparition, but as the embodied, resurrected Lord. Truth No. 4 — Jesus’ resurrection was the cornerstone of the early Church and her preaching.
And what is the best possible explanation of these four historically affirmed truths? Jesus is alive! His death atoned for our sins and His resurrection conquered death. We join with the angel who stated in Mark 16:6, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.” B&R