Christ’s resurrection is crucial to the Christian faith. The entirety of the Christian faith rests upon whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus was not resurrected from the grave, then He is not who He says He is. However, if Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead, then He is truly God in the flesh.
Here are five historical facts proving Jesus Christ is who He says He is, confirming His resurrection power:
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1. The Four Gospels
The number one historical fact of Christ’s resurrection is contained in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of the four Gospels has proved the test of time, and they are each considered, by Christian and non-Christian scholars, historical texts. However, many individuals try to attack the Gospels from not only a spiritual but historical place. Yet, their accuracy has withstood both the doubters and the test of time.
The Blue Letter Bible shares that the details mentioned in the Gospels--from rulers (emperors to Roman prefects) to specific establishments within the small towns, have all been historically confirmed by ancient coins, documents, and text. Even the minute differences in Jewish customs from small city to small city were accurately portrayed in Luke's Gospel.
Each of the four Gospels gives eyewitness accounts of what happened during the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Matthew and John were both disciples of the Lord during His earthly life. Since they followed Jesus and were with Him during His earthly life, we can know their account of Jesus’ life is correct. Mark most likely received his information from the Apostle Peter, another firsthand witness of Christ's ministry and resurrection. Meanwhile, Luke was not only a doctor but a reliable historian who obtained his information from eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry.
Yes, each of the four Gospels shares slight differentiations in approach and themes. However, authors of today's time do the same. Each person with a unique personality and perception will record the same event from a slightly different angle. Nonetheless, despite their minor differences, the big story for each Gospel remains the same: Jesus is the Messiah, God's Son. Though different in approach, the Gospels are historically credible and accurate, further confirming the spiritual accuracy that Jesus is who He says He is.
2. Anti-Christian Authors
In addition to the historical texts of the four Gospels, many anti-Christian authors wrote about the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Josephus, Tactius, Mara bar-Serapion, and Pliny the Younger all spoke of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Josephus was a first-century Jewish writer and historian who recorded information about Jesus. In his historic book, Antiquities, Josephus discusses how Jesus was ordered to be crucified by Pontus Pilate and how Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Josephus was a Jew, which meant he was against Christianity. While Josephus never refers to Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he does give the same information that is found in the Gospels. Josephus, a first-century historian, had no reason to lie as he did not like Christians. Thus, we can be certain that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
Tactius was another historian of the Roman Empire during the first century, who wrote about Jesus. In his work, Annuls 15.44, Tactius talks about how Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontus Pilate. Tactius had no connection with Christianity as he opposed the faith, yet he mentions Jesus in his writings. Similar to Josephus, he did not have a reason to lie. Mara bar-Serapion wrote a letter to his son, Serapion, in which he talked about the crucifixion of the King of the Jews. Yet again, Mara bar-Serapion was not a Christian; therefore, he had no reason to make up a story. Pliny the Younger was another man who recorded information about Jesus in his writings. In 112 A.D., Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the Roman governor of Bithynia et Pontus on how to deal with Christians. In his letter, he wrote about how the Christians would sing and worship Jesus as if He was a god.
Thus, Josephus, Tactius, Mara bar-Serapion, and Pliny the Younger each spoke about Jesus even though they were not Christians. Each of these men wrote about Jesus and attested to His life, death, and resurrection. Through these anti-Christian writers' accounts of Jesus Christ, we can know the resurrection truly happened.
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3. Eyewitness Accounts
Eyewitness accounts are weighty proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each of the four Gospels records the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-21,25). According to the Gospels, many individuals saw the resurrected Lord, including the eleven disciples, James the brother of Jesus, and a group of more than 500 people at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
In one occurrence, when Jesus appeared to the Eleven, Thomas doubted. Thomas told the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25b). A week after this, Jesus appeared to the Eleven, including Thomas (John 20:26-29). After Thomas placed his fingers into Jesus’ nail marks and his hand into Jesus’ side, Thomas believed (John 20:26-28). Thomas declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Since we have these eyewitness accounts of Jesus after His resurrection, we can know they are true and historically reliable.
4. The Tomb Was Empty
One of the most crucial facts of Jesus’ resurrection is the grave was empty (Matthew 28:1-10: Mark 16:6-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-31). Since the grave was empty, it attests to the fact that Jesus’ dead body was no longer in the grave. Jesus’ dead body was no longer in the grave because He had been resurrected. He was no longer dead—He was alive! The angel tells us, “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:6-7).
Jesus had already taught His disciples that He was going to die for the sins of the world, but He was going to rise three days later. The meaning was hidden from the disciples, in which they did not understand Jesus’ meaning until after He had risen from the grave. Therefore, the grave was reported to be empty by many eyewitness accounts. All of the eyewitness accounts of the empty grave are reliable and trustworthy. The historical fact of the empty grave attests to the validity of Jesus’ resurrection.
5. The Disciples' Willing Martyrdom
A fifth historical fact that proves Jesus’ resurrection is the disciples' willing martyrdom for their faith. Naturally, nobody dies for a lie. Church history records that all of the disciples, except for John who was banished to die alone on an island, were martyred for their faith in Christ. Though history doesn't provide specifics for how each apostle died, we know that they faced brutal deaths for their Lord, history confirming that Peter was crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to die in the same way as Christ. In addition to the disciples' willingness to die for their faith, Christians over the course of history have been willing to die for their faith too.
As a Christian today, I am willing to die for my faith in Christ because I know He is who He says He is—God in the flesh. Kindred to the disciples and missionaries throughout time, I believe Jesus died and rose from the dead in order to restore our relationship with the Father. Jesus Christ literally died on the cross and three days later, He was resurrected from the grave (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
By placing faith in Jesus, you too can be forgiven of your sins and inherit eternal life with God in Heaven. The resurrection of Christ was a true historical event, which happened over two-thousand-years-ago. Through these five historical facts proving Christ’s resurrection, my hope and prayer is that all people will come to know and believe Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Even though we were not present when Jesus was resurrected from the grave, we can trust that it did happen because of the historical facts proving Christ’s resurrection. Thus, He is both a historical icon and our personal Savior, the proven Son of God we can put all trust in today.
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Originally published Monday, 28 March 2022.