Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Segment of "The Resurrection" by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1881).

The Bible’s Answer

The Bible’s answer to this question is yes, Jesus did rise again from the dead. He rose on the third day after his crucifixion (Acts 10:39–41), on a day that is now known as Easter Sunday (Luke 24:1–3, 13–15). The first person to have seen Jesus after he was raised was Mary Magdalene, one of his disciples, in the garden of his tomb (John 20:11–17). She went from there and told Jesus’ other disciples about his resurrection—being the first person to have done so (John 20:18; Mark 16:9–10). Over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared to all of his disciples, presenting himself alive to them with irrefutable proof, before ascending back to Heaven (Acts 1:3).

Was the Resurrected Jesus a Human, or a Spirit Pretending to Be a Human?

There are some religious groups, such as the Watch Tower Society, which deny that Jesus’ body was raised from the dead (that is, his resurrection). Instead, they teach that a spirit-creature (Michael the Archangel) was recreated in his place, while the man Jesus remained dead; this spirit appeared to people in different bodies, pretending to be the man Jesus. The Apostle Luke powerfully refutes this false teaching in the following Scripture:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36–43, ESVUK)

As we can see from this Bible passage—which was Jesus’ first resurrected appearance to the apostles—Jesus himself stated that he was not a spirit, since he had flesh and bones; he even ate a piece of broiled fish to prove it. He was a real human being after his resurrection. Furthermore, we know that Jesus’ resurrected body was the same one that he had died in, for Jesus prophesied: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19–21). Moreover, Jesus even showed his disciples the marks from the nails in his hands and feet in order to prove that he was the same Jesus they knew and loved, who died for them (John 20:19–20).

Is Jesus’ Resurrection Reasonable to Believe?

The Gospels Are Historical Reports

Many people these days scoff at the idea that Jesus was resurrected, since it contradicts their naturalistic/secular presuppositions. Yet, when the Gospel authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the Apostle Paul wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, they did not write as mystics sharing prophetic parables; rather, they wrote as historians who reported on the historical facts. Furthermore, Matthew and John (two of the Twelve Apostles) were eyewitnesses of his resurrection, and although Luke (a physician and one of Paul’s missionary partners) and Mark (Peter’s scribe) were not, they had direct access to the people who were. Unlike the others, Paul saw a vision of the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–9).

A good example of the Gospels being historical accounts can be seen in the beginning of the Gospel according to Luke. Here, Luke says that he wrote his Gospel to “compile a narrative” of the events that the “eyewitnesses” (apostles) relayed to him and to make “an orderly account” for Theophilus, that he “may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Luke 1:1–4). In other words, Luke had interviewed the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and resurrection and compiled all the data into his Gospel. Observe how Luke reports on Jesus’ empty tomb:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, … (Luke 24:1–10)

As we can see, Luke’s focus is to simply relay the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ followers. Like the other Gospel authors, Luke was very careful to mention key details about Jesus’ life—especially those surrounding Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. They mention the names of the disciples who saw Jesus after his death (Luke 24:10; Matthew 28:16–17), the names of the Roman governors (Matthew 27:2; Luke 23:11–12) and the high priest of the time (Matthew 26:57; John 18:13–14), the place where Jesus was crucified (John 19:16–18; Luke 23:33), when it happened (John 19:14), the men who prepared Jesus’ body for burial (Mark 15:42–43; John 19:38–40), and even what was written on the inscription above Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:37; Luke 23:38), and so on. Clearly, the Gospels are historical documents.

There Are No Alternatives to the Resurrection

Every competent historian would agree that Jesus was a real person and that the New Testament provides the best and most extensive information that we have on him—even if they may disagree with some of its teachings. Some people, though, who are influenced more by their personal opinions than the facts, have attempted to provide alternative scenarios to Jesus’ resurrection. Some claim, for instance, that Jesus’ disciples secretly snuck past the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, rolled away the stone, stole Jesus’ body, and then tricked people by saying that he was alive again.

According to the Apostle Matthew, though, this very argument was originally a lie created by the Jewish chief priests of Jesus’ day. Matthew reports that an angel descended from Heaven and rolled away the stone, causing a great earthquake; when the soldiers saw this, they were so shocked that they “became like dead men” (Matthew 28:1–4). After the soldiers told the chief priests what had happened, they bribed the soldiers into telling the people that the disciples had taken away Jesus’ body in secret and promised them that they would take care of their punishment if the governor found out about it (Matthew 28:11–15). No doubt, many of the Jews would have rejected the truth because they were tricked by this lie (Matthew 28:15).

Others have claimed that the disciples hallucinated and only thought that they had seen Jesus. If just one person claimed to have seen Jesus, this theory would be plausible. However, Paul reports that as many as 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4–7), so this theory holds no ground: 500 people could not have had the exact same hallucination, let alone in the same period of time. Still others have claimed that the disciples outright lied about Jesus’ resurrection. But what would they have gained from this? They were a religious minority with no social or political power whatsoever, who were persecuted not only by the Roman authorities (Acts 16:19–24) but also by the leaders and zealous followers of Judaism (Acts 5:17–18). It only makes sense that they would proclaim Jesus’ resurrection, knowing that they would likely be killed for this (Acts 12:1–3), if they had actually seen it for themselves. No one would die for what they know to be a lie.

There are some other important points to consider, too. For example, if the disciples wanted to fabricate the resurrection account, they would have made a man the first eyewitness, since a woman’s testimony in those days was considered inferior to a man’s. Therefore, it is significant that each of the Gospels report that the first one to witness the resurrection was Mary Magdalene. It is also significant that we have instances of people who did not believe in Jesus originally, but who later became believers after seeing Jesus’ resurrection for themselves. James, the Lord Jesus’ half brother, and the Apostle Paul are two examples (1 Corinthians 15:7–8). Therefore, rather than fabricate potential alternatives to the resurrection, it is best to just believe the facts of history and accept that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.

The Implications of Jesus’ Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus has huge implications for everyone in the world. Firstly, it means that Jesus was telling the truth about who he is. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus prophesied that he would suffer at the hands of the chief priests and Roman officials, die by crucifixion, and be raised on the third day (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22–23; 20:18–19; John 12:32–33). Since all of this indeed happened to Jesus, he was a true prophet who can be trusted. Secondly, it means that Jesus is the promised Messiah/Saviour/Redeemer of the Old Testament Scriptures (Job 19:25–27; Isaiah 53:10–11), who atoned (made amends) for humanity’s sins through his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26–27, 45–47). Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled David’s prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection in Psalm 16:10.

Thirdly, since God the Father himself raised Jesus, the Son of God, from the dead (Acts 3:14–15), the resurrection of Jesus acts as God’s stamp of approval on all of Jesus’ teachings and deeds (Romans 1:3–4). Fourthly, the Apostle Paul taught that Jesus died for our trespasses (sins) and was “raised [resurrected] for our justification” so that whoever believes in this will be justified (declared righteous) by God (Romans 4:24–25) and, therefore, saved from sin’s consequences (Romans 5:10–11). Fifthly, it means that Jesus has conquered the power of death once and for all. Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3–11)

Because Jesus conquered sin and death through his death and resurrection, when Christians are united to Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism, they will also conquer sin and death with him in the life to come. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, God will one day raise all people (1 Corinthians 15:20–23). However, those who believe in Christ as their crucified and risen Saviour will not go to the resurrection of judgement; instead, they will go to the resurrection of life (John 5:28–29). Jesus promised his followers: “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). The Apostle Paul boldly declared that if Jesus were not raised, then we would still be in our sins and our faith would be futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is not some idle matter; it has eternal consequences. Thanks be to God that Jesus is indeed risen and that the Holy Spirit inspired the faithful authors of the New Testament to accurately record how and why his resurrection took place (2 Peter 1:20–21).

For more Bible-based information on Christianity, please see the articles below: