To start your Easter celebration, a few quick reminders of the historicity of the Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead. It is a fact.
However, the Christian view of the resurrection, absolutely unprecedented in history, sprang up full-blown immediately after the death of Jesus. There was no process or development. His followers said that their beliefs did not come from debating and discussing. They were just telling others what they had seen themselves. No one has come up with any plausible alternative to this claim. Even if you propose the highly unlikely idea that one or two of Jesus' disciples did get the idea that he was raised from the dead on their own, they would never have gotten a movement of other Jews to believe it unless their were multiple, inexplicable, plausible, repeated encounters with Jesus.
The subsequent history of the church gets even more difficult to account for. How could a group of first-century Jews have come to worship a human being as divine? Eastern religions believe that God is an impersonal force that permeates all things. Therefore they can accept the idea that some human beings have more divine consciousness than others. Western religions believed that the various gods often took human guise. It was possible, therefore, that some human figure could really be Zeus or Hermes. Jews, however, believed in a single, transcendent, personal God. It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshipped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognized to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion. What enormous event broke through all of that Jewish resistance? If they had seen him resurrected, that would account for it. What other historical answer can do so?There is one more thing to keep in mind. As Pascal put it, "I [believe] those witnesses that get their throats cut." Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax.It is not enough for the skeptic, then, to simply dismiss the Christian teaching about the resurrection of Jesus by saying, "It just couldn't have happened." He or she must face and answer all these historical questions: Why did Christianity emerge so rapidly, with such power? No other band of messianic followers in that era con concluded their leader was raised from the dead - why did this group do so? No group of Jews ever worshipped a human being as God. What led them to do it? Jews did not believe in divine men or individual resurrections. What changed their worldview virtually overnight? How do you account for the hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection who lived on for decades and publicly maintain their testimony, eventually giving their lives for their belief?
- Tim Keller from "A Reason For God", Chapter 13, The Reality of the Resurrection
The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the meetings or sightings of the risen Jesus...Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion experience would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and enter into a fantasy world of our own.Resources:
- N.T. Wright
The opening remarks of Dr. William Lane Craig on the Case for the Resurrection:
Further reading from Dr. Craig: Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by William Lane Craig
More thoughts from New Testament Scholar, N.T. Wright
HE IS RISEN INDEED! That changes everything. That makes all things new.