by Greg Williamson (c) revised 2009

The Power of God
The Forecasts
A Fundamental Fact
Chronology of Events
A Bodily Resurrection
Christ's Tomb Is No Relic
Inadequate Theories
You Cannot Stop A Real Resurrection
Meaning and Significance
The Living One

Henry Morris once referred to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as "the crowning proof of Christianity." If it did not actually take place, he said, then the Christian faith is a lie. On the other hand, if the resurrection really did happen, then it offers irrefutable evidence for the deity of Christ and the truth of the Christian religion. [ref] For the past two-thousand years, supporters and skeptics alike have echoed that same sentiment. But why? What is so all-important about the resurrection of Jesus? Can we even know for certain it actually happened? And even if we can, what possible difference can it make for us today?


In the New Testament, the word "resurrection" is derived from the Greek (anistemi) literally meaning to stand or rise up. [ref] Within the context of physiological processes and states, "resurrection" means "to come back to life after having once died." [ref] The Bible uses the word "resurrection" to describe three different events: 1) the miracle of a dead person being brought back to life, 2) the resurrection of Jesus Christ (most often), and 3) the raising of every person at the end of time for the final judgment. [ref] While both the Old and New Testaments include examples of dead people being brought back to life, these are more correctly categorized as resuscitations, since those who were raised to life eventually died again. As with most biblical teaching, the idea of resurrection developed over time. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the idea of resurrection was well defined. Jesus himself raised to life no less than three people: Jairus's daughter, the widow's son, and Lazarus. These, in turn, can be seen both as a preview of Jesus' own resurrection and as proof positive of his power over death. [ref]

L. L. Morris points out the fact that the people living during Jesus' day were not unfamiliar with the concept of resurrection. Popular understanding, however, centered on myths connected with the changing seasons and particularly the annual "miracle" of spring. By contrast, the Gospels depict a real person who really died and really rose to life again. The Christian understanding of resurrection stands in contrast to that of both the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks esteemed the soul and disparaged the body, looking forward to the time when the soul would no longer be encumbered with a physical body. On the other hand, the Jews believed in a bodily resurrection, but they thought it would be the exact same body. Only in the Christian understanding of resurrection do we find the idea of a real body that will be transformed in order to be made fit for eternity (see 1 Corinthians 15:42 ff). [ref]


The Power of God
The power behind [Jesus' resurrection] was the power of God. Indeed, the resurrection of Christ is viewed as the supreme display of divine power. It is the act by which the ceaseless round of death and corruption in human life has been checked. God has provided a way out of death into life, by raising his own Son from death to life. The resurrection is essentially part of God's plan for the redemption of mankind. [ref]


Jesus Christ was (and is) God's promised Deliverer who came to show first Israel and then the whole world the one and only way to God. His resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament: "For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave" (Psalms 16:10). As recorded in Matthew's gospel, Jesus himself made a number of predictions regarding his own resurrection:

  • "'For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights." (Matthew 12:40)

  • "From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead." (Matthew 16:21)

  • "As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, 'Don't tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.'" (Matthew 17:9)

  • "After they gathered again in Galilee, Jesus told them, 'The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.'" (Matthew 17:22-23)

  • "'Listen,' he said, 'we're going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.'" (Matthew 20:18-19)

Having become familiar with these verses, it is all too easy for us to overlook what an incredible thing Jesus did in predicting his own resurrection. As Wilbur Smith has observed, when Jesus made the extraordinary claim that he himself would rise bodily from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, he did something never done by any other religious leader before or since. Jesus could have and would have made such a claim only if he were absolutely certain it would happen. [ref]

We might pause to note that when Jesus predicted he would rise from the dead "on the third day" or "three days later," apparently he was employing a Jewish figure of speech indicating a period of time covering three days but not necessarily three entire days (72 hours). [ref] Jesus was put to death on a Friday and was raised back to life on a Sunday -- a span of three days.

Jesus also affirmed a general, future resurrection of all people in which we will receive either reward or punishment: "'Don't be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment'" (John 5:28, 29). Moreover, Jesus claimed that he himself is the embodiment of the new and eternal life that even now becomes the possession of those who place their faith in him: "Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. ... '" (John 11:25, 26). [ref] (see Jesus: The Resurrection and the Life)


A Fundamental Fact
The resurrection of Jesus, with its completion in the ascension, setting the seal of the Father's acceptance on His finished work on earth, and marking the decisive change from His state of humiliation to that of exaltation, may be called in a true sense the corner stone of Christianity (compare 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). It was on the preaching of Christ crucified and risen that the Christian church was founded (e.g. Acts 2:32-36; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

The modern spirit rules it out a priori as miraculous. The historical fact is denied, and innumerable theories (imposture, theories of swoon, of hallucination, mythical theories, spiritualistic theories, etc.) are invented to explain the belief. None of these theories can stand calm examination. The objections are but small dust of the balance compared with the strength of the evidence for the fact.

From the standpoint of faith, the resurrection of Jesus is the most credible of events. If Jesus was indeed such an One as the gospel history declares Him to be, it was impossible that death should hold Him (Acts 2:24). The resurrection, in turn, confirms His claim to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). [ref]


Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday. Two of his secret admirers/followers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, laid him to rest in a cave-tomb. Some women disciples witnessed both the crucifixion and the burial, and they returned to Jesus' grave early on Sunday morning. Then followed a series of incredible events. While it is impossible to be absolutely certain regarding the order of the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection, viable outlines have been offered. [ref] What is more, variations in the individual Gospel accounts were noticed and commented on as early as the second century AD. The fact that the original writings -- difficulties and all -- have survived intact testifies to the fact that they were accepted as God-inspired truth. [ref]

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the disciples when the women first informed them that Jesus' grave was empty. Depressed, discouraged, and filled with disbelief, they must have thought the women were crazy. And so Peter and John were sent to investigate. They found the empty tomb, but where was Jesus? [ref] As presented in the Gospels, the most poignant image of Jesus' resurrection was the stone rolled away from the tomb's entrance  (see Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1), a discovery that was followed in quick succession by wonder, fear, amazement, understanding, belief, and worship. [ref]


Among today's evangelical Christians there is quite a bit of emphasis placed on the empty tomb, particularly at Easter time. And rightly so, since the empty tomb bore (and bears) silent testimony to Jesus' resurrection. As important as the empty tomb was (and is), however, in and of itself it is not the reason we believe in the bodily resurrection of our Lord. Rather, the supreme evidence of Jesus' resurrection is the eyewitness testimony regarding his post-crucifixion physical interaction with many people in many and various settings in which he was seen, heard, and touched. [ref] [ref] Jesus' resurrection body was real -- albeit one with new "spiritual qualities." [ref] It is Jesus' real post-crucifixion appearances in his real body -- and not merely the empty tomb -- that offer indisputable proof that the same Jesus who had died and was buried returned to life. This is further attested to by the fact that, in spite of the pivotal importance the apostle Paul attaches to Jesus' resurrection, he fails to explicitly mention the empty tomb. [ref] [ref]


Christ's Tomb Is No Relic
If ye seek Jesus, do not go to His grave. You will not find Him there.

Is it not quite striking that after the disciples were convinced that He had risen they never again visited His tomb? At least there is no record of it. Why should they? It was only an incident, a temporary halting place in the experience of our Lord. They did not make pilgrimages to it. They did not esteem it above any other place. They did not bury it beneath tokens of affection. They did not break off pieces of the rock and keep them as relics for seeking souls to look at in the hope of meriting divine favor.

No, after that first Sunday evening, the disciples were done with the tomb. Why should they give their time to the veneration of places, when they had the living Savior with them? To us, Christ is all and in all. He is alive, and He has power to give life. Not by meat and drink, not by pilgrimages and fastings, but by looking unto Him do we enter into life that death cannot touch. [ref]


Like other historical happenings in general and miracles in particular, the resurrection of Jesus was a one-time-only event. As such, it is not subject to the standard scientific method of inductive reasoning based on repeated observation. Proof for the resurrection depends, rather, on a combination of eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence. Since the very beginning of the Christian faith, there have been those who have sought to undermine or disprove the historicity of the resurrection. In his The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell catalogues four such efforts, along with refutations (here summarized/ paraphrased):

1. The Swoon Theory
Claim: Jesus did not really die on the cross. He fainted, was placed in the cave-tomb alive, woke up, and walked out.

Refutation: There were a number of eyewitnesses to Jesus' death, including the soldiers (professional killers), and Joseph and Nicodemus (who embalmed Jesus' lifeless body). In addition, it is impossible to think that Jesus could have survived the flogging, the crucifixion, and several hours in a tomb, and then rolled away the stone covering the entrance (and that without disturbing the Roman guards), and appeared before his followers in such a way as to convince them that he had conquered death.

2. The Theft Theory
Claim: Jesus was killed and buried. During the night his disciples (or someone else) stole his body from the tomb.

Refutation: This theory is disproved by any number of facts:

  • Jesus' enemies had no reason to steal his body, and his followers had no power to do so.
  • The guards' testimony regarding the empty tomb was accepted by the Jewish authorities as true and accurate.
  • The guards would never have fallen asleep during their watch over the tomb, since doing so would have meant sure death.
  • The grave clothes were left neat and tidy -- something no grave robbers would have taken the time to do.
  • If the Jewish authorities had given an order to remove Jesus' body from the tomb, then why didn't they produce the body when his followers began (in their view) making a real nuisance of themselves by proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead? To do so, notes Josh McDowell, would have been to kill Christianity "not in the cradle but in the womb."

3. The Hallucination Theory
Claim: Every person who claimed to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion was hallucinating.

Refutation: Hallucinations require certain conditions and follow certain patterns. People must be emotionally preconditioned to accept the unlikely or impossible. And hallucinations happen to individuals, not to groups. However, Jesus' followers accepted his death as real and permanent -- even to the point of returning to their previous occupations. And when Jesus did appear, he did so to groups of people over a lengthy period of time.

4. The Wrong Tomb Theory
Claim: The women who went to Jesus' tomb early Sunday morning went to the wrong one. The area of Jerusalem is filled with rock tombs, after all, and so it would be easy to mistake one for another.

Refutation: If the women had indeed gone to the wrong tomb, then the Jewish authorities could have gone to the right one, produced the dead body of Jesus, and proved the resurrection was a hoax. Notice, too, that the women were not overcome with remorse but, rather, were calm and composed as they sought to complete the embalming process.

G. R. Habermas has pointed out that even the most ardently critical scholars readily affirm five key facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus:

  1. Jesus was put to death by crucifixion.
  2. The disciples were severely distraught as a result of Jesus' death.
  3. They truly believed they saw, heard, and touched the risen Jesus.
  4. Their attitudes and actions changed radically as a result.
  5. The apostle Paul had a similar experience. [ref] (paraphrased)

You Cannot Stop A Real Resurrection
The chief priests and the Pharisees were determined that Jesus was going to stay in his grave. They used every resource and power available to see to that. They secured the tomb by placing a seal on the great stone that had been rolled in front of it to close the entrance (Matthew 27:66). They also posted guards at the entrance of the tomb. These were not the spekoulator who were bodyguards or executioners (Mark 6:27), nor the phulax who were keepers (Acts 5:23), but the elite koustodia who were the Roman army's special forces. 

In spite of all their human efforts, the Jewish leaders were unable to prevent Jesus from accomplishing what had already been determined and promised: "After three days I will rise again" (Matthew 27:63). These carnal-minded, religious leaders did not know that NOTHING in the physical realm has the ability to hinder the divine will from accomplishing its purpose. YOU CANNOT STOP A REAL RESURRECTION. [ref]  


It has been observed that while in one respect the fact of the resurrection is an historical issue, its meaning and significance are profoundly theological. [ref] Of the NT's twenty-seven books, the resurrection is explicitly mentioned in seventeen, and is implied in most of the remaining ten. It is found in almost all of Paul's letters where, among other things, the apostle to the Gentiles:

  • equates its acceptance with salvation
  • shows its close connection to his own Gospel ministry
  • links it to justification
  • claims that to know Christ is to know the power of his resurrection
  • and devotes his longest chapter (1 Corinthians 15) to it [ref]

In the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul spells out several logical conclusions if, in fact, there is no such thing as resurrection in general and Jesus' resurrection in particular: [ref]

  • "And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless ... " (1 Corinthians 15:14). That is to say, the Gospel message proclaimed by the apostles and other believers -- the message that formed and continues to form the heart of the Christian faith -- is absolutely useless.

  • "And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless ... " (1 Corinthians 15:17). In which case "we serve a risen Savior" becomes "we follow a dead man."

  • "And we apostles would all be lying about God -- for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can't be true if there is no resurrection of the dead." (1 Corinthians 15:15). Paul and the other early proclaimers of Jesus' resurrection would have been falsely misrepresenting God -- a very serious thing indeed. As Albert Barnes puts it: "Nothing could be regarded as a greater crime than this, whatever might be the immediate subject under consideration. To bear false witness of a man, or to say that a man has done what he has not done, is regarded as a grievous crime. How much more so to bear false testimony of God!" [ref]

  • " ... you are still guilty of your sins ... " (1 Corinthians 15:17). Among other things, Jesus' resurrection was the crowning proof that God had accepted the offer of his life for the sins of the world.

  • "In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!" (1 Corinthians 15:18). Rather than going on to a new and wonderful life with Christ, those who have died as Christians have been "delivered up to eternal misery." [ref]

  • "And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world." (1 Corinthians 15:19). So much for the argument that even if we are wrong it is still better to be a Christian since it leads us to live good, moral lives.

Within the epistles the most common word used for Jesus' resurrection is "raised" which, among other things, emphasizes the fact that the power required to perform the resurrection came from a source outside of Jesus. [ref] What is more, this same resurrection power is promised to all believers: "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you" (Romans 8:11). While every true believer in Jesus Christ can look forward to a new made-fit-for-eternity body compliments of the Holy Spirit, the context of this particular verse -- along with numerous other passages in the NT -- reminds us that the Spirit empowers us for Christ-oriented living right now, a vital aspect of which involves putting to death the deeds of the flesh -- i.e., those attitudes and actions that work against God's plans and purposes. [ref]

Jesus' resurrection anticipates the future bodily resurrection of all his followers. "What type of body will we have?" is a question that has intrigued countless generations of Christians. This is because, quite frankly, Scripture has very little to say on this topic. In the passage that offers the most in-depth exposition of our future, resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:35-49) the apostle Paul refers to it as a "spiritual" body (1 Corinthians 15:44) -- i.e., a real body but one made fully fit for the Sprit, and hence not some sort of bodiless ethereal spirit floating around in Heaven. [ref] [ref] Again, Jesus' personal experience anticipates our own, including the fact that his new, resurrection body was both material and immaterial -- people recognized him; the crucifixion wounds remained; he could eat; he breathed; his body had flesh and bones; and he could walk through doors; he could appear suddenly and then just as quickly disappear; and he did not appear bound by physical needs such as sleeping and eating. [ref] Since Christ is twice referred to as the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5), it is not at all unreasonable to expect that our own resurrection bodies will be very similar to his.


The resurrection of Jesus marked the beginning of a new era in God's dealings with humankind. Jesus' resurrection proved that God had accepted his sacrificial death for the sins of the world. Jesus' resurrection verified the truth of his teachings. And Jesus' resurrection (and return to the Father) paved the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Together these events represent what has been called "the firstfruits of the new age." [ref] Because Jesus rose from the grave, today all who truly follow him have at their disposal the power to live a purpose-filled, satisfying, Christ-centered life and, what is more, will one day be resurrected to rule alongside their Lord and Savior.

"Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is" (1 John 3:2).


The Living One
A Mohammedan and a Christian were discussing their religions and had agreed that both Mohammed and Christ were prophets. Where, then, lay the difference?

The Christian illustrated it this way: "I came to a crossroads and I saw a dead man and a living man. Which one did I ask for directions?" The response came quickly, "The living one, of course." "Why, then," asked his friend, "do you send me to Mohammed who is dead, instead of Christ who is alive?"

This is the basic difference between Christ and every other religious leader. All the others came into the world, lived, and died -- but none of them lived again. The resurrection of Christ was the one event that persuaded His disciples once for all that He was the Christ, God's Son. [ref]


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