If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen – nothing else matters.1 The final aphorism of the late Yale Professor of History, Jaroslav Pelikan (2006), rightly encapsulates the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then the ramifications are enormous: Jesus’ claims to divinity, the content of his teaching and his promise to those who believe in him of one day sharing in his resurrection are verified. If he is not risen, however, then there is little reason to give Jesus or his teaching any serious attention, and for that matter, as Leo Tolstoy noted, little reason to believe that there is
Any meaning in life that the inevitable death awaiting [us] does not destroy.2
Far from a peripheral issue, the resurrection of Jesus stands at the very center of the Christian Gospel. As the Apostle Paul, the most prolific Christian missionary and New Testament writer recognized,
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.3 The entire Christian faith hinges on this question: Did Jesus, after suffering an agonizing and humiliating execution, in fact rise from the dead?
Before proceeding, it is necessary to say something about the burden of proof for such an investigation. Most people assume that it is the responsibility of those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection to provide convincing evidence for its reality. This, however, is not entirely the case. The resurrection of Jesus is a major historical problem, no matter how you look at it. Accordingly, the resurrection puts not only a burden of proof on its believers but on its nonbelievers as well. As Dr. Timothy Keller notes,
It is not enough to simply believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.4 With this in mind, the weighty evidence for the historical veracity of the resurrection and the implausibility of such alternative explanations will be considered in the following discussion.
Was Jesus Really Dead?
Before arguing that Jesus was raised from the dead, it is first necessary to establish that he was in fact dead. Though few scholars accept this theory today, skeptics over the years have proposed that Jesus did not actually die on the cross and that his resurrection was therefore a hoax. This idea can be found in the Koran, written six hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion, which claims that Jesus did not die on the cross,5 and particularly among Ahmadiya Muslims who maintain that Jesus actually fled to India where he is buried today.
In the nineteenth century, German theologians Karl Bahrdt and Karl Venturini put forward their own alternative explanation to the resurrection, the
swoon theory, claiming that Jesus merely fainted on the cross only to be revived later by the cold air of the tomb.6 In popular literature, D.H. Lawrence incorporated the theory into one of his short stories in 1929,7 as did later authors, including Barbara Thiering in her 1992 book Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls.8 Though Emory University scholar Luke Timothy Johnson called it
The purest poppycock, the product of fevered imagination rather than careful analysis,9 the swoon theory retains a following even today.
Accordingly, it is necessary to lay out the arguments that confirm that Jesus died on the cross. Historians unanimously agree that before Jesus went to the cross, he endured an extremely painful Roman flogging. This flogging consisted of thirty-nine lashes with a whip made of leather tongs interlaid with metal balls and pieces of sharp bone. As the third century historian Eusebius described it,
The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.10 While Jesus did not die from this beating, as many did, he certainly lost a tremendous amount of blood thereby going into hypovolemic shock. Without a doubt, Jesus was already in serious to critical condition before he was nailed to the cross.11
Once on the cross, Jesus went through pain so unbearable that a new word had to be invented to describe it – excruciating – meaning
out of the cross. While on the cross, Jesus died a death of asphyxiation leading to cardiac arrest, having run out of energy to push himself up the cross in order to exhale. Yet as already noted, even before he died, Jesus was suffering from hypovolemic shock, resulting in a pericardial effusion (fluid in the membrane around the heart).12 Consequently, when a Roman soldier came by the cross to confirm that Jesus was in fact dead, he thrust a spear into his side through his lung and into his heart, thus causing blood and a clear, water-like fluid to pour out, just as the Gospel writer John described it.13
It is a fanciful impossibility to assume that Jesus wasn’t really dead when he was taken off the cross. Not only did he suffer severe blood loss before his crucifixion, but during the crucifixion itself he could not have faked the inability to breathe, and the spear through the heart would have left no doubt as to his vitality. After all, Roman executioners were expert killers. If a victim somehow escaped, the soldiers themselves would be put to death, thus giving them great incentive to make sure their victim was positively dead when removed from the cross.14
Yet even if Jesus somehow survived the cross and was able to roll the huge stone away from his tomb, in what sort of condition would he have been? As German theologian David Strauss argued in 1835, it is preposterous to think that Jesus’ disciples, seeing him in such a condition, would declare him a victorious conqueror over death and
Start a worldwide movement on the hope that someday they might have a resurrection body like his.15 As Dr. William D. Edwards concluded in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association,
Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted … Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.16 The
swoon theory is not a plausible alternative to the reality of the resurrection.
Was Jesus’ Tomb Really Empty?
Assuming that Jesus did in fact die on the cross, the question about what happened to his body naturally follows. Was Jesus’ body really absent from his tomb? Through excavations of first-century tomb sites, archaeologists have been able to ascertain the security of Jesus’ tomb. A narrow ramp would have led to a low entrance, and a large stone weighing nearly two tons would then be rolled down this ramp and sealed in place across the door. While it would not have been difficult to put the stone into place, it would have required the strength of multiple men to push the stone back up the ramp. In other words, the entrance was quite secure.17 Yet as the earliest Christians proclaimed, on Easter Morning, the tomb was empty! And the tomb site was known to Christian and Jew alike. If the grave had not been empty, it would have been impossible for a movement based on the Resurrection to have come into existence. Skeptics could have easily quelled the movement by producing Jesus’ rotted corpse. Yet even the earliest Jewish polemic against Jesus presupposes that the tomb was indeed empty. No one claimed that the tomb contained Jesus’ body. The question rather, was,
What happened to the body? The Jews proposed that the Roman guards appointed to guard the tomb had fallen asleep and that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body. They, never denied, however, that the tomb was empty.18
Resurrection scholar Dr. William Lane Craig declares,
The idea that the empty tomb is the result of some hoax, conspiracy, or theft is simply dismissed.19 Jesus’ disciples had no motive to steal his body and then later suffer persecution and die for a lie. What skeptics assert today is that the empty tomb was a later legend and by the time it developed in the writing of the Gospels, people were unable to disprove it because the location of the tomb had been forgotten. This alternative explanation, fails, however, on many levels. First of all, the empty tomb is attested in very early sources. Well before the Gospels were written, the empty tomb is a given in the early Christian tradition passed on by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15,20 which many scholars consider to be a creed dating to within two years of the death of Jesus. Moreover, the notion of the empty tomb is at the center of the early preaching of Jesus’ disciples, just weeks after his alleged resurrection. In Acts 2:24, speaking in Jerusalem to a crowd of over three thousand Jews, Jesus’ disciple Peter contrasts Israel’s famed patriarch King David, who
Died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day with Jesus of whom he says he Was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.21 The notion of the empty tomb did not arise through later mythologizing. As A.N. Sherwin-White, the Greco-Roman classical historian from Oxford University noted, it would have been without precedent anywhere in history for legendary distortion to emerge that quickly.22
Furthermore, the unanimous accounts of the first witnesses of the empty tomb are too problematic to be legendary. All four Gospels assert that the first witnesses of the empty tomb were women. In first century Palestine, the testimony of women was considered to be of no value, such that they were not even allowed to testify in a Jewish court of law. Accordingly, it is shocking that the primary witnesses of the empty tomb recorded in the Gospels were women who were friends of Jesus. A later legendary account would almost certainly have had male disciples of Jesus, like Peter or John, discover the tomb. As resurrection historian Dr. N.T. Wright notes, there must have been enormous pressure on the early church to remove the women from the accounts.23 The only plausible way to explain the fact that women were recorded as the first witnesses of the empty tomb is if indeed they were. Accordingly, after spending a lifetime sifting through the evidence, Sir Norman Anderson, one of the greatest legal minds of all time, who lectured at Princeton, was offered professorship for life at Harvard and served as Dean of the Faculty of Laws at the University of London concluded,
The empty tomb, then, forms a veritable rock on which all rationalistic theories of the resurrection dash themselves in vain.24
Were There Any Sightings of the Resurrected Jesus?
Though a key argument for the reality of the resurrection, an empty tomb alone does not prove a resurrection. History contains many missing bodies but few claims of those bodies being resurrected to walk the earth again. If Jesus was indeed resurrected, were there any sightings of him after his alleged resurrection? According to the New Testament documents, the answer is a resounding yes. Though some scholars have sought to discount these appearances as legendary or hallucinations, in light of the historical evidence, such alternative explanations are not easily sustained.
The earliest accounts of eyewitnesses to the resurrection come not from the Gospels but from the letters of the apostle Paul written fifteen to twenty years after the death of Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth he recounts what many scholars consider to be an early church creed. Even the eminent theologically liberal scholar Joachim Jeremias called it
the earliest tradition of all as did the German theologian Ulrich Wilkens, who stated that it
indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.25 Unable to be the product of legend, the creed affirms that eyewitness testimony regarding the resurrection was at the center of Christianity from the time of its inception. The creed that Paul recounts to the Corinthians reads:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have died.26
As stated in the creed, Jesus did not just appear to a few individuals but even to a group as large as five hundred people at once, most of whom Paul says are alive and can therefore be consulted to confirm the truth of the testimony. Like all of Paul’s letters, his letter to the Corinthians was a public letter intended to be read aloud to a large group of people. Paul was inviting skeptics to verify the truth of his claims themselves, to go and talk with the eyewitnesses who were still living. In light of the pax Romana (Roman peace), which allowed for safe and easy travel in the Mediterranean, his listeners could easily have taken up his challenge. If the witnesses did not exist, Paul could not have issued such a challenge.27
In addition to the testimony from the early church creed, the Gospels report appearances to a large sum of different people in different settings: some individually, some in groups, some outdoors, some indoors, some to softhearted people like John and some to doubting skeptics like Thomas. Many of the people ate with Jesus and touched Jesus, showing that he was physically present. The appearances were not a one-day phenomenon, but occurred over several weeks. The appearances include:
- to Mary Magdalene, in John 20:10-18
- to the other women, in Matthew 28:8-10
- to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24:13-32
- to eleven disciples and others, in Luke 24:33-49
- to ten apostles and others, with Thomas absent, in John 20:19-23
- to Thomas and the other apostles, in John 20:26-30
- to seven apostles in John 21:1-14
- to the disciples, in Matthew 28:16-20
- with the apostles at the Mount of Olives before his ascension, in Luke 24:50-52.28
This is an impressive list of sightings to witnesses who were still alive to be questioned. The resurrection, which was the central proclamation of the early church, was not based on the sightings of one or two people who had seen a fleeting shadowy figure. Rather, there were multiple appearances to many different people. Sir Edward Clark, a British High Court judge, after conducting a thorough analysis of the legal evidence for the resurrection declared:
To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. As a lawyer I accept the gospel evidence unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts that they were able to substantiate.29
Some have sought to explain away the resurrection appearances as hallucinations. This theory, however, is very problematic. Psychologist Dr. Gary Collins points out that hallucinations are individual occurrences. They do not appear to groups of people. They are subjective, personal and private.30 Yet there are multiple accounts of Jesus appearing to multitudes of people who reported the same thing. Additionally, the disciples were not in a state of mind to trigger hallucinations. They were afraid, doubting and in despair after Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet people who hallucinate need a fertile mind full of expectancy and anticipation. Further, hallucinations are rare. They are usually caused by drugs or sleep deprivation. Accordingly, it seems highly implausible that over the course of several weeks people coming from vastly different backgrounds, with different temperaments, in different places, all experienced hallucinations.31
Most significantly, as N.T. Wright argues, the eyewitness accounts and the empty tomb must be taken together. That is, if there was only an empty tomb and no sightings, no one would have concluded that Jesus had been resurrected; the body may have just been stolen. Or if there were only eyewitnesses and no empty tomb, no one would have concluded that Jesus had been resurrected either; people claim to have seen departed loved ones all the time. The two factors must have occurred in tandem for anyone to have concluded that Jesus was actually raised from the dead.32 The historical evidence speaks clearly: The accounts of the resurrection were not invented after the fact. As the theologian and historian Carl Braaten noted:
Even the more skeptical historians agree that for primitive Christianity...the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a real event in history, the very foundation of faith, and not a mythical idea arising out of the creative imagination of believers.33 The tomb of Jesus really was empty and there really were hundreds of witnesses who claimed that they had seen Jesus bodily raised.
Did Ancient People Believe in the Possibility of an Individual Bodily Resurrection?
Though powerful corroboration to the claims of the early church, an empty tomb and resurrection witnesses do not alone prove that Jesus was resurrected. Could not the followers of Jesus have desperately wanted to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Perhaps someone stole the body to make it look like he was raised, some sincerely thought they saw him, and others bought into the idea in a sort of
groupthink manner. After all, as the skeptic Michael Martin notes,
A person full of religious zeal may see what he or she wants to see, not what is really there.34
The problem with this theory, however, is that it employs what C.S. Lewis called
chronological snobbery.35 That is, it assumes that we superior moderns are skeptical about claims of a bodily resurrection from the dead, while the ancients, credulous and gullible people that they were, readily believed in accounts of the supernatural. This hypothesis is patently false. People in the first century did not believe in individuals coming back from the dead either! The notion of an individual bodily resurrection from the dead was absent from all the dominant worldviews of the time, rendering such a claim inconceivable.36
In his landmark treatise The Resurrection of the Son of God, resurrection scholar N.T. Wright thoroughly examines the non-Jewish thought of the first-century Mediterranean world, both in the east and the west, and demonstrates that the people of that time did not believe in even the possibility of a bodily resurrection. To the Greco-Roman mindset, the soul or the spiritual realm was good and the physical or material world was weak and corrupted. In death, the soul was saved from the defiled physical world as it was liberated from the body. Based on this view of the world, a bodily resurrection from the dead would not only be impossible but intensely undesirable. Why would a soul, having been freed from its body, want to be imprisoned again? Such a return would be unthinkable and impossible. Even in a reincarnation system, it was understood that when a soul returned to embodied life it was still in prison. The ultimate goal was to be eternally free from the body.37 When the apostle Paul went to the Areopagus in Athens to preach about Jesus, those in the crowd were initially interested. But when they realized that he was talking about an individual being bodily resurrected from the dead, many mocked him and considered his testimony to be absolutely ridiculous!38 Within the Greco-Roman worldview, a bodily resurrection was simply inconceivable.
The notion of an individual bodily resurrection from the dead was just as inconceivable to Jewish thought. Unlike the Greeks, the Jews believed that the material world was good. Thus death was not a form of liberation but a tragedy. Many of the Jews of Jesus’ time believed that at the end of time all of the righteous would be resurrected from the dead when God renewed the entire world and put an end to death and suffering.39 This resurrection, however, was only a part of the comprehensive renewal of the physical world. Thus the notion of an individual being bodily resurrected from the dead in the middle of history, while the rest of the world still suffered from death and sickness and decay would have been unfathomable. If one were to posit to a Jewish person at that time that an individual had been resurrected from the dead, he would be disregarded as foolish or possibly crazy. Did justice and peace reign? Was suffering no more? Had the wolf lain down with the lamb? Were disease and death abolished? Without an accompanying complete renewal of the physical world, an individual resurrection would be ridiculous. To both Jew and Greek the idea of an individual bodily resurrection from the dead would have been deemed impossible.40
In light of this reality, both the hallucination and conspiracy theories fail to convince, for both hypotheses assume that the very idea of a resurrection from the dead was imaginable for Jesus’ Jewish followers. To suggest that Jesus’ followers simply wanted to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and thus had hallucinations of him appearing and talking to them, presupposes that resurrection from the dead was an option in the worldview of Jesus’ disciples, which it was not. Likewise, to suggest that Jesus’ followers stole the body from the tomb and then went about claiming that he was alive, presupposes that other Jews would have been receptive to the idea that an individual could be raised from the dead, which they were not. Though for different reasons, people of Jesus’ day were just as skeptical about a bodily resurrection from the dead as people are today.41
In the first-century Jewish world there were many people who claimed to be the Messiah, started a movement and were executed thereafter. But as N.T. Wright points out:
In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better. Resurrection was not a private event. Jewish revolutionaries whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest themselves, had two options: give up the revolution or find another leader. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless of course he was.42Though Jesus’ life and career met the same brutal end as the lives and careers of many others who claimed to be the Messiah, his disciples did not view his crucifixion as a defeat but rather as a victory. What possible justification could they have had for this conclusion, unless of course, they had in fact seen Jesus risen from the dead?
Is There Any Supporting Evidence for the Resurrection?
Without a doubt, the direct evidence for the resurrection of Jesus including the certainty of his death, the empty tomb and numerous eyewitness encounters strongly suggest that Jesus was raised from the dead. But if something as extraordinary as the resurrection of Jesus actually took place, then it would be reasonable to assume that the historical record would also be full of indirect evidence supporting the reality of the event. In the case of the resurrection, one should consider at least five undisputed pieces of indirect evidence, which taken individually, and certainly collectively, imply that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead.
First, as already mentioned, after the death of Jesus there was a sudden emergence of a worldview centered around the resurrection of the body, first Jesus’ and later the resurrection of those who believed in him. This unique system of belief did not emerge over a period of time or through discussion and argument, as is typically the case when cultures and worldviews change. It did not arise through process or development. Jesus’ disciples were simply proclaiming what they themselves had witnessed.43 Only a series of multiple, credible and inexplicable encounters with Jesus could convince a movement of other Jews, to whom an individual bodily resurrection from the dead was unthinkable, to believe in the risen Christ.
Second, not only were over ten thousand Jews following the allegedly resurrected Jesus within five weeks of his crucifixion, but they were also worshipping him as God.44 For Eastern religions, which believe in an impersonal God that is present in all things, it is not difficult to accept the idea that certain humans might have more divine consciousness than others. Western religions of the first-century believed that the gods often took on human appearance, so that a human stranger might in fact be Zeus or Hermes. Yet Jews were different. They confessed a single, transcendent, personal God. It was the epitome of blasphemy, the height of heresy, to worship a human being as God.45 What event could have been so significant as to overcome this ingrained system of belief? Eyewitness encounters with the resurrected Christ.
Third, there were hardened skeptics who did not believe in Jesus prior to his crucifixion but thereafter turned around completely and believed in the Christian faith after Jesus’ death. James, the brother of Jesus, was embarrassed by and did not believe in Jesus during his ministry. Yet the later historian Josephus writes that James became a leader of the Jerusalem church and was stoned to death for his belief in Jesus.46 Why such a turnaround? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the resurrected Jesus appeared to James. Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul) was a leading Pharisee who opposed anything that jeopardized the traditions of the Jewish people. To him, Christianity was the epitome of disobedience to God, thus spurring him to lead the movement to arrest and execute members of the early Church. Yet suddenly he made a 180-degree turn and joined the very Christians he sought to eradicate. He became the leading advocate of the Christian faith preaching throughout the Mediterranean world despite suffering great persecution and ultimately execution for his faith. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that this turnaround was prompted when he saw the risen Christ and was appointed by Christ to be one of his followers.47 The only reasonable explanation for these dramatic turnarounds is if Jesus was in fact raised from the dead.
Fourth, the rapid emergence of the Church and the cultural shift that it brought about requires an explanatory event. Within only twenty years after the death of Jesus, Christianity had spread so quickly that it had even reached the imperial palace in Rome, ultimately prevailing over competing ideologies and eventually overwhelming the Roman Empire. From a human perspective, Christianity had little probability of success. It was a group of people from an obscure part of the Empire, without significant money, power or influence, proclaiming a message about a crucified carpenter who had been resurrected from the dead.48 As the Cambridge New Testament scholar C.F.D. Moule wrote,
If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes [Christians], a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?49
Fifth and finally, the lives of the disciples were transformed such that they were willing to die for their conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead. After the crucifixion of Jesus, his followers were disheartened and depressed. The one who they had believed to be the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, had died in the most dishonorable way possible, crucifixion. They scattered and fell away, but within weeks they were leaving their jobs, gathering together and committing themselves to proclaiming the Gospel that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God, who died on a cross to pay the penalty for sin and then was raised to life seen alive by them. From an earthly perspective, they had little to gain in return. They were often hungry, ridiculed, beaten and imprisoned. Ultimately, most of them were brutally executed in torturous ways. Why were they willing to proclaim this Gospel to their death? Because they were absolutely convinced that they had seen the resurrected Christ.
Some might at this point argue that willingness to die for beliefs does not prove veracity but rather fanaticism. Yet the disciples were willing to die for something that they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands. Though they had nothing to gain and everything to lose, they proclaimed not just what they believed but that which they knew, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe them to be true, but they will not die for their religious beliefs if they know them to be false.50 As scientist Blaise Pascal put it,
I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.51
It is insufficient for the skeptic to simply disregard the resurrection of Jesus as something that couldn’t happen. Rather, the skeptic must confront and explain these historical realities. Why did thousands of people suddenly come to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, even though no existing worldview supported the idea of an individual resurrection from the dead and no other group of messianic disciples claimed that their leader was raised from the dead? Why were thousands of Jews willing to worship a human being as God? What can account for the conversion of ardent skeptics like James and Saul? What can explain the phenomenon of the rapid emergence of the Church? And how can one account for the hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection who were so convinced of what they had seen that they spent the rest of their lives proclaiming the message, ultimately facing execution for their beliefs? No explanation fits the historical evidence better than the resurrection. Sir Lionel Luckhoo, who holds a place in The Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most successful lawyer, was twice knighted by Queen Elizabeth and served as a British justice and a diplomat, came to the same conclusion. After assessing the historical evidence for the resurrection for many years he finally declared,
I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.52
The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is compelling. Alternative explanations directly oppose all that is known about first-century history and culture. Yet many people, unwilling to engage with the historical evidence and follow it to its logical conclusion, side step the investigation in deference to a prior commitment to the philosophical claim that miracles are impossible.
It just couldn’t happen! N.T. Wright strongly warns against such a maneuver:
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.53
Granted, accepting the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not an insignificant step for the modern skeptical mind to take. But as Wright points out, it was not an easy step for the people of the first century either. To them, it was just as unfathomable. They only came to accept it as they allowed the evidence to confront and reshape their understanding of the world, their conception of what was possible. The evidence of the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts and the dramatically changed lives of Jesus’ disciples were too much to ignore. Thus those first converts concluded that Jesus really had been resurrected from the dead, and thus truly was the Son of God, deserving of their trust and obedience. As the apostle John, himself an eyewitness to the resurrection wrote,
To all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.54 These early converts received the forgiveness of what Jesus had already done for them, paying the death penalty on the cross that they deserved for their rebellion and wrongdoing. What’s more, they received the free gift of eternal life in relationship with the God who made them. Though their conversion often brought about suffering and persecution, they lived with the firm hope that death would not have the last word, or as Leo Tolstoy feared, destroy all of the meaning we assign to this life. As Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, so too would they who trusted in him share in his resurrection and live again, this time eternally with God. For as Jesus himself declared,
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.55