This is one of the outstanding claims for Christianity. Paul told his readers about the cruciality of Christ resurrection. According to Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, “The existential consequence of the resurrection are incomparable… The greatest importance of the resurrection is not in the past-‘Christ rose’-but in the present-‘Christ risen.” However, Rudolf Bultmann had never been believed it and audaciously insisted that neither can someone discover the historical Jesus, nor could historically prove that he was the risen Son of God. He was once also said that “if the bones of the dead Jesus were discovered tomorrow in a Palestinian tomb, all the essential of Christianity would remain unchanged”. This counter-argument against Christ’s resurrection, and Christianity as a whole is still an issue in today’s postmodern word.
Nevertheless, there are some reliable historical evidences that Christ raised from the dead. Apologist William Lane Craig gives at least three arguments from the Scripture that the resurrection of Jesus is historical and reliable, namely: the historical event of Jesus burial, the tomb, where Jesus body laid, was emptied, the post appearance of Jesus, and the origin of believers’ faith.
I. The historical event of Jesus burial
First, we must consider the historical event of Jesus’ burial. It is because of the fact that the burial event is supporting the empty tomb as Craig wrote that “the Historical reliability of the story of Jesus’ burial supports the empty tomb. Apostle Paul said, “He (Jesus) was buried…” (1 Cor. 15:4 ESV). This claim also was supported by the historical men and women both followers and non-followers of Jesus who did witness the burial event.
Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate
The four gospel is telling the readers about the event of the burials and the persons involved in it. One of them is the man named Joseph of Arimathea. The book of Mark said that this man was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate to asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 16: 43 ESV) and not only he took the body, but also he laid Jesus body to the unoccupied catacomb, and covered it with a large rolling stone (Mark 16:46 ESV). In addition to that, the two Mary’s saw where the body of Jesus laid (Mark 16: 47 ESV). Another man to consider is Pontius Pilate. Pilate was also a respected ruler both by the Romans and Jews. In addition to that Pilate and Jesus was also mentioned by a Jewish historian Josephus. He said Jesus was condemned by Pilate to be crucified and die (Maier 1988, 264). The involvement of Joseph and Pilate supports the burial event.
The reactions of Pharisees
Another historical figure that backing the reliability of Jesus burial were the chief priest and the Pharisees. Mathew wrote about the hysteric reactions of the chief priests and Pharisees. He recorded that they are urging Pilate to guard the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid (Mat. 27:62-64 ESV). And later on, when the soldiers witnessed the coming of the angels (Mat. 28: 4 ESV), the chief priests and the Pharisees bribed the soldiers to twist the truth (Mt. 28: 13 ESV). This events imply that the burial event and Jesus tomb were historically and reliably existed. Thus, the words of Apostle Paul “he (Jesus) was buried, and he was raised” (1 Cor. 15:4 ESV) is historically justifiable and true. It is because, as Craig commented, “if the burial story is basically accurate, then the location of Jesus’ tomb was known in Jerusalem to both Jew and Christian alike, since both where present in the tomb”.
II. The Empty Tomb
Second, the tomb where Jesus body laid was emptied. The empty tomb is one of the vital proof about Jesus’ resurrection. Mark tells the readers that the two Marys and Salome went to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away, and they enter the tomb and was told by an angel that Jesus was not in the tomb. (Mark 16: 1-8 ESV).
The women’s testimonies
In the account of Mathew, he described what had happened. The women experienced a great earthquake before they reached the tomb, and were told by the angel to tell the apostles that Jesus raised from the dead. (Mat. 28: 1-10 ESV). Josh McDowell said that “according to Jewish principle of legal evidence women are invalid witnesses. They did not have the right to give testimony in a court of law” (Wilson 1990, 237). However, the Scripture considered the women’s testimonies who were the first followers and saw Jesus empty tomb. Dr. Maier observed “‘… Again, if the resurrection account had been manufactured… women would never have been included in the story, at least, not as first witnessed’”. Thus, the report of the women, who were consider invalid witnesses proves the reliability of Christ empty tomb.
The Roman guards’ testimonies.
Another historical witnesses to consider about Jesus empty tomb are the soldiers who guard the tomb (Mat. 28: 4 ESV). In this verse, Mathew vividly portrayed the frightening of the soldiers when they saw the angel of the Lord came to roll the stone. Mathew described “And fear of him the guards trembled and became like a dead men” (Mat. 28:4 ESV). McDowell said “if the tomb had not been emptied the soldiers never would have left their position, nor would they have gone to the priest”. So the report of the Roman guards to the priest and the reaction and bribery act of the priests, who were hostile to Christ, proves that the tomb of Jesus is emptied. It because the very purpose of setting the Roman guards is to refute Jesus had predicted that on the third day he will rise again (Matt. 27: 62-64 ESV).. If Jesus did not resurrect on the third day, then “he would not rise at all, and their verdict would be justified.”
Peter and John
Another men who witness the empty tomb were Peter and John. In Gospel of John, John described how they reacted to Mary Magdalene’s report, and that is they went to the tomb, and saw it empty (Jn. 20:1-10 ESV). It important to consider the fact that the disciples saw it because they preached Jesus’ resurrection from what they witness. Craig said, “It is un-Jewish, not to say stupid, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his was known to be still in the grave” (Craig 2010, 221). Thus, if the apostles preached Christ’s resurrection, while his body was still in the tomb, then they would be liars. However, Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 14 ESV).
So the validity women’s reports, the validity of unbelieving Roman guards’ report, the demand of the Pharisees to seal the tomb and their reactions to the reports from the Roman soldiers, and the witnessed of Peter and John are the historical evidences that the empty tomb of Jesus is reliable historical phenomenon. In addition yo that, The uniformity of the four gospels’ testimony is also strong confirmation about the empty tomb (Tenny 1972, 112).
III. The Postmortem and the beginning of Christian’s faith
The third proof that Christ raised from the dead is his appearance and the beginning of believers’ faith. The postmortem of Jesus have never been a secret by the fact that his enemies proves that it happened. Moreover, Paul wrote Jesus did appear to more than five hundred brothers at one time, then to James, then to all of the apostles, and lastly to him (1 Cor. 15: 6-9 ESV). The series Paul enumerates in 1 Corinthians 15 were the results of his personal interview with Peter (Tenny 1972, 124). Paul summarized the appearance of Jesus to more than five hundred though the time and place were not specified. Jame, who mentioned by Paul, and the brother of the Lord, was one of the great historical figure that supports in validating Christ’s resurrection as historical event. Interestingly, Jesus half brother were unbelievers and skeptics to Jesus prior to the resurrection ( (Mark 3: 21, 31–35; John 7: 1–10 ESV). They did not believe Jesus as the Christ or anybody special. Craig said, “By the criterion of embarrassment, this is doubtless a historical fact of Jesus’ life and ministry” (Craig 2010). In addition to that, the Historian Josephus mentioned James as Jesus’ brother who was killed because of faith with other believers (Whiston 1996, 538). Paul also tells the reader that Jesus appear to Peter. This appearance also mentioned by another Christian Tradition (Lk. 24: 34 ESV).
In conclusion, there are massive evidences that Christ’s resurrection was historical reliability, and was proven by the historical eyewitnesses of phenomenon namely, The historical event of Jesus’ burial, the empty tomb, the appearance of Jesus, and the origin of the believers’ faith. All this events witnessed by the multiple men and women including the believers and the enemies of Jesus proves that his resurrection is historically reliable.
for more readings
Craig, William Lane. 2010. On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision.
Colorado Springs, Colorado: Zondervand
Craig, William Lane.2010. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Kindle
Ed. Colorado Springs, Colorado. Zondervand
Hordern, William E. 1970. A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology. Rev. Ed. United States of
America: The Macmillan Company.
Kreeft, Peter & Tacelli, Ronard. 1994. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of
Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Groves, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Maier, Paul L. 1988. Josephus The Essential Writing: A Condensation of Jewish Antiquity and
The Jewish War. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publication.
Tenny, Merril C. 1972. The Reality of Resurrection. Chicago: Moody Press.
Wilson, Bill. 1990. The Best of Josh McDowell: A Ready Defense. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s
Whiston, William A.M. 1996. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. United States of America. Hendrickson Publisher