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The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions

Sean McDowell, Ph.D.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings—or it is the most remarkable fact of history.” My father has often shared these words to me in person, and he’s written them in his books. The older I get, the more I realize they’re unmistakably true. There’s no middle ground with the resurrection of Jesus. Either it is a colossal fabrication or the most important event in history.

With Good Friday coming soon, many people are thinking about the resurrection. Is it true? What does it mean? Why should I care? In this short post, I have a modest goal: to persuade you of the monumental importance of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, I consider three massive questions that the resurrection, if it is true, answers.

 

  1. Does God Exist?

If Jesus has risen from the grave, and truly conquered death 2,000 years ago, then this seems to be powerful evidence for the existence of God. After all, a resurrection would require an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of knowledge. Nature does not have the resources to account for a resurrection any more than a feather can account for a dent in a car (unless it’s a Chevy). There must be a supernatural explanation.

 

Commenting on Jesus’ claims to deity, Gary Habermas observes, “But were these claims true? To verify them, the Gospels assert that Jesus performed miracles as signs of his credibility. We are even told that he identified his resurrection and predicted in advance that this event would be the ultimate vindication of his message and his own claim to deity. The sum of these teachings comprised Jesus’s personal belief in Christian theism. It makes sense that Jesus was in the best position to interpret the meaning of this event. And he claimed that God’s action in his resurrection would verify his teachings. We need to entertain at least the possibility that Jesus was correct: that this unique historical event combined with Jesus’s unique claims might indicate that his theistic worldview was corroborated.[1]

 

If Jesus rose from the grave, then it seems to provide a positive answer to one of the most pressing issues humans ask—does God exist?

 

  1. Which Religion Is True?

If the resurrection actually took place in historical space-time, then all other religions and philosophies for coping with life fall short. This doesn’t mean other religions are entirely false in everything they teach. Many religions offer profound insights about life. But it does mean that on core issues—the nature of God, salvation and the afterlife—Christianity is uniquely true. And on the flip side, as Paul observes, if the resurrection is not true, then Christianity is utterly false (1 Cor 15:14, 17).

 

Jesus encouraged people to believe in him because of both his teachings and his miracles (e.g. John 5:36-40; Luke 10:13-15). He seemed to view miracles as providing a divine seal on his own ministry. For instance, Jesus reportedly told the Jewish leaders that his miracles were proof that he was the Son of God (John 10:36-38). On another occasion, Jesus pointed to his resurrection as the greatest sign that would confirm his identity (Matthew 16:1-4). Again, Gary Habermas observes:

 

In what the Book of Acts presents as its initial sermon, Peter reportedly declared that Jesus’s miracles, and especially the resurrection, were the chief indication that God had approved Jesus’s teachings (Acts 2:23-32)…By citing an early creed that utilizes at least three Christological titles, Paul proclaimed that the resurrection was God’s confirmation of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:3-4)…the resurrection would have been taken as God’s approval of Jesus’s message.”[2]

 

  1. Is There Life After Death

How could we really know if there is life after death? In the 1990 science-fiction thriller Flatliners, some medical students want to know if there is life after death. Instead of studying religion or philosophy, they decide to flatline one another’s hearts, resuscitate themselves back to life, and then give a report on what happens in the afterlife. While morbid, their thinking does make sense—if we want to know what’s on the other side of life, we should ask someone who has been there and come back.

 

If the resurrection is true, then Jesus has actually returned from the dead and can confirm that there is life after death. In John 14:3, Jesus says to his disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (ESV). In other words, Jesus can testify about life after death because he has died, and then returned to life as a witness. Thus, if the resurrection is true, then life continues after death, just as Jesus taught.

 

Can you see how important the resurrection is? Again, either it is a colossal fabrication, or it is the most important event in history. There’s no middle ground.

 

If you haven’t really considered the evidence, then today should be the day. Maybe start by checking out this short piece I wrote with William Lane Craig: “Can I get a Witness?

Leave us a comment about: The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions


 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 66-67.

[2] Ibid., 91.

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21 replies
  1. TGM says:

    “If Jesus has risen from the grave, and truly conquered death 2,000 years ago, then this seems to be powerful evidence for the existence of God.“

    Wrong. I could concede you the resurrection story and you will have gained no ground in demonstrating that a god exists. All you know is that something unexplained happened. I might argue the resurrection was caused by witchcraft and be at least as correct as you. Perhaps more correct because we have evidence that people claiming to be witches exist. All you have is powerful evidence of an argument from ignorance.

    “After all, a resurrection would require an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of knowledge.“

    How do you know this? And how much wattage do you estimate a resurrection requires?

    “There must be a supernatural explanation.“

    Fine. I also concede the supernatural, yet all your work remains ahead of you. The supernatural does not necessitate god. Maybe a ghost did it – they’re supernatural.

    I heard Frank’s podcast with Gary Habermas (from March 26) today and while they smoothly covered ‘minimal facts’, I kept hoping they would explain exactly why a resurrection proves god. They must be saving that for part 2.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      Why the supernatural and not just technology we don’t understand or an illusion whose cause we don’t understand? Why would either of those be less likely?

      Reply
      • TGM says:

        Also very plausible possibilities. Moreso than something as vague as miracle. Arthur Clarke had it right – any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (or miracle). But I was ceding the supernatural just to make a point. I see no evidence of that either.

        Reply
    • Josef Kauzlarich says:

      Jesus tells us He is God when with us then predicts his own death and resurrection. He then accomplishes what he said. To me this would be a good reason to believe him. I’m curious what observable evidence could be collected to make you believe the resurrection was true or that God existed?

      Reply
      • TGM says:

        Josef, the problem with the resurrection is that we’re talking about an unprecedented singular event from centuries ago. Forensic evidence alone is not enough without knowing the mechanism that enacts a resurrection. So… start by demonstrating the mechanism – show me how the process of ‘reactivating’ Jesus would work. What are the physical principles involved? Sean thinks a large amount of power was required. We have lots of ways to measure power. If you can convince me that a modern dead person can be resurrected under laboratory conditions, I would be conditionally more disposed to believe the process could also have happened a long time ago. Mind you, we’re still a long ways from god.

        As for that god, to be honest, I’m not sure what evidence would convince me of the resurrection. But I’ll repeat what many other nonbelievers have said before… If there is a god, he would certainly know what it would take to convince me. The fact that I remain unconvinced either means there is no god or that he has chosen to withhold the information I require.

        Reply
        • Josef Kauzlarich says:

          Thank you. I think what you describe about evidence for resurection essentially says, “show me this miracle wasn’t a miracle and I will believe it.” What you describe is interesting because for me, it would make me have less faith in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t matter to the conversation because we are talking about belief in ressurection.

          Also, any chance you try a bit harder in regards to evidence for god? Your answer seems like a self absolving posture that isn’t trying very hard to give a tangible answer. Think about other things you regard as truth and tell us what makes you believe them. Then perhaps you can make a list of tangible things or events that would convince you god exists. Would he need to stand right in front of you and do ten miracles in a row to prove it? Would he have to dissasemble all of your friends atoms before your eyes and the reassemble them? I’m sure you can think of something.

          Reply
          • Luke says:

            Josef,

            I’m curious what evidence could prove to you that no deity exists. In other words, how do you answer the reverse of your question… what observable evidence could be collected to make you believe that no deity exists?

            Thanks,

            Luke

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “Would he need to stand right in front of you and do ten miracles in a row to prove it? Would he have to dissasemble all of your friends atoms before your eyes and the reassemble them? I’m sure you can think of something.”

            Those would probably work for me, Josef. Thing is, what we do have is so far from anything like that that this is all a bit moot. We’ve got anonymous reports from 2000 years ago that something weird happened.

            “Think about other things you regard as truth and tell us what makes you believe them.”

            I can’t think of anything so bizarre that I believe on so little evidence as ‘An all powerful being must exist’ on the basis of ‘A book whose authors we can’t identify says something inexplicable happened 2000 years ago’. Compare that with the evidence that had to be assembled for any paradigm shift in science.

        • TGM says:

          “Your answer seems like a self absolving posture that isn’t trying very hard to give a tangible answer.”

          Sorry it seems that way. But “I cannot explain it” is better than “a god did it”. Any example that would appear sufficiently evidential for god could also be explained as hallucination or as a facet of my own ignorance. I don’t see any way around this, but surely a god would. Hence my answer.

          Reply
          • Josef Kauzlarich says:

            Well, thanks for the semi-answer. I’ll answer for you.

            I believe the only true observable evidence that establishes absolute certainty of God’s existence is Him coming down in physical form and showing us.There. If I were approaching the world from your point of view, this is the only thing that would convince me (you can feel free to correct this if you like). Yet from the Christian worldview, this is the one thing that He won’t do (yet) based on His stated purposes for creating the world.

            To me, God has very good reasons for not doing this very thing if His aim is to generate loving relationships with us as the Bible explains. If the all powerful and holy God of the Bible does exist, wouldn’t we be fools to not make Him king of the world? Notice I said God of the Bible. I am explaining that Christianity has a valid explanation for why God wouldn’t give us the observable evidence you require. For, there can be no love between a tyrant and his subjects. But if God sets up the world the way it exists today, I am then personally free to then make a decision to love this God and subject myself to His rule. All I’m saying is that the Christian worldview makes sense of why God wouldn’t come in person and impose Himself on humanity. It defeats the purpose of why He created anything. It defeats love itself.

            But alas, this is philosophical evidence which you are probably closed off to. Your world view seems to make it an impossibility to find God if He is real.

        • Louie says:

          TGM – Note, that Jesus raised at least 2 other people from the dead. One was a small child that died just prior to his arrival. The other was Lazarus, who was in the tomb 3 days. Lazarous was revived without Jesus even seeing or touching him. In my opnion, once we take a “3 days dead” body into a lab and bring it back to life, then the biblical account will seem less miraculous.

          Reply
  2. Josef Kauzlarich says:

    Luke,

    Interesting question. I base my faith in Christ on more than just observable evidence. I base it on personal experience, God’s revelation through the Bible, and observable evidence that supports these two things. I have a personal relationship with God which I realize is impossible for people to understand and experience unless they are a Christian. Therefore, others won’t accept this as credible evidence, even though I think it is very credible, often stating, “what makes your experience different from others?” I have full confidence in God’s revealed Word the Bible. It has been under constant attack and opposition for centuries, and yet, it continues to be successfully defended. In spite of consistent atheist claims to the contrary, I have yet to see the truth of the Bible defeated. Rather I have observed it to endure and radically change the lives of people who read it. I have observed very good arguments against some aspects of the Bible; however, I have see equally good and robust rebuttals of these arguments and valid explanations of why the Bible presents the information in the manner it does. I have poured over this book, sought explanations for every difficult passage, difficult story, and find that most atheist objections to the Bible are attacking arguments it never makes. Rather they misinterpret the Bible and create straw-man arguments as their object of attack. Moreover,I believe that the truth of the Bible is well supported by observable fact. While I believe the scientific method is a great method for understanding the world, I don’t accept it as the only method.

    But to answer you real question, I can think of at least two things that would cause me to change my position. One, if Jesus’ body was conclusively recovered and presented to the world, then I would seriously doubt Christianity. Two, if observable science could demonstrate that matter can be generated from absolutely nothing (meaning no matter, no energy, absolute nothing) then I would doubt the existence of a transcendent god that generated the universe.

    Reply
    • Luke says:

      Hey Josef,

      You said the following would make you lose faith in G-d.“One, if Jesus’ body was conclusively recovered and presented to the world, then I would seriously doubt Christianity. Two, if observable science could demonstrate that matter can be generated from absolutely nothing (meaning no matter, no energy, absolute nothing) then I would doubt the existence of a transcendent [deity] that generated the universe.”

      The first criteria is an interesting one as it seems to me to be completely impossible. Biological material decays over 2,000 years. Even if it did not there is no genetic test that could be done. A preserved body with a tattoo that said “I’m the guy Dr. Luke wrote about (free Kesha!)”, it could be easily dismissed as a fake. (I really hope someone gets that joke.)

      The second is even more interesting to me. How does matter coming into existence disprove G-d? Such a discovery wouldn’t tell us that G-d also can’t create matter, or that G-d didn’t create a universe which He set up in a way that required matter to form under certain circumstances. (He made billions of nuclear fusion reactors throughout an area of almost 100 billion light years just to mark the night and the seasons. To set up conditions for matter to appear in His universe seems like small potatoes — to me anyway!) (This makes me think of how almost everyone used to think that life appeared spontaneously, but that didn’t disprove G-d in anyone’s mind. I think many would now say that if people like Jeremy England are right, and we can show how life can start, we’d have to question G-d, but I think we’d all quickly begin to believe, as we did for centuries, that spontaneous life and G-d are perfectly compatible. (Of course, maybe you really would find both of those things incompatible with G-d; I’m just saying that I don’t see it causing a problem for most believers.)

      You don’t need to respond or anything (feel free to if you’d like). Thanks for your thoughts,

      Luke

      Reply
      • Josef Kauzlarich says:

        Makes sense and I apologize for not thinking deeper about it. My first criteria at this point would be nearly impossible under many envisioned scenarios if the gospels aren’t true. So I’ll admit it is a bad one. I honestly don’t know what would make me doubt Christianity. I think the difficulty is that there is such a preponderance of evidence (the way I see it), that it would take more than one thing to shake my faith. It would take a systematic defeat of every Christian argument…or at least enough to sway me. So far, I haven’t seen anything (in my opinion) that gets close to defeating it.

        My second one still makes sense to me. I understand what you are saying…but I still think something coming into existence out of absolutely nothing would make me doubtful because it would demonstrate that nothing was required to start the world. But now that I think deeper about it, it would probably take more than that to shake my faith. It would probably take the removal of many of the arguments that support the Christian faith.

        I will also say that my personal experiences with my Creator are so strong (which I realize I can’t describe to unbelievers) that I can’t imagine life without Him. But I understand if folks consider this delusional.

        Reply
    • TGM says:

      “One, if Jesus’ body was conclusively recovered and presented to the world, then I would seriously doubt Christianity.“

      The funny thing is that I suspect most Christians would not doubt, even with a recovered body. They would find some other rationalization and keep chugging along. They could argue that he was resurrected into a new body, or that the early church had a misinterpretation. Or the body was left to refute those who claim he was not crucified. Many would stubbornly insist it was not really his body despite the evidence.

      Once you believe in a deity that can do anything, you can justify anything. Would that really make you doubt, Josef?

      Reply
      • Josef Kauzlarich says:

        Yes. While Luke just obviously pointed out to me that it would be impossible to do so (I admit I should have thought deeper about that)…but let’s imagine somehow it did happen…I think I can confidently say that I would stop believing in Jesus. As Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14).”

        I once listened to entire debate on the implications of Christ’s body not being found. The explanations offered by the catholic priests who thought this would be no problem were ludicrous and I can’t see myself believing them.

        Reply
  3. Josef Kauzlarich says:

    Andy,

    You said: “I can’t think of anything so bizarre that I believe on so little evidence as ‘An all powerful being must exist’ on the basis of ‘A book whose authors we can’t identify says something inexplicable happened 2000 years ago’. Compare that with the evidence that had to be assembled for any paradigm shift in science.”

    So would you agree with me that if there actually is a transcendent God as the Bible describes (just for the moment imagine it is true), you would never be able to find Him on what you accept as conclusive evidence? In other words, is conclusive evidence only built by observational science?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “So would you agree with me that if there actually is a transcendent God as the Bible describes (just for the moment imagine it is true), you would never be able to find Him on what you accept as conclusive evidence?”

      No, I disagree with you completely.

      You gave me an example of how a God might convince me, and I clearly said ‘that would probably work for me’. Then I said it’s not even like I’m ruling out much lower levels of evidence – rather that the current level of evidence is way, way below such a demonstration. It’s not like I’m an arch sceptic who is dismissing inexplicable miracles being performed in front of me – rather it’s 2000-year-old anonymous accounts of an inexplicable event.

      Reply
      • Josef Kauzlarich says:

        Ok. I’m just confused on what you would consider “lower levels of evidence.” How could the current level of evidence be improved?

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          How could it be improved:

          The obvious one is if it had happened more recently we might have had video of both the execution and subsequent video of Jesus alive. That’s a big obvious improvement! But other than that:
          If it had happened more recently we might have had video of witnesses’ testimony. Failing that, we might have handwritten testimony, with outsiders testifying to the fact that they interview witnesses separately and their stories tallied. We might know more about who the claimed witnesses actually were.

          To me the evidence is SO sketchy it seems odd to ask how it could be improved. Virtually ANYTHING would improve it. I find it hard to imagine how the evidence could be any sketchier. We’ve no contemporaneous extra biblical accounts of Jesus’ life at all. There’s so little information about his life that asking where the body went seems to miss the point – it’s just one more thing we have little information on! And we know nothing about the witnesses, so cannot judge how much we can trust their (second-hand) accounts.

          Reply
  4. gary says:

    Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus’ death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60’s, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can’t list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole…or…the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

    Reply

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