Who was Jesus? This question is probably one of the most important ones anyone could ask. At the center of Christian theology is the belief that Jesus is God—the one, true, and living God who created all things and will, one day, return to judge the world. But is such a claim really defensible? Isn’t it narrow-minded and foolish to believe that our God is the only God? After all, there are so many religious beliefs in the world today, how could we ever really know which one is right?
These are great, frequently asked questions. One of the most straightforward answers to this question is this: Unlike Jesus, every other religious figure who’s taught about God, humanity, and the after-life has died and stayed in the grave. Jesus, on the other hand, taught about these things, was killed for what he taught, but was then physically resurrected back to new life. If someone rises from the dead, maybe we should believe him.
Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t just an historical event; it was also a public vindication of his claims of divinity (see John 8:58–59). If someone claims to be God and then dies, you have good reason to walk away from his teachings. But if someone claims to be God, then dies, but is raised back to life, then you should probably take his word for it.
For Christians, the resurrection is absolutely central to our faith, but it’s also the best explanation for the historical evidence we have. While there has been much written about what really happened surrounding the rise of the early church, we can boil down the evidence to three possible explanations. Either the disciples lied, were mistaken, or were telling the truth.
Did the Disciples Lie about the Resurrection?
When you begin to parse out this scenario, it becomes incredibly unlikely the disciples would have lied about this. The simple fact that people in the city of Jerusalem came to believe in a resurrected Messiah is itself an astonishing fact (see Acts 2). William Lane Craig drives home the point when he says:
The Gospels were written in such temporal and geographic proximity to the events they record that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events. Anyone who cared to could have checked out the accuracy of what they reported. The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true, for they could never have proclaimed the resurrection under such circumstances had it not occurred.
If the disciples were lying, nothing like this would have happened. The people who heard the disciples would have dismissed them as foolish or insane, but they definitely wouldn’t have responded in faith to such a message that could have been so easily falsified—especially when those people weren’t following Jesus before he died.
Ah, but wait. The disciples could have stolen the. People could have simply believed God had raised Jesus from the dead, but they were deceived all along.
This is the old grave-robbery explanation that has been around since the time of the disciples (see Matt. 28:11–15). But this explanation has many problems:
One of the problems is that it simply doesn’t explain why the disciples would want to do something like this in the first place. While it’s possible one or two people would willingly give their lives to be killed, it is practically impossible to demonstrate that a dozen people would. Liars make terrible martyrs. In fact, historians generally agree that if someone goes to their death for what they proclaim, they at least genuinely believe what they are saying is true. They could be wrong, but they at least think they are right and are willing to die for it.
Were the Disciples Mistaken about the Resurrection?
So, the disciples probably weren’t lying, but what if they were mistaken? What if the appearances mentioned above were simply hallucinations? What if the disciples wanted so badly to believe that their lives had not be surrendered in vain that they began to experience visions of Jesus after his death?
This position is known as the hallucination theory and is one of the most prominent counter-theories today. One problem with this theory is simply that it does not explain the rise of early Christianity in the city where Jesus was killed.
Think about it: What could the Roman and Jewish authorities have done to falsify the disciples’ claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead? They could simply point to the tomb in which Jesus was buried or they could parade his body around the city. Either would have been sufficient to keep thousands of people from converting to this new religion.
But they didn’t. In fact, they acknowledged the tomb was empty by trying to tell people that the disciples stole the body (Matt. 28:11–15). The point is simple: If you have hallucinating disciples, then you have an entombed Jesus. If you have an entombed Jesus, you don’t get thousands of converts in the city where he was killed.
Did the Disciples Tell the Truth?
When you examine the alternative explanations for the resurrection, it seems there are more problems with believing them than there are with believing God raised Jesus from the dead. If this is true, then why do so many scholars reject the resurrection of Jesus as a valid explanation for the events after his death? Because it’s a miracle. Atheist scholar, Bart Ehrman points out that the resurrection would “…be a miracle…and by definition, a miracle is the least probable occurrence.”
While it’s true many reject the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, they often do so because of an anti-supernatural bias that leads them to immediately rule out the possibility of miracles. Yet, the problem remains for them to devise a plausible explanation for the events that occurred after Jesus’ crucifixion. Why did the disciples die for their faith? Why were thousands of people converted to belief in a resurrected Christ in the very city where he was crucified?
As we’ve seen, the best explanation for all the evidence is simply that God raised Jesus from the dead. No other theory accurately explains either the scope or the depth of the facts involved as the miracle of the resurrection does. Anyone is welcome to reject this conclusion and hold out for the possibility of natural explanation one day, but this would have to be done in spite of the evidence we have, not because of it.
The point is simple: The reason Jesus can be the one, true God is because the historical event of his resurrection proves him to be so. Again, no other religious teacher or spiritual guru has ever died and been raised to life. Jesus has and because of this, he is able to say to all of us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
In other words, only Jesus can be our hope for eternal life, because only Jesus offers us the hope of resurrection and proved it by rising from the dead himself. Anyone can offer you a ticket to heaven or the hope of an afterlife, but it’s one thing to make an assertion and quite another to back that assertion up with tangible evidence.
Jesus didn’t just make the assertion of eternal life; he backed it up by conquering death and walking out of his tomb. To a world dying in their sins and the dissatisfaction of living apart from God, Jesus offers us a resurrection life—one that begins now with the internal joy of being reconciled to God (Romans 8:11) and goes into eternity as we are also resurrected into God’s glorious presence (1 Corinthians 15:50–55).
This hope is open to anyone who will turn from their sins and surrender themselves to Jesus. Because Jesus has demonstrated the historical reality of his resurrection, this is the most reasonable thing we could do. You may think it’s crazy to believe in miracles, but in light of the evidence, it would actually be crazy not to—especially when the God beyond the miracle could radically transform your life and bring you the joy and peace you’ve always wanted.