Can I get a witness?
The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is much stronger than many people realise.
In the 2001 film The Body, Antonio Banderas plays Father Matt Gutierrez, a Jesuit priest sent by the Vatican to investigate the alleged bones of Jesus. Despite the confidence Vatican officials express, Father Matt feels unqualified for this critical task. That’s because he realizes, if these are the bones of Christ, then Christianity is false.
The evidence presented to him, as the movie unfolds, seems overwhelming. The body was buried in a rich man’s tomb, with a spear wound in the rib cage, thorn marks on the skull, a coin dated to the governorship of Pontius Pilate, and unbroken legs – unusual for a victim of crucifixion but attested in the account of Jesus’ death.
Matt wrestles with a crisis of faith throughout the film. Another priest, played by Derek Jacobi, doesn’t even wrestle; convinced that these are the bones of Jesus, he commits suicide. Why live when one’s entire life was spent following a false Messiah, one who did not rise again on the third day?
Matt eventually finds evidence that these are the bones of an early Christian martyr, and not those of Jesus himself. But the film highlights an interesting point: Christianity is a falsifiable religion. Christianity makes objective claims about the real world - claims that, by the evidence, can be either confirmed or disconfirmed.
If the bones of Jesus were found, then Christianity would be false. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17, NASB). Some religions may make untestable claims about reality, but Christianity makes claims about real events in history that can be tested. Let’s put it to the test!
Here are three facts we believe point to the reality of the resurrection.
1. The tomb of Jesus was found empty
There are multiple lines of evidence supporting the empty tomb. Just one piece of evidence we find convincing is that women first discovered the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-10). Why is this important? In first century Palestine women were not considered reliable witnesses. Jewish historian Josephus said, “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Compared to men, women were considered second-class citizens.
Why would the disciples invent a story where women were the first witnesses? It’s embarrassing to the disciples and it undermines their case!
The best explanation for why the gospels record women as the first witnesses is because they actually were the discoverers of the empty tomb.
2. Jesus appeared to people after his death
There are many different appearances of Jesus that can be supported with evidence. For example, Jesus appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34), James the brother of Jesus (1 Cor. 15: 7), Thomas (John 20:26-29), the twelve apostles (20:19), and the five hundred witnesses (1 Cor. 15:6).
One of the most convincing appearance accounts is the appearance to Saul, who became the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9). Critics often claim that Jesus only appeared to his followers. But this is not true! Jesus personally appeared to Saul, who was harshly persecuting Christians (Acts 8:1-3). The appearance to Paul is established beyond doubt, because Paul also refers to it in his own letters (Gal. 1:11-17).
This appearance transformed Paul’s entire life. He was a Rabbi, a respected Jewish leader. He hated Christianity and did everything in his power to stamp it out. He was even responsible for the execution of many Christians. Then suddenly he became a Christian missionary, and endured tremendous suffering for proclaiming the faith (2 Cor. 11:23-29). Finally, he made the ultimate sacrifice and was martyred for his faith at Rome. And it was all because on that day outside Damascus, he saw “Jesus our Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1).
Some have attempted to explain the appearances as hallucinations. One of the many problems with this hypothesis is that if the disciples had projected hallucinations of Jesus after his death, they would have seen him in heaven, where Jews believed the righteous dead went, not risen from the dead here on earth, in contradiction to Jewish beliefs.
3. The Christian faith began as belief in the resurrection
Even skeptical scholars admit that the original disciples believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. They staked everything on this belief. Yet where did their belief come from?
According to the Jewish Scriptures, the Messiah was supposed to be a triumphant figure who would establish the throne of David in Jerusalem. A Messiah who failed to deliver and to reign, who was defeated and humiliated through crucifixion, is a contradiction in terms. It is difficult to overemphasize what a disaster the crucifixion was for the disciples’ faith. Faced with Jesus’ death, the disciples had basically two choices: either go home or get themselves a new Messiah.
But the resurrection of Jesus reversed the catastrophe of the crucifixion. Because God had raised Jesus from the dead, he was seen to be the Messiah after all.
This is why Peter proclaims in Acts 2:32, 36:
This Jesus God raised up…. Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.
Those who reject the resurrection need to offer some other explanation for the origin of the Christian faith. Yet no other explanation is nearly as powerful as the resurrection of Jesus.
The title of this article asks whether or not there is a witness for the resurrection. Clearly there is - the evidence is compelling! The real question is who will witness to others about the truth of the resurrection. Which Christians today will share their faith as boldly as the first disciples? Will that be you? Can we get a witness?
William Lane Craig and Sean McDowell are professors at Biola University, California. Find out more about Biola University.