Easter Sunday is the day that celebrates the event that sceptics and atheists say never happened: the resurrection of Jesus. In talking with many sceptics over the years, what has always intrigued me is the complete disregard for the historical evidence that their disbelief exhibits. Sceptics simply DECIDE to believe that Jesus never rose from the dead, not because of any contra-evidence, not as a result of robust examination of the ACTUAL historical evidence, but simply because such a miraculous event does not conform to their worldview. I have never yet had an intelligent conversation with a resurrection sceptic who has bothered to actually examine the historical evidence.
And there is significant historical evidence to support the resurrection. There is extra-biblical (outside the Bible) corroboration by hostile critics of Christianity. These were people at or around the time of Christ who were NOT Christians, but who recorded details that corroborated the miraculous events of Jesus’ life and resurrection. They include:
– Thallus, a first century Greek / Roman historian, who described the supernatural darkness and the earthquakes that accompanied the crucifixion of Christ (recorded in all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke).
– Phlegon of Tralles, a second century Greek historian, who also recorded the supernatural darkness, accompanied by earthquakes felt in other parts of the Empire during the reign of Tiberius (probably that of 29 CE). He wrote, “Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.”
– Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, who wrote: “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed amazing deeds … And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them again on the third day restored to life, …And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” (In my book, “Finding God”, I have dealt with the claim that this quote was a later Christian interpolation).
There are many other neutral and hostile ancient writers who confirmed many of the details of Jesus’ life: Cornelius Tacitus (a Roman senator), Gaius Seutonius Tranquillus (a Roman historian), and even the Jewish Talmud, the Jewish sacred text that was being written at the time of Christ, which mentions the miracles of Jesus on 11 different occasions.
Whenever I have had a conversation with a sceptic who confidently declares that Jesus never rose from the dead, INVARIABLY they have never read these corroborating accounts, nor have they bothered to investigate any of the other historical evidence for themselves.
Conversely, history is replete with people who, having examined the evidence closely, were forced to rescind their previous disbelief.
– Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851 – 1939) was an archaeologist and historian, who spent 18 years trying to DISPROVE the stories about Jesus, studying the historical evidence around the world. In fact, his research was funded by the British Infidel Society, who hoped he would be able to disprove this silly Christianity nonsense once and for all. But Ramsay could not disprove it. In fact, after examining all the evidence, he was converted to Christianity himself – much to the horror of the Infidel Society!
Others have sought to disprove the events of Easter and similarly failed; among them Albert Henry Moss, Lee Strobel and the great Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis himself. Each of them not only failed to disprove the resurrection, but were converted to Christianity through the overwhelming weight of historical evidence. C. S. Lewis recounts his own reluctant conversion: ““In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
It is the reluctance of these learned scholars to be converted that makes their eventual conversions all the more significant.
This Easter, I am unashamed to be a follower of the resurrected Christ. Unlike the many sceptics with whom I have conversed over the years, what I believe is not based upon wishful thinking or my narrow worldview. I have actually bothered to check out the evidence for myself, and I am utterly convinced that Jesus rose from the dead.
Of course, the resurrection of Jesus is completely inconvenient. It shatters my illusion that I am a free agent to live as I please, with no ultimate accountability. It confronts me with the earth-shaking reality that there is a God who created me, before whom I will one day stand. The resurrection of Jesus de-thrones me. It turns my world upside down. It drives me to my knees in repentance for my sins. It opens my arms wide in thankfulness for my undeserved forgiveness. It opens my eyes to a life that can now be lived with meaning and purpose.
What about you? Have you bothered to check out the evidence for yourself?