Why do Christians use Easter Sunday to remind each other that Jesus rose from the dead? What does the phrase “He is risen!” mean? What does that event 2000 years ago have to do with us today?
The fact that Jesus died on the cross and three days later came alive again is foundational to the Christian faith. However, many today find miracles difficult to believe — especially the idea of someone dead suddenly being alive.
The miracle of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has been discussed and debated for centuries. If it is as important as Christians claim it is, then it is critical that everyone understands what it is and what it means so that they can make a decision whether to believe it’s true.
Luckily, if you are willing to look for it, there is a lot of information at your fingertips that can help you understand more fully.
You can believe a lot about Jesus and not believe that He rose from the dead. Many faiths acknowledge Jesus in some way but do not believe that He came back to life after He died.
Jesus did rise from the dead, and that fact is vital to the Christian faith. In fact, Paul, an early Christian leader who wrote much of the Bible’s New Testament, wrote to one group of Christians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14, New International Version).
In this verse from the Bible, Paul is not discouraging you from believing in a risen Jesus. On the contrary, he’s stating that the resurrection of Jesus is the center of the Christian faith — so important that without it there is no Christian faith at all. Here are a few reasons why it’s so crucial that Jesus rose from the dead.
Today, you have the benefit of being able to read the whole Bible, both the part written before the life of Jesus, called the Old Testament, and the part written after, called the New Testament. All 66 books that make up the Old and New Testament tell one consistent story. You cannot separate the Old Testament from the New.
Throughout the Old Testament, God promised His people that a Messiah (a Savior) was coming to change life as they knew it. Jews in the time of Jesus believed that this Savior would save them from the oppression they were experiencing from the Romans and other hostile nations.
God told the Israelites that specific signs and attributes would characterize the one that He would send. God is mysterious, but He wants people to know Him. He wants you to be able to recognize what He is doing.
Jesus Christ had to fulfill every Old Testament prophecy regarding the coming Messiah. There were many, but He fulfilled them all. One of these prophecies said, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will You let Your faithful one see decay” (Psalm 16:9-10, NIV).
The Messiah would see death, but His body would not decay, because He would rise again. This was fulfilled when Jesus rose from the dead and showed Himself to His followers. He had only the marks on his hands and feet and the wound in His side as a mark of His death.
It is essential to Christians that Jesus rose from the dead because He had to rise from the dead to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament.
According to the Gospels — the four books of the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus’ life — Jesus often quoted Old Testament passages to His 12 closest followers, alluding to what would take place during the week of His crucifixion and resurrection. He spoke to them in parables, which are stories or short sayings that illustrate something true about God. This allowed them to connect the dots once everything took place so they could understand.
Jesus Himself told the disciples of His death and that He would be alive again. But many of them did not understand what He was saying. The common understanding of the Messiah at the time was that He would become the king of an earthly kingdom, like King David in the Old Testament. Dying on a cross did not fit this understanding.
So much of what Jesus said did not make sense to them because it did not fit what they believed about the Messiah. It was hard to believe even when Jesus said it plainly:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:21-22, NIV)
Jesus told his disciples what was about to happen and assured them that He would be raised to life again. But many had a hard time accepting that until they saw Him alive and well.
To many, the idea of Jesus being alive does not feel like it has any significant impact on their faith. Maybe you think Christianity has a lot of rules and that good deeds earn the way to Heaven. Some religions do operate on this premise, or a similar one.
But according to the Bible, when you become a Jesus follower, you begin a relationship with Jesus. This relationship does not depend on what you do but on what Jesus did. People are all sinful by nature and unable to keep from doing wrong. Because of that, all people deserve God’s wrath. But Jesus took that punishment for you. Even though He was without sin, He died on the cross instead of you and me. (Romans 3)
But if He remained dead, that would be the end of it, and you would have no hope. Not only did He need to die for you, but He needed to defeat death for you too. Only because of this do you have hope of living in the eternity He promised you, with sin and death gone for good. Because He lives, His followers will live even after they physically die. If you are a follower of Jesus, death has been defeated and has no lasting power over you. (Romans 6)
Also, Christ is the Son of God and took on the form of a man. The fact that He rose from the dead serves as proof that He was not merely a human. Humans cannot return to life from death. If He had remained dead, it would have undermined the claim that He was the Son of God. By returning alive and well, He confirms all that He said about Himself being the Son of God. (1 Corinthians 15)
You can read the Gospels for yourself. The Gospels are not just stories. They are actual, factual accounts of real-life events that shaped history and the Christian faith. They have a direct impact on your life.
There are several reasons to believe that what the Gospels say about Jesus rising from the dead is true.
Many over the course of time have investigated the claims of Christians that Jesus died and rose from the dead. There have been many opinions about Jesus’ resurrection, but the one thing that almost everyone has agreed on is that Jesus is a real person who really did live and really was crucified by the Romans.
But to rise from the dead, Jesus would have had to have actually died. There is some speculation that Jesus never really died. Some say that He drifted into a coma from the pain and woke up in the tomb later on.
But Jesus certainly died. We know this from the testimony of witnesses — not only His followers but also His enemies among the Jews and the Romans.
Before they took Jesus down from the cross, the Roman soldiers stuck a spear into His side. Once they pierced the skin, a mixture of water and blood came out. Such a mixture indicates heart failure, which should be enough proof to anyone that Jesus was in fact dead — completely apart from the fact that He was impaled!
Roman soldiers were trained killers. If they had failed in their duty to execute someone, they would be held liable — likely at the cost of their lives. This gave them the incentive to complete every execution with precision.
Also, all accounts agree that Jesus was in fact buried in a tomb. The men who took the body for burial in the tomb, which was guarded by a group of Roman soldiers, were Jesus’ followers. His own followers would not have buried the body if they did not also believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was in fact dead.
Some have speculated that the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a myth that developed later on — long after the actual incident of His death. If this were true, it would be a good reason to doubt the story. No one would have really been able to verify the long-past events.
But the accounts that were written about Jesus came within a few decades of the crucifixion, and the stories in those accounts circulated for years before they were written down. All of this happened while people who were part of the events were still alive to verify or refute the story.
The empty tomb is one of the most puzzling parts of the story to those who are not certain what to believe about Jesus rising from the dead. It raises many questions.
Did they actually put Jesus’ body in the grave at all? The grave He is said to have been put in was owned by a prominent Jewish leader. His burial plot would not have been secret or obscure. If the disciples were hoping to make up a story about an empty tomb, they might have chosen a more obscure location.
Anyone in Jerusalem at the time could have visited the tomb and verified that it was empty. Jesus’ followers are recorded to have spread the story of the resurrection very soon after it happened. Yet we have no accounts from the time claiming that the disciples were caught in a lie — that Jesus’ body was still buried and could prove that He was still dead, or that He had never been buried.
Also, Roman guards were posted outside the tomb and the entrance was sealed. Roman officials would not have bothered to guard a tomb that was not occupied.
The most convincing argument for the empty tomb was the fact that Romans and high-ranking Jewish officials accused Jesus’ followers of stealing the body. By making such an accusation, they confirmed they were in agreement with this fact: that the tomb was occupied by Jesus’ body at one time but later was not.
If the body never came to the tomb, they would have said so, and if the body never left the tomb, they could have just pointed to the fact that the tomb they were guarding had been left undisturbed. They would have been able to say, “The body is still there. Look for yourself.” But rather than disputing that the tomb was empty, they accused others of taking the body.
The Bible records that the first people to see that Jesus had risen from the dead were women. The fact that followers of Jesus claim that the first witness to the living Jesus were women is, perhaps surprisingly, evidence that the account is true.
At that time in Jewish culture, the testimony of a woman was not highly esteemed. If the disciples had made it all up and wanted to present a believable and convincing argument, they probably would have claimed that a man, and likely a prominent man, was the first to see Jesus. The fact that the Gospels say that a group of women were the first to see Jesus alive again strongly suggests that the story is true. Why else would those claiming Jesus rose from the dead appeal to witnesses unlikely to be believed except that they really were the first witnesses?
After appearing to the group of women, Jesus appeared to many other of His followers. At one time, the Bible says, there were more than 500 witnesses at once (Romans 15:6).
A question many have asked is, “What if they all only thought they saw Jesus?” The question implies that some sort of hallucination convinced people to believe they saw Jesus alive when they really did not. But hallucinations happen on an individual basis. There is no recorded incident of a group hallucination in history.
So if that many people at the time could agree about what they saw, it can reasonably be assumed that they were telling the truth.
The disciples of Jesus were taken off guard by His arrest and His death. They spent the day after He died alone, scattered, confused and grieving. They were defeated.
These men would go on to be bold defenders of the Christian message. Jesus had 12 close followers who are often referred to as His “disciples.” One of these men, Judas, had betrayed Jesus and killed himself afterward. The other eleven witnessed Jesus alive. Ten of them were eventually killed for testifying that Jesus lived, and the eleventh was exiled and imprisoned.
What would cause this group of scared and discouraged men to suddenly charged through the world sharing the message of Jesus? They persisted even as they faced the choice of renouncing their message and admitting it was a lie or giving up their lives. They chose death. The only explanation for such a change of attitude is that they believed with confidence that they had witnessed Jesus alive and well following His crucifixion and that the truth that He was alive was worth dying for.
Not one of them renounced his testimony during his lifetime. Why would so many men die for something that they knew is not true? The only reasonable conclusion is that it is true.
Asking the question, “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” is important. God does not expect His children to believe blindly. Although there are things that we as humans will never fully understand, God gives us answers when we seek them from Him. It is not wrong to ask questions, because the Truth will never fail when it is questioned.
You can have confidence that what the Word says is true. Faith is to be rooted in truth. The more we learn what the Word says and the more we seek to understand, the more clear the answers will become. The more we can put our trust in what God has already done, the more we can trust that what He says is to come is true and trustworthy too.
Keep exploring on your spiritual journey. Keep seeking truth.
Learn more about what makes faith in Christ different.
Cru is a Christian organization that wants all people to be able to have open and honest conversations about faith and Jesus. Cru believes that the Bible is true and without error as the Word of God. But Cru can also be confident in the Bible’s factuality because it presents historically verified information and events. The Bible does not contradict itself, although it was written by many different people over a long period of time.
Cru believes that Jesus was God’s Son who came to earth, being fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life and was condemned to die on a cross. He died and was buried, and three days later He rose from the dead and appeared to many fully alive.
Cru holds this to be true not only because of its account in God’s Word, the Bible, but also because it is an event that has been backed up by other accounts in history and has stood the test of time.
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