Is the knowledge of the resurrection “true only for the Christians?”

We are entitled to our own personal opinions and beliefs!

That might be true for you, but not for me!

If you think believing the resurrection will make you a better person, then why would I stop you? As long as that works for you!

Those are just few from the bucket of expressions to explain away the exclusivity and objectivity to any other religion, especially Christianity. In other words, those who will say those words implicitly say: I don’t care what you believe. And since it’s not true, let’s just move on!

But if you are an identified follower of Jesus, those expressions will not only slap your belief at face-value, but it will also present you as fanatic-moron. That is, you’re sincerely believing to be true what that which is unfalsifiable. In other words, what you believe is something you cannot investigate for confirmation!

But is that really the case?

The apostle Paul, in his letter to Corinthians made an astonishing appeal hanging on the truth-value of the resurrection:

…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Notice that Paul did not say whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still a useful religion for pragmatic reasons – so you might as well stay as a Christian. But rather, he laid out the fundamental implications if Jesus did not rise from the grave:

First, our preaching is in vain. That is, there’s no gospel message. We are wasting our time in this risky message. Second, we are shown to be liars. We’re selling a fake diamond or busted perfume with deep sincerity. Third, our faith is worthless; we are still in our sins. Our devotions and services are deemed to be just psychological make-ups we are just feeling quasi-genuine spiritual satisfaction. If that’s true, then this is where Karl Marx would get it right, that religion is an opium and an illusory happiness to the people. Fourth and lastly, we have no hope and worthy to be pitied. Why? Because the wrongs in this world will not be made right!

That’s pretty sad eh?

Walter Kaiser, the executive editor of The Archeological Study Bible: 

To divorce faith from history was to render our faith worth nothing. If the biblical depiction of the Christian faith cannot be trusted in the details, how can we be expected to trust it on the big ideas – assuming we can sort out which is which in every instance.1

So to sum it up, if the resurrection is untrue  Christianity is untrue! We are in not for a treat– but for a trap!

But is that really the case? Are we in for a trap?

The short answer is NO. Why? Because we are in a good position to show that the resurrection is the most reasonable inference from the facts.

There are basic yet undeniable facts supporting Jesus’ resurrection:

  • Jesus died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate
  • empty tomb
  • the disciples belief in the bodily appearances of Jesus
  • the skeptics’ (Paul and James) belief in the bodily appearances of Jesus;
  • and their willingness to die as martyrs

Gary Habermas, who is probably the historian who had most studied the issue, concluded that “these are established historical facts accepted by the majority of critical historians including the most skeptical.”2

So let’s take a closer look.

First, Jesus’ death by crucifixion is a fact that even liberal scholars affirmed. Scholars like the Gerd Lüdemann, John Dominic Crossan (from the Jesus Seminar), Paula Fredricksen, etc. Even the agnostic Bart Ehrman confessed: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on the orders of a Roman prefect of Judea.” Now, if that’s the case, then the Qur’an got it wrong. Muhammad got it wrong when he said in Surah 4, Ayat 157 that “they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them.” Sorry, but no critical historians accepted that evil-twin theory!

Second, the earliest records of Jesus’s biography (the gospel accounts) testify that the tomb was empty (see Matt. 28:6; Mk. 16:4-6; Lk. 24:23; Jn. 20:1-10). This piece of evidence is undeniable that even the Roman guards who knew it and reported it to their elders  ironically, they plotted the conspiracy to tell the people that the disciples came towards the tomb by night and stole Jesus’ body away while they were asleep (Matt 28:13).3 In short, we cannot deny that we got here an empty tomb! As William Lane Craig says, “it would have been virtually impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty.4

Why such a big deal? Because if you’re creating a religion that requires submission and devotion from people, you wouldn’t start from the place (that’s Jerusalem) where people can easily falsify your religion by showing the body of Jesus  not unless the tomb is really empty and the body is nowhere to be found!

Third, the disciples’ belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is nothing but clear. The gospel accounts accompanied by the testimony of the church’s development in the book of Acts, testify their beliefs. Paul documents in 1 Cor. 15:3, an early Jewish creed that dates back within months after Jesus death (James D. G. Dunn and even other liberal scholars like Marcus J. Borg affirmed this one), that Jesus was bodily raised, and a number of people were eyewitnesses to it. Gary Habermans and Michael Licona, expressed in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, that “from fearful cowering individuals who denied and abandoned him [Jesus] at his arrest and execution,” they were transformed “into bold proclaimers of the gospel of the risen Lord.5  Yes, that includes the previously-coward Peter who denied Jesus three times!

Fourth, the skeptics’ (Paul and James) belief in the bodily appearances of Jesus is another. We can see this truth by reading their own writings. James was Jesus’ skeptical brother who was one of the gang, who thought perhaps Jesus was out of his mind for making radical statements about himself and about the world (Mk 3:21). Yet we can see in the book of Acts, that is post-resurrection, that James became an overseeing elder in the early church (see Acts 15:13) and identified himself “as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jam. 1:1). Yes, he did confess that Jesus is Lord! Paul, in the other hand, was formerly known as Saul who persecuted the early church and who gave orders to execute Stephen (see Acts 8:1-3). But that same Paul, who persecuted the early church became the chief proclaimer and defender of the gospel towards the Gentiles. He even wrote the two-thirds of the New Testament!

And lastly, their willingness to die as martyrs. Entire books have been written about this reality. I am in no way proud and positioned to do the exhaustive analysis of that. But just to give a glimpse, the first century Jewish historian Josephus (36-100 A.D.) recorded that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was delivered to be martyred and stoned to death.6 Paul was beheaded by Nero. All of disciples lived the life of persecution, and most of them died as martyrs. This does not mean that the resurrection is true because they willingly died as martyrs. Their willingness to die has nothing to say whether the resurrection is true or a blunder. It’s a non-sequitor! But their willingness to die as martyrs proved that they sincerely believed (that includes the former skeptics Paul and James) that Jesus bodily resurrected!

How do we explain all those facts?

There’s only one plausible explanation that can account all of them, and that is the resurrection of Jesus. Other theories (e.g., hallucination, theft hypothesis, wrong-tomb theory, swoon theory, spiritual appearances, etc.) fall short from the graphical criteria (e.g., explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, not being ad hoc, not-contradictory, far seeing from its rival hypotheses, etc.).

So answer the question: Is the knowledge of the resurrection “true only for the Christians?” 

The short answer is NO!

The resurrection is true regardless of the varying beliefs of other people. And that reality tells us that God is involved and he cares for us. And that humanity’s greatest fear, that is death, will not have the final word. That same reality assures us also, that one day, perfect love will drive away all of our fears (1 John 4:18). And that tears are no longer part of reality, because our Lord will wipe away every tear in our eyes (Rev. 21:4 ).

The resurrection tells us that one day we will have our real home. As the great thinker Augustine expressed, that when we come to our final home “there we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.7

And that is only true for but for no other reason that He is risen!

[1] Quoted from “Sodom: What Archeology Tells Us,” in Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington, Faith & Culture: The Guide To a Culture Shaped by Faith, 44.

[2] Habermas, “Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What Are Critical Scholars Saying?” in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3/2 (2005)” 135-53.

[3] This conspiracy is totally funny because the idea that the Roman guards were tricked while they were asleep is totally not in consonance with the nature of the Roman guards commanded by Pilate to secure the tomb to prevent any fraud to happen (see Matt. 27:62-66).

[4] William Lane Craing, “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Jesus Under Fire: The Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, ed. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 166.

[5] Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for The Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel Publications, 2004.

[6] See section 20.200 of his Jewish Antiquities.

[7] Augustine, The City of God, 22.30.