Calvary Road Baptist Church

“PROVING THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead will be celebrated throughout Christendom next Sunday. In preparation for that event, I would like to bring some things to your attention:

First, I would like to bring to your attention the importance of the resurrection to the Christian faith. This is easily established by the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians chapter 15, so turn there at this time if you please. In verses 3-4, we see that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a central feature of Christian doctrine:

3      For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

4      And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.

No one who knows Christian doctrine (and Christianity is nothing apart from Christian doctrine) argues that the resurrection is not foundational and that apart from the resurrection being true, there is no Christianity. Not saying that only Christians realize this truth, but that anyone who knows anything about Christianity knows that Christianity rises and falls, not on good deeds, not on generosity and love, but on the fact of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. This inescapable conclusion is drawn by the Apostle Paul himself. In First Corinthians 15.14, he wrote, “. . . if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Then, in verse 17 of the same chapter, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” Thus, the man who wrote thirteen (fourteen if he was the author of Hebrews) of the twenty-nine books of the New Testament reveals that Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection. If the Lord Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on the third day, to then ascend to heaven where He is presently enthroned awaiting His glorious return, then Christianity is just another of the many religious constructs like Hinduism, like Buddhism, like the Bahai, like the Sikhs, like animists and Mother Earth worshipers, and like Islam. Among the numerous unique features of Christianity that distinguishes it from all other faith systems known to man is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While you are wrapping your mind around that, allow me to shift to a completely different part of your thinking, a consideration of the severe limitations inherent in the application of science. Of course, the world in which we live has greatly benefited from scientific discovery and innovation, resulting in a blindness on the part of many with respect to the limitations of science. There are things science simply cannot do. Let me explain: Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines science as “systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principle of what is being studied.”[1] That same dictionary defines history as “the branch of knowledge that deals systematically with the past; a recording, analyzing, co-ordinating, and explaining of past events.”[2] If you reflect on these two definitions, as I have, it becomes clear that science is limited by its very nature to that which can be observed and experimented on. Therefore, any event which occurs only once and therefore cannot be evaluated by experimentation lies completely outside the reach of science. History, on the other hand, is a much more expansive discipline insofar as its ability to deal systematically with a past singularity event is concerned, while science’s strengths lie in the realm of repeated observation, experimentation, and manipulation of events being studied. Understanding these two distinct disciplines, I suggest that you be wary of someone who is dismissive of history as being irrelevant, as being passé, or as not being germane to a present discussion. George Orwell warned us of people who are dismissive of historical realities in his book 1984. Communists are dismissive of the past in their attempts to force events into their preconceived view of the relentless march of history toward a proletarian utopia. Then, of course, there is the muslim effort to eradicate history by destroying ancient Buddhist carvings in Afghanistan, the ongoing effort to destroy artifacts as they are discovered on the Temple mount in Jerusalem and in the West Bank region of Israel, and the threats to destroy the pyramids in Egypt as evil relics of an idolatrous past.

History is important. History should never be dismissed or impatiently discarded as an irrelevancy. To those who seek the truth, history is always regarded as our ally and as our friend. It was the Spaniard, George Santayana, who gave credence to the importance of history when he wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[3] Therefore, I suggest that we show the proper respect to history this morning concerning one of the most important historical events that has ever occurred, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Specifically, my aim this morning is to show that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an event that can be historically proven. However, before I actually embark on a proof of Christ’s resurrection, I think it is advisable to rehearse five principles that are valuable to the historian and which I am convinced make good sense to you, as well: First, multiple independent sources support historical claims. When you have a number of unrelated eyewitnesses asserting the same event, the historical claim is more likely. Second, attestation by an enemy supports historical claims. Thus, if someone who was an enemy of the Greeks admitted the Greeks won a certain battle, then the historical claim is more likely. Third, embarrassing admissions support historical claims. This recognizes that people are very unlikely to say embarrassing things about themselves that are not true, such as the enemies of Christianity actually admitting Christ’s tomb was empty on the third day. Fourth, eyewitness testimony supports historical claims. One would expect an actual witness to an event to be more reliable than someone who heard about the event second hand. Finally, early testimony supports historical claims. That is, the closer the time between the event and testimony about it, the more reliable the witness, since there is less time for exaggeration, and even legend, to creep into the account. These are the considerations of historians in the course of their investigations of past events.

Let me quickly review what I have set before you so far this morning to this point: First, I showed that the Apostle Paul was convinced that without the resurrection of Christ the Christian faith is vain, nothing, empty, and meaningless. Next, I defined science and then I defined history, before pointing out to you that some truths are quite beyond the reach of science. The resurrection is just such a thing, a singularity event that cannot be reproduced by scientists or experimented on by scientists, therefore beyond the reach of scientists. However, it is not beyond the reach of historians. I then rehearsed five principles that are not only valuable to historians, but that also make good sense to thinking people.

Turning to the proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, let me begin by pointing out that I am intentionally restricting my proofs to five facts. I do so for two reasons: First, I do not want to overwhelm you with so much evidence that you quickly lose interest in the subject and start yawning. Second, I want to limit my comments to facts that are beyond dispute, believed by the entirety of the academic community of historians with expertise in these matters, both Christians and non-Christians. Where there is no academic unanimity, I will point it out to you.

Let us begin:

The First Fact: JESUS DIED BY CRUCIFIXION

Consider these accounts from early and varied sources: “That Jesus was executed by crucifixion is recorded in all four gospels. However, a number of non-Christian sources of the period report the event as well.”[4] Flavius Josephus, a Jewish general defeated by the Romans, wrote in Antiquities, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified . . . .”  The Roman historian Tacitus, writing in Annals, reports, “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” Lucian of Samosata, the Greek satirist, wrote, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.” A philosopher living in Syria shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, Mara Bar-Serapion, wrote these words to his son while in prison: “Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” Although Mara does not mention crucifixion as the mode of Jesus’ execution, he does say that he was killed. The Talmud is an ancient Jewish commentary on many topics written in Hebrew and Aramaic, in which is reported that “on the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.” Yeshu is Joshua in Hebrew. The equivalent in Greek is Iesous or Jesus. Being hung on a tree was used to describe crucifixion in antiquity.

Clearly, Jesus’ death by crucifixion is a historical fact supported by considerable evidence. Even a scholar of the Jesus Seminar, a group renown for their critical attitude toward Christianity, John Dominic Crossan, writes, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”[5] Do these accounts and conclusions guarantee that you will not find yourself confronted by a self-proclaimed expert who insists Jesus was not crucified? Of course, not! The entire Muslim religion categorically denies the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, the crucifixion is historically established, even if it is not always admitted.

The Second Fact: JESUS’ DISCIPLES BELIEVED THAT HE ROSE AND APPEARED TO THEM

It is not disputed by historians familiar with the subject that early Christians believed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that He subsequently appeared to them.

Consider, first, the claims of early Christians. From the Apostle Paul, we learn that early Christians were adamant in their personal conviction that they had seen Jesus Christ after He has risen from the dead. As a matter of fact, Paul makes reference in his Corinthian letter to those with whom he was acquainted, including more than 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection who were still alive at the time of his writing.[6] Additionally, we find evidence in the form of oral tradition and written tradition, from sermons that were preached, from gospel accounts and book of Acts summaries, and from the writings of a group of early Christians known as Apostolic Fathers, that a distinguishing feature of the early Christians was their claim Jesus had risen from the dead.

As well, consider the faith of the early Christians. It is one thing to espouse something as true in an effort to propagandize others. However, it is quite another thing to suffer, even to the extent of martyrdom, for something. I think we can reasonably agree that people do not die for something they believe is not true. You do not die for what you know is a lie. Therefore, the hundreds of men and women who testified they had seen Jesus Christ after He had risen from the dead, and who were so steady in their assertion that they were willing to die rather than recant, were willing to die rather than take back their testimony, were willing die in order to advance the gospel that was based upon the resurrection, had to be convinced that what they said was true.

There is no credible historian speaking to his expertise about the resurrection of Jesus Christ who denies that early Christians were convinced the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. They would not have died for what they knew to be a lie.

The Third Fact: THE CHURCH PERSECUTOR PAUL WAS SUDDENLY CHANGED

Who was the greatest enemy of Christianity in the years immediately after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ? Who was the man who consented to the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen?[7] Who was so zealous to stamp out Christianity among Jewish believers that he obtained written authorization from religious authorities to travel to other cities in pursuit of believers to persecute them, imprison them, and haul them back to Jerusalem for trial and execution?[8] He was then known as Saul of Tarsus. However, this man came to be the most influential Christian of all time, the apostle to the Gentiles, the human author of at least thirteen New Testament books, and the most authoritative spokesman for the gospel of God’s grace brought to bear by the justification that comes from faith in Christ. By what name do we know this man? The Apostle Paul.

What produced this change? What transformed the most aggressive and malevolent enemy of Christianity into its most devoted and fruitful advocate? He said it was the direct result of seeing Jesus Christ after He had risen from the dead. And he said it again, and again, and again, and again. Was he wrong? Would you challenge that scholar, that well educated Pharisee, that sophisticated thinker who grew to maturity at the feet of the famed rabbi Gamaliel, by telling him he did not know what he was talking about? Or perhaps you think he gave it all up, standing in his community, prestige, influence, a sterling reputation, for a life of suffering and persecution that ended with his martyrdom for a lie. Seriously? Would anyone knowingly die for a lie? Would the greatest enemy of Christianity become the greatest of all Christians as a result of seeing Jesus raised from the dead, only it was all a lie? Do smart people do that?

Read Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and possibly Hebrews, and tell me the writer of those letters was unbalanced, was off his nut, was not all there. I think he was a sophisticated thinker led by the Spirit of God, and I challenge anyone to conjure up an explanation for Paul’s dramatic change other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Fourth Fact: THE SKEPTIC BROTHER, JAMES, WAS SUDDENLY CHANGED

In 2002, what was thought to be a significant archaeological discovery was made. An ancient ossuary or bone box dating to the first century was found with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” While controversy continues regarding the authenticity of the inscription, the fact that such a find enthralled the religious world shows the historical importance attached to James, the brother of Jesus.[9]

The gospels report that Jesus had at least four brothers, James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, plus unnamed sisters, Matthew 13.55-56 and Mark 6.3. The earlier mentioned Jewish historian Josephus, again writing in Antiquities, refers to the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, whose name was James. James appears to have been a pious Jewish believer. Paul’s letter to the Galatians condemns legalistic men claiming affiliation with James who were teaching the churches in Galatia that Christians had to keep the Jewish Law in addition to putting their faith in Jesus, Galatians 2.12-13. To resolve this issue, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas spoke before a church council in Jerusalem. James, obviously the leader of the council at the time, made the following pronouncement in Acts 15.19-20:

19     Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

20     But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

A second century manuscript has been discovered, written by a man named Hegesippus, who reports that James was a pious Jew, the brother of the Lord, was a church leader with the apostles, who strictly followed the Jewish law, and was called the Just from that time until the time of his writing.[10]

We do not have the same wealth of historical information on the life of James that we have for Paul. However, we have enough information to conclude that after the alleged event of Jesus’ resurrection, James, the brother of Jesus, became a convert to Christianity because he believed the risen Jesus appeared to him. This conclusion is arrived at because, first, the gospels report that Jesus’ brothers, including James, were unbelievers during His ministry (Mark 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; John 7:5 20). Second, First Corinthians 15.3-7 lists an appearance of the risen Jesus to James: “He was seen of James.” Third, subsequent to the alleged event of Jesus’ resurrection, James is identified as a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15.12-21; Galatians 1.19). Finally, not only did James convert to Christianity, but his beliefs in his brother Jesus and His resurrection were so strong that he died as a martyr because of them. James’s martyrdom is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. His martyrdom is attested by both Christian and non-Christian sources.

With James, we have another case of a well-known unbeliever converting to Christianity based on his firm conviction he had seen Jesus following His resurrection. May I state once more that men do not die for what they know to be a lie? For James to have been martyred as a Christian leader, when it would have been so easy to escape death by simply saying certain words, has to mean that he was firmly convinced his brother by the same mother had risen from the dead and he had seen Him. That was the only thing that could have convinced such a skeptic.

The Final Fact: THE EMPTY TOMB

After He died on the cross, the body of Jesus was taken down and placed in a rich man’s tomb, a large stone placed over the opening, the opening then both sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers.[11] Do you remember that I promised to tell you if there was not unanimity among scholars? Up to this point there has been unanimity among credible scholars concerning the death of Christ, early Christians believing they had seen the risen Christ, the dramatic change of Christianity’s greatest enemy, Paul, and the astonishing change of Christianity’s greatest skeptic, James. However, unanimity does not exist among credible scholars with respect to the tomb being empty following Christ’s resurrection. Allow me to rehearse some facts so you can make up your own mind:

First, there is the Jerusalem factor. Jesus of Nazareth was publicly executed in Jerusalem. Keep in mind that His post-resurrection appearances were all in and around Jerusalem. Therefore, how difficult would it have been to refute the claim of early Christians that the tomb was empty when they were proclaiming His resurrection at the Temple and everywhere testifying that they had seen the risen Christ? The opponents simply had to, a) show the body of Christ to prove the early Christians wrong, or, b) point out the not truly empty tomb to show their claims to be wrong. I have been to Jerusalem about ten times. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for anyone in Jerusalem to take a very short walk to the tomb Jesus had been buried in, the tomb Roman soldiers guarded on penalty of death for failure, to prove the resurrection claim to be wrong. Yet, while opponents of Christianity were numerous in those days just like today, why did not one enemy of the gospel deny that the tomb was empty or provide what they claimed to be the body of Jesus? Of all cities in the world there one would be less likely to successfully perpetrate a resurrection fraud, it would be Jerusalem, the city where the event was claimed to have occurred and where the claim could best be verified.

Second, there is enemy attestation. Sometimes your bitterest opponents can actually supply some of the most convincing evidence of your claim. For example: If even your bitterest rival agrees that you are a man of integrity, his testimony can be more helpful than your mother insisting what a good boy you are. The same type of authentication is provided about the empty tomb. Early critics of Christianity accused the disciples of stealing the body of Jesus from the tomb. What does that accusation establish? It establishes that the tomb was empty. It also ignores the fact that to believe the body of Jesus was stolen you must explain how terrified and cowardly disciples got past seasoned Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. If Christ was not raised from the dead, the enemies of Christianity would have been far better served by showing everyone His dead body, by taking witnesses to the tomb not empty. However, they could not do that. Why not? Because they had no body, He had raised from the dead. They could not point to the tomb, because the early disciples discovered it was empty and started telling everyone in the city what had happened.

Finally, there was the testimony of the women. If you were conspiring to steal a dead man’s body (assuming, for just a moment, that you could get past the Roman soldiers to roll that very heavy stone away), would you select as your first witnesses to verify your concocted story witnesses who were the least credible in that culture? “If the account of the empty tomb had been invented, it would most like not have listed the women as the primary witnesses, since in that day a woman’s testimony was not nearly as credible as a man’s. Thus, the empty tomb appears to be historically credible in light of the principle of embarrassment.”[12] “The empty tomb is, therefore, well evidenced for historical certainty. Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes, ‘All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.’”[13]

Therefore, based upon five historical facts firmly established, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Four of the facts leading to this conclusion are unanimously held by scholars: Jesus’ crucifixion, early believer’s belief that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, the dramatic change of Christianity’s greatest enemy attributed by him to seeing Jesus risen from the dead, and the dramatic change of James, the half-brother skeptic, owing to him seeing Jesus after He had risen from the dead. Additionally, there is the empty tomb for all in Jerusalem to see for themselves, not accepted by all scholars, but with more than credible evidence of its certainty, in my opinion.

There is only one belief system known to man that is constructed on a series of historical facts upon which that belief system rises or falls. That belief system is Christianity and central to the historical facts upon which Christianity rises or falls is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. No other belief system appeals to such historical certainties, because they are basically fictional in nature and cannot appeal to history. Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ so important? The resurrection goes to the very heart of Who He is and what He has done. If He is who He said He is, death cannot hold Him and He must needs have risen from the dead. If He did what He said He did, He must rise from the dead to fulfill the purpose of Him dying on the cross.

Would you like to know why Jesus Christ died on the cross? That question is answered, in part, by a very fine booklet I would like you to have.

Please send me an email request for the eight page booklet "Christ's Substitutionary Sacrifice," published by the Trinitarian Bible Society and I will send it to you at the mailing address you provide.


[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1622.

[2] Ibid., page 863.

[3] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Santayana 3/22/13

[4] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004) page 49.

[5]Ibid.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15.5-7

[7] Acts 8.1

[8] Acts 9.2; 22.9; 26.10-11

[9] Habermas and Licona, page 67.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Matthew 27.57-66; Mark 15.43-46

[12] Habermas and Licona, page 73.

[13] Ibid.



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