Christians around the world this weekend are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection of Jesus is for Christians the most important event in human history. If the Resurrection is merely fiction, then the whole of Christianity falls apart. It becomes a foolish religion, worse than useless, in fact.
This article looks very briefly at some of the historical and rational evidence for the Resurrection.
Let’s start with a piece of rational evidence hidden “in plain sight”. Christianity has more followers today than any other religion on Earth. However, we know that there was a time when there were no Christians on this planet. So, why are there Christians today? Rational cause and effect tells us that at some point in the past, something must have happened (some cause) that had the effect of compelling some people who weren’t Christians to become Christians.
Now this might sound like stating the obvious (and I suppose it is), but for all of us – atheists, agnostics, Christians, those of other faiths – this provides a direct challenge. Cause and effect tells us that the start of Christianity is a historical event. As a result, when and why Christianity started can be studied like any other historical event. Historians of all faiths and no faith have been doing this very thing for about 200 years. The key point we must not lose sight of is that “something happened” to cause all the Christianity we see all around us today. Something happened to start it all in the first place – and given all the historical research that’s been directed towards finding out “what happened”, all of us can come to your own, informed view of what we think happened.
So what do today’s historians think “happened”. The consensus view is that the disciples of Jesus saw Him alive (though in what sense is debated) after His death. If you look hard enough on the internet you may find other theories, but this is the consensus view of professional historians who study this period of history.
So, given the above, the issue boils down to, what was it the first disciples saw. Was it the Resurrected Jesus or something else – or did they make the whole thing up.
One explanation could be: it’s pretty easy to appear to your disciples after your “death” if you didn’t die in the first place. I covered this in the companion piece to this article on “The Crucifixion” and there we concluded that it’s most likely that Jesus was crucified and died.
If Jesus died we are left with three possibilities other than the disciples actually seeing the risen Jesus.
First Possibility: Did they see a ghost?
For us in the “rational” 21st century, this is about as hard to grasp as seeing the Resurrected Jesus. However, the descriptions of a “physical” Jesus in the written sources, that could eat, drink and be touched doesn’t sound like a spectral appearance.
Second Possibility: Were they subject to some form of hysteria?
The followers of Jesus would have been very distraught after Jesus’ death. That can make people a bit irrational and unstable. Is it possible that seeing Jesus alive again was all in their minds? Mass hallucination brought on by fevered imagination and wish fulfillment?
In response to this, our knowledge of psychology tells us that hallucinations are individual occurrences. They aren’t something that happen to groups of people at the same time. If you don’t believe me type “hallucination” then “mass hallucination” into Google (or any other search engine) and see what you get. When I did this for this article, I got articles on the medical condition when I typed “hallucination”. When I typed “mass hallucination” I was directed to various websites dealing with “mass hysteria” (which is a thing) rather than mass hallucination (which clearly isn’t a thing).
Also, there are multiple appearances of Jesus over a period of over 5 weeks to different people and to the same people more than once to be explained.
You could just about imagine a situation where a small group of people grieving in a room together might work themselves up into such an emotional frenzy that they all were able to convince each other that they saw the person they were grieving over.
Could any of the appearance events fit with something like this?
If I’m honest, the circumstances of one or two could. Although, there is nothing in the written sources hinting that anything like this actually occurred. For the rest, the actual appearance descriptions just don’t fit with some form of hysterical event.
- Two disciples are walking to a village called Emmaus in broad daylight. They are chatting when suddenly Jesus appears with them.
- The disciples are out catching fish on the Sea of Galilee, as they come ashore, Jesus is waiting for them and has cooked breakfast for them.
- Jesus appears to 500 people at the same time.
When these are studied and dissected, there is little or no evidence to suggest that “hysteria” played a part in the appearance events experienced by the disciples.
Third Possibility: Did the disciples just make it all up?
It’s an important fact worth repeating, that nearly all of the first disciples met violent deaths proclaiming Jesus as the risen Son of God. They just wouldn’t have done this if they had made the whole thing up.
So, as I mentioned above, today’s historians (Christian and non-Christian) specialising in 1st century near Eastern history are of the majority view that the disciples “saw” Jesus after His death. So, “in what sense” did they see Jesus?
- It’s unlikely they saw a ghost.
- It’s unlikely they suffered some form of hysterical event.
- It’s unlikely they made it up.
In the rational 21st century, it’s difficult to get our heads around the idea of a man dying and coming back to life again three days later. It’s pretty implausible. But… historians tell us that the disciples “saw” Jesus after His death.
By deduction, it would seem that the least unlikely explanation is that they actually saw Jesus alive after His death. And what’s more, the other explanations look even more “implausible” than this.
Is any of this Important to You Today?
What we haven’t discussed here is Jesus’ message – and what the implications of it are for all of us. There’s isn’t space to do that here either! However, consider this. If Jesus is the Son of God, if Jesus is real, then His message is real too and how you respond to it has consequences for you in this life – and beyond.
In the last 2,000 years, countless lives have been positively transformed by Jesus’ message. If you truly accept Jesus’ message, it’s always a positive transformation.
So do you not owe it to yourselves to weigh up the masses of historical and rational evidence not covered in this article* and decide what you think? If you do this and decide Jesus is real, do you not owe it to yourselves to find out what His message is and open yourself – at least to the possibility – of experiencing that radical positive transformation?