Facts about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
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Sir William Ramsay, regarded as one of the greatest archaeologists ever, investigated the writings of Luke in an apparent effort to undermine the Gospel writer's credentials as a historian, and to discredit the entire New Testament. After 30 years of study, however, Ramsay concluded, "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy... this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."1,2



Gospel writers' accounts of Jesus' burial and resurrection

Matthew 27:59 - 28:3 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. 62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' 64 "Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day , of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.

Mark 15:44 - 16:4 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid. 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

Luke 23:50 - 24:12 And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man 51 (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; 52 this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. 54 It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; 5 and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 6 "He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7 saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." 8 And they remembered His words, 9 and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.

John 19:40 - 20:8 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.

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Consider the strength of the evidence

1. The large stone was moved, in spite of the Roman guards and seal

Jesus' tomb was secured in three ways:

(a) A large stone was rolled against it. It was customary to roll big stones against tombs; the stones were generally too big to be moved by just a few men, so levers were used to move them. Some have estimated that the stone that sealed Jesus' tomb weighed 1-1/2 to 2 two tons (1,361-1,814 Kilograms), which is the approximate weight of a midsize car.

(b) A Roman guard unit--which usually consisted of four soldiers--was stationed at the tomb. Roman guards were strictly disciplined fighting men held to the highest standards. Failure often required death by torturous and humiliating methods.

(c) The Roman seal was affixed to the stone that secured the tomb. The seal stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. Breaking the seal meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.1

On resurrection Sunday morning, the first thing that impressed the people who approached the tomb was that the large stone was moved.3 Certainly the entire guard unit would not have fallen asleep with torture and death as the consequences. But even if the guards did fall asleep, how could thieves have sneaked by the guards and moved the massive stone without waking them up?


2. The tomb was empty

Jesus' tomb was near Jerusalem (John 19:42). Had the tomb not been empty, claims of the resurrection, which were first made in Jerusalem, could not have been maintained for even one hour-- people in Jerusalem could have gone to the tomb to check for themselves.3

Both Jewish and Roman sources and admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the "Toledoth jeshu."3


3. Jesus' burial wrappings were in the tomb

The linen wrappings in the tomb amazed the disciples. Jesus had simply moved through the wrappings, apparently without a struggle, and laid the face cloth aside. Had Jesus' body been stolen, the thieves would not have taken the time to remove the wrappings or fold the face cloth.


4. There were many witnesses to Jesus' appearances

In studying an event in history, it is important to know how many participants or eyewitnesses were still alive when reports about the event were published. If the number was substantial, the event can be regarded as fairly well established, because the eyewitnesses could have refuted an inaccurate report. For instance, if several people witness a murder, and the police report about it contains numerous lies, the eyewitnesses can refute it.3

The apostle Paul wrote that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. What's more, most of the 500 were still alive when Paul was proclaiming the resurrection, so skeptics could simply question the eyewitnesses:

1 Cor 15:3-6 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep


5. New Testament accounts were circulated among people who were alive at the time of the resurrection

Archaeological discoveries have confirmed that New Testament accounts of the resurrection were written within the lifetimes of people who were alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have denied the accuracy of the Gospel writers' accounts.


6. The followers of Christ were persecuted and killed for proclaiming the resurrection

Jesus' disciples fled when Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial prior to being crucified. They were apparently afraid that they would be imprisoned or killed for of their association with Jesus. Peter even denied that he knew Jesus. After Jesus was crucified and buried, they remained in hiding, afraid and depressed, until Mary and others came to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Why would these men, who had displayed such cowardice, risk their lives in going from city to city proclaiming the resurrection, if they did not truly believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? They certainly gained nothing for doing so. The disciples did not receive wealth or prestige for preaching the resurrection; there were no material benefits whatsoever. In fact, they were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to lions, tortured, and crucified for their preaching.3

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Consider the weakness of theories given to deny the resurrection

1. Maybe the women who reported the missing body had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb

This would mean that the disciples also went to wrong tomb.

Also, the Jewish authorities and the Roman guards were not mistaken about the location of the tomb. If the women and the disciples had gone to the wrong tomb, the Jewish and Roman authorities would have immediately produced the body of Jesus from the proper tomb in order to stop the rumor of the resurrection.3


2. Maybe those who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus were hallucinating

It's difficult to imagine that more than 500 people had the same illusion or hallucination. Here again, the Jewish and Roman authorities could have produced the body to squelch the rumor.


3. Maybe Jesus swooned

The swoon theory is that Jesus didn't die, but merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought He was dead. When He later resuscitated, the disciples thought that He had risen from the dead.3

It contradicts medical science to believe that Jesus could have survived the crucifixion, let alone survived another two days in the tomb, removed the large stone, overpowered the Roman guards, and then convinced His followers that He had conquered death and the grave.3


4. Maybe Jesus' body was stolen

Who would have stolen the body?

As mentioned above, Jesus' disciples fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and taken away for trial prior to being crucified, and then they stayed in hiding until hearing of the resurrection. Why would these men, who had displayed such cowardice and depression, risk their lives trying to overpower the Roman guards and steal Jesus' body? And why would they have wanted to? There was nothing for them to gain by stealing the body. They were persecuted, tortured, and eventually killed for preaching the resurrection, so there was no motive for them to fabricate a lie.

What's more, even if the disciples would have wanted to maintain a conspiracy, they would not have been able.

Every conceivable method was used by Roman and Jewish officials to stop them from talking.3 Self-preservation would have eventually won over the disciples' commitment to a conspiracy. If the resurrection were a concocted hoax, the disciples would have testified against one another before succumbing to beatings or the death penalty. Think about America's Watergate: The Nixon administration, the most powerful group of men in the world at the time, could not maintain a conspiracy for even a few weeks. They buckled under pressure and chose self-preservation over maintaining a lie to save their leader.

Consider also that the Romans must not have believed that the disciples stole Jesus' body--had the officials believed it, they would have killed them for breaking the Roman seal.

Theft of Jesus' body by Jewish or Roman authorities doesn't make sense either. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, they could have produced the body of Jesus and put an end to Christianity. But they didn't.3

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Consider what historians say

Several historians have performed exhaustive evaluations of the facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ and concluded that there is no event of ancient history that is better supported by historical evidence. Statements by these historians  can be found in the book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell (see Further study, next).


Further study

For documentation of the facts presented in this article, as well as information on the reliability of the Bible, read the book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell. The book, as well as cassette tapes and books on related subjects, can be purchased from Josh McDowell Ministry, Box 1000, Dallas TX 75221, USA, Telephone 800-222-5674 or 972-907-1000.



1. McDowell, J. Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Here's Life Publishers, Inc., 1972,1979.

2. Ramsay, W. M. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953.

3. McDowell, J. "Evidence for the Resurrection," Josh McDowell Ministry, 1992.

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