5 Historical Facts of Jesus' Resurrection

5 Historical Facts of Jesus' Resurrection

Christianity comprises many beliefs and truths about God that make up our faith. From the creation of the world itself to the return of Christ and the end of this world as we know it, to how we should live our very lives or don’t – there’s a lot to learn and understand about God.

Fascinatingly, the resurrection of Jesus underpins everything we believe. If the resurrection isn’t true, if Jesus – God as Man – didn’t come, live, die, and resurrect, then everything and anything about Christianity (belief in God) is essentially irrelevant. I will often outright tell unbelievers that if you want to disprove Christianity, you don’t need to waste your time with fringe arguments and evidence about God or the Bible – you just need to disprove the resurrection of Jesus because everything, EVERYTHING, hinges on that.

As apologist Justin Brierley shares, there are several historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus that even most scholars and historians agree upon. That’s significant because just about everything we know today, whether biblical or secular, has been passed down through written and historical accounts. How do we know if anything really happened if we weren’t there? Of course, none of us were alive in ~33 AD or even in later times. How do we even know things like the rise and fall of the ancient Roman empire? Because we can study and scrutinize the historical accounts and evidence to reconstruct the past as scholars and historians have done for ages.

Reliability of The New Testament

Although as followers of Christ who affirm the Bible, and specifically the New Testament covering the life of Jesus, to be the inspired Word of God, from a manuscript standpoint, it’s no different than any other historical document or ancient writing. However, it is different in that it’s the most superior of ancient writings for quantity (over 5600 Greek copies, 24,000+ copies total) and accuracy (99.5% textually pure). 

Adding to its authenticity is the fact that the period between the originals and copies is less than 100 years; notable even compared to popular writings by authors such as Plato, Aristotle, etc., whose period between the original and copies spans hundreds of years. This is significant because the longer the time between an original and a copy, the more susceptible it could be to textual inaccuracies and changes. Yet with over 5600 Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament, it would be practically impossible to forge so many without the contradictions being called out. Not to mention, other non-biblical figures and writings from the same period could’ve certainly challenged the historical accounts and accuracy of the New Testament documents.

Therefore, we can rank the New Testament writings themselves as legitimate historical evidence. To further validate these claims, we’ll also consider non-biblical writers and evidence as we look at 5 historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus.

1] Jesus Died By Crucifixion

Matthew 27 first documents the physical death of Jesus by crucifixion. This is also corroborated in other texts (Books of Mark, Luke, John and more) by multiple authors further validating the reliability of these Gospel accounts.

Former cold-case homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace, chronicles evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible documenting several non-biblical philosophers and historians that not only spoke of Jesus but His death too, as well as the disciples, and other Biblical narratives:

Tacitus, Roman historian, 56-120 AD: “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…”

Mara Bar-Serapion, Syrian philosopher, 70 AD: “What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”

Lucian of Samosata, Greek satirist, 115-200 AD: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account….”

Among many others… including, hostile accounts. Interestingly, The Toledot Yeshu (1000 AD), is one such hostile account that attempts to retell the life of Jesus and dispute His validity and authority. What it doesn’t dispute is the acknowledgment of Jesus as a real historical figure along with facts (ex. death, empty tomb, followers that believed He rose, etc.) that coincide with the original Gospel narratives.

From these accounts, we can reliably suggest that the physical/bodily death of Jesus occurred – just like any other historical event.

2] The Tomb Was Discovered Empty

Matthew 28 records the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb after His crucifixion. Aside from the miraculous here, what’s also notable about this discovery is that it was by women – women whose testimony and reliability in that patriarchal era would’ve been questioned if not outright dismissed. Beyond reliability, these women would not have had the physical strength to move the stone-walled tomb entrance much less the authority to arrange for able-bodied men to do it.

The Gospel account even records a bribe of the Roman soldiers on behalf of the religious leaders to lie about Jesus’ body being stolen out of fear of the uprising that would happen. Regardless of the account one believed, what’s not in dispute about both accounts is that the tomb, once empty, was no longer.

3] Other Followers & Witnesses See Jesus Alive

In addition to Jesus appearing to His disciples as Matthew 28 records, and among many other post-resurrection appearances, the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 15.6 also documents Him as having appeared to more than 500 people during this time; certainly enough witnesses to make or break the claim of Jesus being alive after His very public crucifixion. While non-biblical accounts of the resurrection are more rare one such account by the historian Josephus affirms Jesus’ existence, death, and resurrection.

4] Jesus Skeptics Were Converted

In John 7.1-5, it records that not even Jesus’ biological brothers believed that was the Messiah – and the one to go on, die, and rise again. One brother in particular, James, offers arguably the most interesting account of Jesus claiming to be who He said He was as well as believing in His resurrection. Because who else could be your greatest skeptic or supporter besides your biological sibling that you grew up with?

Not only were James and Jesus’ siblings unbelieving of Him as the Messiah, but they were even hostile about it – believing Him to be out of His mind (Mark 3.21). We know that Jesus’ family was present for His death (John 19.25-30) – which likely would’ve included James. But even if not, he would’ve been well aware. Later we see Jesus appearing to James (post-resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15.7) and James going on to become a devoted follower of Jesus the Christ (Acts 1.14, 15.13-21) – no longer a skeptic. If Jesus had not resurrected, James of all people would’ve justifiably remained unconvinced and would’ve been credibly able to dispute contrary claims and the Christian movement.

Another devout skeptic was Saul, who became Paul at conversion and was a literal persecutor and murderer of Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). What could be so powerful to transform a relentless murderer into the most devoted follower? A resurrected Jesus. Later on in 2 Timothy 4, we see Paul imprisoned, in pain, nearing death, and ready to go on.

What’s most fascinating about Paul and all of Jesus’ disciples is that they gave up their lives as they knew them. And later, the physical lives as well. They sacrificed their security, shelter, peace, luxury, normalcy, freedom, ostracization, and on and on – all for what? For who? If Jesus didn't return from the grave, their mission would’ve been over. He would’ve been a fraud. And it would’ve made no sense to endure everything they did. But a resurrection would’ve been undeniable.

5] The Early Church’s Growth

The birth and spread of Jesus’ Church and the faith then until now can’t be denied or underplayed. Jesus’ message of salvation and His resurrection as proof was so powerful, that the early Church rapidly, and exponentially grew – and is still growing today. One account even mentions 3,000 believers coming to faith in a single day (Acts 2.41).

With such growth spawning from this one very convincing event, Jesus’ life and resurrection, it would be hard or even impossible to deny the validity and magnitude of such an occurrence. The skeptics and many physical appearances, or lack thereof, give ample opportunity to negate and dispute these claims.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, His family, the historians and philosophers of those times, the 500 people He didn’t appear to, and the thousands that didn’t come to a false faith all based on this event, would paint a picture that’s much different than what we see today.