For nearly 2000 years there has been the historical phenomena of Christianity. In spite of the fact that the church throughout its early years suffered intense persecution at the hands of both the Jews and the Romans, it flourished. Many of the first missionaries of the Christian faith died a martyr’s death because of their belief in Jesus Christ.
Why were these early Christians willing to face death for their belief in Jesus Christ? It was because they were convinced of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this proved without a doubt that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the one and only Savior of the world. And, so for them, death was not the end. The resurrection is a historical fact–not just some philosophical ideal or idea.
As a result, the message of the early church was always centered around the historical fact of the resurrection. And this was not just a theological myth which began circulating 20 or 30 years later among the followers of Jesus Christ. It was a message proclaimed immediately beginning with the morning of the third day. It was a message based upon incontrovertible evidence.
Luke 24:9-11; 33-35 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 And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. . . . 33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.” 35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
Acts 1:21-22 “It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us– 22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us– one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
Acts 2:23-24; 31-32 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. . . . 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.
Acts 3:14-15 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
Acts 10:39-41 “And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 “God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
Acts 13:29-39 “And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. 30 “But God raised Him from the dead; 31 and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. 32 “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.’ 34 “And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 “Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.’ 36 “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. 38 “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
Acts 17:30-31 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. “
Acts 26:22-23 “And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
Notice how the book of Acts begins:
Acts 1:1-3 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
Without the resurrection it would have ended with verse 1. Death would have been the conclusion. But notice what verses 2 and 3 have to say:
“Convincing proofs” in verse 3 is the Greek tekmerion which is related to the Greek word tekma, meaning “a fixed boundary, goal, end.” Tekmerion means “a fixed and sure sign, evidence, or proof.” The word was used of demonstrable proof and evidence in contrast to mere philosophical superstition or in contrast to fallible signs. Galen a medical writer of the second century A.D. so used this word. Here Luke, the historical physician, one practiced in gathering evidence, chooses this special word for sure historical proof, the strongest type of legal evidence.
In addition to this Luke adds to this word “many.” So Luke tells us that he had carefully examined the evidence. Dr. Luke, who lived in the time of Jesus Christ and who had personally talked to many eye witnesses, tells us there were many demonstrable and incontrovertible proofs, not merely one or two, but many. (Cf. Luke 1:1-2)
From the beginning there have been those who have rejected the resurrection as a hoax, a tale, a lie or fiction. A number of theories have been advance to disprove the resurrection, but all of these have been solidly discredited by one historical scholar after another. So interestingly, not one shred of solid evidence has ever been given to support these claims. Then why do men make these claims? Because they have never examined the evidence, or because of their prejudice, their philosophical bias, and unbelief in the miraculous.
The silence of Christ’s enemies and the lack of historical evidence against the resurrection is almost as strong an evidence as the positive evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have in my library a book covering a debate between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew entitled, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, the Resurrection Debate. The debate was held in Dallas and was judged by a panel of judges organized into two panels of experts in their respective areas of specialty to render a verdict on the subject matter of the debate. One panel consisted of five philosophers who were asked to judge the content of the debate and render a winner. The second panel consisted of five professional debate judges who were asked to judge the argumentation technique of the debaters. All ten participants serve on the faculties of American universities and colleges such as the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Virginia, Western Kentucky University, James Madison University, and George Mason University.
The decision of the judges were as follows. The panel of philosophers judging content cast four votes for Habermas who argued for the fact of the resurrection, none for Flew, and one draw. The panel of professional debate judges voted three to two, also in favor of Habermas, this time regarding the method of argumentation technique. Note what one judge said:
I am of the position that the affirmative speaker [Habermas] has a very significant burden of proof in order to establish his claims. The various historical sources convinced me to adopt the arguments of the affirmative speaker. Dr. Flew, on the other hand, failed, particularly in the rebuttal period and the head-to-head session, to introduce significant supporters of his position. Dr. Habermas placed a heavy burden on Dr. Flew to refute very specific issues. As the rebuttals progressed, I felt that Dr. Flew tried to skirt the charges (Habermas and Flew, p. xiv).
Another professional debate judge said:
I conclude that the historical evidence, though flawed, is strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. Habermas has already won the debate. . . . . By defeating the Hume-inspired skeptical critique on miracles in general offered by Flew and by demonstrating the strength of some of the historical evidence, Habermas does end up providing “highly probably evidence” for the historicity of the resurrection “with no plausible naturalistic evidence against it.” Habermas, therefore, in my opinion, wins the debate (Ibid., p. xv).