The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the crowning proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be—God manifested in human flesh. His resurrection is of critical importance to the Christian faith. Fortunately, our faith is not a blind faith, as the world likes to say, but it is a faith based on evidence. This evidence should strengthen our trust in the Scriptures and encourage us to boldly live out our faith to a lost and dying world.
Let’s first look at the direct evidence of the resurrection: eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony is one of the most widely used and accepted forms of evidence in the court of law, and within the New Testament letters, we find many accounts.
First, even the Pharisees, Jesus’s arch enemies, agreed the tomb was empty. In Matthew 28:13, the Pharisees said to the guards who were guarding the tomb, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’” The Pharisees did not deny the emptiness of the tomb but began to fabricate a story to explain it away. If the religious leaders wanted to debunk the resurrection story, they only needed to produce the dead body of Christ, and with the financial and personnel resources available to them, surely they could have found a dead body, but they never did. The guards and the Pharisees gave eyewitness testimony to the empty tomb.
Next, we see the eyewitness testimony of the followers of Christ that they also found the tomb empty, but, in addition to the empty tomb, they also were confronted with the reality of His resurrection. In John 20:1–18, we read that Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, so she went to get John and Peter, who also came and found the tomb empty. John and Peter left Mary at the tomb where she saw Jesus (verse 14), heard Jesus (verse 15–16), and touched Jesus (verse 17).
In Matthew chapter 28, we read that there were other women with Mary who also saw,heard, and touched Jesus. Using these three senses in their eyewitness testimony gives a great deal of supportive evidence to their testimony. It also reveals that Jesus’s resurrection was in a physical body and not just some spiritual aberration.
Jewish law says that in the witness of two or three people a matter is confirmed. See Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, and 2 Corinthians 13:1. The fact that Jesus chose to first appear to women is a sign of the authenticity of the resurrection as well. I say this because in first century Jewish culture, a writer would never have fabricated a story using women as an eyewitness because a woman’s testimony was not accepted in court at this time. If you were going to make up a believable story, you would use people whose testimony would be accepted in the court of law. The New Testament writers told about the women being the first eyewitnesses because that is how it happened. The writers were not trying to tell a convincing story; they were telling a true story by stating the facts of how it happened.
So far, we have the testimony of the guards, the Pharisees, and several women that the tomb is empty, and several women have additionally testified that they saw Jesus alive and well. But, there is more eyewitness testimony.
Peter saw the empty tomb, but he also saw, heard, and had breakfast with Jesus. Jesus appeared to Peter after His resurrection at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1–17). Peter and a few other disciples were fishing when Jesus called out to them and asked if they had caught any fish. Peter was so excited he swam to shore to meet Jesus.
Other eyewitness accounts took place on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and another disciple as documented in Luke 24:13–35. Then, 10 of the disciples in the upper room (Thomas was not with them) saw Jesus, heard Jesus, touched Jesus, and observed as written in John 20:3–9 and Luke 24:36–43 Him eating fish as written in John 20:3–9 and Luke 24:36–43. In John 20:27, 11 disciples are in the upper room, this time Thomas was with them. It’s in this passage where Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Additionally, 1 Corinthians 15:3–6, Paul tells the reader how Jesus appeared to 500 witnesses.
In all, there are a total of 13 eyewitness accounts involving over 500 people where Jesus appeared alive and well after His resurrection from the dead.
Another line of evidence is that which is called indirect evidence, which is evidence that helps establish collateral facts from which the main fact may be inferred. Indirect evidence of the resurrection was the transformed lives of the disciples. Prior to the resurrection, the apostles were weak in their understanding, testimony, and character concerning Jesus. But afterwards, they had great understanding, were bold in their witness, and strong in their character. One will die for something they strongly believe but rarely will someone die for a known lie. They each died for their belief in Jesus Christ and His resurrection as the resurrection was a central theme in the apostles’ preaching. The disciples’ lives were profoundly changed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If the eyewitness testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ were presented to a jury in a court of law, they would have to find Jesus “guilty” of resurrecting from the dead, thus proving that He is God in human flesh.