For many—whether they are, or are not, versed in theology—the resurrection is a beautiful story, but nothing more. Its inspiring and uplifting message is: Do not despair when things are not going so well. You can always make a new start.
The apostle Paul totally disagrees. He makes that abundantly clear in 1 Korintiërs 15. He is not satisfied with a symbolic interpretation. To deny Christ’s bodily resurrection changes the gospel into a miserable lie. It ceases to be Good News. And, he emphasizes, if Christ is not risen then all hope that there is something beyond death for us evaporates. Our faith would lose all meaning.
The resurrection of Jesus is a core truth of the Christian faith. There is no living faith if we only have a dead Jesus. The reality of death and the reality of his resurrection must go together.
There is no absolute proof for Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, we have the story of the empty tomb, but we have no witnesses who saw what happened and can take a polygraph test to give credence to their testimony. There are stories that Jesus appeared to some individuals and to some groups of people. Remarkably enough, these appearances do not continue indefinitely. This usually happens when stories that have no basis in truth begin to circulate. Such stories become more and more embellished, and more and more people become involved. But stories about Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection stopped after just a few weeks. Why? Because he was not only risen, but also had ascended to heaven.
Journalist Frank Morison was a skeptic, who believed that the idea of a resurrection was utter nonsense. He decided to write a book about this grand delusion. But after having thoroughly studied all the arguments, he concluded that the resurrection must have been reality after all. His book Who Moved the Stone? became a classic in defense of the resurrection. From a total skeptic he became a fervent disciple of the risen Lord.
For me, personally, the existence of the Christian church is the most powerful argument in favor of the reality of the resurrection. Jesus’ mission seemed to have ended in disaster. The Jewish leaders, with the approval and technical support of the Roman authorities, succeeded in having Jesus crucified. The Man from Nazareth, who for some time had a significant following, died between two criminals—just 33 years old. His disciples were in total despair. Only John and Mary, and a few other women, remained with Jesus to the end. His own brothers and sisters (most likely from a former marriage of Joseph; see Matthew 13:56, 57) had never become convinced that he was anything else but the physical son of Joseph and Mary.
However, just weeks after Jesus’ ignominious death, thousands of people believe that there was more to it. They become believers in a risen Christ. On the Day of Pentecost they come to Jerusalem from many different regions in the Middle-East. They listen to the apostles, they hear what has happened with Jesus, they are convinced, and they take this conviction with them when they travel back home. The disillusioned disciples become enthusiastic apostles who are prepared to give their life for the Truth of the Risen Lord. James, one of the brothers of the Lord, is no longer a skeptic, but becomes one of the key leaders of the early church (Acts 15:13). What made them change their minds and made them believers rather than disillusioned skeptics? It must have been some momentous event: the resurrection.
I know that even this argument is no final proof. We still must take a leap of faith. And yes, I am prepared to take that leap.