According to a survey by the BBC, published in April 2017, 25% of people who call themselves Christians do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The same survey also indicated that 9% of people of no religion whatsoever say they believe the resurrection story, but that "some content should not be taken literally". The general public as a whole are split evenly between those who do believe in life after death and those who don't. 46% do, 46% don't and 8% do not know.
What is remarkable about the survey is that people could call themselves Christians and not believe the most fundamental teaching of all. Many sincere believers can disagree about some minor point, for example, 'Who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?', but the resurrection of Christ is THE most important teaching.
We certainly shouldn't ostracize or disfellowship someone on minutiae understanding. Or for that matter on any teaching. Paul makes that clear in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, "Now we are charging you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be putting yourselves from every brother who is walking disorderly." Behaviour, not doctrine was the criterion. But sooner or later, disbelief in Christ's resurrection will lead to disorderly behaviour. Because what we believe affects our actions. It is possible to 'talk the talk' but not 'walk the walk'.
Romans 10:9 asserts, "... if ever you should be avowing with your mouth the declaration that Jesus is Lord, and should be believing in your heart that God rouses Him from among the dead, you shall be saved." Notice, it is believing in the heart, not just saying it.
WHY is the resurrection so important?
1. It proves that Christ was Who He said He was - the prophesied Messiah.
2. It proves that Christ was sinless. His death would not have been accepted by God if Christ were a sinner, a flawed sacrifice. Romans 5:18-19 explains this important principle, "Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life's justifying. For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just."
3. It proves that just as Christ was resurrected, we also will be resurrected.
The stark reality is that if Christ were not resurrected, we are wasting our time. The whole of Christianity is a massive fraud. It is 'fake news' of the very worst kind. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians the brutal facts in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20: "Now if Christ is being heralded that He has been roused from among the dead, how are some among you saying that there is not resurrection of the dead? Now if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been roused. Now if Christ has not been roused, for naught, consequently, is our heralding, and for naught is your faith. Now we are being found false witnesses also of God, seeing that we testify by God that He rouses Christ Whom, consequently, He rouses not, if so be that the dead are not being roused. For, if the dead are not being roused, neither has Christ been roused. Now, if Christ has not been roused, vain is your faith - you are still in your sins! Consequently those also, who are put to repose in Christ, perished. If we are having an expectation in Christ in this life only, more forlorn than all men are we."
It is all very well saying that it is necessary to have a resurrection to make sense of human life, but where is the historical proof that it did actually happen? It is not a 'nice-to-have-happened' event, it is absolutely essential. Belief in the resurrection is not a sweetener or a pain killer to get us through the trials and tribulations of this life. Scripture tells us that the truth will set us free from fear. Free from the fear of death. Neither are we here to popularize or support a religious organization or philosophy.
It is either the greatest scam or delusion of all time or it is the greatest truth of human history. It can't be both. Once we have established that the events recorded in Scripture and some secular writings are true, we can then focus on the effects it has had on millions of people for the past two thousand years.
First, let us examine the actions of Christ's enemies. Then we shall examine the actions of Christ's disciples before His death and shortly afterwards. The main difference between the two groups is that the temple authorities did what they did deliberately and the disciples, including the apostles, did not understand what or why it had happened.
In recent years, there have been claims that many major events have been scams, fakes or hoaxes. These claims have come out relatively soon after the crisis or catastrophe. "The moon landing, the Twin Towers 9/11 destruction, the Westminster Bridge and Stockholm terror attacks, etc., and many more" were all fakes. If these claims are true, they have certainly fooled millions of people at least for a short time.
Many people would not believe that a major airline, for example, would stage a hoax disruption of a flight. Surely no company would deliberately endanger their profits and reputation with such bad publicity. Apparently, according to some reports, they did.
Two thousand years have passed since the greatest event in human history - the death and resurrection of Christ. Yes, there have been people over the centuries who have attacked the teaching, but not one scenario has positively proved that it is a lie or a hoax. On the contrary, there are many proofs that it is true, from the reactions of Christ's enemies and His friends.
The Greek Scriptures list many eye-witness reports of His resurrection, days after His death. Not just one or two, but many hundreds of witnesses. 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 reads "For I give over to you among the first what also I accepted, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, thereupon by the twelve. Thereupon He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the majority are remaining hitherto, yet some were put to repose also." Although some had died, hundreds of eye witnesses were still alive at the time Paul wrote. They would quickly have disputed what Paul wrote, if it were not true.
They could not all have been fooled, deluded or hypnotized. The main facts are in general agreement and as you would expect there are different perspectives in each recorded account. They were not collaborating by writing from a predetermined script. Yet the message is the same - Christ rose from the dead and is alive today.
Dictatorships in modern times try to cover up or manage the news about events that are contrary to their perceived best interests. If the event is so well known that it cannot be ignored, they try to convince people that only they have the truth. They will blame the messenger or tell lies to destroy the opposition.
In Matthew 27:62 the chief priests and the Pharisees go to Pilate to ask for Christ's sepulcher to be sealed in case the disciples stole the body to claim he had been roused. Their request tells us the thinking of the accusers - that is what they would have done in these circumstances. Whether or not they believed what Christ had said before His crucifixion, they recognized the danger. When Christ had been resurrected they had to bribe the guards and give them a cover story. According to Matthew 28:15 the cover up is "blazed abroad by the Jews unto today."
Incidentally, it is well known that the sect of the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, a fact which Paul took advantage of in Acts 23:6-8. What is less well known is the belief of the Pharisees regarding resurrection. They believed that everyone would be raised together at the end of time. They did not allow for the resurrection of an individual in the middle of history. Hence their attack not just on Christ, but also on Lazarus. John 12:10-11: "Yet the chief priests also plan that they should be killing Lazarus also, for many of the Jews went because of him, and believed in Jesus." Their motive in killing both Jesus and Lazarus is revealed in John 11:48, "If we should be leaving him thus, all will be believing in him, and the Romans will come and take away our place as well as our nation." Notice the order, "taking away OUR place", and then, "as well as our nation."
The opening of the tombs of the saints at the time of Christ's death as recorded in Matthew 27:50-54 must have also been an embarrassment to them. But don't let the facts get in the way of a false doctrine!!
It is clear that the cover story is a lie, because the empty tomb only allows three possible scenarios:
1. His enemies took the body.
2. His friends took the body, or
3. Christ was raised from the dead.
If His enemies had taken His body they would have displayed it like English kings centuries ago hung traitors in public. Producing the body by the authorities would have immediately squashed the rumours, and warned other potential 'rebels' what they could expect if they stirred up the people. The fact that they could not produce the body proves that they could not find it. You can be sure they would have searched diligently for it with the resources of the Roman occupiers.
If His friends had taken the body, and He hadn't been resurrected, they could only have done it to start a new religion for personal gain, taking advantage of a popular, charismatic leader. As devout Jews, if they were false witnesses, they risked their own salvation.
The first witnesses were women. If the apostles had made up a story, they would not have mentioned that women had seen the risen Christ. In their culture the testimony of women was considered worthless. The only reason the narrative states that women were the first witnesses can only be because they were the first witnesses. If the apostles themselves had produced a cover-up story of their own, they who would not have included women as the first witnesses. Neither would they have written that it was Nicodemus, a Pharisee and not a close family member, who took the body and interred it in his tomb.
There was no veneration of the tomb, even though God forbids it, but some, for their own reasons, might have done so. The tomb was empty.
The famous first-century historian, Josephus, (who was not a Christian and who lived between AD 37 and 100), is often attacked as not being reliable for the simple reason that he confirms the story recorded in the gospels. Even so, most scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed. They may argue over specific episodes described in the biblical accounts. Yet there are two events which are almost universally assented to:
1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and
2. some years later he was crucified by order of the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate.
The secular evidence of the empty tomb has never been questioned. There is more recorded evidence for these important events by eye witnesses than any other event in human history. That includes even comparatively recent events. We know more about Christ then, than we know about William the Conquerer or Henry VIII, who lived much closer to our own times.
It only leaves the third possibility - Christ had been resurrected. After their initial disbelief, the apostles were able to preach that Christ was alive because they had seen Him. Not just once or twice with themselves, but at one time some five hundred people [1 Corinthians 15:6 as I have already quoted], had seen Him. So convinced were they that were prepared to be martyred for their belief.
It is important to mention that the CRUCIFIXION in itself does not prove that He is our Saviour. It is the RESURRECTION that is the proof. Many people were crucified under Roman rule, but not one of them was resurrected to everlasting life. Only "Christ gave up His soul as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
There were no 'ex-Christians' who later came forward to denounce this 'fake story'. On the contrary, their greatest persecutor was Saul, the Pharisee, who met the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. An event which changed the whole course of his life, and the lives of millions of believers ever since. Why do they believe Paul? Because the same holy spirit which inspired Paul, convinces them.
His previous life before that encounter would have convinced many that he was the last person on earth to accept the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah. The conception at the time by the Jews did not include a suffering Saviour. They wanted a physical king to lead them against Gentile oppression. The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul and thought the idea of a bodily resurrection absurd and unnecessary. This is the same Paul who wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:22-24): "Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God."
So he changed his tune didn't he? The only explanation is either that he now believed and was willing to die for his beliefs, or he was jumping on the bandwagon of a new religion. His life proves it was the first scenario. Paul's Damascus experience was only a few years after Christ's resurrection. What was Paul's message when he went to Corinth? He tells us himself in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2: "And I, coming to you, brethren, came not with superiority of word or for wisdom, announcing to you the testimony of God, for I decide not to perceive anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
Paul's story is told in Galatians chapter 1:10-24: "For, at present, am I persuading men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I still pleased men, I were not a slave of Christ. For I am making known to you, brethren, as to the evangel which is being brought by me, that it is not in accord with man. For neither did I accept it from a man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you hear of my behaviour once, in Judaism, that I inordinately persecuted the ecclesia of God and ravaged it. And I progressed in Judaism above many contemporaries in my race, being inherently exceedingly more zealous for the traditions of my fathers. Now, when it delights God, Who severs me from my mother's womb and calls me through His grace, to unveil His Son in me that I may be evangelizing Him among the nations, I did not immediately submit it to flesh and blood, neither came I up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I came away into Arabia, and I return again to Damascus. Thereupon, after three years, I came up to Jerusalem to relate my story to Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. Yet I became acquainted with not one different from the apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord. Now what I am writing to you, Lo! in God's sight, I say that I am not lying. Thereupon I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Yet I was unknown by face to the ecclesias of Judea which are in Christ. Yet only they were hearing that He who once was persecuting us, now is evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged. And they glorified God in me."
You will notice that he includes James, the younger half-brother of Christ. Before the resurrection, Christ's family didn't believe that Christ was the Messiah. There is the famous scene when Christ asks the disciples, "Who is My brother and mother?" Yet after the resurrection, James becomes convinced that Jesus is Who He claimed to be. It is a recorded fact of history that James was willing to be a martyr for that belief.
So what difference has the resurrection made over the last 2,000 years? I go back to my original point number 3. It proves that just as Christ was resurrected, we also will be resurrected. Millions over the millennia have believed Christ's words, recorded in John 14:6: "... I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one is coming to the Father except through Me." No other religious leader has led a perfect life and proved that God loves every individual so much that despite everything they may have done or not done, they will eventually receive everlasting life.
The words of Christ recorded in the sixth chapter of John are a potent force. Verse 37: "All that which the Father is giving to Me shall be arriving to Me, and he who is coming to Me I shall under no circumstance be casting out ..." Verse 40: "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who is beholding the Son and believing in Him may have life eonian, and I shall be raising him in the last day."
What a stupendous promise! All possible by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Thanks be to God!