Question: What proof do we really have that Jesus was raised from the dead?
Answer: The resurrection of Christ is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. Everything else we believe about the Gospel depends upon that central, crucial fact. “Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:14).
But this faith is not based upon a mere hope, or wish, or poorly documented event. Our belief in the resurrected Christ is confirmed by numerous credible witnesses. Ordinarily, two or three witnesses are more than enough to establish a matter legally. In fact, in our criminal justice system, matters of extreme importance have been decided on the credible testimony of only one or two witnesses. Listed below are more than 13 witnesses to the risen Lord. As you review these, notice the different groups, combinations of individuals and groups, places and varying circumstances involved. It is about as well documented as an event could possibly be:
1. Mary Magdalene alone, (M. 16:9; Jn. 20:11-18).
2. The women returning from the sepulcher, (Mt. 28:9-10).
3. Simon Peter alone, (Lk. 24:34).
4. The two disciples going to Emmaus, (Lk. 24:13 et al).
5. The apostles at Jerusalem, except Thomas, (Jn. 20:19).
6. The apostles at Jerusalem with Thomas, (Jn. 20:26, 29).
7. The seven disciples fishing at the Sea of Tiberius, (Jn. 21:1).
8. Eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee, (Mt. 28:16).
9. Over 500 brethren at once, in Galilee, (1 Cor. 15:6).
10. James alone, (1 Cor. 15:7).
11. All the apostles on Mt. Olivet at the ascension, (Lk. 24:51).
12. Saul of Tarsus, (Acts 9:3).
13. John on the Isle of Patmos, (Rev. 1:13).
This list, compiled by B.F. Johnson, in Johnson’s Notes on the New Testament, at Mt. 28:9, includes single individuals, small and large groups of individuals, both men and women, while engaging in a variety of activities, under varying circumstances at various places and at different times of the day. It is about as comprehensive a list of witnesses as can be imagined. Many of that number were still alive when the events were being reported throughout the world of the first century. If any of them had been quoted or represented incorrectly, they had ample opportunity to deny it. But not only did they not deny their reports of the risen Lord, a good many of them maintained their report even in the face of harsh persecution, and though it sometimes cost them their lives.
The evidence for Christ’s resurrection is both competent and overwhelming. It is not an obscure fact of history with little or no attestation. As John said, “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life on his name,” (Jn. 20:31).
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.