Resurrection – Did It Actually Happen?
Resurrection of Jesus has been debated for centuries spawning many questions and theories. People cannot easily wrap their minds around the impossible concept of being dead and buried, then coming back to life.
Swirling are controversial attempts trying to explain the Resurrection. The tomb was not really empty; the witnesses visited the wrong tomb; the body of Jesus was misplaced or stolen; the third day prophecies are not a factor; the post-crucifixion person the witnesses encountered was just a spirit; etc.
Circular logic is a common criticism. In this case, the Gospels cannot be used as proof of the Resurrection because the only proof comes from the Gospels and if the believability of the Gospels is in question, then Gospels cannot be used as evidence.
Gospels are accounts or reports of what happened, not proof that something did or did not occur. Included are identities, statements and quotes of witnesses; and descriptions of events – some detailed, some paraphrased.
Accounts, reports or statements are best assessed on their overall content credibility. Comparing one Gospel to another is one of the most effective ways. At the same time, all four Gospels must be evaluated together in their entirety. As with any investigative case, gaps in one account may be detailed in another.
No statement or report will ever completely provide all the details, all dependent on the writer. Some details may not have been as important to emphasize over other information or simply the information was not known to a particular writer. An investigation is always necessary to weigh all the information – the more information, the better.
Proving that a Resurrection occurred cannot be ascertained scientifically. Medical or scientific tests cannot determine if a living individual was previously dead for days. In the end, it makes no difference if the Resurrection occurred today or 2000 years ago…
No resurrection can be proven without witnesses who would have to bridge three separate events – life, an incontrovertible death, and self-evident life again. Credible witnesses would have to be able to say with certainty that the person whom they once knew, was then known to be dead and is now alive again behaving as before death.
Visual recognition would not be enough to dispel the notion of having seen a vision or an apparition. A witness would be expected to affirm activities of the resurrected person are associated with life itself such as a conversation, eating, drinking, walking, and other physical activities.
Most importantly, resurrection witnesses would be expected to attest to their ability to resume a pre-established personal connection with the resurrected person whom they knew before death occurred – the continuum of a shared personal relationship. A prime example is the resurrection of Lazarus who, a week later, came to a dinner event with Jesus.
First of the eyewitness statements of the resurrected Jesus, aside from angels, comes from Cleopas accompanied by his traveling partner, most likely his wife. Characteristics described are several – walking; carrying on a conversation over a long period time; references to his own sufferings before his death; reclining at the table; breaking the loaf of bread and…praying.
Next is the profound report of Mary Magdalene’s encounter that bridges the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus with her own experiences. She witnessed Jesus being crucified and buried on Friday.
Now on Sunday, after initially speaking with him, then looking up at him, Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus as the person she had known before he died exclaiming “Rabonni!” (teacher) and wanted to hug him. Moreover, Mary Magdalene told other people she had seen the resurrected Jesus with her own eyes.
Peter, who had witnessed the empty tomb with the folded burial linens, also met with the Resurrected Jesus. The only mention of Peter’s encounter is in Luke’s investigative Gospel account.
Ten Disciples, the Cleopas couple and other followers of Jesus were in a locked room excitedly sharing stories of Resurrection encounters. Suddenly Jesus himself stood among them saying, “Peace be with you.” Luke reports they were all startled and “terrified” thinking they were seeing a “ghost.” Jesus responded:
LK 24:38-39 “‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; it’s me! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones like you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”(NET)
Seeing that they required further proof, Jesus asked, “‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in front of them.” Bridging back to the time before he was crucified, Jesus told them to think back to their experiences together:
LK 24:44, 47-48 “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled… ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” (NASB)
Missing the occasion entirely was the Disciple Thomas. When he finally arrived that Sunday evening, John told him they had seen Jesus. Skeptical, Thomas was not buying any of it, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!”
Eight days passed when the Disciples regathered in the same house with the door locked, but this time Thomas was present. Once again, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room and, after a brief greeting, got straight to the point.
Speaking directly to Thomas, Jesus said “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas touched the physical body of Jesus and witnessed the proof of his miraculously healed pierced hands and side. Thomas’ excited utterance was telling: “My Lord and my God!”
John’s eyewitness Gospel continued beyond where Matthew, Mark and Luke left off. Describing the third appearance of the resurrected Jesus to some of the Disciples, he describes the scene on the shore of the Sea of Tiberas (Sea of Galilee, Sea of Gennesaret or Sea of Kinneret).
Seven disciples, five others identified by name as Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee (James and John) encountered Jesus who teased them; performed a quantifiable miracle; met the Disciples at a campfire, cooked breakfast, ate and conversed with them.
Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus came in the form of witnesses, actions, words and behavior of the various people who are part of the story line – various women of Galilee, the koustodia, the Jewish leadership, the Disciples, and other followers of Jesus.
Do the Gospels meet the criteria for demonstrating a genuine Resurrection had occurred – did Jesus actually rise from the dead?
Updated September 19, 2022.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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 Luke 24:13-27.
 John 20:16. “Centuries later, archaeologists opened the tomb of Jesus.” News24hours. photo. 2016. <https://news24hours.in/2016/10/31/centuries-later-archaeologists-opened-the-tomb-of-jesus-christ>
 John 20:18.
 Luke 24:34.
 Luke 24:36 – NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV. John 20:19 – NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, NASB, NKJV.
 Luke 24:36-37. NET. CR Mark 16:14.
 Luke 24:38-43. NET. CR Mark 5:43; Luke 8:55.
 John 20:24.
 John 20:25. NET. CR Matthew 28:17.
 John 20:26.
 John 20:27
 John 20:27. NRSV.
[x16] John 20:28. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
 “The Sea of Galilee (Kinneret).” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-sea-of-galilee> “Gennesaret.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6583-gennesaret-lake-of>
 John 21:4-14.