According to Christianity, Easter is everything. As the apostle Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). In other words, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, you can throw out everything connected to Christianity. The Bible, Jesus, God’s commands, creation, sin, redemption, and new creation are all a myth. But the opposite is also true. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then everything else he said, did, and believed can be trusted.
Why does Jesus’ resurrection hold that much weight?
First, it is a miracle that goes against everything we know about biology. Life only comes from life. Dead things can’t produce life. Nor can the dead come back to life. But after Jesus was dead for three days, his heart started beating and his lungs started breathing. Jesus’ resurrection turned the natural world upside down.
Jesus’ resurrection was not only a great miracle; it also confronted our greatest enemy. As Paul says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death was not the original plan for humans. God created us to live eternally. It was our sin that brought death into God’s good world. So Jesus, the author of life, took on death by dying and gives us new life by living. As Paul says, “In Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). In other words, because Jesus rose from the dead, we too will be resurrected in the body on the Last Day.
Do you see? Easter is everything. If there’s no Easter, there’s no Christianity.
So if Jesus’ resurrection is that significant, how can we be sure if it actually happened?
The apostle Paul answers that question by identifying four key witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection:
1. The witness of Scripture
Paul tells the Corinthians, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). Paul reminds the Corinthians that Jesus’ death and resurrection were recorded in great detail hundreds of years before it happened. The Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah would be lifted up on a tree, pierced, and die (see Psalm 22:1-18 and Isaiah 53:4-9). Also, they foretold that after his death he’d be resurrected (see Psalm 16:9-11 and Isaiah 53:10-12). It is one thing to record history after it takes place. But it is even more remarkable to predict such events before they happen.
2. The witness of the martyrs
Paul goes on to say, “[Jesus] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:5). After Jesus rose, he went to his disciples who had previously abandoned him at his hour of need. When they saw their leader being taken into captivity and finally hung up on a cross, they hid in fear. But after Jesus presented himself as alive and well, their hearts changed, and they became fearless. The Twelve were so transformed by Jesus’ resurrection that they were willing to be imprisoned, tortured, and even martyred for their faith. And according to an early and reliable historian, all the apostles except John were martyred because they said they saw Jesus alive. As one of my teachers once told me, “Many people will give up their lives for what they hope to be true, but nobody will die for what they know to be a lie.”
3. The “living” witnesses
Then Paul says, “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Paul’s original audience had one advantage that we don’t have. His original readers could have searched out the remaining living witnesses of the resurrection. Paul says there were hundreds to choose from. Although we can’t speak with those witnesses, the fact that Paul mentions them reminds us that Jesus’ resurrection appearances were not just to a select few. Jesus appeared many times to many people, which sparked a worldwide movement of Jesus-followers that continues to this day.
4. The unlikely witnesses
Finally Paul says, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:7,8). Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to his own half brother James. Before Jesus’ resurrection, his brothers thought he was delusional. But then after he rose from the dead, his half brothers, like James and Jude, wrote two letters that became part of the Bible. In addition, James became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem and according to Josephus was stoned for his faith in Jesus.
Finally, Paul mentions his own conversion. At one time, he persecuted Christians because he thought it was a dangerous cult. But after he met the resurrected Jesus, his heart was changed. He was “abnormally born again.” Like James and the other apostles, Paul also died testifying that he saw Jesus alive.
Easter is history.
Christianity is not just a set of principles and morals. It is a faith that rests on the Easter event. As one pastor put it, “Jesus put all his eggs in his Easter basket.” The good news is that we don’t need to have “blind faith” in Jesus’ resurrection. The evidence for Easter is overwhelming.
Because Jesus really did rise from the dead, Paul says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
If you want to keep researching Jesus’ resurrection, I encourage you to read theologians and historians like N. T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, John Lennox, and Timothy Keller. Each of them have written extensively on the historicity of Easter.