Thank you so much for our conversation yesterday. I wish we had more time to discuss the many questions you had. I’m writing this letter to you with the hopes of addressing your question, “Why should I believe in the resurrection?”
As we established yesterday, it is widely accepted that Jesus of Nazareth lived, taught, and had followers. It is also well established, and we agree that in the first century Jesus was crucified. Biblical and extra-Biblical sources testify to this. For example we have the non-Christian eyewitness accounts as well as the writings of Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, and Tacitus. In an attempt to clearly show you that we can know that Jesus rose from the dead we will look to three independently established facts: sincere eyewitness testimony, the conversion of skeptics, and the empty tomb of Jesus as attested to by unfriendly sources.
The earliest Christian apologists cite hundreds of eyewitnesses; many of these witnesses also documented their experiences, which we can examine. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives us a list of witnesses to Jesus resurrection. It’s important to understand that claiming the risen Christ was not without consequence. Many times we take for granted our freedom to claim Jesus as our savior. We must be reminded that eyewitnesses willingly and resolutely were subjected to torture and death in defense of their claim to have seen Jesus resurrected. Knowing this we can be sure of their sincerity and be confident that they were not lying or perpetuating an elaborate hoax. Looking at the historical record found in Acts 4:1-17, Pliny’s Letters to Trojan and others, early believers could have ended their suffering by simply renouncing the faith and claim of seeing Jesus post-resurrection, however this was not the case. Most endured suffering to the point of death while claiming the risen Jesus.
You might object that martyrdom, while testifying to someone’s wholehearted belief, does not validate that belief. And this is true, but the early Christian martyrs are an exception because they knew whether they were professing the truth or not. They either saw a resurrected Jesus or they didn’t and this is extraordinary. If it were a lie why would so many people defend it? There was no social, political or financial benefit. In fact claiming this only lead to persecution, imprisonment, torture or death. What they were claiming to have seen was either true or not, and they were willing to die for that claim. Considering the large number of witnesses present eventually someone would have confessed to the truth once they or their family members fell victim to the Roman cross, sword, spear or Emperor Nero’s fires. But the fact is that even in the face of horrible suffering and persecution to this day we don’t have one record of an early Christian denouncing the faith in an attempt to end the suffering. Instead we have numerous accounts of Jesus appearing post-resurrection and hundreds of eyewitnesses willing to suffer and even die for that claim.
In order to gain a complete understanding of the effects of seeing Jesus resurrected we should look to the Apostles specifically. They all underwent undeniable change after the appearances of the post-resurrected Jesus. These were not the bravest of men, directly following Jesus’ capture and crucifixion they ran and hid in fear. But following Jesus’ resurrection they started boldly confessing Christ and the resurrection in the face of persecution. There is no explanation for this other than that they believed what they had witnessed to be true. Instead of any worldly gain these men gave up everything they had for this belief, eventually giving their lives!
Among these martyrs were a few key skeptics, specifically Paul and James. The second evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the unlikely conversion of these two men. Paul personally admitted to being a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” specifically toward Christians and the early church. Following an encounter with what he claimed to be the resurrected Christ Paul was immediately and drastically changed.
He was a rabbi, a Pharisee, a respected Jewish leader. He hated the Christian heresy and was doing everything in his power to stamp it out. He was even responsible for the execution of Christian believers. Then suddenly he gave up everything… and became a Christian missionary: he entered a life of poverty, labor, and suffering. He was whipped, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times… and was martyred for his believe in the risen Christ in Rome.
James too was skeptical, while not quite to the same extent as Paul. Like Paul though an encounter with the post-resurrection Jesus turned him into an unwavering believer and leader of the Church. In Acts and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews we see that James also willingly suffered and eventually died for his testimony, speaking to the sincerity of his belief.
Not all attestations to the empty tomb came from early Christians and the Apostles. The third evidence for the resurrection of Jesus to explore is the empty tomb as according to unfriendly sources. Jesus was executed in public and buried in Jerusalem. Were the tomb not empty it would have been incredibly easy for the Sanhedrin to squash the rumors that ultimately lead to Christianity. All they would have had to do is exhume the body and display it, squashing any theory of a risen Jesus. But instead the Sanhedrin, admitting the tomb was empty, accused the disciples of stealing it, trying to explain the missing corps. But we can be sure that the accusations were as empty as the tomb.
All knew that the tomb was empty, so what were the possible explanations of this? As the Sanhedrin hypothesized, the disciples of Jesus could have stolen the body. But if they had somehow distracted the Roman guards, rolled away the massive stone sealing the tomb and then taken the body, they themselves would have known that Jesus had not risen. They would have known it was a hoax. And they certainly would not have been willing to suffer and die for what they knew to be false as discussed above.
These three lines of evidence all point to “the same marvelous conclusion: that God raised Jesus from the dead.” What’s more is that in light of this I hope that you will give some serious thought as to the implications for you own life of a risen Jesus both here and in eternity.
 Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010) and Craig, Reasonable Faith: pgs. 378-380
 Doug Geivett, “Miricles and the Modern Mind” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010)
 Montgomery, John Warwick, History, Law and Christianity (Calgary, AB, Canada: Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy, 2002): p. 29-34
 Craig, William Lane, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books): pgs. 333-400
 Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus”
 Craig, Reasonable Faith: pgs. 339
 Montgomery, History, Law and Christianity, pgs. 55-59
 Craig, Reasonable Faith: pgs. 338-340
 1 Timothy 1:13 (NIV)
 Craig, Reasonable Faith: p. 380
 Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus”
 Craig, Reasonable Faith: p. 399