The Gregorian Blog
10 Reasons to Believe Christ Really Rose
Tonight at the Easter Vigil and tomorrow on Easter Sunday, rejoice with the Church that Jesus Christ is risen. This astounding fact changed the world for a good reason: It really happened, and it was an unprecedented event that turned human expectations on their heads. Here are some of the reasons to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1. The power of Christ’s weakness.
The story the New Testament tells is significant. Jesus is not presented as an all-powerful mythic figure who triumphs over foes. He looks rather weak, actually. “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” he says. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out.
After that crucifixion, the apostles didn’t flock to him because he was a superhero – they flocked to him because something extraordinary had happened. He had risen. It was only in the study and prayer of the Church that we have made sense out of Christ’s simultaneously human and divine reaction to the cross, and his divine ability to rise. But the fact of it remains.
2. The cowardly apostles.
If Christ looks all too human in the Gospels, consider the apostles. If the apostles were making up a religion, they were making themselves look really bad in the process. In the Gospels, cowardly apostles flee in fear and embarrassment; they even greet the news of the Resurrection with doubt, at first.
“Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized (‘looking sad’) and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an ‘idle tale.’ When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”
If they were making up a religion, they were doing it wrong, giving people no reason to trust them – no reason but our own experiences of the risen Christ.
3. The transformation of Saul.
Next, take St. Paul. He went from zealous persecutor to zealous preacher after seeing Christ alive. This extraordinary transformation — from someone scandalized by the Christian message to its chief proponent — makes sense if Christ rose. But it makes no sense if he didn’t.
Paul returns to his personal resurrection story again and again, even when he is on trial (Acts 23: 6). It fuels his faith; it makes all the difference to him. He even says “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).
4. No early Church debate.
The early Church debated many fundamentals, even the nature of the Resurrection, but not the fact of the Resurrection. That was a given.
In John’s account, when Peter and he enter the empty tomb they “saw the burial cloths there,and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” For John, the sight shows that Jesus wasn’t taken away, and that he didn’t rise like Lazaraus did. Something new had happened. Says the Gospel: “he saw and believed.”
John’s account also gives us the clue that those cloths may well have been venerated already in the early Church. People had seen them, and something about seeing them makes people believe. The Shroud of Turin has this effect on people today.
5. The faith of the martyrs.
Christians, from the Church’s first days to our own day, have been willing to die for their conviction that Christ rose from the dead. For them, the Resurrection isn’t a sweet dream that they indulge in, but a hard reality they suffer and die for.
“He was also truly raised from the dead, his Father quickening him, even as after the same manner his Father will so raise up us who believe in him by Christ Jesus,” said the martyr Ignatius in his Letter to the Trallians.
Ignatius was torn apart by lions.
“He who raised him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do his will, and walk in his commandments, and love what he loved,” wrote the martyr Polycarp in his Letter to the Philippians.
Polycarp was burned at the stake.
6. The ‘inconsistent’ accounts.
Gospel writers included different details and material from different sources — all of which mention the fact of the Resurrection. We have the story of Emmaus, the story of the breakfast by the sea, Thomas helpfully establishing that Jesus still had wounds, the story of Mary Magdalen, and more. These many stories all attest to the same fact of the Resurrection.
It is also important to note that no great attempt has been made by the authors to fix up these stories and align them to one narrative. Bible skeptics point out the discrepancies between them, while Bible defenders show how they can coexist. The larger point is often lost: They read like different peoples’ experience of the same event, not like a conscious effort by a group to make something up.
7. The eyewitnesses.
In his letter to the Corinthians, which many scholars date at around 53 A.D., St. Paul spoke of how Christ appeared, alive, to 500 at once. If it weren’t true, it would be impossible to make that claim so soon after the event occurred.
When Paul talks about the Resurrection again and again, there are two facts that are important to him: That the tomb is empty, and Christ has appeared to many. They are both compelling pieces of evidence because they would be relatively easy for his audiences to disprove.
8. Non-Christian historical accounts.
Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote a history in the year 93 AD that mentions that Jesus was crucified and appeared alive afterwards to his followers. Though the text is questioned by some scholars, there are multiple versions that retain the essential fact of Jesus dying and then somehow resurfacing, alive.
Tacitus mentions Jesus also, citing his crucifixion as having proved unable to stop the “superstition” of Christianity.
Let the debate about their texts continue. One thing is clear:Tacitus and Josephus both describe how Christians endured torture when simply renouncing him would end it; a fact that is hard to account for if the Resurrection is made up.
9. Not dead again.
Other resurrections are mentioned in the Bible — chiefly Lazarus — but of these, Christ’s is unique in that it is never suggested that he died again.
The accounts of his appearances are also very different from the others. His body has special properties, and he interacts with his disciples in a new way.
“At Jesus’ Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is ‘the man of heaven’ (CCC 646). Jesus’ resurrection was real, and it was unique.
10. The rise of a historical religion.
Christianity spread and grew despite persecution not because of the power of the apostles’ personalities or the perks of the faith but because of the resurrection experience of the early Christians.
The historical fact of the Resurrection of Christ, in his glorified body, is the building block for every dimension of the Catholic faith.
How can we each meet Jesus, even though we weren’t alive when he walked the streets of Palestine? Because he rose from the dead.
What is the meaning of our baptism? It is a share in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Why is the Eucharist a participation in the living God and not in a deceased prophet? Because Christ rose from the dead.
How are we able to have our sins forgiven in confession? Because after the resurrection he breathed on the apostles and gave them the power to forgive sins.
Why does the Church see itself as the “body of Christ”? Because that body has been raised.
Easter is the great feast of new life for Jesus and for all of us. And it is not just wishful thinking; it is solid, testified historical fact. As the Catechism puts it: “The hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles’ faith (or credulity) will not hold up” (No. 644).
He is truly risen. Our faith is not in vain.