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We find it amazing that some people doubt that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead. They think that the resurrection is just a religious belief rather than a historical fact. Why would they think that?
Well, undoubtedly because they know that humans can’t come back from the dead. So those stories in the Bible about Jesus rising from the dead must be fiction. The early Christians just made up the stories to help spread their religion.
But in reality, the opposite is true. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:17). The resurrection came first, then the Christians’ faith.
If Christ hadn’t indeed risen from the dead, why would the Apostles keep preaching their religion, even dying for it? If they knew that it didn’t really happen, wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to just think that it had been a great three years with Jesus, but now it was time to return to their former lives?
Actually, we know that the Apostles didn’t believe in it either, at first. They weren’t gullible men who easily accepted something like a man coming back from the dead. And Mary Magdalene thought that someone had moved the dead body. It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to them that they believed.
People today who don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead must think that the first Christians were awfully naïve to believe such a thing. Either that or they were extremely clever to be able to concoct such a story, and then sell it not only to their fellow Jews but also to gentiles all over the world. But everything we know about the Apostles shows that they were hardly the type of men who could plan and carry out a gigantic fraud.
But maybe Jesus didn’t really die, and he regained consciousness while in the tomb. Are we then to believe that he had enough strength to get out of his shroud, stand up, push the large stone away from the entrance without being noticed by the soldiers guarding the tomb, and then slip away?
There’s also the hallucination theory: the Apostles only thought that Jesus appeared to them; it was all a hallucination. Sure. They all had the same hallucination, and that hallucination kept recurring for 40 days while he continued to appear to them.
But what about Jesus’ changed appearance? Sometimes, even the Apostles didn’t recognize him. He rose from the dead with a glorified body, one that could pass through the locked doors where the Apostles stayed, one that could appear to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and could just as quickly disappear. And yet it was Jesus’ body, one that Thomas could touch when he was invited to examine Jesus’ wounds.
The news about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead spread by word of mouth for decades before it was put down on paper. It was St. Paul who first did that in a letter he wrote around the year 56 from Ephesus, in modern Turkey, to the community he started in Corinth, Greece. This was about 26 years after Jesus’ resurrection, but still before any of the Gospels were written.
In that letter, Paul reminded his readers what he had preached: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas [Peter], then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (1 Cor 5:3-8).
That was then, and is now, the basic teaching of Christianity about Christ’s resurrection. Paul was quite insistent about it when he wrote to the Corinthians, saying that our very salvation depends upon the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Christians are not given a choice in deciding whether or not to believe in the resurrection.
Christ has risen. He is risen indeed.
—John F. Fink