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Christianity is meaningless unless Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.
Some may be surprised to learn that the resurrection of Jesus has been thoroughly investigated by scholars. It might also surprise some that not all of these scholars are Christians. Many New Testament historians are skeptical of Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus. According to Dr. Gary Habermas, nearly all New Testament historians–from the most skeptical atheists to the most devout Christian believers agree on the following points:
1. Jesus died when He was crucified by the Romans.
2. He was buried.
3. When He died, the disciples were extremely discouraged, and abandoned all hope that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
4. The tomb was found empty soon after Jesus’s burial.
5. The disciples experienced what they believed were real, actual appearances of the resurrected Jesus.
6. As a result of these experiences, the disciples were completely transformed. They believed in their experiences so strongly that they were willing to die for their beliefs.
7. The public testimony and the preaching of the resurrection began early on; in fact, almost immediately.
8. The disciples publicly testified that Jesus had risen again in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus had just been crucified.
9. The preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus was the central message of the gospel.
10. Sunday, the day Jesus was reported to have risen from the dead, was the primary day of Christian worship.
11. James, the brother of Jesus, was converted when he believed he saw the risen Jesus. During the time of Jesus’s ministry, James did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.
12. A few years later, Saul of Tarsus believed he saw the risen Jesus and became a Christian believer.
Virtually all New Testament historians agree on these points, even scholars who are skeptical of Christianity. This is important to remember because these are not just any skeptics.
These skeptics have been trained in textual criticism, history, and other areas relevant to verifying the reliability of ancient documents. These are not like Joe Skeptic you argued with in the break room at work. These are also not like Joe Scientist, who might be skeptical of Christianity based on lack of empirical evidence; men like Richard Dawkins, who are obviously very intelligent and educated in their own field, but know about as much about textual criticism and ancient history as the guy in the breakroom.
The skeptics, who are also New Testament historians, agree that Jesus was a real historical figure who was executed by the Romans. They agree that soon after He was buried the tomb was found empty. They agree that many individuals believe they they saw Him alive again, and that they were all transformed from hopeless unbelievers to men willing to die for their beliefs. These skeptics have been trained how to study ancient documents like the New Testament, so if they agree on these things we can take them seriously.
Even the (qualified) skeptics agree that, at the very least, the disciples believed Jesus had risen from the dead. In other words, the last best hope of the skeptic is that the disciples were somehow mistaken or decieved.
Of course, if Jesus did not raise from the dead and the disciples were decieved, Christianity is an excercise in futility. Christianity must have a risen Lord to be true.
The question is, does the evidence support a real resurrection or a dark deception?