I was out attempting to share the gospel recently at Simon Fraser University and encountered an interesting guy. I took him through a spiritual survey, and his answers showed me that he knew something about Christianity but didn’t really believe it. When I got done, I asked him about his background and he told me that he grew up in a Christian home, went to church, and thought he believed. I asked him when all of that changed, and he told me that it was during his first year of college. Here’s the kicker – it was a local Christian college. It wasn’t the hypocrites that got him; it wasn’t the atheists or Richard Dawkins that led him astray.
“At TWU, they were honest about the inconsistencies in the Bible and about the fact that science doesn’t match up with the Bible. But they wanted to believe it anyway. If they were going to hold on to Christianity in such a half-hearted way, I wasn’t going to waste my life on that.”
I had a hard time blaming him.
He’s not the only one – I’ve heard lots of college students up here that had similar reasons for leaving Christianity. Most of them had been presented with Christianity as a religious system that Christians had dreamed up and promoted. I’ve heard things like “There’s little (or no) historical evidence for Jesus,” or “the only evidence for Jesus is in the Bible.” It broke my heart that they grew up in church believing that Jesus was a bedtime story, a mythical figure that people set up in order to grasp at hope.
Were they right? Is there any evidence for a historical Jesus?
I’m not an archaeologist; I’m a semi-pro theologian. Even still, there is plenty of fact to back up our faith, and Christians need to know it. The central teaching of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus and the good news for those who turn and have faith in Him. What follows is a brief look at the basic, but incredibly important, evidence that Jesus is alive!
We have four preserved eyewitness accounts of the fact that a dead man came back from the dead three days after hanging on a cross. Matthew, Mark, John, and Peter all personally knew Jesus and wrote about what they saw. And what they saw changed them forever (see the life of Peter). Mt. 28:1-10, Mk. 16:1-14, Jn. 20:1-31, 1 Pt. 3:18-22, 2 Pt. 1:16-18
In addition to the eyewitness testimony, there are many other people who lived during the time of Jesus and recorded the history of the resurrection. Paul claimed that more than 500 people witnessed the resurrected Jesus, and I have yet to see anyone from that time refute their testimony. Luke researched the events thoroughly after coming to faith and wrote about them in his Gospel and Acts. 1 Cor. 15:1-7, Luke 24:1-49, Acts 2:27-32
Everything I’ve listed so far is in the Bible. For that reason, many people discount them off hand. But should they? Does their inclusion in a religious text negate their historical validity? We have plenty of evidence to show that what we read in our Bibles today is the same as what they wrote, so I see no problem in taking them as historical fact.
But what about outside sources? The most important and well known extra-biblical source for the resurrection of Jesus comes from the work of the first century Roman historian Josephus. His words speak for themselves:
Now there was about this time Jesus… Pilate…condemned him to the cross… he appeared to them alive again the third day
I know it takes faith and the work of the Holy Spirit for someone to come to Christ. But this is not a dumb religion. This is not pie in the sky Greek mythology. This is not Indiana Jones’ leap of faith. Ours is a faith based on what Jesus actually did in history – He died for our sins and on the third day conquered death to give believers eternal life.