The Credibility of the Resurrection

John Vaughn

R. A. Torrey called the resurrection of Jesus Christ “the cornerstone of Christian doctrine, the Gibraltar of Christian evidence, the Waterloo of liberalism.” And so it is. There are 11 recorded physical appearances of the risen Christ, making the Resurrection a well-established fact of history. Those who hold to the idea that He was merely a good man, martyred by jealous religious leaders who could not command His popularity, are hard pressed to explain the Resurrection. Was he raised to show how proud the Heavenly Father was of His noble martyrdom? Was it a statement that here was a man who was too good to leave in the grave? Failure to recognize the meaning of His death means failure to understand the meaning of His Resurrection. He died to pay the penalty of our sin; He was raised to prove that He did.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is fundamental to Christianity; its acceptance is part of saving faith. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). This requires no blind faith, but honest acknowledgement of fact. The credibility of the witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ is seen not only “in their number and variety but also (in) the essential harmony of their reports, the absence of all motive to falsehood, and their self-sacrificing devotion to the gospel that based itself upon the resurrection.”[1]

The risen Lord appeared first to Mary (Mark 16:9–11) to introduce Himself to one receptive heart. He appeared next to the two Marys (Matt. 28:1–10) who were then sent by an angel to report to the disciples, but met by the Lord, to confirm by two witnesses this supernatural event. Then He appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34, 1 Cor. 15:5), we are not told where, to provide a single, expert witness. Above the desk where I study is a print of the beloved painting of Christ on the road to Emmaus, opening the Scriptures to two of the disciples— His fourth appearance to witnesses (Luke 24:13–31).

Like Mary, these men were not believed at first (Mark 16:12–13), but the risen Lord laid for them a verifiable, rational basis for belief in the Resurrection from the Scriptures. After this report we no longer have a mere experience; we have a doctrine. The fifth appearance was to the ten disciples (Luke 24:36–48), where the Lord verified the reports they had heard by personal experience. The appearance to the 11, with Thomas then present (John 20:24–31), followed.

These two events confirm the value of a personal experience with Christ. The ten were offered the opportunity to see and touch Him and thought the experience too wonderful to believe (Luke 24:41). Thomas’s insistence on similar personal experience demonstrates the fact that belief in the risen Christ is a function of the will (John 20:25). He next appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1,24) to lay the foundation of the Great Commission.

His eighth recorded appearance was before a congregation of over 500 (1 Cor. 15:6), perhaps to strengthen the assembly. His ninth appearance was to James (1 Cor. 15:7), perhaps to demonstrate that he would lead them thereafter through a pastor. He then appeared to the apostles at His ascension (Acts 1:3–8) to proclaim the Great Commission, and to Paul (1 Cor. 15:8), who revealed the doctrines of the local church and heard Him speak on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–4). If we count the appearance in a vision to John on the Isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:9ff), there are 12.

In the chapter that lists the qualifications for its leaders, 1 Timothy 3 records the truth of which the local church is the “pillar and ground.” “God was manifest in the flesh (the incarnation), justified in the Spirit (the Resurrection), seen of angels (witnesses!), preached unto the Gentiles (through the Great Commission), believed on in the world (as He will be today when this doctrine is preached), received up into glory (from whence He appeared to John, who told us what is ahead).

From His first appearance to one receptive heart, through increasingly credible and larger groups of witnesses, explaining from the Old Testament the Scriptural basis for the credibility of the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus clearly is seen to have been physically raised from the dead. These eyewitness accounts are recorded in more verifiable ancient manuscripts than are other accepted facts of history, and are available for critique and comparison in the preserved Word of God we hold in our hands. The Resurrection may be rejected by an evil heart of unbelief, but not through a lack of credible evidence.

John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2001. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. From the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1988. []