Resurrection of Christ - The Impact on His Followers
The strongest indirect evidence for the resurrection of Christ involves the transformation of His disciples. At the time of Jesus' death, the disciples were scattered (only John was present at the crucifixion), scared (Peter denied Christ three times for fear of being associated with him), and skeptical (the two disciples on the road to Emmaus doubted even while they talked with Jesus; Thomas demanded physical proof before he would believe). It seems highly unlikely that a group in this sad state would suddenly pull themselves together and start a church that endures even today; such a transformation is much more likely if predicated on an experience of the resurrected Christ. What else can explain the boldness and courage of a group who initially hid in secret (John 20:19)?
Further indirect evidence can be found in the emphasis of apostolic teaching. Instead of focusing on one of Jesus' teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, for example, they proclaimed instead the resurrection of Christ. In fact, within weeks of Christ's death, the apostles were "with great power … giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33). Repeated encounters with the resurrected Christ provide the best explanation for the dominance of this theme.
As the apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, the early church grew quickly. As a sect of Judaism -- a religion tenaciously committed to monotheism -- it is quite surprising that they would claim an exalted state of deity for Christ, pray to him as Lord, and baptize in his name! The bodily resurrection of Christ, coupled with the coming of the Holy Spirit, is again the best explanation for this.
Resurrection of Christ - Answering Objections
Many objections have been set forth against the veracity of the resurrection accounts. Although a few of them have been dealt with in this article, albeit briefly, there is at least one more that is common enough to warrant a closer look.
The resurrection accounts contradict each other. If this is an objection you've heard, or have wondered about yourself, can you think of one or two specific contradictions off-hand? If not, keep in mind that an objection without specific support, is merely an assertion! Intellectual honesty requires that a claim such as this, if it is to be used in debate, must be supported with examples at the very least.
Assuming that such examples have been provided, a closer look is necessary. The primary passages in question are Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21, with supplementary accounts in Acts and 1 Corinthians. A useful exercise, whether or not you have concerns regarding the harmony of these accounts, is to attempt a reconciliation on your own after careful comparison of each passage. It should become clear that, while the accounts may differ in minor details, they do not contradict each other in any objective sense of the word. In fact, they are complementary, and seem to agree and disagree in much the same way any set of independent accounts would, if produced by troubled eyewitnesses of such a traumatic occurrence. Hopefully one example will suffice to show this complementary nature. Matthew 28:1 lists Mary Magdalene as the first to see the resurrected Christ, whereas Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:5, lists Peter as the first witness to the resurrection. This apparent contradiction is easily reconciled when the purpose of Paul's account is properly understood. In this particular letter, he is defending the resurrection from an official and legal standpoint, and so gives an official list of witnesses (women would not be included in this particular cultural setting, since their testimony was not allowed in court). It makes sense, then, that he would mention Peter as the first official witness to the resurrection.
Resurrection of Christ - Conclusion
The preceding discussion is but a brief treatment of the evidences for, and the objections against, the physical, historical resurrection of Christ. We hope we've presented a useful approach for dealing with any additional objections that might surface (such as a non-physical resurrection, or the resurrection appearances as mere visions). Remember, the first response should be an honest, objective look at the historical accounts themselves. Perhaps such an approach will take you one step closer to "believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead"!