Yesterday, The Fatima Center posted an article on how Miracles serve as proof of the Catholic Church’s Divine Origin. The single most important miracle in the history of mankind is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Given that we are in the season of Eastertide, it is appropriate to reflect upon the evidence which supports the bodily rising of Jesus from the dead. It behooves all Catholics to be familiar with this information, as it helps to dispel error and may serve to convince others.
We Have First-hand Sources
The primary sources are naturally the four Gospel accounts (Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24, and Jn 20-21). Matthew and John were eyewitnesses to these events. Mark narrated the preaching of St. Peter to the Gentiles, whereas Matthew related the preaching of St. Peter to the Jews. St. Luke informs us that he recorded an accurate and reliable account of his ‘investigative reporting’ among eyewitnesses (cf. Lk 1:1-4). Eyewitness testimony is always accepted as a source of reliable evidence. One should, after all, be willing to evaluate these documents with at least the same objective and unbiased criteria normatively applied to other historical documents of antiquity.
Jesus of Nazareth Died
Few dispute the fact that Jesus was tortured, crucified, and died. There have been some skeptical scholars and heretics who have argued that perhaps Jesus did not actually die on the Cross, but only lost consciousness or appeared dead. However, this flatly contradicts the available evidence. Not only did Our Lord lose a great amount of blood in His Passion, but His sufferings were sufficient to kill any man. Moreover, a Roman solider pierced open His side to ensure that He truly was dead. It’s unreasonable to think the Roman soldiers would have been so incompetent as to err in this matter. Likewise, the Sanhedrin so bent on having Him executed would not have rested until He was dead. Finally, all those who lovingly cared for His dead body, including various disciples, faithful women, and even His own Blessed Mother, would not have all made so obvious an error.
The Empty Tomb
One of the most important pieces of evidence is the Empty Tomb, because it was acknowledged by believers and enemies alike. All the disciples who went to the tomb found it empty. Some, like Mary Magdalene, began searching for the missing corpse. Even the chief priests had to acknowledge the body was missing, so they fabricated a story that Our Lord’s disciples stole the body. They paid off the guards to spread this lie (cf. Mt 28:11-15). Yet again, it’s unreasonable to believe these soldiers would have failed in this duty. They were professionally armed men. How could terrified and disorganized disciples steal a body “underneath their noses” when they had specifically been assigned to prevent just such an incident? The soldiers knew it was an incredulous tale but went along because the high priests promised to prevent any retaliation from the governor for their ‘negligence’ (cf. Mt 27:62-65).
The Risen Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:9), to the faithful women (Mt 28:9), to the disciples traveling to Emmaus, and to Simon Peter (Lk 24:34-35) and to His Apostles several times (Jn 21:14). He was also seen by five hundred disciples at once, by St. James and then by St. Paul (1 Cor 15:6-8).
Scoffers have argued that, being under extreme stress, the Apostles could easily have hallucinated or suffered from some hypnosis. Others have even argued that Our Lord’s disciples simply conspired to propagate a lie. Yet these are the arguments of a simpleton who, grasping at straws, stubbornly clings to his dogmatic axiom that supernatural miracles are not possible. How can anyone believe that so many different people, over a period of forty days, could have all succumbed to a similar dream or hallucination? Even more improbable is the notion that so many would agree together to spread such a deception.
The eyewitness accounts lay heavy emphasis on the fact that this was not a mere vision. They admit that, at first, the witnesses themselves thought it could be a phantasm and that they doubted (Mt 28:17, Mk 16:14). Yet Our Risen Lord ate with them to prove He was not a vision or a disembodied soul (Lk 24:42, Jn 21:13). He even commanded St. Thomas to insert his fingers into the Sacred Wounds (Jn 20:27). An illusion does not eat nor can one touch an illusion.
The Truth Revealed in Blood
Perhaps the most telling historical evidence is that all the Apostles were willing to suffer ridicule, hatred, numerous trials, and even terrible tortures for the truth of the Resurrection. Each one made long journeys, often alone, and spent his life conveying the truth of the Resurrection to as many people as possible. Each of the Apostles was so convinced and firmly committed to this truth that they were willing to suffer martyrdom for it. This fact alone dispels the notion that it could have been a vision, a hallucination, or a concocted lie. It is highly improbable that one man would be willing to devote his life and suffer terribly for an illusion, even die; but how can it be that all the Apostles would do so if it were not the truth?
We ought to stop and ask ourselves, how much are we willing to suffer for a made-up story? How many trials and tribulations are we willing to endure for something we know is false? How many falsehoods do we believe in for which we would be willing to dedicate our entire life’s work? Is there a falsehood we would be willing to die for? If we seriously and honestly consider these questions, we will begin to see how powerful a testimony the Apostles’ witness is to the truth of the Resurrection.
It Changed the World
Finally, and most importantly, no other event has had such a tremendous impact upon all world history as the Resurrection. The Apostles founded the Catholic Church, which has endured for two thousand years and to this day has well over one billion adherents. The Church has had a tremendous impact for good in every facet of human life, from science to economics, to architecture and literature, to education and agriculture, to the fine arts, history and philosophy, and the list goes on. It was through the Catholic Church that Western Civilization was built up, the greatest civilization the world has ever seen. It really is inconceivable to think that this venerable institution has endured for so many centuries and brought about so much good, even just considering the natural realm, to have all been ultimately based on an untruth.
“Now if Christ be preached, that He arose again from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…. But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep … For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14, 21-22)