A Question of Faith: How do we actually know that Jesus rose from the dead?

The resurrection of Christ is depicted in a mural in the sanctuary of Holy Family Church in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)
by Dr. Chris Burgwald, Director of Evangelization and Catechesis - 4/10/2012
This is a fitting question for this time of the year as Lent concludes and as we celebrate Easter and then the entire Easter season. This question—the question of the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—goes to the very heart of our faith.

In certain scholarly circles over the last few decades it’s become fashionable to question or even deny the fact of the Resurrection, and so in the mass media we read or hear the theories of various theologians claiming that the “true” meaning of the Resurrection is that after Jesus died, the Apostles “realized” the full meaning of Jesus’ teaching on the importance of loving and forgiving, or that the “true” meaning of the Resurrection is that Jesus is alive in the hearts of those who followed Him. But the idea that He actually rose from the dead in a glorified body? Myth, fable, fairy tales according to these theories.

In his first letter to the Catholics of Corinth, St. Paul wrote this: “if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Jesus is not alive, if He was not raised from the dead, then our Christian faith is empty, according to the great Apostle.

As St. Paul testifies, the truth of the Resurrection is at the heart of our faith as Christians, and it has been since the beginning. Just a few sentences earlier St. Paul sets forth the heart of the Gospel, that which is of “first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the Twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5).

Consider the sermon which St. Peter preached on Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, in which he proclaims that God raised Jesus up after His crucifixion (cf. Acts 2:24).

We also see in the New Testament, and in other early Christian writings, that the Apostles claimed that they had seen, talked and ate with the Risen Lord, and that they were to suffer torture and ultimately even death rather than deny this claim.

Think about that: the Apostles said that Jesus rose from the dead, and they maintained that even when threatened with death themselves. Their actions alone are incomprehensible if the Resurrection did not occur: who, after all, would willingly undergo ridicule, torture and death for a fable?

As we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter and throughout the Easter season, let us repeat the ancient paschal greeting: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!