Jesus’s resurrection is recorded in all four gospels (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20). Each gospel writer is writing for a slightly different purpose, and therefore each one emphasizes the details he thinks are most important. The accounts are not contradictory but are distinct perspectives on the same event and can be harmonized together to get a fuller picture of what happened. When our expectations are not for the texts to be exactly the same, it is amazing how similar the accounts truly are— not to mention the fact that they are written not long after the event, and by people close to the situation (some were even firsthand witnesses).
If we agree that the New Testament is a reliable source for historical information, we can emerge with three pieces of evidence that help us know Jesus’ resurrection did, in fact, happen.
1. Jesus’ tomb was empty. Matthew even tells us that the Jewish leaders spread a rumor that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body (Matthew 28:11–15), which shows even Jesus’ enemies admitted the tomb was empty! All the Jewish leaders needed to do to prove Jesus was still dead was to find His body, but nobody ever did. What is maybe even more amazing is that the first witnesses of the empty tomb were women! In that day, the testimony of women would not have been considered credible. If the gospel writers had wanted to make up a story about Jesus rising from the dead, they definitely should not have written that the first eyewitnesses were women. That fact would have been embarrassing and would have discounted their story.
2. Jesus appeared to many people. We have several accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (Matthew 28:16–20; Luke 24:13–53; John 20:11—21:25). Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people before He ascended to heaven (1 Corinthians 15:6).
3. Jesus’ disciples had a new boldness, and Christianity spread. When Jesus died, His followers scattered, crushed and afraid for their own lives. This was the pattern with many people who rose as leaders and then died—their followers disbanded and their teachings eventually died out. However, after Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples were emboldened like never before and proclaimed the good news everywhere they went! Christianity spread and has only grown more and more to this day.
The best explanation for these pieces of evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. We can know and have confidence that Jesus is alive!
If the biblical resurrection accounts confuse you or if the validity of the resurrection itself is difficult to pass on to your kids because you struggle to believe it yourself, I encourage you to dig into some books and articles written on this topic. I merely scratched the surface here; check out The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, or Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark Roberts.
Read Matthew 28:1–10 and Luke 24:1–12 as a family. (If your children are older or want to explore this further, have them compare Mark 16:1–8 and John 20:1–18 as well.)
Discuss the following questions:
• Which details are the same in each account? Which are different?
• Why do you think one writer might have emphasized one detail over another?
• What are some clues that can help us know this really happened?
• Why does it matter that Jesus really did rise from the dead?
Have each family member (parents, you too!) make his own news report announcing Jesus’ resurrection, based on the details found in the gospels. Write it out and draw pictures. Then show each other your reports. Compare which details you each mentioned and which you chose to leave out. End your time in prayer, thanking God that we can know that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and that our sins are forgiven and we can have eternal life with Him because of it!