April 25, 2024

Christians celebrate Easter this Sunday, marking the anniversary of the cornerstone belief of their faith that is as shocking of a claim today as it was 2,000 years ago: Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected from the grave following his death by crucifixion on Good Friday.

Distinctive among the religions of the world, Christians believe the founder of their faith is more than just a great moral teacher or an example to be emulated. They believe that he was God in the flesh, and that after his execution on a cross outside Jerusalem in Israel, his body literally came back to life, and he rose from this earth and will one day come again.

The books of the Bible that recount the life of Jesus record the reactions of his followers, including those who were not present during his initial appearances, and who responded in a way similar to how many people today would react to a message that a person they had seen executed and buried would come back days later.

According to the Gospel of John:

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

—John 20:24–31 (ESV)

In recent centuries many scholars have argued that what is most important about Christianity is the wisdom and forcefulness of its teachings, and that whether or not the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth literally came back to life — which if true, is extraordinary on a level that is an unparalleled in history — is not really the point.

To this, Paul, one of Jesus’ chief disciples (called “apostles”), responded around A.D. 54 — years after Jesus’ death and claimed resurrection — that if Jesus was not actually, literally, physically raised from the death, then the Christian faith is worthless and he would be sleeping in each Sunday instead of going to church.

As Paul put it in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God….

…  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep….

—1 Corinthians 15:1–9, 14–19

Several years later, in A.D. 60, the Apostle Paul explained it this way to Festus, who was the new Roman governor over the province in which Paul was located, and Agrippa, a Jewish king of Paul’s time:

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

—Acts 26:22–26

Thus, the idea of someone coming back from the dead was as hard to believe in the ancient world as it is today, as skepticism such as that quoted above could just as quickly be uttered today. But the resurrection of Jesus remains the centermost belief of that faith after 2,000 years, as seen by countless Christians over the world celebrating Easter with the traditional proclamation of their faith: “He is risen. He is risen, indeed!”

Ken Klukowski is a Breitbart News contributor. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @kenklukowski.