(Hypothetical Letter from a Christian to an Unsaved Friend)
Hello again, my friend!
Thank you for continuing to dialogue with me about whether Christianity is the one true religion. When I was on a quest for spiritual truth years ago, what impacted me the most about Christianity was the Bible’s claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And I later learned that this event is the key to the truth and uniqueness of Christianity.
And why is that? No other religious founder has physically risen from the dead—and is alive today! By doing so, Jesus accomplished the greatest feat in human history, the unmatched miracle.
But, you might ask, How do we know that’s true?
For one thing…. According to the laws of evidence, Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most well-attested (or widely affirmed) facts in ancient history.1 (I’m including footnotes in this letter so you’ll know where I got some of my statements.) There are numerous books written on the compelling evidence for the resurrection. I’ll go into more detail about this evidence below.
First, it would be helpful to define “the Gospel.”
Paul, one of Jesus’ apostles, gave us the definition of the Gospel message: Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and on the third day He rose again (1 Cor. 15:1–4).
Other Scriptures provide details that tell us how that happened: Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross (in 33 AD) and buried in a rich man’s tomb. However, on the third day, He physically came out of the tomb—He rose from the dead. Over the next forty days, Jesus showed Himself alive to many people and taught about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1–3). Then He took eleven of His disciples to the Mount of Olives, where He bodily ascended into heaven. And the Bible reveals that He’s alive today!
It’s also important to note that the overall theme of the Bible is this: God’s plan of redemption for mankind. So, why do people need to be redeemed? Well, here’s the big-picture answer condensed into three sentences: 1) God is holy, and He originally created us to enjoy fellowship with Him forever. 2) But the first two humans sinned, causing all of humanity to be alienated from God. 3) So God, in His amazing love and mercy, sent His Beloved Son, Jesus, to earth to pay the penalty for our sins and restore our fellowship with Him.
One Bible scholar expressed God’s salvation message of love and grace this way:
The Gospel is that God the Son freely agreed to die our death for us, to suffer our deserved condemnation and doom in our place. And He didn’t just agree from eternity to do that. He actually did it. On the cross. For free! And for each one of us.2
Why does the resurrection matter?
Jesus’ resurrection is the very heart of the Gospel. It proved Jesus’ claim that He was God. For example, Jesus declared, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). He also stated, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Also, the resurrection demonstrated that “God the Father” accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf (Rom. 4:24–25; Heb. 10:12). His grand mission had been accomplished (Acts 2:23). On the other hand…. If Jesus had only died, it would have been the end of the story. For He would not have defeated death.
And just think! Because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, all true believers will also be resurrected. We will live with Him eternally—gazillions of years plus! Jesus said these powerful words: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live (John 11:15). I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of [authority over] Hades and of Death (Rev. 1:18).
What evidence shows that Jesus rose from the dead?
Here are three major points, which I call the 3 A’s.
Jesus’ apostles proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection as the “original defense” for the Christian faith. They preached this miraculous event consistently throughout the New Testament. After Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers began spreading the news of a risen Savior all over the known world. Acts 4:33 tells us, With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
Fully convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, the early Christians staked their lives and their eternal destiny on this historical event—as do all believers (see Rom. 10:9; 1 Pet. 1:3–4). Paul even proclaimed that if Christ was not risen, their preaching and their Christian faith was useless (1 Cor. 15:12–19). As one Bible scholar concluded, “Our faith is tied to a single, testable, historical event.”3
Jesus’ resurrection was predicted (announced) before Jesus was born, and Jesus predicted it Himself. In the Old Testament, King David wrote in Psalm 16:10 that God the Father would not allow His “Holy One to see corruption” (Jesus Christ would not perish). Genesis chapter 22 presents a typology (a poignant picture) of Jesus’ resurrection. For Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah—yet on the third day his life was given back (Gen. 22:4–12). Other predictive passages include Isaiah 53:5, 8, 10–11 and Psalm 49:15.
In the New Testament, Jesus gave the religious leaders one specific “sign” to show who He was. By citing the prophet Jonah, Jesus revealed to them He’d be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, yet then be resurrected (Matt. 12:39–40). And not only did Jesus divinely predict His resurrection to His disciples on several occasions, He even told them things they should expect, or do, after it happened (see Matt. 16:21; 17:9; 17:22, 23; 20:18, 19; 26:32; Mark 9:10; Luke 9:22–27; and John 2:18–22).
Hundreds of people (eyewitnesses) saw Jesus in His resurrected body. Recorded in the New Testament are at least twelve separate sightings of Jesus after He returned to life. Here are some examples: Jesus was seen in His resurrected body by Peter, and then by the twelve disciples (1 Cor. 15:5). After that, Jesus appeared to more than 500 witnesses at one time, most of whom were still alive—and thus could be questioned regarding events surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6–7). Jesus also appeared to Cleopas and another disciple (unnamed) on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–36).
When Jesus appeared to the women returning from the empty tomb (Matt. 28:9–10), He said to them, “Rejoice! … Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Then Jesus met with disciples in the upper room (John 20:19–20; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33–49.) Also in His resurrected body, He appeared to seven disciples fishing at the Sea of Tiberius—and showed them He was in physical form by eating honeycomb and fish (John 21:1–14; Luke 24:33–49).
(And note that historians, both religious and secular, agree that the New Testament documents are authentic, firsthand records written in the first century AD.)
So, in conclusion….
The more research I did and the more Scriptures I studied, the more convinced I became that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead so I could live with Him. He opened the door to heaven for all who would follow Him as their Savior. Jesus even said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
I’d be blessed to recap additional evidence for you, if you’d like, such as the empty tomb and the transformation of the disciples. Or I could send you a colorful and detailed pamphlet I wrote titled Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?4 For I am assured of this:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in 33 AD was the most astounding feat ever accomplished in human history. It is the very foundation of Christianity (1 Cor. 15:14–19). And since no one except the Giver of Life could undo death and return to life, truly it is the “unmatched miracle.”
I hope this information is helpful to you. Please write me back when you can, okay? And if you decide to read Bible passages in the Book of John, I pray you will hear of God’s deep, deep love for you (e.g., in John 3:16).
Your friend, ___________
P.S. Here are my footnotes:
1 Simon Greenleaf. An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists (Baker Books, 1874), 29–30 (reprinted by Kregel in 1995, etc.). 2 Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, www.1517legacy.com. 3 Dr. Sean McDowell, interviewed by Patrick Gentempo on Christ Revealed, aired online 11-9-17. 4 My own apologetics pamphlet Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? is available at TrueWayTracts.com.