Historical Evidence That Proves The Resurrection Of Jesus

The records of antiquity contain evidence which allows us to know whether events that took place in the historical record are true. What we know about these past events can only be understood through the writings of those who saw and heard the things they are preserving for us. Everything that has taken place during recorded history is validated in precisely the same manner. It is by the testimony of witnesses that we are able to know what has taken place and have confidence that these records are reliable narratives.

Critics of the Bible often say the events which took place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not historical, but mere myth. The basis of this assertion is the belief that miracles are not possible: The idea that a man could come back from the dead after being brutally crucified, is preposterous to some, doubtful to others.

Imagine what it would be like to see such an event and try to convince people of that time it had really happened—even more—to convince people two-thousand years later that Jesus had risen from the dead. The facts of the historical record reveal that men have written they did see Jesus dead on a Roman cross, and then alive three days later. These men also state that Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, caused the crippled to walk, turned water into wine, and walked on the surface of the sea.

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. ~1 John 1:1

For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes. ~2 Peter 1:16

Were The Gospels Written By Eyewitnesses?

There are 134 statements in the New Testament which declare that the writers saw and heard Jesus. There are 396 citations in the New Testament where His crucifixion and resurrection three days later are recorded. These citations are in my book, “You Are My Witnesses: The Men Who Saw Jesus.”

The miracles that are ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament become an in insurmountable barrier for the atheist and other critics of the Bible, simply because they do not believe these events could have happened.

Many people who read the New Testament for themselves, see sufficient evidence in the text to believe the events that are described really happened. The New Testament was not written as a novel or story, but as personal letters between real persons that are instructive, corrective, and encouraging. The New Testament is understood today as scripture, equal to the scriptures of the Old Testament (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Is The New Testament A Valid Historical Narrative?

When we team what is written in the New Testament with the records of secular history, we find that non-interested parties that did not believe in Jesus, nor were they sympathetic to His cause, also have written in their records that Jesus had risen from the dead.

121 Non Biblical Sources For Jesus in the Historical Record

The Persecution of Early Christians by the Romans

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence from secular history that serves to validate the presence of Jesus on earth, dying on a cross and resurrected from the dead, is the persecution of the early followers of Jesus by the Roman government.

The Romans were very tolerant of every religion, except Christianity. The Roman Emperors determined that Christianity was a terrible superstition, in which its followers believed in the impossible: their leader had risen from the dead.[1]

“The Roman Empire was generally quite tolerant in its treatment of other religions. The imperial policy was generally one of incorporation – the local gods of a newly conquered area were simply added to the Roman pantheon and often given Roman names. Even the Jews, with their one god, were generally tolerated. So why the persecution of Christians?”

“In order to understand the Roman distrust of Christianity, one must understand the Roman view of religion. For the Romans, religion was first and foremost a social activity that promoted unity and loyalty to the state – a religious attitude the Romans called pietas, or piety. Cicero wrote that if piety in the Roman sense were to disappear, social unity and justice would perish along with it.”

“The early Roman writers viewed Christianity not as another kind of piety, but as a “superstition.” Pliny, a Roman governor writing circa 110 AD, called Christianity a “superstition taken to extravagant lengths.” Similarly, the Roman historian Tacitus called it “a deadly superstition,” and the historian Suetonius called Christians “a class of persons given to a new and mischievous superstition.[2] —Persecution in the early church

The mischievous superstition that Tacitus, Pliny, and Suetonius refer to was the firm belief by the followers of Jesus that He had risen from the dead. This fact of Christianity made it impossible for the Roman Emperors to accept Christianity as a conventional religion. No other leader amongst any other religion had ever claimed to rise from the dead. We should understand, at the onset, that Christianity is far different from all other religions. The central and most crucial part of Christianity is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the Resurrection, Christianity would have ceased to exist before it began.

Recorded Secular Records Of Jesus’ Resurrection

Roman authors who describe the reasons that Christianity was deemed so dangerous to Roman society, characterized the belief that Christians would not deny the resurrection of Jesus, as “Superstitio.”[3] Tacitus called their trust in the resurrection, exitabilis (detestable).[4] Suetonius referred to the Christian stance of Jesus’ resurrection as Superstitio nova ac malefica (Mischievous Superstition).[5] Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan that the Christian superstitious belief in the resurrection was a contagio (disease).[6]

Christianity was not seen as most religions, a bizarre set of beliefs. It was defined by the Roman Emperors as a dangerous superstition that threatened the very fabric of Roman society.

In Roman thinking, superstition was not regarded in the same way that it was in most other cultures. The superstition of Christianity was viewed by the Romans as corrosive to society. In the minds of Roman leaders, the idea that a man could have risen from the dead was so disturbing to the mind that a person would likely go insane. This would result in a loss of his humanity, and the entire structure of Roman life would erode into chaos.[7]

Only when Romans encountered Christians who insisted that Jesus had been raised from the dead, did they find it impossible to tolerate their strange and dangerous religion. In the minds of the Romans, anyone who could believe such things were already insane and worthy of death. To allow people to populate nations for whom they ruled, with these intolerable views, the entire Roman Empire could be jeopardized.

It was because the Romans viewed a religion based upon a resurrected Savior as extremely dangerous, that they vigorously sought to stamp out every trace of Christianity. History records that during the reign of ten Emperors, over five million Christians were persecuted and killed by the Roman government for a period of 250 years.⁠[8] Beginning with Nero in 54 A.D., and ending with Diocletian  in 313 A.D.⁠[9]

These facts of secular history, preserved today in the records of the Roman Senate, are compelling and empirical evidence that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was well known by the Romans. It is irrelevant that the Romans didn’t believe the resurrection had taken place. What we should pay attention to is the fact that Roman Leaders understood that Christians believed this doctrine so fervently that they would rather die than deny it had taken place.

While it is possible that a person could die for a lie, in the case of Christianity, those who believed Jesus had risen from the dead, had credible evidence to support their fervent belief. Christians of that time had something in their possession that others who died for their beliefs did not have; a written record from eyewitnesses who stated they had seen Jesus crucified and then alive three days later.

This record also contained the testimony of the most astute Pharisee in Israel, Saul of Tarsus, who stated in 14 letters that He had seen the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes: “Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes?” ~1 Corinthians 9:1.

The Christians of that time knew well that Saul had persecuted Christians and sought their death. Immediately after Saul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, he became a completely different man. Now known as Paul, he became the chief architect of the true facts of Jesus’ resurrection and the certain truth that He is the true Messiah. It was these written records that caused the early believers in Jesus to not deny His resurrection and make them willing to die with confidence that Jesus had risen from the dead.

We see evidence of these facts in that when the Romans gave Christians the opportunity to deny Jesus, and worship their Roman gods, they refused. Christians were so certain that Jesus had risen, they were willing to die because they believe He would also raise them.

It is certain that Roman leaders did not believe in the resurrection, but they certainly accepted that Christians believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. It is this record that remains in the Roman Senate today that is compelling evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.[3,4,5,6]

These facts were established by the writings of Roman Historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, as they described the resurrection as a terrible superstition that would endanger the Roman Empire. It was for this reason that we have an incredible record that Jesus had risen from the dead because history records that over five million Christians went to their death during a 250-year period of history under ten Roman Emperors, rather than recant and deny Jesus’ resurrection had taken place.

“The early Roman writers viewed Christianity not as another kind of piety, but as a “superstition.” Pliny, a Roman governor writing circa 110 AD, called Christianity a “superstition taken to extravagant lengths.” Similarly, the Roman historian Tacitus called it “a deadly superstition,” and the historian Suetonius called Christians “a class of persons given to a new and mischievous superstition.”⁠[10] ~Persecution in the early church

To assert that Romans did not execute Christians during the reign of ten Emperors, because they believed the resurrection of Jesus had happened, is an unsupportable, based upon the evidence of history.

People may carry a myth to a certain point, but let their life be in jeopardy for believing such things, they will immediately recant in order to save their life. ~RCR

Myths and legends which claim that a person had risen from the dead cannot survive 2,000 years of scrutiny if they are not true. This has never happened during man’s history, and for good reason. People want to know the truth, and they will invest themselves in seeking to discover whether events are genuine or not.

It was because Christians believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, that ten Roman Emperors gave their orders to execute any Christian who would not repent of their Christianity and worship a Roman god.[11] Since Christians maintained such a firm belief that Jesus had risen from the dead because it is firmly established in their scriptures, they would not deny Jesus.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,  ~1 Corinthians 15:3-4

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. ~1 Corinthians 15:14

History records that early Christians were persecuted and killed by the Roman government for a period of 250 years.[12] Beginning with Nero in 54 A.D. and ending with Diocletian  in 313 A.D.[13]

  • Nero (54-68): Paul was beheaded; Peter was crucified upside down.
  • Domitian (95-96): John was exiled to Patmos, and wrote the Book of Revelation.
  • Trajan (104-117): Ignatius was burned at the stake.
  • Marcus Aurelius (161-180): Polycarp was martyred.
  • Septimus Severus (200-211): He executed Irenaeus.
  • Maximinus (235-237): He killed Ursula and Hippolytus.
  • Decius (249-251)
  • Valerian (257-260)
  • Aurelian (270-275)
  • Diocletian (303-313): He killed more Christians than all before him.

The most reliable source for the true facts of this persecution of Christians is from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. During this period of history, John Foxe estimated that five million Christians were killed for simply believing in Jesus as their Savior.[14]

It is interesting that Jesus spoke to the church at Smyrna, in the Book of Revelation Chapter 2, and told them that they would suffer through ten days of persecution and to be faithful even in their death…

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: ‘I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.’”~ Revelation 2:8-10

These “ten days” appear to be a prophetic prediction by Jesus of the ten Roman Emperors who killed such a great number of Christians.

All ten of these Roman Emperors recorded their view of Christianity in the records of the Roman Senate Archives.[15] Under Emperor Decius, Christians arrested could purchase a libelous that proved they had converted from Christianity without actually denying Jesus and worshipping a Roman god. This was accomplished by paying a fee to a Roman official, to obtain the certificate.

From the massive records of the Romans, which are extant to the present day, any person of diligence can discover that Jesus is a genuine person of history. His early followers were brutally executed for simply believing that He had risen from the dead. The only reason why the Roman government viewed Christianity as such a great threat, when all other religions were not regarded as dangerous, is due to the primary claim of its leader and the belief of its followers that Jesus Christ had not only died on a Roman cross—He had risen from the dead.

This stunning reality is recorded in the pages of Roman antiquity, and is undeniable, empirical evidence of His existence in history. Jesus’ crucifixion is recorded in the Roman archives, and the fact of His resurrection is evidenced by the strong stance His followers took when confronted with death rather than deny Him. There is no doubt that John’s letter to the seven churches, from the Book of Revelation Chapter 2:8-10, was read to those suffering under persecution. The letter that was written to the church at Smyrna was specifically intended for those who would suffer under these brutal Roman Emperors.

…you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:8-10

The early christians were encouraged to stand fast in their commitment to Jesus, and not fear death, because they had confidence that Jesus would also raise them from the dead.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

A Letter From Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus to Emperor Trajan

In the year 112 A.D., Pliny the Younger—governor of the Roman province of Bithynia (Turkey)—wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan, requesting clarification on his orders to execute those who were Christians.[16]

The following are a few of the excerpts from this letter:[17]

“It is my constant method to apply myself to you for the resolution of all my doubts; for who can better govern my dilatory way of proceeding or instruct my ignorance? I have never been present at the examination of the Christians [by others], on which account I am unacquainted with what uses to be inquired into, and what, and how far they used to be punished; nor are my doubts small, whether there be not a distinction to be made between the ages [of the accused]? and whether tender youth ought to have the same punishment with strong men?”

“Whether there be not room for pardon upon repentance?” or whether it may not be an advantage to one that had been a Christian, that he has forsaken Christianity? Whether the bare name, without any crimes besides, or the crimes adhering to that name, be to be punished?”

“In the meantime, I have taken this course about those who have been brought before me as Christians. I asked them whether they were Christians or not? If they confessed that they were Christians, I asked them again, and a third time, intermixing threatenings with the questions. If they persevered in their confession, I ordered them to be executed; for I did not doubt but, let their confession be of any sort whatsoever, this positiveness and inflexible obstinacy deserved to be punished.”

“However, they assured me that the main of their fault, or of their mistake was this:-That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command, and wherein I had forbidden any such conventicles.”

“These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was…”

Emperor Trajan’s reply:

“My Pliny,

You have taken the method which you ought in examining the causes of those that had been accused as Christians, for indeed no certain and general form of judging can be ordained in this case. These people are not to be sought for; but if they be accused and convicted, they are to be punished; but with this caution, that he who denies himself to be a Christian, and makes it plain that he is not so by supplicating to our gods, although he had been so formerly, may be allowed pardon, upon his repentance. As for libels sent without an author, they ought to have no place in any accusation whatsoever, for that would be a thing of very ill example, and not agreeable to my reign.”

This letter exchange between two Roman officials, which are kept in the Archives of the Roman Senate and originating from a secular source, verifies that many thousands of Christians were executed for simply believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Remember that the resurrection and a belief in Jesus Christ are inseparable. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity.

Both Pliny and the Roman Emperor state that any person who had previously claimed to be a Christian, upon the recantation of their belief, could be spared execution. The fact is that a majority of those who believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection would not deny Him, even to save their own life. This is verified by a Roman source that was not sympathetic to Christ or His followers.

Today because such a great deal of evidence for Jesus Christ has been discovered and is readily available on the internet and by many, many other books—the critics of Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible have vigorously disputed every piece of evidence that validates Jesus as a real person of history. As you can see from the brief information in this chapter, the world has many sources for verification of the facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Even if someone is not inclined to believe the Bible, it is impossible to deny the record of secular history that also fully validates the presence of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and resurrected from the dead. These facts remain to the present day in the Annals of the Roman Senate and declare the massive efforts of at least ten emperors to eliminate Christianity from the face of the earth. Two thousand years have passed; the Roman government and all those who tried to eliminate Jesus’ influence upon history have all died. He is still alive today, and remains as the greatest single influence upon every aspect of human life.


NOTES:

[1] Robert L. Wilkin, “The Piety of the Persecutors.” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 18, 19
[2] 1.Everett Ferguson, “Did You Know?” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), inside cover.
2.Robert L. Wilkin, “The Piety of the Persecutors.” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 18.
[3] ‘ Superstitio’ and the Persecution of the Christians, L. F. Janssen, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Jun., 1979), pp. 131-159
[4]  Tacitus Annals, 15.44.4
[5] Seutonius, Nero, 16,2
[6] Ibid, L. F. Janssen, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 33,
[7] 1.Everett Ferguson, “Did You Know?” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), inside cover. 2.Robert L. Wilkin, “The Piety of the Persecutors.” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 18. 3. Persecution in the Early Church, religion facts.com, March 17, 2015
[8] 1.Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Publisher: ReadHowYouWant, December 19, 2011, ISBN: 1459633199, Kindle Edition 2.Chuck Smith, “The Tribulation and the Church,” The Word For Today, Publishers, August 5, 2011, Kindle Edition. 3. Maurice M. Hassatt, “Martyr.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IX, Robert Appleton Company, 1910
[9] Mark Galli, “The Persecuting Emperors.” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 20.
[10] 1.Everett Ferguson, “Did You Know?” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), inside cover. 3.1.Persecution in the Early Church, religion facts.com, March 17, 2015
[11] 1.Persecution in the Early Church, religion facts.com, March 17, 2015
2.“The Roman Empire was generally quite tolerant in its treatment of other religions. The imperial policy was generally one of incorporation – the local gods of a newly conquered area were simply added to the Roman pantheon and often given Roman names. Even the Jews, with their one god, were generally tolerated. So why the persecution of Christians?

In order to understand the Roman distrust of Christianity, one must understand the Roman view of religion. For the Romans, religion was first and foremost a social activity that promoted unity and loyalty to the state – a religious attitude the Romans called pietas, or piety. Cicero wrote that if piety in the Roman sense were to disappear, social unity and justice would perish along with it.

The early Roman writers viewed Christianity not as another kind of pietas, piety, but as a superstition, “superstition.” Pliny, a Roman governor writing circa 110 AD, called Christianity a “superstition taken to extravagant lengths.” Similarly, the Roman historian Tacitus called it “a deadly superstition,” and the historian Suetonius called Christians “a class of persons given to a new and mischievous superstition.” {9} In this context, the word “superstition” has a slightly different connotation than it has today: for the Romans, it designated something foreign and different – in a negative sense. Religious beliefs were valid only in so far as it could be shown to be old and in line with ancient customs; new and innovative teachings were regarded with distrust.”
[12] 
Maurice M. Hassatt, “Martyr.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IX, Robert Appleton Company, 1910
[13] Mark Galli, “The Persecuting Emperors.” Christian History, Issue 27 (Vol. XI, No. 3), p. 20.
[14] 1.Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Publisher: ReadHowYouWant, December 19, 2011, ISBN: 1459633199, Kindle Edition
2.Chuck Smith, “The Tribulation and the Church,” The Word For Today, Publishers, August 5, 2011, Kindle Edition.
[15] 1.The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero by Cornelius Tacitus and J. C. Yardley ISBN 0-19-282421-X Oxford pages 2-27.
2.”Tacitus and the Writing of History,” by Ronald H. Martin 1981 ISBN 0-520-04427-4, pages 104–105.
[16] Letters of Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan, Translated by William Whiston, From The Works of Josephus, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.
[17] Ibid
[18] Castle and Cooke



Categories: Anonymity of the Four Gospels, Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics, Empirical Evidence for the Resurrection, Historical Validity of the New Testament, How The NT Writers Remembered, Josephus as a credible witness, New Testament Criticism, Origin of the four Gospels, Resurrection Proven by Secular Sources, Robert Clifton Robinson, Secular Sources for Jesus, Secular sources for Jesus, Tacitus as a credible witness, The Four Gospels, The Historical Crucifixion of Jesus, The Historical Jesus, The Resurrection of Jesus

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