Most religions offer an answer to what awaits an individual after death, and they often times offer a way to ensure the best possible postmortem existence. This means that knowing which religion is true, if any, is the most vital question a person can ask. Within Christianity, the Bible is very clear that this is our only life; this is our only chance to ensure eternal life. The author of the book of Hebrews states, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28, NKJV).
Despite the many religious options for what awaits us after death, we can trust the certainty of the Christian message because of the strong evidence that verifies the Bible’s testable claim that Jesus rose from the dead after his public crucifixion.
To objectively discern if a belief is true, it needs to be testable. The scientific method (a method of investigation in which a problem is first identified and observations, experiments, or other relevant data are then used to construct or test hypotheses that purport to solve it) can’t test most of the claims found in the world’s religions, but science is not our only means of verifying the legitimacy of truth claims. In the case of judging religious truth claims, one form of verification that needs to be utilized is historical-forensic evidence. At the heart of Christianity is a historical event that can be evaluated in such a manner to prove or disprove its truthfulness. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ did not rise from the grave that his faith is futile and his testimony about Jesus would be a lie. If someone could prove that Jesus did not rise from the grave, then the resurrection would be considered a false claim and the Christian faith should be rejected. On the flip side, if Jesus DID rise from the grave, it confirms that Jesus’ claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to Father” (John 14:6) is true! If he did not rise from the grave, then Jesus was a liar and Christians ought to be pitied above all men.
The good news for Christians, and all of humanity, is that there is amble evidence to trust that Jesus lived, died for our sins, and rose from the grave. The bulk of what we know of ancient history arises from the written record that has survived to us, and in this regard the New Testament is the best attested ancient manuscript in terms of the number of copies it has, the dates of the copies to their original writings, as well as the accuracy of those copies. These qualities help ensure that the New Testament, as we have it today, accurately represents the text that its authors penned. In addition to the reliable transmission of the New Testament, the biographies of Jesus (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written by eyewitnesses, or written by people who wrote using eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony is always more reliable and desirable when discerning what events have actually occurred, than using the testimony of those far removed from the scene, either by location or time.
Since the Gospel authors were eyewitnesses, or wrote based on eyewitness testimony in the first century, other witnesses, both friend and foe, would have known if the Gospel writers were telling lies, and they would have revealed the Gospels to be false. However, we have no such competing accounts from contemporaries. We do, on the other hand, have non-Christian authors writing in the first and second centuries who affirm the claims of the Gospels, and no one in the first century was ever able to produce the bones of Jesus to disprove the empty tomb that Sunday morning. Jewish and Roman leaders and authorities had the motive and means to disprove the resurrection, but they could not. The best they could do was to persecute Christians as an attempt to stop the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles continued to proclaim the risen Christ all the way to their martyrdom. If the account of Jesus’ resurrection that originated with the apostles is a LIE, it would mean that they chose to die gruesome deaths instead of exposing the hoax that they created. Many people might accept execution for what they THINK is true, but who would die for what they KNOW is a lie?
The central message of Christianity, that Jesus lived, died for sins, was buried, and rose from the grave, is also what verifies the truthfulness of the Christian message. We can look to the historical evidence of the crucified Jesus, the empty tomb, and the followers of Jesus who claimed to see him alive after a physical death, who willfully suffered persecution and death for proclaiming that message. No other religion has, at its center, a historical event like this that can be historically tested to prove or disprove the truthfulness of its message. For instance there is no way to discern if the Buddha actually reached Nirvana sitting underneath a tree in mediation, nor if the prophet Muhammad of Islam saw and received messages from an angel of Allah, because these events were only experienced by one individual with no external verification available. The fact that Jesus rose from the grave, indeed, is the certainty of his divinity and the forgiveness of our sins that we both have and need.
For more details on the evidential claims put forth in this article, read John Warwick Montgomery’s History, Law, and Christianity (complex), Andy Wrasmans’ Contradict – They Can’t All Be True (moderate), or Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter (beginner).