Luke wrote in the opening of the book of Acts Jesus’ knew He had risen because of “many infallible proofs.”
"To whom [the apostles] he [Jesus] shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
Thomas Walker writes in his commentary on Acts:
"The word “proof” is an unusual one, occurring nowhere else in the New Testament. It denotes ’a sure sign or token,’ ’a positive proof manifest to the senses.’ Christ gave to His disciples such manifest proofs of His resurrection by look, tone, gesture, act, as to leave no room for uncertainty. He spoke with them, ate with them, walked with them, shewed them the scars in His hands and His side. They had convincing evidence by sight, touch, and hearing. The resurrection was placed for ever beyond the reach of reasonable doubt, and necessarily so, for if Christ be not raised our faith and hope are vain." - The Acts of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), p. 5.
1. The eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ.
The order of appearances between Christ’s resurrection and ascension seems to be as follows:
(a) To Mary Magdalene and the other women as they returned from the sepulcher, after having seen the angel who told them Christ had arisen (Matt. 28:8-10; Mark 16:9-10; John 20:11-18).
(b) To Peter, before the evening of the day of the resurrection, but under circumstances of which we have no details (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5).
(c)To the two disciples, Cleopas and another, on the way to Emmaus, on the afternoon of the day of the resurrection (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32).
(d) To the ten apostles, Thomas being absent, together with others whose names are not given on the evening of the day of the resurrection at their evening meal (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25; 1 Cor. 15:5).
(e) One week later, to all the eleven apostles, probably in the same place as the preceding appearance (Mark 16:14; John 20:26-29).
(f) To several of the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, while they were fishing (John 21:1-24);
(g) To the apostles and more than 500 brethren and James, the Lord’s half brother, on an appointed mountain in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:6-7);
(h) To those who witnessed the Ascension at Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:19; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-12).
John R. Rice makes this point:
"A man could be stoned in the Old Testament under the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6; Num. 35:30). A jury of twelve men can now condemn a man to the electric chair. Practically every action of the Supreme Court of the United States, every decision, is based on lesser evidence that the resurrection of which literally hundreds of people were eyewitnesses. No wonder Jesus said that those who did not believe in His resurrection according to the Scriptures were “fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)." - Filled With the Spirit (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1969), p. 34.
2. The fact of the empty tomb.
The emptiness of the tomb is acknowledged by Jesus’ opponents as well as affirmed by His disciples.
"Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (Matthew 28:11-15).
These men did such a good job of spreading this rumor that, as Matthew wrote, “This saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (about thirty years after the events). In other words, after thirty years, they still had not found His body.
Dr. Tim Lahaye presents the significance of the empty tomb:
"It would have been impossible to challenge people to worship a ‘resurrected’ Savior if His body were still in the tomb! His disciples might have managed the deception for a time if they had moved to a city several hundred miles away from where the events in question took place. But that is not what they did. Immediately they began preaching right there in Jerusalem that He rose from the dead. And they used the empty tomb as ‘exhibit A,’ their first piece of evidence.” - Jesus: Who Is He? (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996), p. 245.
3. The shape of the linen wrappings.
"So they [John and Peter] ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed" (John 20:4-8).
Warren Wiersbe writes:
"Peter arrived impulsively went into the tomb, just as we would expect him to do. He also saw the linen clothes lying there empty and the cloth for the head carefully rolled and lying by itself. Grave robbers do not carefully unwrap the corpse and then leave the graveclothes neatly behind. In fact, with the presence of the spices in the folds of the clothes, it would be almost impossible to unwrap a corpse without damaging the wrappings. The only way those linen clothes could be left in that condition would be if Jesus passed through them as He arose from the dead." - Be Transformed (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1986), p. 122-3.
John Stott makes the following observation:
"It is a remarkable fact that the narratives which say that the body of Jesus had gone also tell us that the graveclothes had not gone. It is John who lays particular emphasis on this fact, for he accompanied Peter on that dramatic early morning race to the tomb. The account he gives of this incident bears the unmistakable marks of first-hand experience. He outran Peter, but on arrival at the tomb he did not more than look in, until Peter came and entered it. ’Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.’ The question is: What did he see which made him believe? The story suggests that it was not just the absence of the body, but the presence of the graveclothes and, in particular, their undisturbed condition." - Quoted from Basic Christianity by Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972), p.229.
4. The proven character of Christ makes it easy to believe Him when He taught He would rise from the dead.
Dr. J. Gresham Machen was one of the leading thinkers ever to graduate from Princeton. He was an ardent defender of the resurrection and penned the following comment which helps us understand how Jesus was in a category all by Himself—even before He rose from the dead:
"You and I have never seen a man who rose from the dead; but you and I have never seen a man like Jesus. Do you not see, what we are trying to establish is not the resurrection of an ordinary man about whom we know nothing, but the Resurrection of Jesus. There is a tremendous presumption against the Resurrection of an ordinary man, but when you come to really know Jesus as He is pictured to us in the Gospels, you will say that whereas it is unlikely that any ordinary man should rise from the dead, in His case the presumption is exactly reversed. It is unlikely that any ordinary man should rise, but it is unlikely that this man should not rise. It may be said of this man that it was impossible that He should beholden of death." - The Christian Faith in the Modern World, (New York, 1936) pp. 214-215, quoted by Tim Lahaye, Jesus: Who Is He?, p. 280.
5. Transformation of the eyewitnesses.
The transformation of the disciples is perhaps the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection.
Josh McDowell writes,
"Look at the life of James, the brother of Jesus. Before the resurrection he despised all that his brother stood for. He thought Christ’s claims were blatant pretension and served only to ruin the family name. After the resurrection, though, James is found with the other disciples preaching the gospel of their Lord. His epistle describes well the new relationship that he had with Christ. He describes himself as ‘a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ . . .’ (James 1:1). The only explanation for this change in his life is that which Paul gives: ‘Then He [Jesus] appeared to James . . .’ (1 Corinthians 15:7).” - Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 236.
Consider the transformation of Peter:
"In the hall of judgement when Jesus was on trial, Peter shrank and shivered at the pointed finger of a little maid . . . . But on the day of Pentecost and later, he shook his own finger in the face of the chiefest of the Jews and accused them of the murder of Jesus Christ, whom he acknowledged to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. What changed this coward into a hero, this craven traitor into a brave and loyal supporter and adherent of the Christ of God? He had been with Jesus, the risen Christ, and that changed his cowardice for a courage that was adamant and strong.” - Emery H. Bancroft, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 141.
And then there’s doubting Thomas. When the other disciples told him that Jesus had appeared to them, Thomas did not believe. He said, “Except I shall see in his hand the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe (John 20:25). Then eight days later Jesus did make Himself know to him, and Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Thomas made an about-face after seeing his Lord risen from the grave and went on to die a martyr’s death.
According to the best records, every disciple except the Apostle John died for his faith. Dr. Tim Lahaye points out the significance of this.
"Now the big question: Would these disciples be so willing to suffer and die for a lie? If in fact they stole and destroyed the body of Jesus and subsequently told all people a well-crafted lie—a lie so clever none of them was ever caught—what would cause all of them to die for their fabrication? Perhaps we could imagine one or two of them doing so—but all eleven? Who can believe that?
“’Well,’ someone might say, ’perhaps the disciples didn’t steal the body, but nevertheless they believed a lie. They were simply mistaken that Jesus had risen from the dead. They believed He had done so, but they were wrong.’ Yet such a theory fares little better than the previous one.
"When a sword is at your throat and you are told to deny the resurrection of Christ or die—what kind of evidence causes you to choose death over life? What prevents you from speaking the simple words, ’Well, I never actually saw Him alive. You must be right—He didn’t rise from the dead’? Again, we can imagine that two or even three deluded disciples might be willing to die for a mistaken belief in the resurrection of Jesus—but all eleven? Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that at least one of them would cave in when threatened with death? Yet none of them did so. The only explanation must be that, when confronted with death, the minds of the disciples raced back to several rock-solid, airtight reasons for maintaining their unshakeable conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. Without that, what could have kept at least one or two from recanting? Yet none of them ever did so. Why not? Because they not only believed He had risen from the dead, they knew He had. They had spoken to Him. They had seen Him. They had watched Him eat. They had touched Him. They knew." - Jesus: Who Is He?, p. 266.
6. It changed the day of worship.
Charles Ryrie sees the changing of the day of worship as an effect caused by Jesus’ resurrection. He writes:
"What caused the day of worship to change? All the first Christians were Jewish, accustomed to worshiping on the Sabbath. Yet suddenly and uniformly they began to worship on Sunday though it was an ordinary workday. Why? Because they wanted to commemorate the resurrection of their Lord which took place on Sunday, they changed their day of worship." - Basic Theology (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1986), p. 268.
7. The existence of the church.
When the enemies of Jesus wanted to kill Peter and the other disciple for preaching about the Resurrection, Gamaliel, a leader among the Jews, calmed the people with these words:
"Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God (Acts 5:35-39)."
Since Jesus’ followers did not abandon their devotion to Him after His death and since the church is still in existence today, we have considerable proof that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.