While Christmas — the birth date of the Messiah, Jesus Christ — marks the watershed of splitting calendar history into two epochs, B.C. and A.D., Easter marks the day and commemorates actual events, however miraculous, that followed the crucifixion and death of Christ that transformed the world forever.
But how and why would that torturous event and extreme sorrow associated with the death of the Messiah affect eternity in a positive way? Why should Easter be a joyful time? The answer is neither elusive nor complicated.
There are many religions of the world going back thousands of years. But only one of them, Christianity, has a founder who professed to be the Messiah — the son of God — who provided irrefutable proof of who He was by conquering death through resurrection. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Christ is absolutely unique in being the only person in history who was pre-announced starting a thousand years before He was born, with over 100 prophetic accounts from 18 different prophets from the Old Testament between the 10th and the fourth centuries BC — predicting the specifics of His coming birth, life and death. Hundreds of years later, the details of Christ’s birth, life, betrayal, and death validated those prophecies in surprisingly accurate and minute detail. One thousand years BC, David prophetically wrote about the crucifixion of Christ at a time crucifixion was unknown as a means of execution.
Every other consequential person of history came into the world to live. The death of other religious leaders — such as Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Mohammad, and Confucius — brought an anticlimactic end to their lives and their work.
But Christ came into the world as God’s son in order to die and pay the price for man’s sin. His sacrifice was the ultimate climax of his life, done for the benefit of all mankind — opening the way to eternal life in Heaven for all who believe.
Of the five major world religions built on personalities, only Christianity claims its founder is still alive, having overcome death through resurrection. No Jew ever believed that, after Abraham died and was interred, his tomb ever became empty. After Buddha died, no disciple claimed that he or she saw or spoke to him again.
As for Mohammed, the founder of Islam, there is no trace of his appearing to his disciples or followers after he died. His occupied tomb is located in Medina and is visited by tens of thousands of devout Muslims every year.
Christ was unique in giving up his life as a sacrifice to fulfill why he came into the world. Christ showed the highest standard of love possible, through compassion for outcasts and healing the afflicted, by his teachings, and ultimately in making the ultimate sacrifice—giving his life to rescue and save mankind. Then, to provide “seeing is believing” evidence, God brought Jesus back from being dead in a tomb to being alive — resurrected — so people would have living proof of who He was.
The New Testament provides accounts from multiple sources who witnessed Jesus firsthand after the resurrection. In fact, Jesus made at least 10 separate appearances to his disciples between the resurrection and his ascension into Heaven, over a period of 40 days. Some of those appearances were to individual disciples, some were to several disciples, and once to some 500 at one time.
Particularly noteworthy is that there were no accounts of witnesses who came forth and disputed these appearances or called it a “hoax.” Not a single one. Nor do we find any historical record of any witness accounts that were contradictory.
While there are skeptics of the biblical Jesus, there’s actually far more reliable historical evidence for His life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection than for any other historical figure of ancient times. Consider, for instance, that the authenticity of Alexander the Great, who was born some 350 years before Christ, is based on two original biographical accounts of his life by Arrian and Plutarch, which were written some 400 years after Alexander died.
The manuscripts of Virgil and Horace, both of whom lived within a generation of Christ, were written more than four centuries after their deaths. The copy of works by Livy and Tacitus on Roman history and the works of Pliny Secundus on natural history were written more than 500 years after the time of the original account.
Yet no one doubts Virgil and Horace lived and authored great poetic masterpieces. Nor do we hear questions about the authenticity and accuracy of accounts of Livy and Tacitus in chronicling the events of the Roman Emperors Augustus, Claudius, Nero, or Tiberius.
We know the historical Jesus through four different accounts known as the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — not written hundreds of years later, but within a generation or two of Jesus’s life. Apostles Matthew and John provide eyewitness accounts from their years of walking with Jesus as disciples. Mark also had eyewitness experience, although he was only a teenager when Jesus began his public ministry. Luke, the doctor, learned about Jesus from his friend Paul, the apostle who wrote the most letters in the New Testament.
About 1,000 times more manuscripts preserve the deeds and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament (about 25,000 total) than there are preserving other classical ancient works of historic figures who lived at approximately the same time, with the exception of Homer, whose Iliad is backed by 1,800 manuscripts. But that is still less than one-tenth the number of ancient manuscripts that back the authenticity of the New Testament.
Because of their experience with the resurrected Jesus, the apostles were in a unique position, knowing with certainty that Jesus was truly the Son of God. They had been present for the life, ministry, miracles, and death of Jesus. If the claims about Jesus were a lie, the apostles would have known it. That’s why their commitment to their testimony was so powerful and compelling.
Additionally, the apostles’ willingness to die for their claims has tremendous evidential value, also confirming the truth of the resurrection. No one will die for something he invented or believes to be false.
Seeing, talking to, and touching the risen Jesus transformed the apostles, who then committed the rest of their lives to educate and advocate for the truth about the message of salvation through Christ. Eleven of the 12 apostles — including Matthias who replaced Judas, the betrayer of Jesus — died as martyrs for their beliefs in the divinity of Christ. The 12th, John, was exiled to Patmos Island, where he recorded the book of Revelation.
It turns out that Easter, which has its ultimate meaning in the resurrection, is one of ancient history’s most carefully scrutinized and best-attested events. The resurrection is real and changes everything. Easter is the commemoration and celebration of the single event that transformed the world forever.