The apostles were deeply skeptical about reports of a resurrection, and the Bible tells us that Christ had to appear before them several times before these doubts were dispelled. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Paul here appeals to direct historical evidence: the testimony of multiple witnesses who actually saw Jesus alive after his execution. Of this group, Paul says that some are dead but most are alive; in other words, many were in a position to confirm or refute him. In the history of hallucinations, is there a single instance in which five hundred people all saw the same person and were all equally mistaken?
Still, we must ask whether these early Christians were serious about Christ’s resurrection, whether they were being truthful about what they saw, and whether it mattered to them. These questions are not difficult to answer. The disciples became soconvinced of what they had seen that their dirges of lamentation were replaced with cries of joy. Proclaiming Christ crucified and Christ risen, they launched the greatest wave of religious conversion in history. The number of Christians increased from around one hundred at the time of Christ’s death to around thirty million by the early fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantine himself converted to Christianity. These conversions occurred in the teeth of fierce opposition and the persecution of the greatest empire in the ancient world, the empire of Rome. The early Christians did not hesitate to identify themselves with a man who had been branded a traitor and a criminal. They endured impris- onment, torture, exile, and death rather than renounce their commitment to a resurrected Christ. Even from a secular point of view, the evidence for the resurrection is surprisingly strong. Indeed, coming from so many witnesses with so much to lose, it might even be sufficient to convince an impartial jury in a court of law.