We apparently have two choices to explain the origin of the word Easter. It may come from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre; or from the Old High German (from which English comes) word for ‘dawn’. It is easier than ‘First Day of the Week after Passover’.
For us, Easter is the day described in the reading John 20:1-18. On that day we Christians believe that Jesus came out of the grave, having been interred there on Friday. How do we know it really happened?
It is a fair question in this age when large groups of Americans believe in a flat earth, secret government plan to place tracking chips in Covid vaccines, America is governed by the United Nations, Democrats are all communists, Covid is a hoax, and the universe is only 6,000 years old. Belief lacking evidence.
What is the evidence to support the resurrection of Jesus? The short answer is quite a bit. The written record includes the 27 ‘books’ of the New Testament plus other documents written within the first hundred years of Jesus’ birth.
Of those, the Gospels all include lengthy descriptions of the death and resurrection of Jesus. There are many reasons to accept all of them to have been written in the time period. None of them included the author’s name, however. Others writing near the end of the first century and into the second attached names known in the churches; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is debate about the first two and some about Luke and John, though John is the most firmly accepted as being the author of the Gospel.
As I wrote earlier, the Gospel of John does not include the name ‘John’ as a disciple. He is listed only as the brother of James. Once we accept the truth of one or more of the other three Gospels, we know John was James’ brother.
But on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala arrived at the tomb, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and noticed that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. At this she ran, found Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.” Phillips
There are several important things to note here. If we return to the Friday events, we will see that the women put Jesus in the tomb too quickly to properly prepare the body. The reason was that at sunset Friday, all work had to cease. They could not return anytime Saturday (until sunset) because it was Shabbat. Sunday morning was the time they agreed on.
Mary was not alone. We know that from the text above where she used the plural ‘we’. We also know it from the other three Gospels which do list other women. We can only guess why John did not mention them.
The ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ is found several times in the Gospel and is almost universally taken to mean the disciple John. There is a problem with that conclusion. In chapter 11 of John, we read that, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. ESV We do not have any statement by Jesus that he loved John.
Still, the weight of evidence supports John as the author. There is no direct evidence that Lazarus was active in the Jesus movement. GJohn is easily the most sophisticated of the four Gospels. I can’t see anyone but the Apostle John writing it.
So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. ESV
We are told here that the unnamed disciple was in fact a disciple, not Lazarus and not anyone else.
More importantly, the linen clothes were lying there. Generally, a body was placed inside some kind of bag, for lack of a better word. Usually the body was placed on one end of a long sheet of linen and the other half folded over the top of the body, and then sown together. We believe, but cannot prove, that the cloth was not sown and perhaps some of the perfumes had not yet been placed inside the cloth.
Go to https://www.shroud.com/ to see what could be the real shroud of Jesus, or could be a wonderful forgery. In either case, it will give you an idea of what John saw. He saw the cloth undisturbed, laying flat as though Jesus just vanished. If it had been grave robbers, they would have either taken the body in the cloth or torn the cloth off to carry the body. Neither happened.
Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24 tell their versions of the resurrection. Matthew simply lists Mary Magdalene and another Mary as going to the tomb, but who never looked in; nor are we told that anyone else looked in. The two women did, however, see Jesus.
Mark has Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome going to the tomb, but when they stepped into the tomb, they saw an angel. There is no other mention of others at the tomb.
Luke has this section that roughly parallels John. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this [they met two angels] to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. NIV
Yes, we historians are frustrated when we find four sources who tell the same story in such different ways. It is also ammunition for nonbelievers. Yet, that is the stuff of history. When you read them side by side you begin to see that each of them included different details to tell the exact same story.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that in the First Century people shared events like this by word of mouth. After a quarter of century when Mark collects the accounts and begins to decide what to include, details are a bit jumbled, but everyone agrees that Jesus defeated death.
Matthew and Luke each heard stories from different people in other parts of the world. If Matthew was the apostle, much debated, he would have his personal memories.
Then Simon Peter, who had been following him, arrived and went right into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. NET
Just to stress that the body was not stolen away, the face cloth was neatly rolled up. Two of the inner group saw clear evidence that Jesus passed through the body-cloth, or pushed the top of the cloth aside as he sat up, and then he rolled the face cloth and placed it apart from the stone slab on which he had rested.
But Mary stood just outside the tomb, and she was crying. And as she cried, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white who sat, one at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had lain. Phillips John went on to tell what the angels said to her and of her meeting Jesus on her way back to the others.
What I have pointed out is good evidence of the truth of the resurrection, but not conclusive, without a doubt in anyone’s mind, evidence. There is still room to question the evidence. As a believer, I accept it because I already believe. I know, that is weak in a court of law.
But how can I prove that God exists? I can prove that Jesus lived. His name appears in several records by Roman officials of the day. Resurrection? Harder to prove.
THIS IS THE CENTRAL POINT: If Jesus did not rise from the grave, we are lost.
Be righteous and do good.