Today, there are multitudes of religions, cults, and philosophies competing for the hearts and minds of men and women, all over the world. One of these—atheistic communism—seemed, for a while, to be so powerful and persuasive that many feared it would conquer the world. A religion which also is seriously attempting to do that right now is Islam. Islam is structured around the baleful teachings of a false god called Allah, and there are many other such teachings. Evolutionary humanism is also growing rapidly. But how can we know which "religion" is the true religion? Or are they all just different paths to the same goal?
The apostle Paul had the answer to that question. Speaking to the philosophers in Athens, he said: "Ye men of Athens. . . . in all things ye are too superstitious" (Acts 17:22). Just having some form of religion is nothing; even atheists have a form of "religion." "God that made the world and all things therein . . . is Lord of heaven and earth. . . . He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts 17:24,31).
That is how we can know which is true! The only one who could ever defeat death and give eternal life is the One who pronounced the curse of death on His sinning human creation in the first place.
And that would be the Lord Jesus Christ! In the greatest event since the creation itself, God became incarnate in His only begotten Son. By a miraculous conception, sinless life, many miracles of creation, volitional death, and bodily resurrection, He uniquely provided redemption and salvation to all who trust and follow Him.
The proof of that, above all proofs, is His amazing resurrection. The Roman Caesars are all dead, Mohammed is dead, Karl Marx is dead, Buddha is dead—name these false religionists one by one. They eventually die—and stay dead!
But Jesus died and then conquered death. He spoke again to and through the beloved disciple John to all men when He says: "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Revelation 1:17-18).
It was John who was the first to believe, when he entered the empty tomb and saw the collapsed grave clothes on the shelf where the body had lain, "and he saw, and believed" (John 20:8). Soon the other disciples also saw the risen Jesus Himself. Paul, writing years later, after seeing Christ on the way to Damascus, and perhaps also after some research on his own, tells about some of these appearances: ". . . He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; . . . After that, He was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all He was seen of me also . . ." (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
There were other occasions. Luke says that "He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days" (Acts 1:3). Finally, after giving them His last command, to be His witnesses "unto the uttermost part of the earth. . . . while they beheld, He was taken up . . . into heaven" (Acts 1:8,9,11), where He "sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19).
From this point on, ". . . with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). The authorities vainly tried to stop them, even executing some, but they all simply rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41).
This amazing change in the disciples who not long before "all forsook Him, and fled" (Mark 14:50), became another impregnable evidence for His resurrection. The disciples and many other believers had actually seen and touched and eaten with Him so they knew He was alive, and their testimony had converted many. Most convincing of all, perhaps, was the fact of the empty tomb and the complete inability of the authorities to locate the supposedly dead body. They had tried everything else to stop the preaching of His resurrection, whereas simply displaying His body would have been enough. But this they could not do—Jesus was alive and at the right hand of God in heaven!
Many skeptics in both ancient and modern times have tried to disprove the resurrection, but all have failed. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would never have been a Christian religion, but its absolute truth has been forever vindicated by His resurrection!
The power of this message is seen in the growth of the early church, in spite of brutal opposition. When ordered to desist, "Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. . . . And we are His witnesses of these things; . . ." (Acts 5:29-32). The result was that "the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly" (Acts 6:7).
Even in Athens, the intellectual center of the world, Paul "preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18). Called before King Herod Agrippa, Paul again preached simply that the prophecies were being fulfilled "That Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:23).
In fact, in the book of Acts alone, there are at least 25 passages mentioning specifically the glorious message of the resurrection. There are more than 30 such passages in the epistles, even though all the people in the churches to whom the epistles were written already believed it and needed no further convincing. For example, in the first chapter of Paul's key letter to the Romans, Paul stressed that Christ had been "declared to be the Son of God with power, . . . by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Then he noted that the testimony of a new believer's baptism was his identity with the risen Christ. "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of infallible proof His resurrection" (Romans 6:5). The vital necessity of individual belief in His resurrection is also pointed out by Paul. "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Romans 10:9).
To the Corinthians, Paul stressed that the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Christ were the very center of His saving gospel. "For I delivered unto you first of all . . . that Christ died for our sins . . . And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day. . . ." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The wonderful 15th chapter of I Corinthians deals in depth with the implications of the resurrection. ". . . if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. . . . But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15:17-20).
Then, most appropriately, he ties Christ's defeat of death back into His pronouncement of death when the first man brought sin into the world. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)—thus affirming not only the primeval curse on Adam's dominion, but also its ultimate deliverance in Christ. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Faith in Christ's resurrection is not only a premise in one's salvation, as noted in Romans 10:9 quoted earlier, but also in our own future resurrection when Christ returns. Jesus had promised His disciples that "because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19), and this promise was confirmed and made more explicit by Paul under divine inspiration. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, . . . . For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).
The apostle Peter says that God "hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance . . . reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5).
What a glorious future thus awaits all who have true faith in His historical resurrection and His immutable promise of our own coming resurrection! Like Paul, our consuming desire should be to "know Him, and the power of His resurrection," even though that means first "being made conformable unto His death" (Philippians 3:10).
Why should anyone—how could anyone—spurn such divine love and reject the salvation purchased so dearly by Christ and offered so freely to us? The evidence for its truth and validity is overwhelming.
Christians sometimes sing: "I know He lives—He lives within my heart." That also may be a sort of evidence, especially when that testimony is multiplied in the hearts of multitudes of other believers. But the solid, historical evidence of His bodily resurrection after dying for our sins is itself absolute and impregnable. Unique in all history, it really happened, so we can in full confidence entrust our very souls to Him.