Church articles

We Believe

The History of Easter

Rev. Dr Gavin Perkins

April 2024

I often speak to people who find the ideas and values of Christianity appealing, but who struggle with the events of Christianity. Their preference would be to extract those values, see them taught and modeled in schools, the wider community, and in public life, but to leave the question of historical truth aside. However, the events of Easter remind us that this is not possible. Sometimes I get the impression that talk of Christian values is often a way of avoiding dealing with actual Christianity.

At the very heart of Christianity is a set of historical truth claims. The assertion is that these events actually took place and that if they did not take place then Christianity falls. Consider briefly the testimony of two first-century writers and eyewitnesses.

The apostle John was one of the closest friends of Jesus, and as he wrote the account of Jesus’ life that we call John’s Gospel, he wanted to make it crystal clear that he saw these events with his own eyes and he presents himself as an eyewitness. He tells us that he stood right near the cross upon which Jesus was raised such that he could speak with him (John 19:26). John tells us that he saw with his own eyes the proof that Jesus really was dead as his side was pierced with a soldier’s spear. In fact, John writes that he “saw it and has given testimony and his testimony is true… he tells the truth.” (John 19:35). John also writes in detail about what he saw two days later when Peter and he ran to the tomb of Jesus to find it empty (John 20:3-8). The valuable grave clothes were discarded to one side but the body was missing. He records the moments where the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and the other disciples, and spoke and ate with them. John himself was an eyewitness to all the key events of Easter – the death of Jesus, his burial, the empty tomb, and the resurrection appearances.  John saw it all. Over the next 50 long years John endured suffering, trials, and exile with an unwavering testimony that this all really happened.

The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe

The apostle Paul on the other hand was a despiser of the early Christian movement. He mocked their blasphemy and the foolishness of their belief that a crucified man was the promised saviour. He was then utterly turned about when he met the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. The resurrection changed everything. It was a reversal of the verdict on Jesus. It was evidence that Jesus is who he claimed to be. It was proof that Jesus is the one who on the last day will raise all of us to stand before the judgment seat of God. On the other hand, if the bodily resurrection did not happen then it is all a giant con, or as Paul puts it, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

The truth claims of Christianity are historical in nature – Jesus really lived, died, was buried, and rose bodily from the dead. On that basis of fact Christianity stands or falls.

Of course, this means that the right way to explore Christianity is to read and wrestle with the historical documents that we call the New Testament. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey can I encourage you over this Easter season to set yourself the challenge of reading one of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.