Resurrection is a Latin word meaning to "get up again". It can be applied broadly to mean the renewal of something after a period of time, for example to bring an ancient custom back into use. But in a religious context, however, the word resurrection refers to bringing the dead back to life. The Bible proclaims that Jesus Christ not only died but was brought back to life again. This is the fundamental basis of Christian faith.
Jesus died on a cross. This is called crucifixion. The Romans killed people in this way frequently and certainly knew when the people had died. They tested to make sure Jesus was dead by piercing his side with a spear, and John, one of Jesus' closest disciples witnessed this (John 19:33-34). Content that he was truly dead, the Roman soldiers removed him from the cross. A follower of Jesus called Joseph (of Arimathea) took the body with the permission of Pontius Pilate, prepared Jesus' body for burial, as was the custom, and used his own tomb to bury Jesus. (As a rich man, he could afford to buy a nice tomb before he died). Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary Magdalene, a friend of the family, watched Jesus as he was placed in this new and unused tomb and then Joseph rolled a large stone across the entrance by way of sealing it (Mark 15:46-47).
Since Jesus had openly and frequently spoken of how he was going to return to life on the third day after his death, the chief priests and Pharisees were concerned that his disciples would steal the body and then claim that Jesus was alive. To stop this happening, these religious leaders went to Pilate and requested that a permanent guard be placed outside the tomb to prevent any thieves from snatching Jesus' body. Pilate granted them this request, provided them with a guard, and told them to make the tomb as secure as possible (Matthew 27:62-66).
Saturday, the Sabbath, passed smoothly and without concern for the Romans or the Pharisees. A guard was posted full time outside the tomb and nothing unusual happened. Come Sunday morning, the women returned to the tomb to annoint the body with spices so that it wouldn't smell.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene had a great surprise - an angel appeared, opened the tomb and showed that it was empty except for the linen Jesus had been buried in. The guards posted by the tomb were terrified and the women weren't too cool about it either. Shock of their lives! The angel informed them not to be afraid and reminded them that Jesus had indeed said this would happen - he would be raised to life again (Matthew 28:1-6). The angel then told them to inform the disciples (who were in hiding, fearful that they would be crucified next!) but on their way back, Jesus met them and spoke to them. When they recognised him they fell at his feet and worshipped him. His promise that he would return to life was fulfilled.
Mary Magdalene, who knew where the disciples were in hiding, went to them to tell them what she had seen. Some were sceptical and others were frankly incredulous. But Peter remembered what Jesus had said about being raised to life and ran to see the tomb for himself. Sure enough he found it empty apart from the linen. He returned to the disciples amazed.
On Sunday evening Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were eating. They were gobsmacked but most were at last were conviced he was truly alive again. Thomas, however, struggled to accept that Jesus could have conquered death but upon seeing Jesus' wounds, he realised it was indeed true. God had brought Jesus back to life! Jesus ate with the disciples (which proved he was a real, solid person and not a hallucination or ghost seen by eleven people). Jesus stayed with the disciples for 40 days (Acts 1:3) and appeared to various people. 1 Corinthians 15:6-7 tells us how Jesus appeared to over 500 other people, and Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians, even adds that most of them were still alive when he wrote that, therefore contemporary sceptics could ask the eyewitnesses in person. While Jesus was around, he also encouraged his disciples to go out, without fear, and tell all people that they too can know life after death if they believe that Jesus conquered death.
To be raised from death to life is impossible. Only God can do the impossible because He makes the rules. Jesus repeatedly said that he would be raised to life and then went on to die and come back again. He did exactly as he said and only God could make that possible. But there's more! Jesus also promised that anyone who believes in him will also know life after death, though it will not be in this world. The mission Jesus set for his disciples was an enormous task: "Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples" (Matthew 28:19). This is what makes the Resurrection so important - the message is meant for everyone of all time, and therefore includes you. Wow! God's gift of life after death is available for all regardless of race, age, sex, status or whatever. It doesn't matter who you are or what you have done with your life - God loves you and wants you to accept this offer of life.
One criticism of the resurrection is that Jesus didn't actually die. Could he not just have been unconscious? No, the Romans made sure he was dead. They punctured his side and were convinced that he was truly dead. The Romans had to be doubly sure given Jesus' importance and the fact they would be in serious trouble if Jesus had somehow slipped by them still alive. Many people saw Jesus' corpse including several Romans, bystanders, Pharisees, friends, family, disciples, and of course Joseph who owned the tomb. Everyone was convinced of his death, and this fact satisfied the Pharisees. Dead and gone, they thought.
So Jesus most certainly died, but did he come back to life? It's natural to question this as it's impossible - though, as I've said earlier, nothing's impossible for God. But for the Resurrection to be believed, there has to be a sufficient amount of evidence in its favour. And such evidence does exist! Here are some criticisms that people have put forward:
The evidence is all in favour of Jesus' resurrection and millions of lives have been changed because of this. Those who have been indifferent to or even completely opposed to Christianity have turned their beliefs and lives around and have accepted that Jesus really did come back to life. Nothing is impossible for God and if you accept that Jesus did indeed conquer death, you also are entitled to life after death. If you aren't sure what to make of it all, pray earnestly that God will make you sure of the Resurrection. There's so much to be gained from this belief!