Over half of Britons believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, according to new research published over the weekend by Theos, the public theology think tank.
The publication of the research coincides with the launch of The Passion, the major new drama for Easter on BBC One which begins this Sunday. The series – which unusually deals in detail with Jesus’ resurrection – will inevitably raise questions as to whether he really did rise from the dead. The survey suggests that, for the majority of the population, this question has already been answered.
57% of people questioned in the ComRes poll said they believe that Jesus was executed by crucifixion, buried and rose from the dead, with over half of those (30% of the total sample) accepting the traditional Christian belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ and the rest (27%) believing that Jesus rose in spirit form.
This widespread belief clearly informs people’s more general attitude to life after death. Over half of people said they believe in some kind of existence after death, although most of those (44% of the total) believe that ‘your spirit lives on after death’. Only 9% said they believe in a personal physical resurrection.
The Theos research also examined who people thought Jesus was. Two in five (40%) said they believe that Jesus was the son of God and nearly half (47%) that he was a holy prophet. When asked whether they thought Jesus was a good man and wise teacher, 66% of people agreed. Only 11% disagreed.
Surprisingly, 13% of people claim that Jesus never existed, despite the fact that respected historians unanimously agree that he did.
On the question of Easter’s significance today, 43% of the public believe that the Easter story is about Jesus dying for the sins of the world while only 26% think that the Easter story has no meaning today. Only 1% think the story shows that violence can only be defeated through violence.
The opinions of atheists are especially interesting. 23% of respondents identified themselves as such, but 14% of these think Easter was about Jesus dying for the sins of the world, 12% believe he rose again from the dead, and, remarkably, 7% think he was son of God.