The factors that answer the question for me most clearly have to do with the behavior of Christ’s followers, before and after his crucifixion. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, his followers scattered like scared rabbits. Peter followed cautiously at a distance while the temple soldiers took him to the home of the high priest for a mock trial that was itself illegal according to Jewish law.
Peter then proceeded to deny he even knew Jesus – three times, just as the Savior had predicted. He then left the courtyard and the scriptures say he wept bitterly.
The rest of the remaining eleven disciples, minus Judas, the betrayer, who hanged himself, were likewise “unavailable for comment” while Christ was being beaten, brutally interrogated, and abused. The disciples were strangely absent from the narrative when Christ was taken before the Roman authorities and reluctantly sentenced to death by crucifixion by the notorious Roman Governor Pilate.
Even as Christ was crucified, the Bible indicates that they watched “from afar off.” They clearly did not want to be implicated and maybe face the same fate as Jesus.
Why then, their sudden change of heart? Why did they become the soldiers for God who willingly suffered abuse, humiliation, imprisonment, torture, and cruel deaths for the sake of a crucified Savior? Either something happened that set fire to their very souls after the crucifixion or they were all nuts. No other explanation fits. The likelihood that they were all insane is of course slim and remote. These were intelligent people. They knew what they were doing.
What then about the apostle Paul? He persecuted Christians, throwing them into prison and was an accessory to their murders, all in the name of his religion. He was feared among the fledgling Christian community for his zeal and his ruthlessness. Then something happened on the road to Damascus, and he became arguably the greatest missionary who ever lived and a man who wrote a large part of the New Testament. Why? What sort of thing could logically happen to turn a committed Jew one hundred and eighty degrees in the other direction?
I believe the answer of course in all these instances is that they had an encounter with the risen Christ. Nothing else answers nor makes the slightest sense in the radical transformation that occurred in each of their lives.
Is Christianity for real? I cannot answer the question for you. You must answer the question for yourself. However, I can testify to what I have seen and what I know. I can apply logic and reason, and arrive at the conclusion that there is no other reason Christ’s followers would have been so radically transformed other than that he rose from the dead. From scared mice scattering in all directions after Jesus’s crucifixion, to powerful expounders of the gospel. From despised persecutor of the early church, to committed follower of Christ. They all clearly encountered a fundamentally transformational event. They met the risen Christ.