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Christianity is a religion based on the faith that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the grave on the third day of His death. This article is the third in a 3-part series that discusses some vital pieces of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
The Spread of Christianity.
When we read the Gospel accounts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, we need to keep in mind that they were 1st century Jews and thus we must see events through their eyes. I find that Doctor William Craig provides a very useful way of summarising the disciples’ situation: the leader of their movement had died a very public death on a Roman cross. Jewish belief held that their Messiah would not die, especially not the death of a criminal (more on that below), but rather that the Messiah would be a warrior-king, who would end the oppression of Israel by her enemies (i.e. Rome in this case) and lead the nation to a new age of prosperity and wealth. Jesus’ death on a cross was, according to Jewish law (Deut. 21:22-23), a proper way of showing Him to be a heretic, or a man “cursed by God”. The crucifixion was telling the disciples that the Pharisees had been right and that Jesus of Nazareth was a blasphemer and a heretic according to the Law. Jews also believed that there would be no resurrection of individuals within the middle of history; they believed that the dead would rise only at the eschatological resurrection AND that it would be resurrection of everyone, not just one man. Despite this, these early Jews were so utterly convinced that Jesus had risen again, that they undertook dangerous journeys throughout the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East, to tell everyone about the risen Christ, and they were willing to suffer for that belief.
Willingness to Suffer.
The disciples were willing to suffer for their cause. However, how exactly did they suffer? The New Testament tells us that they suffered arrest and imprisonment (Acts 4:3, 5:18, 6:12, 8:3, 12:2, 22:4), flogging (Acts 5:40), beatings (Acts 16:22-24), being slandered (Acts 13:45), lashed (Acts 22:24), stoned (Acts 7:57-60, 14:5, 14:19, 22:19), being killed with a sword (Acts 12:1-2) and other various forms of pain and suffering. The disciples endured much suffering and expressed their willingness to endure and go through that pain (Acts 9:1, 9:23-24, 14:5, 14:19, 20:19, 21:13, 22:4, 22:19, 26:10-11, 1 Thess 2:14, 2 Thess 1:4, Romans 8:17, 8:35, Hebrews 10:32-34, 1 Peter 4:1, 4:12-14, 1 Corinth 4:11-13, 2 Corinth 12:10)
As we can see, the disciples were clearly willing to go to some extreme lengths and endure a lot of pain and hardship for the Gospel. But people don’t just go through all of that for the laughs: you’d have to be pretty extremely committed to your cause to willingly suffer torture and even death for what you believe to be true. Even so, could the Apostles have been lying?
We must also remember that the disciples, and Jesus’ earliest followers, were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. This wasn’t a belief they were inheriting or that they were taught to believe in. The resurrection message begins with their experiences of the risen Jesus, and we obviously want to note their sincerity. Did they really believe Jesus had risen and appeared to them? Yes they did.
The Fabrication Hypothesis.
One of the theories used to explain away the Resurrection is that the disciples were lying, and therefore that they made up the story of Jesus rising from the grave in order to preach their Gospel. But we must ask ourselves why? When people lie, they have an agenda. Simply put there is something that they will gain from lying. This leaves the question on whether the disciples were lying about Jesus’ resurrection? However, this seems highly unlikely.
For example, they would not have gained wealth, fame or power with the Gospel that they were preaching. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The disciples were prosecuted, beaten, imprisoned, tortured and (in some cases) martyred for their belief. The disciples willingly and knowing full-well the consequences, went out on dangerous journeys, preaching a message that would almost certainly bring them harm and injury. They were not going to be made kings or political advisors; they were going to be thrown in prison, beaten, flogged, whipped, burned alive, crucified, executed and all other manners of pain and suffering we could think of. If Jesus did not rise from the grave, then the disciples definitely knew about it and they would essentially be opting to die for a lie. At the very least, the disciples truly believed that Christ had risen from the grave.
Further, homicide detective Jim Wallace states that lies “are motivated by financial greed, sexual lust (relational desire) or the pursuit of power.” For the first two, we can reasonably deduce that the apostles did not gain financial or sexual rewards for their work. The message they preached, which was the message that had its roots in Jesus, had charity as a central tenet and it also said that sex was only for married couples. Jesus addresses both questions and is very critical of those who put all their emphasis on worldly wealth. However, with that aside, we are now left with the power motive. Did the disciples desire to gain power and fame from preaching the Gospel?
No, they didn’t. If we read Acts and the Pauline letters, we can see that the apostles were greatly abused and persecuted, but it also talks about them trying to avoid capture as long as possible (Acts 12:6-10, Acts 16:23-24, 2 Cor 11:32-33). Paul was even lowered in a basket through a break in the city wall to escape capture and arrest! The apostles knew full well that persecution, and ultimately martyrdom, awaited them for spreading the Gospel. But they saw it as a consequence, a product, of their preaching the Gospel, not the goal. The apostles were well-known throughout the Jewish communities but not in a good way: they were despised and loathed. The apostles knew that they would be hated by many people and they knew that their preaching would ultimately cost them their lives. There is simply no “power” component for them to go after.
After all, it would be incredibly unlikely that one would go through a long, life-threatening journey; a journey in which one would live experiencing much poverty; if it was all for a lie. This coupled with the expectation of being beaten, imprisoned and even killed puts this conclusion beyond doubt.
As I argued previously, we saw that the disciples could not have been hallucinating the risen Jesus. That coupled with the fact that they were genuine and sincere about what they saw then leaves us with one viable conclusion: they truly saw Jesus Christ, alive after His death on a cross. If the resurrection did not occur, Christianity would never have got off the ground in the first place. If we consider all the evidence and examine the facts of history we then realize that the resurrection is the best and most logical explanation.