Many people argue that unless the resurrection can be proved, they will not put their faith in Christ. I’ve always leaned in the opposite direction that until the resurrection can be disproved, one is compelled to come up with an explanation for how Christianity emerged in the first century, toppled the Roman empire from within, and moved on to become the world’s largest religion. How do we explain this? I believe the answer lies in the likelihood that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
But is the resurrection a sustainable belief? I want to explore three reasons why I believe the resurrection to be a reality over the next few weeks leading to Easter.
Reason # 1: Jesus’ death should’ve ended his influence
Think about it. Have you ever heard of Simon of Peraea (4BC), Menahem Ben Judah (70AD), Simon bar Kokhba (135AD), or David Koresh (1990’s)? Ok, maybe you’ve heard of David Koresh. All of these characters claimed to be the messiah. They amassed followers who were convinced that they were in some way anointed by God to establish His kingdom. They all died. They were all filthy liars. Upon their deaths, the movements they had begun died with them. This is how it works in messianic cults – the leader dies and the movement dies along with him/her.
Most of us have seen the Dateline story investigating the person who claims to be the messiah, God, or some form of deity. The claim is they perform miracles, signs and wonders. Usually, they are amassing a small fortune in the process. How do people respond when they hear an outlandish report such as this? “How can people believe this craziness?” “Someone needs to expose this clown and reveal the hoax!” It was no different in Jesus’ time. In fact, this is the primary reason why he was put to death. The Pharisees believed he was a blasphemer who was leading the people astray (Jn. 7:25-52). The Romans chose to execute him in order to crush any possible rebellion he might incite, or other trouble he may cause on account of his bold claims (Jn. 19:1-16). Many theologians believe that Judas betrayed Jesus in order to force his hand and reveal his true identity (Mt. 27:3-5). Whatever the reasons, Jesus was put to death.
In Mark 8:31 Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection. Mark says, “He (Jesus) spoke plainly about this.” Even the Pharisees knew about these predictions. They pleaded with Pilate to place guards at the tomb so that the disciples wouldn’t attempt to steal his body and claim resurrection (Mt. 27:62-66). This presents a major problem for those who would dismiss Jesus as simply a great teacher who made a significant impact on the world. Great teachers don’t say crazy things like, “I’m going to die, but after three days God is going to raise me back to life.” Unless, of course, the crazy things they are saying are true.
Jesus never wrote a book, never traveled further than 50 miles from his home, he never held a public office, he was the son of Galilean peasants, yet he claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed to be the Messiah. His followers consisted of 120 or so ordinary Jewish people whose faith did not fail following his bloody death on the cross. Even David Koresh could boast more followers at the time of his death. No one could’ve predicted what happened following Jesus crucifixion. Christ followers multiplied upon the earth. Christianity exploded to over 1,000,000 people just two hundred years later. By the year 391AD, Christianity was proclaimed to be the official religion of the Roman Empire and continued to grow at unprecedented rates. Today there are over 2 billion Christians on the planet and that number is estimated to grow to 3 billion by the middle of this century.
So, how do you explain this? I’m convinced the resurrection gives us the most important clue.
Next week I’ll cover reason # 2: The actions of Jesus disciples defy logic.