FREE booklet : Jesus Christ: The Real Story
Jesus Christ: The Real Story
¬ Introduction
¬ Who—and What—Was Jesus Christ?
¬ Jesus Christ: 'The Rock' of the Old Testament
¬ Jesus Christ's Disciples Considered Him the Creator
¬ The Family of God
¬ Jesus' Amazing Fulfillment of Prophecy
¬ Prophesied: The Exact Year the Messiah Would Appear
¬ Was Jesus Born on Dec. 25?
¬ A Sinless and Miraculous Life
¬ Could Jesus Perform Miracles?
¬ Did Jesus Really Die and Live Again?
¬ Roman Forms of Crucifixion
¬ When Was Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected?
¬ Do Other Sources Confirm Jesus Christ's Existence?
¬ Much More Than a Man
¬ Was Jesus Created?
¬ The God Who Became a Human Being
¬ Jesus' Family Connections
¬ Did Jesus Have Long Hair?
¬ The Messiah's Misunderstood Mission
¬ What Do 'Messiah' and 'Jesus Christ' Mean?
¬ What Was Jesus' Gospel?
¬ Salvation Is Entrance Into the Kingdom of God
¬ Other Names for the Kingdom
¬ Jesus' Teaching on God's Law
¬ Other Important Ways Jesus Fulfilled the Law
¬ Christ's New Commandment
¬ Does the New Covenant Abolish the Commandments?
¬ Jesus Christ and the Festivals of the Bible
¬ Who Killed Jesus?
¬ Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God
¬ The Tearing of the Temple Veil
¬ Alive Again Today and Forever
¬ Your Date With Destiny: Meeting the Real Jesus
¬ 'Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!'
   
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Jesus Christ: The Real Story
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Did Jesus Really Die and Live Again?

"This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:32).

One of the greatest proofs that Jesus is exactly who He said He was—the Son of God and the only One through whom eternal life is offered—is His resurrection from the dead.

His followers were convinced that He was the Messiah and the Son of God. His miracles, His sinless life and His teachings all proved to them who He was. But His resurrection confirms every claim Jesus made to all people for all time.

What is astounding is that Jesus put everything on the line with His own statements that He would die and be raised to life again. He foretold His own resurrection on several occasions. "And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31).

When the scribes and Pharisees wanted a sign from Him, He said only one sign would be given: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40).

It is quite risky to foretell your own resurrection. Yet Jesus not only foretold His resurrection, but announced precisely when He would be resurrected (see "When Was Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected?," beginning on page 46).

So it comes down to this one event. How do we know that Jesus' resurrection from the dead happened? If it didn't happen just as He said, then we have no reason to believe that the way of life that Christ brought was any better or more right than any other religion. There would be nothing earthshaking about Jesus of Nazareth; He would be simply another religious fraud.

But if it did happen, there is one great difference between Jesus and all other religious leaders: Jesus' teachings are true, and everything He said is true, and He is exactly who He claimed to be.

In his book Reasonable Faith, Dr. William Craig gives three great, independently established facts on which the evidence for Jesus' resurrection rests: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the origin of the Christian faith (p. 272). Let's examine the details and implications of each of these.

Did Jesus really die?

That Jesus died and was buried is one of the best-established facts about Jesus. The Bible says again and again that Jesus died. Some critics have argued that Jesus wasn't completely dead when He was entombed. The Koran, considered holy by Muslims, claims that Jesus only seemed to be dead. Some skeptics have claimed that He merely appeared to be dead, possibly drugged, but revived while in the tomb and escaped to convince His disciples that He had risen from the dead.

But when we examine the facts, what such theories suggest is physically impossible. The extent of Jesus' tortures and wounds was such that no man could have survived the crucifixion and three days and nights isolated in a dark, cold tomb.

To say that He was drugged ignores the record. He turned down the painkiller that was usually given to crucifixion victims (Mark 15:23). Later He was offered a sip of sour wine from a sponge, but there is no indication of a drugging effect on Jesus from this because of His obvious agony and final death cry (verses 36-37).

Death at the hands of Roman torturers and executioners was certain and could come from several causes. Journalist Lee Strobel, in an interview with Dr. Alexander Metherell, describes the death of Jesus from a medical point of view (The Case for Christ, 1998, pp. 193-200).

Jesus had been beaten repeatedly and lashed with a Roman scourge before His crucifixion (Matthew 27:26). The leather scourge, a type of whip, was designed to inflict maximum pain and damage on the victim. It was braided with pieces of bone and metal woven into the ends that tore into the flesh with each stroke. The scourge would rip into the underlying muscles and produce strips of quivering, bleeding flesh.

Eusebius, a third-century historian, reports that "the sufferer's veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure" (quoted by Strobel, p. 193). Many victims would die from the scourging before they could be crucified.

The extreme pain, coupled with loss of blood, often would cause the victim to go into shock—his blood pressure would drop and cause fainting, collapse and intense thirst. The Gospels record that Jesus experienced these symptoms on His way to Golgotha. Weakened to the point of collapse, He couldn't bear the weight of the beam He was carrying and a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to carry it part of the way for Him (Mark 15:21). When He was crucified, He said, "I thirst" (John 19:28).

He had already suffered savage beatings before the scourging. At His trial before the Sanhedrin, "they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, 'Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?'" (Matthew 26:67-68). When they turned Him over to the Roman soldiers, they further brutalized Him, beating Him with their fists, slapping Him and shoving a crown of thorns on His head (Matthew 27:29-30; Mark 15:16-19; John 19:3).

The extent of this beating is indicated in the prophecy of Isaiah 50:6: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (NIV).

Another prophecy in Isaiah 52:14 is even more graphic: "His form, disfigured, lost all human likeness; his appearance so changed he no longer looked like a man" (REB). What this tells us is that He was so badly beaten, so bloodied and maimed, that He was scarcely recognizable as a human being.

Pilate appears to have thought that when he had Jesus brought out to the crowd after the beatings and scourging, He would present such a pitiable spectacle that it would satiate His accusers' thirst for blood (John 19:1, 4-6). But their hatred of the bloodied man from Nazareth would not be satisfied. They insisted He be crucified.

The agony of crucifixion

Because of the terrible effects of these beatings and the scourging, from a medical standpoint Jesus would have already been in serious to critical condition even before He was taken away to be crucified (Alexander Metherell, M.D., quoted by Strobel, p. 196).

In a crucifixion, the Romans typically used iron nails, five to seven inches long and about three eighths of an inch square, driven into the victim's wrists and feet to fasten him to the wooden members. The Bible says nails were driven through Jesus' hands, but in the language of the day the wrist was considered part of the hand. Nails were driven into the wrists, between the arm bones, because the hands themselves could not support the weight of the body.

This placement of nails is supported by the 1968 discovery in Jerusalem of the bones of a man who had been crucified and buried in a first-century tomb. His right heel bone still had a large iron nail embedded in it, and one of his right forearm bones had a groove and wear marks consistent with a nail being driven between the two arm bones near his wrist.

The nails pounded through the wrists would have crushed the median nerve, the largest nerve going to the hand, causing indescribable pain. "The pain was absolutely unbearable," says Dr. Metherell. "In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word: excruciating. Literally, excruciating means 'out of the cross.'

"Think of that: they needed to create a new word, because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion" (quoted by Strobel, pp. 197-198). Nails driven through the feet would have brought similar pain.

We can't know for sure whether Jesus was crucified on a simple stake or a cross with a crossbeam (see "Roman Forms of Crucifixion"). Either way, being hung by His arms would have caused great stresses on His body. His arms would have been stretched several inches and both shoulders likely were dislocated.

The prophecy of Christ's suffering in Psalm 22:14 refers to His tortured condition: "I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within me."

Dr. Metherell continues with a description of the agonies Jesus endured: "Once a person is hanging in the vertical position ...crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.

"After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he'd have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn't be able to push up and breathe anymore" (Strobel, pp. 265-266).

What was the cause of Jesus' death?

Many people assume that Jesus simply expired from the trauma or suffocated, which were the common causes of death in crucifixion. Various medical doctors have studied execution by crucifixion and come to similar conclusions. Some theologians and churches have taught that Jesus died of a broken heart. Can we know what actually killed Him?

Zechariah 12:10 contains a prophecy of Jesus' crucifixion. Referring to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, it says: "They will look on me, the one they have pierced ..." (NIV). Time and time again the Scriptures speak of the importance of Christ's shed blood (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 9:11-14; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus Himself said that the wine of the New Testament Passover represented "my blood ...which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, NIV).

Clearly a central focus of Christ's sacrifice was His blood, which He shed as a sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. Regrettably, this is obscured somewhat in John 19:30-34, which makes it appear that Jesus died and then later was stabbed by one of the Roman soldiers, "bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (verse 34, NIV). However, there is a problem if this were the specific order of events, because dead bodies, once the heart has stopped its pumping action, no longer bleed like that.

This problem is resolved when we consider many older manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel, which contain words that appear in a few Bible translations but were left out of most modern versions. These missing words tell us the proper sequence of events.

The Twentieth Century New Testament, which includes these words, reads: "And about three [o'clock in the afternoon] Jesus called out loudly: 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani'—that is to say, 'O my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?' Some of those standing by heard this, and said [mistakenly]: 'The man is calling for Elijah!'

"One of them immediately ran and took a sponge, and, filling it with common wine, put it on the end of a rod, and offered it to him to drink. But the rest said: 'Wait and let us see if Elijah is coming to save him.' However another man took a spear, and pierced his side; and water and blood flowed from it. But Jesus, uttering another loud cry, gave up his spirit" (Matthew 27:46-50).

The missing words, noted here in italics, show that Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear, uttered a loud cry and then died. Other versions that contain the missing words include the Moffatt Translation and the Rotherham Emphasized Bible, and various other Bible versions include a footnote or marginal reference noting the omitted words.

So does Matthew's account conflict with John's? No. Both describe the same events, but from different perspectives.

Matthew jumps immediately from Jesus' death to a description of the temple veil being torn in half, while John focuses on the fact that, in contrast to the two criminals crucified with Jesus, not one of His bones was broken. John then explains parenthetically how Jesus had already died so that His bones did not need to be broken—His side had been pierced with a spear (John 19:31-34).

John then tells us in verse 36 that this took place in fulfillment of Psalm 34:20 and the symbolism of the Passover lambs, which were to be slain and not have a single bone broken (Exodus 12:6, 46; Numbers 9:12). The Passover lambs that had their blood shed to save the Israelites (Exodus 12:6-7, 13) pictured Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

The final fatal blow

Continuing in John 19:37, John explains that the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 that Jesus' body would be pierced was fulfilled. What was this final, fatal thrust like that ended Jesus' life?

John Lyle Cameron, M.D., explains: "The soldier was a Roman: he would be well trained, proficient, and would know his duty. He would know which part of the body to pierce in order that he might obtain a speedily fatal result or ensure that the victim was undeniably dead ...

"The soldier, standing below our crucified Lord as He hung on the cross, would thrust upwards under the left ribs. The broad, clean cutting, two-edged spearhead would enter the left side of the upper abdomen, would open the ...stomach, would pierce the diaphragm, would cut, wide open, the heart and great blood vessels, arteries and veins ..., and would lacerate the lung.

"The wound would be large enough to permit the open hand to be thrust into it [compare John 20:24-27]. Blood ..., together with water from the ...stomach, would flow forth in abundance. The whole event as described by St. John must, indeed, have happened, for no writer could have presented in such coherent detail so recognizable an event, unless he or someone had actually witnessed its occurrence" (quoted by R.V.G. Tasker, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: John, 2000, pp. 212-213).

The idea that Jesus didn't really die, that He fainted or was drugged and was later resuscitated, has no basis in fact when you consider the clear statements that He died. The apostle John had been an eyewitness to that death, having been right there with others as these events unfolded (John 19:25-27, 35).

The Roman soldiers, too, knew He was dead. They may not have been medical experts, but they were used to seeing executions and knew when someone was dead. Before releasing the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate confirmed with the centurion overseeing the execution detail that Jesus was indeed dead (Mark 15:43-45).

Even if we assume Jesus could have physically survived the crucifixion, how could He then have lived for three days and nights in a tomb, sealed away from any kind of medical care or treatment?

There is one other point we should make here. Assuming the seemingly impossible notion that a man could somehow have lived through all this, the accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples after the ordeal would have been just that much more impossible. And even if He had somehow managed it, He certainly couldn't have appeared as One who would inspire His disciples to proclaim that He had been resurrected to a glorious and powerful state. He would've been a severely broken, wounded man—psychologically traumatized, physically crippled and maimed for life.

Any theory to explain that Jesus really didn't die cannot be taken seriously in light of the clear evidence we have.

Jesus' burial

Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a new tomb that Joseph had reserved for himself.

Because Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the same Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, he is unlikely to be a Christian invention. Mark's Gospel tells us that "Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, ...taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus" (Mark 15:43).

Given permission to take the body, Joseph "bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb" (verse 46).

No one trying to contrive and pawn off a fabrication would have invented a person who did not exist and say he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation. Members of the Sanhedrin were widely known. Because Joseph was a respected public figure, many people would have known the location of his tomb. If Jesus had not been buried in his tomb, the ruse would have been all too easy to expose.

Notice also the precautions taken to make sure nothing could happen to the body of Jesus once it had been placed in the tomb: "The next day ...the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 'Sir,' they said, 'we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise again."

"'So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.' 'Take a guard,' Pilate answered. 'Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.' So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard" (Matthew 27:62-66, NIV).

Roman guards were placed around the tomb the day after Jesus' burial. Surely they would have noticed had Jesus awakened from a near-death state or His body been stolen by His followers. Their orders were clear: They were to make sure nothing happened to the body of Jesus. If they failed at this duty, they could be put to death just as Jesus had been.

Both the Jews and the disciples of Christ would have known the location of this tomb. The women who would figure prominently in the discovery of the empty tomb observed where the tomb was and that Jesus was in fact laid inside it (Luke 23:55). They also knew a massive stone has been rolled over the entrance of the tomb (Mark 15:46-47) and knew it had to be rolled back when they returned to the same location to apply the burial spices they had prepared (Mark 16:3).

There was no question in the mind of the women and His other disciples that Jesus was in that tomb.

Women discover the empty tomb

Mark also records for us the detail that three women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—approached the tomb before sunrise to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. Finding the heavy stone rolled away, they entered the tomb and were shocked and afraid when they saw "a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side." The man told the women, "He is risen!" and instructed them to go and tell Jesus' other disciples (Mark 16:1-8).

In the society of the day, the testimony of women was held in such low regard that they were not even permitted to serve as witnesses in a court of law. How remarkable it is, then, that women were the acknowledged discoverers of Jesus' empty tomb!

Had someone fabricated the story at a later date, as many critics assume to have been the case, the plot surely would have made male disciples such as Peter and John the discoverers of the empty tomb. That it was women who were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb is best explained by the straightforward truth that the women named were indeed the actual discoverers.

The Gospel writers faithfully recorded what for them was an awkward and potentially embarrassing detail.

Jesus' enemies acknowledged that the tomb was empty

What was the reaction of Jesus' enemies to the disciples' stunning declaration that Jesus was alive again after having been publicly executed?

Their reaction is very revealing. Did they respond that the disciples were lying, that Jesus' body still lay in the rock-hewn tomb? No. Did they claim that the disciples were hallucinating? No. Instead, they bribed the Roman soldiers responsible for guarding the sealed tomb to spread what they knew was a lie. They told them to spread a cover story, to claim that Jesus' disciples had come and stolen His body while they slept, and that they would cover for the soldiers if they got in trouble with the Roman governor.

Read the account in Matthew 28:11-15. This was the best excuse the authorities could come up with to explain why Jesus' body was missing and could not be found!

Here we have evidence from the very enemies of Christ that His tomb was empty. The best rationale they could come up with they knew to be a lie. There is no other explanation for how the tomb became empty except that Jesus was resurrected bodily and left the tomb.

Eyewitness accounts of His appearances

On multiple occasions and under various circumstances individuals and groups of people saw Jesus alive after knowing He had died.

Notice what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: "...He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time" (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

How did Paul receive this information? He was acquainted and had spoken with the people involved. He had heard the account in their own words. Most who could verify it were still alive. He is making this assertion knowing he could be proven wrong if it were not true!

Such eyewitness accounts cannot be dismissed as fantasy. They must refer to actual events that were witnessed by many people alive at the time of Paul's writing. Paul even lists the names of the best known of the witnesses so others could verify the facts of Jesus' resurrection for themselves!

Appearances in bodily form

All of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels are in bodily form. "Why do doubts arise in your hearts?," He asked His apostles when He appeared to them, as recorded in Luke 24:36-43.

He invited them, "Behold [look at] My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." When they still did not believe, perhaps because it was too good to be true, He asked them for food, which He took and ate in front of them.

Then there is the occasion when Jesus appeared to all His apostles, including Thomas, who apparently was missing on the previous occasion. Thomas was adamant that he would not believe unless He saw Jesus' wounds with his own eyes and felt the wounds with his own hands (John 20:24-29). Yet he was absolutely convinced when Jesus appeared to them all and specifically invited Thomas to verify that He was indeed the same Jesus whom Thomas and the rest had known for so long.

On yet another occasion Jesus appeared to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. On this occasion He performed a miracle, fixed and ate a breakfast of bread and fish with them, and gently rebuked Peter for returning to his life as a fisherman rather than taking care of the far more important business of tending to His Church (John 21:1-23).

It's been suggested that these appearances were merely hallucinations on the part of the disciples. But this theory cannot account for the fact that the appearances were in different places, at different times and in front of different groups of people. Jesus appeared in ways that were convincing to all the apostles. These appearances left no doubt in their minds—including that of Thomas, who staked out his position that he wouldn't believe unless he literally saw and felt the Jesus whom he knew.

The disciples' astounding transformation

One of the major proofs of the resurrection of Jesus is the dramatic change in the lives of His disciples.

The Gospel accounts are not flattering to the apostles (which is further evidence that they didn't fabricate the story). At the time of Christ's arrest and trial, all His apostles forsook Him and fled (Matthew 26:56). Peter, who vowed that he would always stand by Jesus, even cursed and swore in denying that he knew Him (verses 69-75).

Jesus, we remember, foretold Peter's weakness and even forewarned His apostles that they would also stumble because of their association with Him (verses 31-35).

Within a short time, however, we see a dramatic change. We find the apostles speaking to large crowds and openly declaring that Jesus had risen from the dead. Far from running away and hiding, now they boldly confronted the civil and religious authorities with the fact that Jesus had been killed and raised to life again.

They defied orders threatening them with imprisonment if they continued to speak about this man Jesus (Acts 4:1-23). They courageously faced beatings and endured death threats because they preached that Jesus was alive and was the Messiah (Acts 5:17-42).

Whereas only weeks before they had denied they even knew Him, now nothing could stop them from openly publicizing what they obviously knew to be true. Only one explanation for their new unshakable belief even in the face of imprisonment and execution is plausible: They saw Jesus Christ alive after they knew He was dead. They spoke with Him, ate with Him, received extensive instructions from Him, spent time with Him and touched Him.

These men gave the remaining years of their lives, and ultimately life itself, for the One they knew had conquered death. Had they all been only participants in a giant hoax, could we believe these men would give their lives for something they knew to be a lie?

Peter's remarkable change

The apostle Peter is the best known of the disciples whose lives were so remarkably changed. His boldness on the Feast of Pentecost was amazing. At the temple he addressed a huge crowd of people, from which 3,000 became disciples of Jesus the Messiah.

Peter spoke to people who lived in Jerusalem and all of Judea as well as many other parts of the Roman world. They were in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, as God had commanded in Deuteronomy 16:16. Peter reminded them that they all knew who Jesus was and what had happened to Him seven weeks earlier at the Passover feast (Acts 2:22-24).

Peter, who had denied his acquaintance with Jesus before He died, now fearlessly proclaimed to the people that they were the ones who had crucified the promised Messiah—but that God had raised Him up.

The reaction of the people is quite telling. There is no denial, no outcry, no attempt to stone Peter for this apparently outrageous charge. Many of them knew of the events surrounding the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. They knew that many—perhaps even some of those standing there listening to Peter—had shouted for Christ's blood. They knew of the strange disappearance of the body from the tomb, a mystery no one had been able to solve.

They knew or had heard of other strange events that took place at the time: the mysterious darkness that descended on the land as Jesus was being crucified, people being resurrected from the grave and walking the streets of Jerusalem, and the massive veil in the magnificent temple tearing from top to bottom with no apparent cause.

How were these events to be explained? What did they mean? Peter was giving them the amazing explanation—an explanation that would require them to make a decision that would affect the rest of their lives.

Peter contrasted the empty tomb of Jesus with the nearby tomb of Israel's greatest king, David. "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). His point was unmistakable: Everybody knew where David's tomb was and that this was where the king's body was buried. But Jesus, unlike David, was no longer bound by the grave!

Jesus of Nazareth, Peter declared, had been raised up by God, and many witnesses could testify to that fact. Once again there was no argument from the crowd. On the contrary, the people asked what they should do now that they, too, were convinced that Peter was right. Peter replied that they should repent and be baptized and that they also would receive the Holy Spirit, as the disciples had on that very day (Acts 2:37-38).

The only way to explain the dramatic transformation of the disciples from a frightened band ready to throw everything away and flee back to Galilee is that Jesus left behind dramatic and powerful evidence: an empty tomb and then multiple bodily appearances. Ordinary men from ordinary walks of life, who had denied their Master and failed Him miserably, suddenly changed almost overnight into dynamic leaders of a Church that was to defy and challenge the ancient pagan world.

James, half brother of Jesus, becomes a believer

Perhaps an even more remarkable transformation took place in the life of James, the half brother of Jesus (James was the natural son of Mary and Joseph while Jesus was the son of Mary and God the Father). Notice how J.P. Moreland describes events in James' life as recorded in the Bible and contemporary history:

"Why did these men change? Why did they undergo hardship, persecution, pressure, and martyrdom? Consider James the brother of Jesus. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, tells us that he died a martyr's death for his faith in his brother. Yet the Gospels tell us that during Jesus' life, he was an unbeliever and opposed Jesus.

"Why did he change? What could cause a Jew to believe that his own brother was the very Son of God and to be willing to die for such a belief? It certainly was not a set of lovely teachings from a carpenter from Nazareth. Only the appearance of Jesus to James (1 Cor[inthians] 15:7) can explain his transformation.

"As with James, so it is with the other disciples. One who denies the resurrection owes us an explanation of this transformation which does justice to the historical facts" (Scaling the Secular City, 1987, pp. 178-179).

Paul the persecutor is transformed

The apostle Paul is another remarkable example. As a devout Jewish rabbi and strict Pharisee, he was resolutely convinced that Jesus' resurrection had not taken place. Paul persecuted members of the early Church for believing in such nonsense. He staked his whole mission in life on his conviction that the resurrection was a fabrication and the movement was a threat to every tradition he held sacred.

This new movement, he was convinced, deserved to be stamped out by any means, including imprisonment and execution (Acts 22:4)—and this would be his personal crusade. Then something happened. Jesus Christ appeared to Paul and spoke to him.

Paul was not a man given to the vivid imaginations of superstitious people. He was a levelheaded intellectual. Yet he later was prepared to defend his zeal for Christ before hostile mobs as well as governors, kings and other rulers. In the end Paul was prepared to die for what he knew was true: Jesus was indeed the Messiah and was alive and well at the right hand of God.

The existence of the Christian Church

Dr. Moreland puts it this way: "What cause can be postulated to explain the fact that the Christian church transformed the world of the first century? The odds for its success were antecedently poor. Several religions existed in the first century and some of the elements of Christianity can be found in them. Why did Christianity succeed, especially when it was such an exclusivist faith which frowned on syncretism? What caused the church to get started? There never was a form of Christianity which did not emphasize the centrality of the death and resurrection of a divine Jesus.

"The resurrection of Jesus is the explanation the church herself gave, and it is the only adequate one. Cambridge New Testament scholar C.F.D. Moule argues this way: 'If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?'" (ibid., pp. 180-181).

That Jesus Christ really was resurrected from the dead is the only truly reasonable conclusion.


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