EXHIBIT 1: The Disciples Died For Their Beliefs
After public crucifixion, Jesus’ followers were discouraged and in despair. They seriously questioned whether or not this man Jesus had been sent by God. According to their Jewish custom, any crucified man was deemed cursed by God. They had also been taught that God would not let his Messiah suffer death. So, the Jesus movement was all but stopped dead in its tracks. Then, after a brief period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message: that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them. Furthermore, they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without payoff from a human point of view. Hardship, physical beatings, psychological despair, etc. This was the life of the very first Christians. Life ended in torturous death. In short, life was brutal and unrewarding. What is impossible to explain is how a group of men came to have a belief in a risen Christ without the factual reality of the Resurrection.
EXHIBIT 2: The Conversion of Skeptics
Before the crucifixion, hardened skeptics abounded. Yet, the “mysterious” events which followed Jesus successful execution turned many die-hard opponents to belief in a risen Christ. Saul of Tarsus (later became the apostle Paul) and Jesus’ own brother James are the most famous examples of this phenomena. We often forget that most (if not all) of Jesus own family often confronted Him, trying to convince Him to stop preaching and settle down: they didn’t believe in Him! (Mark 3:20-21,31-35). His home town was embarrassed by Him and cast Him out! (Luke 4:24). In ancient Judaism, it was a sign of failure and humiliation for a rabbi’s family not to accept him. Therefore the New Testament has nothing to gain by adding this detail. It brings Jesus’ credentials into question. There is only one reason for it’s presence in the scriptures: it’s an accurate report. However, the consequent turn-around of Jesus’ brother James is testimony to the reality of the Resurrection. James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and was stoned to death for his dedication to his big brother Jesus.
Saul of Tarsus, a “Jew of Jews,” was a dedicated Pharisee who hated anything that disrupted the traditions of the Jewish people. This new movement surround Jesus was utterly blasphemous to him and he received official permission to lead a “witch-hunt” against Christians. Saul ran down Jesus’ followers and killed them. Next thing we know, Saul converts to Christianity. He later writes the majority of the New Testament and is eventually beheaded after a life of brutal beatings, stonings, whippings, emprisonments, shipwrecks and other extreme trials. All of his sufferings were done with one goal in mind, to make the risen Jesus known to the entire world. From his own pen he testifies that he saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes.
How does one explain Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor.) in which he reminds them of the miracles he himself had performed. This would have been foolish had he done no such thing. The belief’s adopted by the rabid anti-Christian Saul went thoroughly against the heavy pedigree of his youth, religious training, nationality and cultural heritage. He professes to have seen the risen Christ, performed miracles to confirm his apostleship and lived a servant’s life to painfully bring the Gospel to large portions of the ancient world until it finally cost him his life. What would drive a man to do such a thing?
EXHIBIT 3: Changes to Key Social Structures
During Jesus’ time, Jews had been persecuted for seven hundred years by Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, and now by the Greeks and Romans. Many of the Jewish nation had been spread thin over all these conquering nations. Before the Babylonian exile, the Jews had come out of an oppressive Egyptian enslavement to wander the desert of the Negev and finally establish their nation in the plains west of the Jordan. They were wrought by attacking kings and nations, and even civil wars, until their captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian Empire. Since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) the Jews have been scattered over Europe, Africa and Asia minor as well as the Arab world.
They regathered in the early part of the 20th century and have been oppressed, attacked and vilified ever since. Today, we see Israel for what it is: the only culture/religion/nation that has survived one or more exiles and returned to reform all of its customs. No other nation/culture/religion that has existed throughout recorded history has ever been disbanded, captured, enslaved and removed from their home land, had their infrastructure completely destroyed and eradicated, and then returned later to set up shop and do business as usual. Israel suffered this more than once. And one instance, the disbanding lasted nearly 2,000 years. We no longer have Babylonians, Hittites, Perizzites, Ammonites, Persians or Assyrians. Why do we still have these long-battered Jews? Because what made the Jews, Jews – the social structures that gave them their national identity – were unbelievably important to them. Children began memorizing Scripture at an early age and synagogue life was the center of the community. The Jewish identity survived the pressure of thousands of other cultures which came into contact with the nation of Israel (and even engulfed it). Furthermore, the Jews firmly believed that their traditions, laws, customs and religion had been personally handed to them from the God of the Universe. Abandoning these institutions would risk damnation in hell for eternity. Suddenly, a lower-class suburb produces an itinerant preacher named Jesus. For three years He wanders the backyard of the world (Israel), gathers a following of lower and middle class people, gets in trouble with the authorities, and gets crucified along with thirty thousand other Jewish men during the Roman occupation. Five weeks after His public execution, ten thousand Jews are following Him, claiming that He is the Son of God, risen from the grave. They’re willing to abandon the social, political and religious foundation of the Jewish nation. The question for the skeptic is: how can such a thing happen? The answer: something big has to occur. Something very big.
Five pillars of Jewish life were altered or abandoned by the Jews following the executed Nazarene carpenter called Jesus. These pillars had been in place for almost 1500 years.
- Since Abraham and Moses, they needed to offer complicated, bloody animal sacrifices on a yearly basis or more frequently to atone for sins. Gone.
- Jews emphasized strict obedience to the laws of God which they believed had been passed down directly by Him. This made them different from the pagan nations. Altered. It was no longer a means of salvation but a result of relationship with Jesus.
- The Sabbath was an untouchable holy day in which no work was allowed. This earned them right standing with God and helped guarantee salvation for their family and also placed them in right standing with the rest of the Jewish nation. Sabbath was on Saturday. Altered. Christians worshipped on Sunday (because on this day they claimed Jesus had risen from the dead) and did not forbid all works on this day.
- Monotheism. Jews believed strongly in a singular God. The Christian Trinitarian theology was highly blasphemous and unacceptable. Yet this doctrine was followed by the Jewish Christians within the first decade of Christianity’s arrival as a new religion. Monotheism = Gone.
- Jews had been trained to expect a militarily and politically victorious Messiah who would crush Israel’s oppressors. Christian Jews believed the Messiah to have suffered a shameful, criminal’s death on a Roman cross. A complete reversal of their expectations. Political-military Messiah = Gone and altered = the Second Coming will introduce us to the victorious Lion of Judah, not the Lamb.
How can one peasant carpenter command such a fundamental turnaround of devout Jews in so short a time? Jesus had no wealth to offer or influence with. He had no military muscle or political clout. He wandered the land of Israel’s minor cities and taught. Then was overpowered and crucified. The most stubborn and resilient religious culture in the world was turned on its head almost overnight by followers of this single itinerant rabbi. This begs for an explanation.
EXHIBIT 4: Communion and Baptism
Jesus’ followers gathered to remember how grotesque and graphic His sacrifice had been. Picture “followers” of John F. Kennedy gathering to remember how gruesome his fatal gunshot wound to the head had been. And rejoicing in it! If John F. Kennedy was being joyfully commemorated by those who loved him they would remember his political successes, not his dismal end at the “hands” of Lee Harvey Oswald. Yet, the Jews who had known Jesus personally and abandoned their families to follow Him were doing just that! What could motivate such lunacy. The only reasonable explanation is that they were celebrating His death because they believed it was a stepping stone to a Higher Glory: Resurrection for the payment of all mankind’s sin. Glory Hallelujah!!!!!! They were convinced they’d seen him from the dead, so remembering the low from which He’d risen was a means of spiritual pep rally. With water baptism, Christians were symbolizing Jesus’ death and burial…. and His Resurrection. Further, they were baptizing in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not only did they believe Jesus to have been raised, they elevated Him to Divine status!
EXHIBIT 5: The Emergence of the Church
When major historical events take place, historians look for a cause. In consideration of the beginning of Christianity, there’s no question it began shortly after Jesus’ public execution. It then grew so rapidly that within two decades Christians could be found as far as Rome and they were successfully converting people from all walks of life, trampling over competing religions. The power of the Christian church’s early spread is unmatched in all of human history. A carpenter from an obscure village is rumored to triumph from the grave and 2,000 years later we name our children after His followers and celebrate His birthday and Resurrection. Why? If a skeptic denies the Resurrection, he cannot walk away silent, he must provide an alternative explanation. History demands this of ALL major sociological phenomena, of which Christianity is the single biggest one!
People from all walks of life, poor, rich, famous, obscure, old, young, educated, unlearned, have followed Jesus for 2,000 years. They boldly claim that He is personally responsible for the major changes in their lives. In short, Jesus is not just a historical figure to them, He is a Person with whom they have actual contact. No other historical figure has ever been touted as God Incarnated Who can change lives right now, today, through real personal relationship. The evidence provided in this entire text is designed to bring a skeptic to one of two conclusions:
- Jesus is so exceptionally unique that you must know more about Him.
- Jesus is the Risen Son of God, Who has paid the full price of your sin in order to purchase you to Himself forever and ever.
Please evaluate the evidence carefully and weigh the facts for yourself. Remember that the points made in this paper are base on historical facts which by definition must be explained. You do not have to be 100% convinced to begin a relationship with anyone. How many of us knew we’d love our best friends before we met them? Introduce yourself to Jesus Christ today you have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain! Our prayers are with you.