Welcome to part three of our series on the Resurrection based on The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas! Please see parts one and two for ease of following along in this discussion.... All quotes are taken from this book unless otherwise noted.
Last time, we talked about two of five facts agreed upon by almost all scholars: Jesus' death by crucifixion and the disciple's firm belief in his death and resurrection. Today, we will begin with what it cost the disciples to hold to such beliefs and what this means in relation to the Resurrection of Christ...
Not only did the disciples preach what they believed – Christ’s Resurrection – but they did so boldly, even in the face of intense persecution. This is strongly evidenced in the New Testament; before, the disciples were so scared that they ran away from Jesus in the garden – but after His Resurrection, they boldly proclaimed this Gospel even in the face of persecution. Acts records numerous accounts of this persecution. Additionally, Clement reported the martyrdom of Peter and Paul: “Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness” (page 57). Likewise, Ignatius who probably knew the disciples reported that having witnessed Jesus’ Resurrection, the disciples were so encouraged that they despised (“cared nothing for”) death. Polycarp, a recipient of apostolic teaching, stated, “They are in the place due them with the Lord, in association with him also they suffered together. For they did not love the present age…” (page 57). He also mentioned that Paul suffered. In Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, he cites Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origin as sources for the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. Origin stated that the disciple’s devotion to the teachings of Jesus “was attended with danger to human life… [and that they] themselves were the first to manifest their disregard for its [i.e., death’s] terrors” (page 58). This willingness of the disciples to suffer and die for their testimony of the risen Lord is evidence of their sincerity; they truly believed that it had happened. Of course, this willingness is not enough proof to verify that what they believed did happen; many people have died for what they believed to be true. What we can ascertain from this, though, is that the disciples were not knowingly lying; “liars make poor martyrs” (page 224). It is because of this sincerity that legend and lie fall short of accounting for the appearances; the disciples didn’t just claim that the Resurrection occurred – they believed it, and they were willing to die for what they knew to be true, having personally witnessed it.
Further proof for the disciples’ firm belief in the Resurrection can be found in the lives of those who at first did not believe in Jesus – Paul, and Jesus’ brother James. Lending dual support to the five facts upheld by most scholars, the conversions of these two men are highly attested.
Formerly a persecutor of the church, Paul had an encounter with Christ on a Damascus road that turned his life around. In his letters, Paul mentions this experience several times. In the creed of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul states (verse 8), “Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” The Book of Acts lends further support to this fact (see chapters 9, 22, and 26). Additionally, Galatians 1:22-23 suggests that there was an early oral tradition concerning Paul that was being circulated in Judea: “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” This former persecutor was so convinced of his newfound belief that he suffered and died for it, and there are several sources which record this information. Firstly, Paul himself attests to this in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, going into great detail concerning the things which he suffered. Secondly, Luke records many of these instances throughout the Book of Acts. Thirdly, as previously stated, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origin all speak of Paul’s suffering and martyrdom for his belief in the Resurrected Christ.
James, the Lord’s brother was also skeptical at first; the Gospels say that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him prior to the Resurrection: “For even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5). Yet, the 1 Corinthians creed records Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). Additionally, Paul and the Book of Acts confirm James’ belief in Christ by identifying him as a leader in the church. When Paul went up to Jerusalem after three years, he says that he went up to see Peter and during the two weeks that he was with him, he “saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19). In Acts 15, after Paul and Barnabas told of their success among the Gentiles, James (as a leader of the church) addresses the other apostles, suggesting a means of discipleship for the Gentiles (see verses 13-21). Because of this fact, it seems that James was “a pious Jewish believer” (page 67) who adhered very closely to the Law; Hegesippus corroborates this fact. And James also was persecuted and martyred for his faith in Christ; Josephus, Hegesippus and Clement of Alexander all attest to this. Although we no longer have the works of Hegesippus and Clement on this subject, Eusebius’ writing on this (in which he quotes from the others) have been preserved. Josephus actually mentions that James was executed for breaking the law; but “What Law was it James broke, given his reputation within Christian circles as a Jewish-Christian leader who was careful about keeping the Law? It would seem likely that the Law had to relate to his christological allegiances and a charge of blasphemy. This would fit the fact that he was stoned, which was the penalty for such a crime, and parallels how Stephen was handled as well” (page 286, Darrell L. Bock citation). Thus we have both Christian and secular sources for both Paul’s James’ martyrdom, and we see that both suffered and died for what they believed – the Resurrection of Christ.
One strong evidence in support of the Resurrection is the empty tomb, the last of the five facts to which most scholars adhere. It would have been nearly impossible for the disciples to claim that Jesus had risen and for Christianity to have spread to the rest of antiquity if the body were still in the tomb; anyone could go to the tomb and bring out the body as proof that it did not happen, and skeptics most certainly would have done so. However, many of the enemies of Jesus attest to the fact that the tomb is empty. In Matthew 28:12-13, the Pharisees claimed that the body was stolen; they did not try to discredit the fact that it was empty. Justin Martyr also affirmed this, and Tertullian indirectly attests to the empty tomb. If the body were still in the tomb, these enemies would not have stated that it was empty. Additionally, in the four Gospels, we have the testimony of women concerning the empty tomb; these are mentioned as chief witnesses. But at that time in antiquity, a woman’s testimony was considered to be invalid; if the record of the empty tomb had been fabricated, women most certainly wouldn’t have been included in the list of eyewitnesses – “[This] would have been damaging to their claim” (page 225). Because of such unlikely witnesses attesting to the fact of the empty tomb, we can conclude that the tomb was, indeed, empty because Jesus rose from the dead.
Next time, we will tackle some opposing theories to the Resurrection commonly presented by it's critics, so stay tuned!