If Jesus is the Messiah, Why Don’t More Jewish People Believe in Him?

Jews for Jesus branch in New York City.

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A skeptic I was speaking with recently brought up the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Implicit in his questionings was really an argument, which went something like this:

  1. Christians claim that Jesus is the Messiah as predicted by the Old Testament.
  2. Most Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah.
  3. Therefore, Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

There are two major problems with this line of reasoning. First, this is an appeal to popularity. Not long ago, people believed that the earth was flat. Just because a belief is widely held doesn’t make it a correct belief. The popular opinion of the Jewish people could be wrong.

Secondly, this is a wild overstatement. Many Jews do accept Jesus as the Messiah. At the earliest point of the history of the church, only Jews were Jesus’ followers. There are congregations of Jewish Christians across the globe today, including many in Israel.

Furthermore, Jesus himself predicted that he would be rejected by most Jews of his era. He was not at all what many Jews expected of the Messiah, and little has changed to this day. Their understanding of the Messiah was that he would be someone who would overthrow Israel’s oppressors and usher in world peace, not be crucified on the cross like a criminal. To hang on a tree, in their view, is to be cursed by God. (see Deuteronomy 21:23) However, in Mark 12 Jesus predicted he, like so many of God’s prophets sent to the nation before him, would be rejected, mistreated and killed.

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

The meaning of the parable is clear. The vineyard is Israel (see Isaiah 5:1-7), the tenants were the people of the nation, the prophets were the servants. Jesus viewed himself as the Son and heir of the kingdom. Even skeptical New Testament scholars like those of the Jesus Seminar accept this as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. Mark records that Jesus went on to say that the vineyard owner would do away the vineyard owners and give the vineyard to a nation that will produce the fruits – which the bible indicates is the church, which consists of both Jew and Gentile. No one has a special place with God because of their ethnicity. (see Ephesians 2:12-15, Gal. 3:28, 6:14-16)

History also tells us that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; and the Jews, sadly, became dispersed across the world. Only in the past century have they been gathered as a nation again. Jesus not only predicted his rejection in this parable, but also the destruction that followed in 70 A.D. (see also Matthew 22:1-14, Mt. 24) Note that this does not make the church “special” any more than Jews are special because of their ethnicity. Paul warns us that just as judgment came to Israel for their rejection, so we too can be judged for our unbelief. He goes on to say that God’s gifts toward Israel and their calling is without repentance. (See Romans 11) God “so loved the world”, which includes people of all nations, including the Jews through whom the Messiah came.

So the argument raised by the skeptic is demonstrably fallacious and furthermore disproved by history. It does nothing invalidate the claims of Christianity, if anything these objections can be used to strengthen Christianity’s claims.

If healing is in the atonement, why are not all healed?

Eustache Le Sueur, Christ Healing the Blind Ma...

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So far I’ve dealt with some of the exegetical arguments raised against the view that healing is in the atonement. Now I’d like to turn to what I would call the logical argument against healing in the atonement, which simplified, goes something like this:

  1. If healing is in the Atonement, then we would expect all believers to not be sick.
  2. Many believers are sick.
  3. Therefore, present-time physical healing cannot be in the atonement.

A.C. Gaebelein argues this point forcefully, saying:

We must add, that if it were true that Christ died for our sicknesses, then His atoning work in this respect is a failure. His people ever since these words were written have borne all manner of diseases and have died. Some of the greatest saints of God, the most mighty instruments of God the Holy Spirit, men of faith and whole-souled devotion, were weak in body and afflicted with infirmities. The choicest saints on earth today are the thousands of shut-ins, who suffer in patience and sing their sweet songs in the night. (The Healing Question, pg. 74-75)

We can all feel the emotional power behind this argument, but I don’t think it works. Premise 2 is obviously true, but premise 1 is demonstrably false. Think about it. Can one benefit from something they do not know is theirs? Case in point: no Bible-believing Christian would argue that Jesus’ death did not atone for our sins. They may disagree about the nature of the atonement, but that forgiveness belongs to the Christian is not up for debate. But just because Christ secured our forgiveness, it doesn’t automatically guarantee that every believer will enjoy the full benefits of that pardon. In fact, many believers live under a cloud of despair. Despite that they are forgiven, many of them often do not feel forgiven; rather they feel dirty and worthless. They do not enjoy the benefit of being forgiven, often because of ignorance of scripture.

So also, we read from scripture that Christ has delivered us from the power of sin (Rom. 6:1-14). But many Christians, ignorant of their new nature in Christ, still struggle with self-destructive habits. Moreover, we read that deliverance from the power of darkness is a present-time blessing. (Col. 1:13-14). Yet we are elsewhere told in scripture to “give no place to the devil” and to “resist the devil”.  (Eph. 4:27, James 4:7). So despite being delivered, if a believer does not resist the devil because of ignorance, he will not flee, at least not without some other sort of intervention.

So it is when we read “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases“. (Mt. 8:17) Healing is ours, but have to believe and act on that reality, even if it is not apparent. Certain benefits of the atonement are not our automatic experience, our response is necessary.

This might be a crude illustration, but not long ago a Chicagoan named Irving Przyborski won a $9 million prize through the Illinois lottery, and yet he didn’t know that he had won until he found the ticket by accident after opening an old tax file. He did not realize the ticket fell into the file.  He had no idea that this ticket was a winning ticket despite having it in his possession for nearly a year. In fact, it nearly expired and his winnings would have gone to fund public schools had he not claimed his prize. So it is with many Christians. They have the healing ticket, so to speak, whether they realize it or not,  but they have to collect their prize.

Notice also that in Mr. Pryzborki’s case, the Illinois Lotto Commission was not hunting him down to tell him that he had won. It wasn’t up to them tell him of his benefit, for the lotto picks were broadcasted long ago. So likewise, we have to read what was published long ago (the scriptures) to find out what is ours.  God will be merciful with us and occasionally heal someone in spite of our ignorance simply because it pleases Him to do so, but He does expect us to learn what belongs to us.  But if congregation members are taught that we are only healed “spiritually”, or told that sickness is “our cross to bear”, how can anyone expect to receive healing from God with any confidence?

It is considered to be a church faux pas to encourage one to simply have faith for healing (and I agree that we should do everything in love), but we see repeatedly that the healings of Jesus were in response to faith. Here is a sketch of the individuals Jesus specifically healed in reaction to their faith.

Key Phrase

Ref.

Leper in Galilee

“If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said “I am willing, be clean!”

Mk. 1:40-45

Paralytic at Capernaum

Jesus saw their faith

Mk. 2:3-12

Hemorrhaging woman at Capernaum

Daughter, your faith has healed you

Mk. 5:25-34

Two blind men at Capernaum

According to your faith let it be done to you

Mt. 9:27-29

Ten lepers between Samaria and Galilee

your faith has made you well

Lk. 17:11-19

Blind Bartimaeus

your faith has healed you

Mk. 10:46-48

Roman centurion’s paralyzed servant

Let it be done just as you believed it would

Mt. 8:5-13

Canaanite Woman’s demonized daughter

Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.

Mk. 15:21-28

Man’s epileptic son near Caesarea-Philippi

Father: if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us…Jesus: “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Mk. 9:17-29

Jairus’s daughter

Don’t be afraid; just believe

Mk. 5:36

Lame man at Lystra

Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

Acts 14:7-9

It should be noted that we do not always see Jesus remark about the faith of the one coming to him for healing. In other passages with individuals (Jn. 9:1-12) and groups (Lk. 6:17-19), we see their faith demonstrated simply by their actions.

Moreover, we see that a lack of faith to some extent limited Jesus’ healing ministry. In his own hometown of Nazareth, we read that Jesus “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk. 6:1-6) While at times Christ would approach the sick to heal them by Father’s direction (Jn. 5:19), quite often it was the other way around. This is particularly notable in the accounts of Jesus’ mass healing events, where people came to Jesus to be healed. (Mt. 4:23-25, 21:14-15, Luke 4:40, 6:17-19, 7:21, Mark 6:53-56, etc.)

Healing is not a matter that is simply all up to God. In relation to forgiveness, Jesus told the woman who anointed his feet in Luke 7 the same thing he told the woman with the hemorrhage in Luke 8. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk. 7:50, Lk. 8:48) In order to enjoy the benefits of the atonement, we cannot remain passive.

Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 3

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Healing and Christus Victor

Through the gospels we see Christ dealing with sickness and disease in the same matter he dealt with demonic spirits. We know this because Jesus uses the same harsh Greek word ἐπετίμησεν (epetimēsen) to rebuke sickness as He uses to rebuke evil spirits.

In Luke 4:35 we read “...Jesus rebuked him (the spirit in the man), saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”. Four passages later we read “…and he (Jesus) stood over her (Simon’s mother-in-law) and rebuked the fever, and it left her”

Jesus always viewed illness as an enemy. Nowhere did Jesus tell his followers to expect sickness or disease as part of their calling in life. Jesus never suggested that sickness was “a cross to bear.” He honestly told his followers to expect to experience hardship. But the hardship he constantly referred to was persecution, not illness. In Luke 10:8-9 we read Jesus commissioning his disciples to “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The coming of God’s kingdom, in some measure at least, entails deliverance from evil spirits and healing from physical disease.

When we read about Jesus healing the crippled woman in Luke 13:11-17, Jesus asked his critics “should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

We also read in Acts 10:38 a summary of Jesus’ ministry from the apostle Peter. That summary was about “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” I think it’s important to note the connection between “doing good” and “healing”.  We see that before being healed, the sick were  “under the power of the devil” . The Greek literally reads καταδυναστευομένους (katadunasteuo). Translated, the word means “I overpower, quell, treat harshly”. Therefore, disease is a satanic evil to resist, not acquiesce to.  It is not a blessing, but harsh treatment meant to overpower us.

We read in 1 John 3:8 that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”. The word destroy here is λύω, (luó) which is translated  “loose, untie, release, set at naught, contravene.” If sickness is Satan’s work, then one of the reasons Jesus became incarnate is to release us from it.

Healing is the presence of the Kingdom of God coming to the earth. Sickness, we understand, is Satan working to overpower those whom God made in his image. In Colossians 1:13-14 we read “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Therefore, we’ve been delivered from Satan’s dominion over our lives through Christ’s redemption, and that includes the tyranny of sickness.

One may raise a scientific objection to this scriptural argument. Of course, we have natural explanations for illness that the Bible attributes to evil spirits. This is true. Sickness and disease, on one level, is simply nature taking its course. But there is no intrinsic contradiction with attributing infirmities to spirits on the one hand while also explaining them in natural terms on the other. Death itself is a “natural” process, yet we also see in scripture that the devil is “the one who has the power of death”. (Heb. 2:14) This suggests that the laws of nature as we know them are satanically influenced to some degree. This may sound strange, but we have no trouble saying that we as human beings have ability to use our free will to effect the natural order of things for good or bad. Why is it incomprehensible that spirit beings can do the same?

We see through this series of posts that there is no good scriptural basis to believe that we have to suffer with illness when Christ has already suffered on our behalf. Healing is in the atonement because Satan’s power over the believer has been annulled through the atonement. There is nothing that glorifies God by being under the burden of disease. An overcoming faith, however, does glorify God.  The gospel is about much more than “redeeming souls.”  It’s a holistic gospel that includes healing of our physical bodies, in anticipation of total redemption in the age to come.

I believe the burden of proof that healing is not included in the atonement lies with the objector. Most arguments against this view simply beg the question for a view of meticulous providence; that is the view that God is controlling everything in the world, even evil. On such a view, the will of God is never thwarted. It assumes people are sick because God always gets what He wants, so therefore He must want people to be sick. While this view is popular in western Christendom, I believe its starting points rests upon a distorted understanding of the nature of God’s sovereignty.

In future posts I will defend this view against some of the various objections that have been raised and hopefully I’ll be able to expose them as inadequate on the basis of scripture.

Related articles

Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 2

Christ Heals a Man Paralyzed by the Gout. Mark...

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Physical Infirmity As Punishment

In modern times, we do not equate being sick with being sinful. We don’t make someone feel like they’ve done something wrong for coming down with the flu or having cancer, and rightfully so.  Objectors to the view that healing is part of the atonement like to press this issue. They argue that if sickness is not a sin, how can it incur a penalty? Not only do I think this is this missing the point, I believe that it is looking at the bible anachronistically.

In the ancient near east, we see a worldview that connects sin and illness as revealed throughout scripture.  When Jesus’ disciples asked about a blind man “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:1-3) Jesus corrected their faulty theology that personal, specific sin is always the cause for illness. However, we do read where in John 5:14 he told the healed paralytic to “sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you”.

When the paralyzed man who was bore by his four friends was let in through the roof, Jesus told the man that he forgave his sins. This strikes us as a strange reaction because the man was clearly seeking healing. When the Pharisees charged Jesus of blasphemy for saying he had such authority, Jesus showed them that he had the power to forgive sins by healing the man. The Psalmist declared that God “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Ps. 103:3). In the epistle of James we read “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” (Js. 5:14-16). When Israel complained to Moses for the umpteenth time, venomous snakes came into the camp as a judgment. The people quickly repented, and God instructed Moses to put a serpent upon a pole. As the people gazed at the pole, they were healed. (Num. 21:1-9)  We find this thinking throughout the Psalms as well:

LORD my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.   Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime

Forgiveness and healing oftentimes go together in the bible.

Healing and the Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Most Christians would agree that ultimately all human sickness is a result of sin, in that the fall introduced not only sin but also corruption and death into the human race. When Jesus was enduring the terrible beating at the hands of the Roman guard, it is hardly a controversial theological statement to say that he was taking the beating that we all deserved for our rebellion.

I argue that sickness is itself a beating; a flogging. When Jesus told the woman with the issue of blood “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” – the Greek word here used for disease is μάστιγος (mastix), which is also translated flogging or scourging. (See also Mk. 3:10 and Lk. 7:21) Christians would not deny that without Christ people will suffer eternal destruction because they believe “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin is death“. (Rom. 3:23, 6:23) For a Christian to stay consistent, I believe they must say that Christ bore all of our the punishment we deserved, which would include sickness and disease, not just eternal separation from God.

On what grounds do I say this? In Exodus 15:26 we read where God promised Israel that He would be their healer on the condition that they kept his covenant.

“If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Later we read in Deuteronomy 28:15-48, 59, 61 that Israel’s disobedience to God’s law resulted in specific curses that were not just spiritual, but were rather physical in nature, naming specific diseases that would come upon them for forsaking God’s covenant. We later read in Galatians 3:13-14 that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” I believe this was God lifting his hand of protection and allowing them to feel the force of the demonic corruption of nature. If his people wanted to pursue the devil, they could have the devil.

The good news is that Christ took the curse we all deserved for all of man’s disobedience, which included not only hell to come but hell on earth.  Ask anyone with cancer, lupus, epilepsy, Ebola and the like if disease is not experiencing a living hell. To think that God would want any of his children to suffer under such dreaded diseases in light of His Son’s suffering for us I believe would be a miscarriage of justice. Why must we endure the beating of disease when Christ already suffered in our place?

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5

I argue therefore, that it is wrong to accept sickness and disease from the hand of Satan when the penalty for our sin has been fully paid. Moreover, Jesus always viewed illness as an enemy. Nowhere in scripture did Christ tell his followers to expect sickness or disease as part of their calling in life and ministry. Jesus never suggested that sickness was “a cross to bear.” He promised persecution, slander, and the possibility of martyrdom for his followers, but never sickness. All sickness is suffering, but not all suffering is sickness.

In my next post, I will close my positive case for healing being included in the atonement with a look at Christ’s victory over Satan.

Physical Healing and the Atonement

Question:

Is there bodily healing included the atonement? Many would vehemently deny that there is, saying such a belief brings false hope in the minds of sincere Christians.

The writer of this blog is unabashedly a capital “P” Pentecostal. Along with many members within the mainline Pentecostal tradition (as well as the Christian & Missionary Alliance), I affirm that bodily healing is included in the atonement. This is not a view without controversy, and I will deal with the most common objections against the view in future posts. The purpose of this post is to make a positive case for the belief that physical, bodily healing is indeed included in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

I believe there are many arguments one might make for this view, but the strongest one comes from the passages found in the famous The Suffering Servant verses found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

The Suffering Servant

In Isaiah 53:4 we read “Surely he (Jesus) has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” The Hebrew word griefs is חֹ֫לִי (choli), defined as sickness. The word is translated as sickness, disease or illness 21 times out of the 24 times it is used in the New American Standard Bible. Such verses include Deuteronomy 7:15 and 28:61, where the plain meaning is clearly sickness. Sorrows is the Hebrew words מַכְאוֹב (makob), and is literally translated “pains”. An example of it used elsewhere is found in Job 33:19“Man is also chastened with pain on his bed”.

Young’s Literal Translation of the passage reads as follows: “Surely our sicknesses he hath borne, And our pains — he hath carried them, And we — we have esteemed him plagued, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”

The words “borne” and “carried” in the Hebrew are נָשָׂ֔א (nasa) and סְבָלָ֑ם (sabal). Nasa means “to lift, carry, take”. The same word is used in the 12th verse of the passage where we read that Christ “bare the sin of many”.  The imagery of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16:22 captures this substitution concept when we read that “the goat shall bear (nasa) on itself all their iniquities” The meaning is clear: As Christ lifted, carried, and took our sin, he also did the same with our sicknesses. Sabal means “to bear a heavy load” It is used in bearing a heavy load of chastisement or penalty. In the 11th verse we read that “he (Christ) he shall bear their iniquities”. So in the same way Christ bore our iniquities, likewise he bore our pains. The same verbs used to denote Christ as our sin-bearer are also used to denote Christ as our sickness-bearer.

If that was not enough, we have the Gospel of Matthew’s own use of the text in the context of Christ healing the sick in an anticipatory way to Christ’s death. Matthew 8:16-17

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Another oft-cited passage used by proponents of the “healing in the atonement” view is 1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Peter is quoting the Isaiah 53:5. The Greek word used for healed is ἰάομαι, and variations of the word are used 26 times in the New Testament. It is used in a figurative sense only when the New Testament writers are quoting Isaiah 6:10, and in Hebrews 13:12. All other times it is referring to physical healing.

Based on the original language of the texts about Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross, and the Matthew’s own interpretation of the prophecy coming to pass in the context of Christ’s healing ministry, I think we have good grounds for accepting the fact that healing is indeed in included in the atonement.

But there’s more! In my next post I will look more in-depth at the biblical teaching of the nature of sickness itself.

The Very Idea of a Resurrection Part 2

Caravaggio Doubting Thomas

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Not long  ago, I shared some of the evidences that point to the historicity of the resurrection. I recommend you to read my original post before you continue on if you haven’t already.  In a nutshell, the case for the resurrection is built on a few historical facts that nearly all of modern scholarship accepts, even some of the more skeptical critics.

As a friendly reminder: This is not an argument for the general reliability of the New Testament, but rather these facts come from historians who treat the Bible like any other ancient historical document.  (I’ll point out that I do personally believe in the inspiration of scripture, but that’s not what I’m arguing for now). With that in mind, here are a few of the facts they accept about what happened shortly after the crucifixion for review:

  1. Jesus’ tomb was found empty by several of his followers.
  2. His followers believed they experienced appearances of the risen Jesus. Paul persecuted the church, and James was a skeptic. Both were converted because of postmortem appearances of Jesus.
  3. The origin of the Christian movement.

The resurrection hypothesis fits all these facts nicely, but that’s not to say that there haven’t been any objections made to the conclusion that God raised Jesus from the dead. Obviously, if Jesus really did rise from the dead by a divine miracle, the implications are…well…pretty huge, and for many that’s an unwelcome thought.

Critics driven by an earlier commitment to naturalism – that is the view that nothing but natural laws work in the world –  have suggested different naturalistic hypotheses to fit the evidence over the years. However, due to a lack of overall cogency of these alternative explanations, most of these opposing theories have been set aside.

For the sake of time, I’ll list out the major ones here and address why they don’t really work in a rather terse way. If you’d like me to discuss any of these more in greater detail, just ask in the comments and I’d be happy to oblige.

Jesus wasn’t really dead, AKA “the Swoon Theory”

  • The Journal of American Medical Association helped put this to bed. The Roman executioners knew their job and performed it well.
  • A half-dead Jesus isn’t going to convince his own followers he’s the triumphant Lord over death. And he certainly wouldn’t convince skeptics like Paul or James. They wouldn’t have seen him as the risen Lord, but as someone in desperate need of medical aid.

The Resurrection is just a parabolic legend not meant to be taken literally

  • Most scholars agree that the gospels are written in a historical genre.
  • The Jesus leaders took the disciple’s belief in the resurrection seriously enough that they claimed the disciples stole Jesus’ body in response to the movement. That presupposes an empty tomb, which this theory doesn’t explain.
  • Parabolic legends wouldn’t have convinced the church persecutor Paul or the skeptic James.
  • It seems strange to die for something that you essentially know is a lie or a fanciful parable. The disciples were willing to suffer and die for what they saw.
  • The resurrection was preached from the outset. (e.g. the creed in 1 Corinthians 15, the sermon summaries in the Book of Acts). The story is too early to allow for legend.

The appearances were hallucinations

  • Appearances were to individuals, skeptics and most notably groups. Group hallucinations aren’t possible.
  • Hallucinations can’t account for the empty tomb.

The disciples stole the body

  • Liars make terrible martyrs. What did they gain out of it? Persecution, affliction, torture.
  • Paul and James’ faith was based on appearances.

The disciples went to the wrong tomb

  • The burial story is well established. Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb would have been a well-known site.
  • The disciples faith – including the converted skeptics – were based on appearances, not the empty tomb.

Could any of these stories be joined to account for the evidence? I suppose they could, but when you have to combine extraneous hypotheses to your theory to save it from being falsified, you’re usually not doing yourself any favors. Also, when you assign a certain percentage of chance to a theory and then have to combine it to another, the probability of the various theories all being true goes down, not up.  For example:

  • The women and disciples went to the wrong tomb – 60% likelihood.
  • The disciples later hallucinated appearances – 60%
  • Paul suffered some sort of conversion disorder – 60%

(.6 x .6 x .6) =21.6% likelihood. So combining different theories to fit the evidence doesn’t help.

The existential value

Some say that faith is a blind leap in the dark, but  in light of the historical evidence, it seems pretty rational to accept the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead. I remember being a skeptic and reading 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul describes the resurrection appearances years ago and thinking how different these sorts of claims were when compared to other religions. I mean, citing that nearly 500 living witnesses who could be questioned upon request wasn’t the typical “just have faith” type of response I may have heard.

Part of me didn’t want it to be true. I didn’t really want to rearrange my lifestyle or view of the world. But part of me this was wildly appealing. If Jesus was resurrected, then there was hope in this life and in the one hereafter. Quoting Paul

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

If Christianity was true, then there was meaning to life and life beyond death. This was in stark contrast to some of the nihilistic rap music from the likes of 2pac I was baptizing my mind with as a teenager.

I see death around the corner, any day
Trying to keep it together, no one lives forever anyway
Strugglin and strivin, my destiny’s to die
Keep my finger on the trigger, no mercy in my eyes
In a ball of confusion, I think about my daddy
Madder than a ****, they never shoulda had me

Rather than facing the absurdity of life without God and embracing its “unyielding despair” as the famed atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, the man from Galilee called himself the Resurrection and the Life and then backed it up. If Christianity has any chance of being true – and there is plenty of justification in believing that to be the case – then I believe it is worth accepting, or at the very least, taking a hard look at.  Hopefully what I’ve shared helps remove a few intellectual barriers that one might have.

In a future posts, I hope to discuss objections to miracles and the exclusivity of Christianity.

Who Did Jesus Think He Was? A Historical Approach

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

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Liberal scholars of the New Testament claim that Jesus’ opinion of himself and the early church’s opinion of Jesus are two very different things. They claim that Jesus never said he was the divine, unique son of God; that such a claim was just an early church invention.

This is problematic from a historical perspective. For one, in a monotheistic nation such as Israel, such a claim would be considered blasphemy. Yet this is what the early church proclaimed from what we read in the book of Acts. Historians date Acts around 60-64 AD, 27 years after the crucifixion. In it, we find sermons  that contain oral summaries in the text that can be traced to the earliest traditions of the church. Luke ascribes these sermons to the apostles themselves, but even most skeptical scholars would grant that such sermons were standard messages preached during the very earliest times of the church.

In these sermon summaries we find proclamations of Jesus’ resurrection, and the disciples calling Jesus the Messiah, Lord, the Son of God, and claiming that salvation was found exclusively through Christ. Such teachings dated so closely to the life of Christ show that these teachings were grounded in Christ’s own teachings. We also have the epistles of Paul, the earliest on record is 1st Thessalonians, which most scholars believe is an authentic letter of Paul, and is dated to 52 AD.

This dates back 19 years from the crucifixion and in it is written:

10And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10, King James Version)

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he states he met with Peter and some other church fathers three years after his conversion (which most believe happened 34-37 AD) and then 14 years after, and both times they confirmed his message as accurate. This is extremely early source data, leaving precious little time for legend to grow.

Moreover, we also have Jesus’ very own words. Even the most skeptical of scholars like the Jesus Seminar attribute Mark 12 to Jesus, since it is also found in their personal cheese-ball source, the (gnostic *cough*) Gospel of Thomas. Here is the text:

1And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

2And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.

3And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

4And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

5And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

6Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

7But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.’

8And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

9What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.

10And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:

11This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

12And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

(Mark 12:1-12)

The meaning of parable is clear.

  • The vineyard = Israel
  • God = the owner
  • Tenants  = Jewish religious leaders
  • The prophets = servants
  • Jesus = the one son

Jesus that he viewed himself distinct from all the other prophets, God’s special son and last prophet, and heir of the Kingdom of Israel. There he also predicts his rejection while calling himself the cornerstone of the nation. Radical stuff.

If that isn’t enough, we have Jesus favorite title for himself, the Son of Man. Even the most skeptical of scholars accept this as Jesus’ favorite designation for himself based on the historical criterion of dissimilarity. In every Gospel Jesus referred to himself with this title, while it only appears three times in other sources in the New Testament, making such a title to be an unlikely invention of the church. Such a title held great significance in ancient Jewish tradition. A key passage about this title is found in the Old Testament Book of Daniel:

13I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14, King James Version)

Now consider this passage and how it corresponds to Jesus’ response to the high priest during his trial before he was crucified.

61But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?

62And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:61-62)

If this isn’t explicit enough, we see that Jesus did directly refer to himself as the Son of God.

22All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. (Luke 10:22, Matthew 11:27)

There are good reasons to attribute this saying to the historical Jesus.

  1. It appears to be taken from an old source which was shared by Matthew and Luke, which scholars call the Q source.
  2. It doesn’t seem to be a product of early church theology, which teaches us that we can know the son. (A little thoughtful exegesis can account for the discrepancy)

So here we see that Jesus is claiming that he is God’s only son and the only one with exclusive knowledge of the Father.

Most critical scholars will also grant Mark 13:32, based on the criterion of embarrassment.

32But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32, King James Version)

One would think the early church would never ascribe limited knowledge to those who they worship as Lord. This cannot be part of some sort of evolving theology.

So even from a historical approach we have very good reasons to believe that Jesus had a very radical view of his own importance, and yet he called himself humble and meek. We would hardly call someone humble who made such claims unless that person was being truthful. This hearkens us back to revisit C.S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” found in Mere Christianity.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.

I could go on, what with the Sermon of the Mount and Jesus quoting the Law, and then following with a “but I say unto you”; where he would raise the bar. We also see him forgiving sins as if he was the chief party wronged. A social critic and cynic philosopher Jesus never would have been crucified, but someone like this radical Jesus would have certainly created a stir.

To close, Jesus asked Peter two questions according to the Gospel of Matthew – 1.) Who do men say that I am? 2.) Who do you say that I am? There are endless different opinions on the person of Jesus, but what did Jesus himself claim? And what are we going do with with such a claim?