Post Author: Bill Pratt
In this series of posts, we have shown that the NT writers claimed to be eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses; we have shown that we have multiple witnesses, and we have shown that the eyewitnesses were trustworthy. How? They included embarrassing details about themselves and difficult details about their subject of worship, Jesus; their accounts contain divergent details, just as we would expect from independent witnesses; and they wrote about historical facts that have been thoroughly corroborated by ancient non-Christian writers and modern archaeology.
There is one final piece of evidence that you should consider, though. I think it is one of the strongest historical evidences we have.
Here it is. The apostles, some of whom wrote portions of the NT, were all killed for their beliefs, except John. According to Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down – both of them killed in Rome. James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church, was thrown off the top of the Jerusalem temple and stoned to death. The other apostles met similar fates. Before they died, they were beaten, stoned, imprisoned, mocked, and persecuted, mostly because of their professed beliefs in Christ.
I was having lunch with a couple of bright engineers a few years back, and we started discussing religions, Christianity in particular. They challenged my belief in the NT documents by saying that many people have created religions in order to gain fame, fortune, and power. They thought it was quite possible that the NT writers were merely doing the same. I asked them if they knew what happened to the apostles after Jesus died, and they did not know. When I shared the facts above, they became silent. Fame, fortune, and power eluded all of these men while they were alive. Their lives would have been far easier if they had just kept quiet.
Maybe the apostles weren’t in it for the money, so to speak. Maybe they had been lied to or deceived. Maybe they just died for their false religious beliefs like so many other fanatics do. Many people die for their religious beliefs, don’t they? The Muslim fanatics on 9/11 certainly died for their beliefs. Aren’t the apostles just the same?
No, they aren’t. There’s a fundamental difference between the disciples and the 9/11 extremists. The 9/11 fanatics died for contemporary beliefs that reflected someone’s modern-day interpretation of the Qur’an, a book which was written 1,400 years ago. They had no way of knowing if the source of that book, Muhammad, was telling the truth or not. They weren’t there to see it. They believed based on what they had been taught by their contemporary religious teachers.
Not so with the disciples. They all went to their deaths claiming that they saw Jesus risen from the dead. But they knew this, not based on information delivered 1,400 years after the fact, but based on their own two eyes!! If Jesus did not rise from the dead and the NT is a pack of lies, then the disciples knew it. They were there.
But if they knew Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we must explain why they willingly went to their deaths. Many people die for a false belief, but nobody dies for a false belief they know is false, especially not 12 different people! The martyrdom of the apostles is strong evidence for the truth of the historical resurrection of Jesus. There exists no other theory which can adequately explain their behavior.
I conclude this series with an extended quote from Chuck Colson, who is often asked about why he believes that Jesus rose from the dead, which is the central event and miracle of the NT. Here is Colson:
Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aides to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their President. But one of them, John Dean, turned state’s evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin,” and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on – two weeks! The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all that those around the President were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.
But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.
Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did.
You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true – they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.
The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity. Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally. But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.
No, you can take it from an expert in cover-ups – I’ve lived through Watergate – that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord. Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful – despite prison, torture, and death.
Jesus is Lord: That’s the thrilling message of Easter. And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence – and one you can bet your life upon. Go ahead researchers – dig up all the old graves you want. You won’t change a thing. He has risen.