Why God is the Best Explanation for the Messiah's Resurrection
By Eric Chabot, CJF Midwest Representative
When it comes to our faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Yeshua. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Yeshua. If Yeshua was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Explanations try to show how something happened. For example, I will list a number of points that need an explanation and then posit that the resurrection of Yeshua is the most adequate explanation for each point. Then I conclude that God is the best explanation for the cause of the resurrection of Yeshua. So let’s take a look at if the bodily resurrection of Yeshua as an adequate explanation for the following data:
#1:The Resurrection of Yeshua Explains God’s Actions in History
Human existence is dependent on communication. The abundance of methods to communicate attests to this. Clearly, we rely on phone calls, text messages, email, and other forms of communication daily. If there really is a creator behind the universe, it seems quite plausible that we can know very little about Him unless He communicates with His creation. Therefore, biblical faith rests on being able to know something about history—at the very minimum, knowing the historical truth of the person and work of Yeshua of Nazareth. Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book.
Before he passed away, when examining the resurrrection of Yeshua, the prominent atheist Anthony Flew said, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” (see Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew.” Available from the Web site of Biola University at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew). We should note that Flew ended up leaving atheism for belief in a God. But he never embraced Yeshua as his Lord.
Some skeptics lament that one of the reasons we can’t accept the resurrection of Yeshua is because we don’t see people rising from the dead today. But the entire point of the resurrection of Yeshua is that it is a unique one-time unique event. If we had had all kinds of people rising from the dead (and not dying again as in the case of Yeshua), that would not make the resurrection of Yeshua unique at all.
#2: The Bodily Resurrection of Yeshua Explains the Post-Mortem Appearances to the Disciples:
The post- resurrection appearances are varied. We see them here:
• Yeshua appears to Mary Magdalene, shortly after his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
• Yeshua appears to the women returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8-10)
• Yeshua appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12,13; Luke 24:13-35)
• Yeshua appears to Peter ( Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5)
• Yeshua appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).
• Yeshua again appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. At this time Thomas is present (John 20:24-29).
• Yeshua appears to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 28:16; John 21:1,2)
• Yeshua is seen by 500 believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
• Yeshua appears to James ( 1 Corinthians 15:7)
• Yeshua appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).
• He appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:50-53).
• He appeared to Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).
I find it interesting that many New Testament scholars/historians agree that the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Yeshua had been resurrected and had appeared to them. And ironically, many of them are not even Orthodox nor evangelical Christians.
Allow me to mention few quotes here:
It is a historical fact that some of Jesus' followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection — Bart Ehrman, New Testament Scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1)
It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ. It seems to be historically certain that Mary Magdalene experienced an appearance of the risen Jesus. The only thing we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus' death. These appearances cannot be denied. But did the Risen Jesus in fact reveal himself in them? —Gerd Lüdemann, Chair of History and Literature of Early Christianity at University of Göttingen (2)
I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something. The disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ, their relocation to Jerusalem, their principled inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles – all these are historical bedrock, facts known past doubting about the earliest community after Jesus’ death-Paula Fredrickson, Historian and Scholar of Religious Studies, William Goodwin Aurelio Chair Emerita of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University (3)
There is no reason to distrust the conviction of those that testified to having seen the risen Yeshua. As we said, many historians/scholars concede that the disciples at least thought they saw the resurrected Christ. As James Warner Wallace points out in his book Cold Case Christianity, people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons:
1.Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The NT shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned.
2. Sexual or Relational Desire: The NT does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity.
3. Pursuit of Power:
While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the 4th century and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Just look at Paul’s testimony here:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” – 2 Cor. 11: 23-27
#4: The Bodily Resurrection of Yeshua Explains the Birth of the Yeshua Movement, Pre-70 A.D
It is true that the old saying, “Yeshua is just one of several messiah’s in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:
1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72)
2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77)
3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84)
4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)
5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154)
Given I have written about this issue, I will briefly summarize: The Messiah's crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:
“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive. (4)
Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. Paul could not of made it any clearer when he stated, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:23-24). We can conclude that apart from the resurrection, the Jesus movement would of faded out very quickly (just as we see in the ones listed above).
#5: The Bodily Resurrection of Yeshua Explains Why Paul Believed Yeshua Was Divine
Paul’s Letters (dated 47 to 65 AD) are the earliest records we have for the life of Yeshua. In several of Paul’s Letters Yeshua is referred to as “Lord” (Gr. kyrios). Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.
Also, Paul believed that Yeshua was God by attributing attributes to him that were distinctly reserved for God. And he did so in a distinctly Jewish manner while also preserving monotheism. There were three attributes that first century Jews uniquely assigned to God:
1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things
2. God is the Sole Creator of all things
3. God is the only being deserving of worship
So let’s look at how Paul matches up the data here:
1. Yeshua participates in God’s sole rule over all things
Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being ”far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”
Here, Yeshua is clearly given the authority to rule above every one of God’s created beings.
2. Yeshua as the Creator of all things
Yeshua is clearly thought by Paul to have been the creator of the universe. This attribute is reserved only to God in Second Temple Judaism. Paul makes it clear that Jesus created all things.
Col. 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”
3. Yeshua is worthy of worship
As discussed above, only God was worthy of worship in Second Temple Judaism. Nevertheless, Paul discusses the worship of Yeshua. Since God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things He alone should be worshiped. Even within the Roman Empire, Jews worshiped God alone. No other entity was worthy of worship. Here is one of the earliest texts about this topic:
Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
I have barely covered all the arguments for and against the resurrection of Yeshua. I think that the evidence shows the resurrection is the best explanation for the points just mentioned. Therefore,God raised Yeshua from the dead. While the disciple of Yeshua has a responsibility to uphold and defend the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of the Messiah(1 Peter 3:15), we are called to make daily application of the resurrection into their daily lives (Romans 6:1:7:25). If Christians understood that God wanted to radically transform their lives through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the world would be a different place. The Gospel is not simply a message about the death of Yeshua, but his resurrection as well (1 Corinthians 15:1-12). We as Christians are called to live the resurrected life by bringing restoration and justice to a world that desperately needs hope.
1. B. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, (Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004), 276.
2. G. Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection, trans. John Bowden (Louisville: Westminster John Knox. 1995), 80.
3. Fredriksen’s comments came during an interview with the late ABC journalist Peter Jennings for his documentary The Search for Jesus, which first aired in July 2000. Emphasis added.
4. Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.
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