An interesting and rather embarrassing aspect of the Bible is that its forty or more authors never attempt to shield us from the (sometimes ugly) truth. In fact, the ugly truth is what differentiates the Gospels from the Gnostic texts, which were written much later. In the Gnostic Infancy Gospel of Thomas (140-170 AD), the author sprinkles numerous examples of Jesus as a child prodigy who astounds his teachers and playmates with His knowledge and miracles. Reactions to Jesus are painted differently than we see in the Gospels. It appears that people didn’t doubt Him. Below I’ve pasted an example from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
“But Joseph [Jesus’ dad] said to the teacher, ‘And who can control this child and teach him? Don’t think of him as a small person, brother.’ But the teacher said, ‘Give him to me, brother, and don’t let him concern you.’ And the child Jesus looked at them and said to the teacher this speech: ‘Being a teacher comes naturally to you, but you’re a stranger to the name with which you’re named, because I’m outside of you and I’m within you on account of the nobility of my birth in the flesh. But you, a lawyer, don’t know the law.’ And he said to Joseph, ‘When you were born, I existed, standing beside you so that as a father you may be taught a teaching by me which no one else knows or can teach. And you will bear the name of salvation.’ And the Jews cried out and said to him, ‘Oh new and incredible wonder! The child is perhaps five years old, and oh, what words he says! We’ve never known such words. No one – neither a lawyer nor a Pharisee – has spoken like this child.’”
By the time the Gnostic accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were written, people had time to develop legends and to remove any accounts of doubts or negative reactions to Jesus. In contrast, when we read the Gospels and Acts we learn that (1) Jesus’ family (including his ½ brother James) doubted His divinity and even thought of Him as crazy; (2) Jesus’ chosen rock, Peter, denied knowing Jesus three times and was scolded by Him for having such little faith; (3) neither Jesus’ apostles nor His family gave Him a proper burial. A member of the Sanhedrin, the same group who had Jesus crucified, removed Jesus from the cross and buried Him in his tomb; and (4) Jesus’ “abnormally born” apostle Paul was busy hunting down Christians to have them jailed and martyred just prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.
While Jesus’ female apostles were present to witness Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus in his tomb, Jesus’ male apostles were gathered together elsewhere. Peter had just denied knowing Jesus and they didn’t want to meet the same fate themselves. At that point, many were probably thinking that Jesus was just another prophet, perhaps similar to Theudas or Judas the Galilean (cf., Acts 5:35-39). Their fate would be similar to the fate of Theudas’ or Judas the Galilean’s followers: they would disburse and return to their families and jobs.
But then something happened that changed all of that. Using a creed (1 Corinthians 15) that scholars believe was created and shared within five years of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul shared the game changer:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles and last of all he appeared to me also, as to the one abnormally born.”
Jesus’ ½ brother James, who tried to stop His ministry became the leader of the Jerusalem church. He spent decades sharing the Gospels, despite widespread persecution at that time. James was uniquely positioned to know whether Jesus is Lord as he could speak to Jesus’ entire life.
(James 5:7-11) “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! …We count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Josephus reported that Jesus’ ½ brother James was illegally stoned by the Sanhedrin sometime in the 60s. His martyrdom was also documented by Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria.
Jesus’ chosen rock, who thrice denied Him, became His rock.
(Acts 2:22-24) “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge: and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.”
When the rulers, elders, and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem to condemn Peter and John, Peter boldly proclaimed the Good News (Acts 4:5-8). They commanded him not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, yet Peter responded, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him?” (Acts 4:19).
Peter was eventually hung upside down in the 60s, as reported by Eusebius, Dionysius of Corinth, Origen, and Tertullian.
Paul, the author of between six and thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.
In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “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 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.
Paul was beheaded in Rome under Nero sometime between 62 and 66, as documented by Origen, Tertullian, and Dionysius of Corinth.
We know from multiple independent sources that (1) Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate; (2) He suffered, died, and was buried an innocent man; (3) His disciples said He resurrected from the dead; and (4) They preached for him for decades, despite the ever-present risk of persecution, imprisonment, and death. What is the best explanation for these well-known and well-accepted facts? Jesus is Risen.
Charles Colson drew a similar conclusion after analyzing Watergate: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely.”
Thank you for your time.