By Roland W. Keith
Repost from October 2017
In today’s world Christianity is under attack around the globe. Even here in the U.S., where religious beliefs are supposed to be protected by separation of church and state, opposing forces are applying ever-increasing pressure to drive the church out of existence, by questioning its relevance and validity, or by simply rejecting it as incompatible with the growth of liberalism and the secularization of western culture. For Christians here in America we must come to terms with the possibility that what is social and political pressure today may become full-blown persecution tomorrow. In light of that probability today’s focus will be on this question: “Are Biblical claims of the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ fact or fiction?
If our faith is based on a myth or fable what is the world to think of us? As Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 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 (I Corinthians 15:14-19).
If Christ is not the Son of God then those of us who make such claims are out-and-out liars, or delusional fools. In turn, the writings in the New Testament, in which we base our hopes, are the words of false teachers cunningly devised to mislead man. Were the writers of these 27 works themselves self-deluded or deceived into believing a lie? Just a little over a month after Jesus’ crucifixion Peter proclaimed:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses… And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 2:22-24, 32; 3:17-19).
According to Luke’s account of this sermon Peter was stating a truth that was obvious, not just to the apostles, but to all in the audience. Those in Jerusalem had been witness to Jesus’ life, His works, and His death. Most importantly, over 500 of them had witnessed Jesus walking among them after His resurrection. This blunt reminder of what they themselves had seen and done compelled more than 3,000 of them to become Christians that day. On another occasion Peter would tell those in the house of Cornelius:
And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:39-43).
Many years later Peter would write to those who had never seen Jesus, but had believed the testimony about Him:
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (I Peter 1:8-12).
To their generation things prophesied in the past, things previous generations had longed to see, had been revealed. Things such as what was written hundreds of years before by Isaiah:
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? (Isaiah 53:1-8).
King David would also prophesy of his descendant: “For dogs encompass Me; a company of evildoers encircles Me; they have pierced My hands and feet— I can count all My bones— they stare and gloat over Me; they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:16-18). Jesus, Himself, would speak of His own death, saying, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48), and again, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
In his gospel account Matthew would remember Jesus’ ministry, writing, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21). For today’s scoffers who see many tel-evangelists making millions of dollars proclaiming their version of Christianity, they should understand this of the apostles, and other first century Christians— They had nothing to gain from their claims. There was no fame and fortune waiting for them. In fact, they were putting their lives on the line in teaching the messiah-ship of Jesus (Acts 4:1-22; 17:1-9), and eventually many of them would be put to death for their beliefs.
The early Christians were true believers, and based their hope not on a lie they were persuaded to believe, but on what they themselves had seen with their own eyes, or had been told by trusted eyewitnesses. According to Peter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:16-21, see also John 12:27-32).
The first century Christians trusted their own senses and the word of men and women who were putting their lives in jeopardy for their faith, with the hope of an eternal reward for themselves and all who would accept the word they were teaching (II Peter 1:3-4), based again on what they knew to be fact, as John wrote:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:1-3).
Their testimonies of the life of Christ and all that they had seen reflected Christ’s own claims: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20; see also John 12:46-48; 5:26-29).
According to these witnesses the followers of Christ are to proclaim Him as the world’s savior. A savior who is willing to forgive the sins of all who will come to Him and submit to His commands until the end of the age, when the universe as we know it will be destroyed and a day of judgment will come, after which new heavens, and a new earth will be established for His followers, and a place of punishment reserved for those who deny Him (II Peter 3:10-13; II Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-34, 46).
Even with death staring them in the face many of these saints refused to relent and deny the Lord. As Paul noted, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered" (Romans 8:36). They were martyred by the sword, by the cross, and by lions in the coliseum. But they are not to be pitied. The writings passed down by many of them demonstrate men of sound mind and clear vision. They were not deluded or deceived. Rather they observed and weighed the evidence and came to a reasoned conclusion, and passed their knowledge on to us. And what they have given us is the truth. Moreover, that truth is worth all that we have to possess it, up to, and including, our lives.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.