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Were The Disciples Mistaken About The Death Of Jesus?

The bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead is the crowning proof of the truth of Christianity. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.”

CrucifixionThere are many claims in the New Testament related to this central event but not all are accepted by New Testament scholars.  Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Mike Licona, in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, compiled a list of facts that were strongly supported (using the criteria of textual critics) and facts that were granted by virtually all scholars (from skeptics to conservative Christians.) [1]

One such fact was that Jesus died on the cross and was buried. Some skeptics, however,  assert that Jesus’ disciples were simply mistaken. Some will argue that Jesus survived his scourging and crucifixion and only appeared to be dead.

Is This Reasonable?

Is it reasonable to believe that those who removed Jesus from the cross, transported Him to His grave, and prepared Him for burial, did not know if he were alive or dead? [2]

There are other problems with this theory:

  1. The Gospels record the fact that a guard stabbed Jesus and both blood and water poured from His body. [3] Pericardial effusion or pleural effusion is often caused by circulatory shock prior to death.
  2. The Romans were experts at crucifixion.   Crucifixion was often performed to terrorize and dissuade its witnesses from perpetrating particularly heinous crimes. Victims were left on display after death as warnings to others who might attempt dissent. Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”), gruesome, humiliating, and public, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal.[4]
  3. Even when victims were taken down and given medical attention, they often died. Josephus recounts: “I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. [5] Jesus, once taken down form the cross, was prepared for burial and interred.  There is no record of His receiving medical attention. Even this, apparently, was no guarantee of survival.

For these and many other reasons it seems not only unreasonable but improbable that the disciples were mistaken about the death of Jesus.

[1] G. Habermas and M. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jeus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 47.

[2] John 19:40-42, NIV

[3] John 19:34

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion

[5] The Life Of Flavius Josephus, 75

Was Jesus A Myth?

Claims that Jesus of Nazareth is simply a regurgitation of the myths, such as Osiris, Dionysius, or Mithras  are really impossible to reconcile if you study the details.

Historian Paul L. Maier shows just one way the charge of myth crumbles in his book In the Fullness of Time He writes:

“Instead of claiming a mythological founder, or one who materialized from the mists of the past in an appearance datable only to the nearest century or two, Christianity boldly asserts that Jesus’ public ministry began (in association with that of John the Baptist) in

… the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas … (Luke 3:1, RSV)

This sixfold documentation involves personalities and places, all of which are well known and historical. In fact, we know even more about this collection of proper names from sources outside the New Testament. The author of 2 Peter expressed Christianity’s “historical advantage” splendidly: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths … but we had been eyewitnesses” (2 Peter 1:16). 1 (Emphasis in the original.)

References

1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991. Print.

Fishers Of Men

 And walking by the sea of Galilee, He saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And He saith unto them, “Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they straightway left the nets, and followed Him. And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. And they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22

Fishers of MenJesus’ calling of the four fishermen to become disciples is as moving a scene as can be described.  One can imagine the authority and power of Jesus’ teaching compelling humble laborers to surrender their means of provision for their families, stopping what they were doing (mending their nets) and embarking on a journey of discipleship with the Messiah.

The only problem is that if Matthew’s testimony was the only account that we had, it wouldn’t make sense.  If you recall, according to Matthew, Jesus had just come out of the wilderness to start His ministry and discovered that John (the Baptist) had been jailed.  There was nothing in Matthew’s account of the brother’s even knowing who Jesus was, much less following His teachings.

The mystery, however, is resolved when we hear from Luke.  In an undesigned coincidence, Luke makes sense of  it all:

Now it came to pass, while the multitude pressed upon Him and heard the word of God, that He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And He entered into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat. And when He had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answered and said, Master, we toiled all night, and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their nets were breaking; and they beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken; and so were also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all, and followed Him. Luke 5:1-11

After hearing all of the independent testimonies, a more detailed and less inscrutable account emerges.   The disciples didn’t just drop everything and take off.  They had heard Jesus preach, they had seen Jesus’ miracles (which also explained why James and John were mending their nets) and only then were they compelled to follow Him.

As influential Baptist Preacher Charles Spurgeon so eloquently put it, “O you who see in yourselves at present nothing that is desirable, come you and follow Christ for the sake of what he can make out of you. Do you not hear his sweet voice calling to you, and saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men?'”

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