Did Jesus stay in that tomb? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
The center of the Christian faith lies right here. If this did not happen, then let’s all just pack up and go home. We might become deists or some other kind of theism, but we certainly cannot be Christians any more because Jesus would not be who He said He was.
Now many of us know about the minimal facts approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. Many of you also know that I use that approach, but I also use another approach and since the minimal facts is already well known (And if it isn’t, get the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona)I will be here using another approach. This is one used by my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics, and one I plan to do even further research on later on to improve it more.
When a minimal facts approach is started, it’s usually started with Jesus’s death by crucifixion. Yes. This is a fact. It is one of the most certain facts in history. The most that many apologists get from that is that Jesus died.
Let’s not stop at that point.
What kind of death did Jesus die?
Jesus died a death that would be seen as a shameful death. It was designed to lower his status in the eyes of the people as far as possible. To non-Jews, Jesus died as a traitor to Rome. He was a would-be king who got what He deserved and once again, Rome put down those who were opposed to her rule. To a Jew, Jesus died under the curse of YHWH. He claimed to be the Son of God and Messiah and because of that, He was put to death. (Mainly for the first one. Claiming to be the Messiah was not blasphemous. It just might be seen as egocentric, crazy, etc.)
Note in Jesus’s society also, your identity came from someone else. There was no self-made man. Connection to the group was important and if you were a follower of Christ, that would be who your identity was in. It would be in a man seen as a traitor to Rome and under the curse of YHWH.
How many of you want to be a part of that group?
In fact, if you were telling the story about Jesus to someone as a Christian, as soon as you got to crucifixion, the person you were talking to would likely shut their ears at that point. There would be no need to listen any further.
Want to know what it would be like to say a crucified man was your Messiah, savior, and God?
Imagine what it would be like to have someone say that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention was an open homosexual and pedophile.
Imagine what it would be like to hear the person running for the office of president used to be president of the KKK.
Imagine what it would be like to be a part of Ken Ham’s organization and hearing that Francis Collins or Hugh Ross will be the guest speaker at a convention this year.
Imagine what it would be like to hear that a terrorist arrested in Afghanistan was going to be put in charge of our military.
I’m sure you can come up with your own examples. Pretty much, this kind of event would fly in the face of everything that you knew. If you knew anything about crucified people, you knew that they were no good and certainly no one worth putting an investment in.
And what are you being told to invest in them?
Your whole life and identity is being put on the line with this one. If you are wrong, there’s no turning back. Now this isn’t because of threat of Hell. For many in the ancient world, you die and that is it. You might go to some shadowy existence. Jews could hold to some variation of Hell at times. Either way, the turn and burn approach would not be what was most likely used.
What temporary gains would you get in this life if you became a follower of Christ? Well let’s name a few.
You would be mocked. Now this might not seem like a big deal, but in an honor-shame society like the ancient Mediterranean was, it was. Think back for instance to when you were in high school. You would have cliques being formed and you needed to identify with the cool kids. If you were a guy and got identified as a homosexual for instance, that could end your social status. If you were a girl and got identified as loose, that could also end your social status. Everyone else determined where you were on the social ladder.
Now multiply that a few times and you have a better idea of what the ancient world was like.
A major difference is this world has far more power. You go home from school and school is done. There is no place in the ancient world where you can escape life itself.
You want to go to the marketplace? You’re known there. Want to go worship at a pagan temple or Jewish synagogue? You’re known there. Want to go to a club or meeting place? You’re known there. Not only are you known, your ancestors will be known as well. What you do will forever stay with your children.
Not only will that happen, but with this shaming you will be seen as deviant. Why? You’re going against the gods! You’re going against the emperor! If we suffer, it is because we have not been giving the honor to the gods that is their due. Any major calamity shows up? You’re the problem! You will then be dealt with by Rome because you’re being a traitor to the social order.
And yes, that finally gets us to persecution. A pagan would persecute you because you were a traitor to Rome and denying the gods. If you had wanted to include Jesus among other gods to worship, well worshiping a crucified man would be odd, but okay. No. You’re saying that not only do you worship YHWH through Christ, you say that is the only way to worship. You deny that the other gods even exist. How can the people earn their favor if they tolerate you in their midst?
Yeah. Tolerance. That’s a big one. The Jews could be tolerated because they were an old religion. They were just told that they had to sacrifice on behalf of the emperor. They did not have to pray to him. You want to come with a different belief? Well that’s fine if you can fit it into the Roman pantheon.
A new idea however is viewed with suspicion. That’s going against the social order. That’s claiming that our ancestors have been wrong for centuries. That’s saying that these beliefs that have guided and shaped us our whole lives have been wrong. Come with something new and you are a threat.
“Well geez. Mormonism was something new also and look how well it survived!”
While Mormonism did get some persecution, Americans had far more of a live and let live attitude. Mormons also had several wide open places that they could go to to escape any persecution. Christians only had the catacombs. If Mormonism had survived in an honor-shame culture, there might be something to the argument, but there isn’t.
“Well Islam was also a new belief.”
Yes. It was. And early on it spread by the sword and it offered its followers in this life power, wealth, and women. Those were some nice perks. The perks that came from Christianity could come elsewhere. You want to live a good and virtuous life? Greek philosophy can give you that. You want good fellowship? The pagan festivities can get you that. You want to get in touch with the divine? Mystery religions can give you that.
For Christianity, it’s biggest rewards would not even be seen in this life. They were waited on for the life to come. As you can hopefully see, becoming a Christian was not a simple task of walking down the aisle and saying a prayer and expecting your family and friends to celebrate your new belief. No. It was putting everything on the line.
Which makes it interesting since according to a scholar like Meeks, the middle and upper class were people who were often converting to Christianity. Why does this matter? These people had the most to lose on the social strata. Another aspect is these people often had the means to check out the stories. “You claim you have eyewitnesses? Well let me send my slave to Jerusalem to talk to these ‘eyewitnesses.’ ” These were the people who could most do a fact-finding mission and come to a conclusion.
Well Christianity did offer forgiveness of sins! As if the average Gentile or Jew was worried! Jews already had a system to deal with their sins. The sacrificial system and following the Law worked just fine. Why would they want to risk all of that for a system that abandoned both of those and even abandoned other aspects of Jewish life like the Sabbath and Torah observance? That would help ensure that they got cut off from YHWH!
The Gentiles? They too could offer sacrifices and frankly, they were more interested in living the good life. Of course, this was a life of virtue, but they had the philosophers to help with that. An approach that focused on the sinfulness of the people just would not work as well. (And in fact it assumes right off that Jesus is the solution to that, something that it would be very hard to persuade an ancient person of.)
Note also that Christianity had high high standards of living. Now the Jews would be familiar with them as would a number of God-fearers, but they were still high. Most especially would be in the area of sexual ethics. Chastity was the rule until you were married. Adultery was absolutely forbidden.
Christians also gave to the poor. “Well that’s nice.” Not so fast. The ancients did not really trust the poor. The poor were the ones who were likely to steal from you. After all, they didn’t have anything. The rich were the ones who were your benefactors and you wanted to be in their good favor.
Well surely Christians had something going for them! They taught the resurrection of the body!
Of course they did.
Another strike against them.
Yeah. In the ancient world, the world of matter was a lower world. Go look at your Plato. The material world was lesser and the higher world was the spiritual world. In fact, even having a God not taking on the appearance of a human but of becoming human would be seen as totally bizarre.
To escape the body was seen as a relief. Apotheosis would have been the main goal. This would be being exalted to the realm of deity, and no body was required. This would often happen to the Caesars supposedly.
In the Phaedo of Plato, at the end Socrates asks for a cock to be sent to the god of healing as a gift. Why? Socrates is being released from his body. That is the ultimate healing. He is being free from the prison that he has lived in.
Is it any wonder that some of the earliest Christian heresies had a problem with Jesus being material? Think of Gnosticism or Docetism. Each of these would have made a whole lot more sense than the message the Christians were giving. In fact, if the Christians were supposedly changing the story to make it more acceptable for Gentiles, they would be seeking to remove the resurrection. That was just something seen as bizarre and unwanted to the Gentiles.
Now Jews could be more open, but a resurrection happening in the middle of space and time? That made no sense! The disciples in fact took the hardest route they could with their belief. They did not claim divine vindication. That would be easy! They claimed resurrection. They claimed it in the very city that Jesus was crucified in and in the very faces of those who did it.
So why is it that the resurrection would matter so much? It was more than the forgiveness of sins. It was more than dealing with the problem of evil. It was vindication. If God did raise Jesus from the dead, then God is essentially saying “Jesus was right.” Right about what? He was right about being the Son of God. He was right about being the Messiah. He was right about having your whole life depend on Him.
And if Jesus is raised, well that’s a good reason to believe He’s who He said He was.
In fact, that’s the only reason to do so.
If Jesus was not raised, Christianity should have died out early on like any other cult group would have. Christianity instead overcame the most impossible odds ever and not only did it dominate the Roman Empire without using the sword, today Jesus holds the allegiance of billions all over the world.
Not bad for a guy who was crucified.
Notice also how well this works if you add to it a minimal facts approach as well. We did not have to go into that too much, but even the social data alone makes a powerful case for the resurrection of Jesus and one that is too often overlooked. Why not add it to your apologetic arsenal?