This is the fourth post in our series on The Resurrection. We’ve seen so far that:
Fact 4: The Transformation of the Disciples
The night before the crucifixion of Jesus, Simon Peter – one of Jesus’ closest friends – in an act of cowardice, denied that he even knew Jesus (John 18:15-18 & 25-27). As the tension rose and the threats grew, the disciples just walked away from their leader.
The following day the leader of this once-happy band of disciples was executed. It appeared that it was game over.
The execution of Jesus – ordered by the Jews on the charge of blasphemy – was designed put an end to this new movement. This method is as old as time: remove the leader and let the movement that followed him wither away.
This is what the Jews thought was going to happen. But history records a different story.
Mere days after the death of Jesus, the disciples far from being defeated and dispersed, popped up again in Jerusalem. Led by the same man that had only just denied he knew Jesus, Peter, they were proclaiming in public the Resurrection and calling men to repent (Acts 2:14-41).
They preached with such passion and fervour that records show 3,000 people believed and started to follow Jesus after their very first public appearance. All of this in the same city where Jesus was just very recently nailed to a cross for all to see.
The disciples then went on to spread the message of the Resurrection far and wide. It became their life goal. For most of them, it would be their death sentence too. Out of the 12 original disciples, 1 betrayed Jesus and then took his own life (Judas), 1 died of old age (John, the brother of James), and the remaining 10 were martyred for their faith.
In the years to come the early Christian church would face horrendous persecution under the reign of Nero with many believers paying for their faith with their life. It would be a few hundred years before Christianity secured state protection. But through all the torture and the horrors, the church grew and grew, with people putting their trust in the Resurrected Jesus and placing their faith in Him above their own lives.
The question that must be asked of this is: what on earth caused this to happen? And that is precisely the question that has to be asked by one who is unwilling to consider a supernatural explanation.
So what could have happened?
Perhaps the disciples decided, even now they knew that Jesus had died, that they couldn’t revert to their old life. They had invested too much. The show had to go on. So they summoned up the inner strength required to move past the defeat of the cross and grouped together to keep the band on the road.
You wouldn’t be the only one who thinks this is hard sell. Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish New Testament scholar said this,
“If the defeated and depressed disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only an autosuggestion or self-deception-without a fundamental faith experience-this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself.”
Could one man summon up the strength to suppress the truth he knew and live a lie? Could 11? Could 3011?
Well maybe the disciples had something else in mind. Perhaps they had something else up their tunic sleeves. Perhaps, even, they were bribed and induced to lie and continue proclaiming the message of Jesus.
But cracks do appear in this hypothesis too. Who was bribing the disciples? What was the value of their reward, and why was it greater to them than their own lives?
And the point is made that someone who has been bribed once can always be bribed again. It would only have taken one of the disciples to crack – say under the threat of death – and the game would be up, as Blaise Pascal noted:
“The hypothesis that the Apostles were rogues is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost.”
As with Fact 3 the natural explanations offered become quite absurd when they play out, each becoming more and more complicated until they undo themselves.
The one solution that’s left is the simplest one: Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to the disciples, and the disciples were transformed on the basis of this witnessed miracle.
These four minimal facts of the Resurrection all say one thing: something big happened. Some extraordinary took place. So what do you make of it all?