The dreaded 'J' word ? (part 17)

The Jewish religious establishment didn't like this itinerant preacher very much. They followed him everywhere taking notes and asking questions, trying to trick him into further controversy.

In many ways they were really just behaving like the 'establishment', throughout the ages, whether dictatorships, military junta, ecclesiastical regimes or even local councils. Dangerous ideas are not always readily accepted by such people, particularly if it could result in loss of personal power (or wealth).

Jesus was seen, for various reasons, as a 'dangerous idea'. So, when an opportunity arose, they arrested him on trumped up charges (with 'blasphemy' as the given reason), obtained a confession from him and had him executed by the Roman authorities.

The end of the story?

Well, it certainly should have been. He was killed and buried in a tomb that was guarded by a Roman soldier.

If it had ended there, then this web site would not exist. Neither would churches or cathedrals. The Pope would just be another Polish intellectual dreamer. And, perhaps, the whole world would be Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhists. Certainly no Christians because, in the words of the New Testament writer Paul, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith".

So this 'raising', popularly known as the Resurrection, is the key event in Christianity.

If one could disprove it, and many have tried, then we could remove the whole basis for the Christian faith. The facts are that Jesus was buried in the tomb of one of his disciples and that, despite the Roman guards at the tomb, on the third day his body disappeared and he was seen, fully alive, by a whole selection of witnesses.

So let's have a closer look at it. Here I have summarised some findings of the book 'The Resurrection Factor' by Josh McDowell.

Firstly, it is a historical fact that Jesus was crucified. No serious modern scholar, Jewish, Christian or otherwise, disputes this fact. In any case, there had to be a historical basis of some kind for a world religion to take root and flourish.

So, granted that he was crucified and placed in a tomb, we then have to decide whether the tomb was occupied or empty on that third day. Various explanations, most of them wild, have been given to try and disprove the Christian version of events. These include: Jesus being buried in the wrong tomb or an unknown tomb, the whole story was just a legend, his body simply decayed and the resurrection was 'spiritual', or the witnesses of the resurrection were hallucinating.

Given that Jesus's body had gone missing, various explanations have also been given to explain away this fact : the body was stolen by the disciples, the authorities stole the body, Jesus resuscitated and escaped or the whole thing was a fabrication - a 'Passover Plot'.

Yet there are vital flaws in all of the negative arguments.

Firstly, bearing in mind the fears that the authorities had concerning Jesus' promise to rise again (hence the guards at the tomb), why didn't they immediately act to quash the excitement after the resurrection accounts started to circulate? Why didn't they come up with a body, any body, to disprove the claims?

Also, more significantly, how can they explain the fact that Jesus's disciples can be transformed from a broken, disenchanted, scared and scattered rabble to a fired-up, empowered and single-minded group who managed to turn the mighty Roman world upside down and who, in the main, were martyred for their trouble?

Could they or would they have done this on a lie or a fabrication? Something must have happened to them to effect this amazing transformation. Something did ... they all met the risen Jesus.

It wasn't the end of the story ... it was the beginning of a larger story!