In the last chapter, we discussed Jesus' miracles. There is one miracle, however, that deserves special discussion. Jesus' resurrection after his death is the ultimate and defining proof of Jesus' divinity.
Just about everyone knows the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. The story is summarized in the Apostles' Creed. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And will come to judge the living and the dead. Don't forget!
There is only one way for Jesus to prove that he rose from the dead. He had to appear to people. So your criterion to establish this is that he must appear to people. Noted. Therefore, several different places in the Bible describe Jesus' appearances after his death:
- Matthew chapter 28
- Mark chapter 16
- Luke chapter 24
- John Chapter 20 and 21
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
As you can see in this passage, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people a number of different times. Which means, by the criteria you provided, his job of proving that he rose from the dead is fulfilled. You say he had to appear to people, and he appeared to hundreds of people. I'd say that over five hundred witnesses is more than enough, even overkill, to establish something like that. Done.
Being like Paul
When we look at these Bible passages, there is a question that comes to mind -- why did Jesus stop making these appearances? Why isn't Jesus appearing today? It might be an interesting question, but it has no bearing on whether he rose again back then.
Even so, I have two questions for you, Mr. Brain. First, what makes you think this is necessary? And secondly, who says he isn't?
It really is odd. Obviously Paul benefitted from a personal meeting with the resurrected Christ. Because of the personal visit, Paul could see for himself the truth of the resurrection, and he could ask Jesus questions. He also stopped being a terrorist and murderer who targeted Christians.
So... Why doesn't Jesus appear to everyone and prove that he is resurrected, just like he appeared to Paul? There is nothing to stop Jesus from materializing in your kitchen tonight to have a personal chat with you. I mean, there's a great deal. On a very basic level, I'm not worthy of such a visit. Not even in the slightest. And if you think about it, Jesus really does need to appear to each of us. No, he doesn't. Most Christians wouldn't say that. We already believe in him. If Paul needed a personal visit from Jesus to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why wouldn't you? Perhaps because we aren't terrorists or murderers who will go on to compose over half of a Testament.
It is an important question for the following reasons:
- We are told by the Bible that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people, which therefore fulfills the criterion of, "To prove he resurrected, he had to appear to people."
- We know that it is OK for Jesus to appear to people -- it does not take away their free will, for example -- because it was OK for Jesus to appear to hundreds of other people. Perhaps this was because it was necessary to prove a resurrection to even get the faith off the ground. Think about it. Do we need Jesus to appear to us now that a third of the population believes in him, and another third regard him as a very important prophet?
- We know that it would be easy for Jesus to appear to everyone all through history, since Jesus is all-powerful and timeless. Having the ability doesn't make it more probable or necessary.
- We know that, if Jesus did reappear to everyone, it would be incredibly helpful. We could all know, personally, that Jesus is resurrected and that Jesus is God. Except the Bible says that it's OUR job to seek God, not God's job to seek us. If Paul (and all the other people in the Bible) needed a personal visit to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why not you and me? Because we are not the future founders of the religion, who are responsible for spreading the Gospel so that it survives into culture.
- Yet, we all know that Jesus has not appeared to anyone in 2,000 years.We all know?
I know a girl who claims that on the night she became a Christian, Jesus physically appeared to her. There was a great light in the room that didn't go away until she fell asleep. He stood by her and spoke comforting words to her.
If this is true, then Jesus has appeared to someone. So do you believe her?
In other words, there is nothing stopping Jesus from appearing to you, and several good reasons for him to appear. I don't think this has been established, to be honest.
Praying to Jesus
What if we pray to Jesus like this: "Dear Jesus, please appear to us, as you did to Paul and the 500 brethren, so that we can see the evidence of your resurrection. In your name we pray, amen." If we are already praying to Jesus in such a way, we likely already believe in his resurrection, and therefore don't need further evidence. Here is what Jesus has promised us in the Bible:
Matthew 7:7 Jesus says:
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
We've been over this. There's nothing in this verse that promises a guaranteed positively answered prayer.
In John chapter 14:14:
Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.
God, please kill all of the Jews. You have to do it now, right?
In Matthew 18:19:
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
And we've been over this too.
Jesus is actually in our midst. So he is right here already, supposedly. Yet when we pray to him to physically materialize, as he did to hundreds of others, nothing happens.
Isn't it odd that Nothing happens, given the fact that Jesus promises us that something will happen? Actually Jesus promises nothing of the sort. Jesus never mentions anything about appearing to anyone in these verses. What you are doing here is called decontextualization. Isn't it odd that nothing happens when, supposedly, Jesus is right here with us already, and materialization would be trivial for him? No, it isn't odd. Not for Christians, anyway.
Let's discuss this whole "trivial" question. What does it mean for something to be "trivial" for God?
Suppose Jesus actually was to appear to you, Mr. Brain. Let's go through what would happen. You are minding your own business, most likely on the computer. A great light shines out of nowhere, and suddenly there is a person standing where there used to be just air. You, therefore, are scared out of your wits, potentially going into some state of shock. Furthermore, you would probably attribute it to some form of hallucination, not to God.
But is this business of scaring the hell out of you "trivial?" God would have to violate his hidden nature, which to me doesn't seem very trivial.
What you will find, if you think about it, is that the situation we see here is exactly like the situation in Chapter 5. We have created a situation where coincidence cannot "answer" the prayer. The only way for this prayer to be answered is for Jesus to actually, unambiguously, materialize. In this situation, we also know that it is trivial for Jesus to materialize, that there would be many benefits if Jesus did materialize, that Jesus has supposedly materialized to other human beings, and that Jesus has promised to answer our prayer that he materialize.
How do we explain the fact that this prayer goes unanswered, no matter who prays, despite Jesus' promise that he will answer our prayers? How can you say that with no proof? You are making a claim based on an assumption, with no evidence.
As you think about this, you will realize that Paul's story in the Bible must be false. Based on what logic? Simply look at Paul's story like any judge in a courtroom would. What Paul's story in 1 Cor 15 is suggesting is entirely unprecedented - a man dead three days with mortal wounds came back to life. Yet there is no evidence that it is true, and there are many alternative explanations for what Paul is saying. If the direct visual testimony of five people, in addition to the confirmation of five hundred people, is not evidence, then my name is Stephen Spielberg. Paul could be fabricating the story, which would not explain the empty tomb, other post mortem appearances, and would render his sudden change of heart from a terrorist to a humanitarian completely inexplicable. Paul could have hallucinated or dreamed the meeting, which would not explain other conversions and post mortem appearances, nor the empty tomb. Paul could have seen an imposter, which would not explain the great light, nor the experience of the people he was with, nor the post mortem apperances and conversions of others. etc. In addition, no one is seeing Jesus today, even though it would be trivial and obvious for Jesus to appear to people today just like he did with Paul. If we were in a court room, this would not be considered evidence to the contrary; one, it is an argument from ignorance; two, no judge would demand to see the murder again to establish a victim as guilty. That would be an absurd criteria.
Given this evidence, if this were any normal situation instead of a religious one, people would conclude that what Paul is saying is untrue. Would they? Suppose someone came up and told you that they saw a dead man walking around again, alive. You may dismiss his testimony. But if a mass crowd of five hundred people came up to you and confirmed his testimony, you would probably be convinced.
There is zero evidence to support Paul's story, zero reason to believe it, a motive to lie and plenty of alternative explanations. A motive to lie? That's an incredibly curious statement. Paul was a terrorist and murder who's job was to kill Christians. Why in the world would he make up a lie so that he can be one? Why would he resign himself to a life of homelessness, poverty, persecution, inprisonment, and eventual execution, forsaking all of the prowess, power, and position that he had established as a Pharisee, just so he could lie about a resurrection? Seems like there is no motive whatsoever to lie. There is also the fact that much of the rest of the Bible contains provably false stories. Funny: you haven't mentioned one. Plus the fact that it would be trivial for Jesus to provide the evidence that Paul needs to confirm his story by reappearing on earth. There is no need for us to have this done to us. Think this through. Add to that the fact that Jesus has promised to answer our prayers but refuses to materialize when we pray to him. I've shown you how fallacious this reasoning is on multiple occasions. The only thing to do is to reject Paul's story. Every bit of evidence points to the fact that the resurrection story is a myth, nothing more. Yet, the mythological explanation fails on numerous points of the criterion of explanatory power, and thus, the explanation must be rejected.
What about Jesus' famous statement in the Bible, "Happy are those who have not seen yet still believe"? A better translation would be "blessed." What you realize is that this statement creates the perfect cover for a scam. Let's say you are Jesus, you are a normal human being, you realize that you are going to die and you want to cover for this fact. Jesus had already risen when he made this claim. Here is what you would say: "Happy are those who have not seen yet still believe." What you are saying is, "I exist, and the way I am going to show you that I exist is by not showing that I exist." This is a ridiculous summary, and I think even you know why. For every other object in the universe, the way that we know it exists is because the object provides evidence of its existence. Jesus provided evidence to hundreds of people, and some people today claim he has done so for them. If you don't believe them, why should I think you would beleive Jesus? If there is no evidence for an object's existence, we call it imaginary (e.g. Leprechauns). But with Jesus, the lack of evidence is turned into evidence. That's not what he said at all. This statement has nothing to do with evidence. Quite clever, but obviously a scam.
If the resurrection were true, then Jesus would be answering prayers as he promises in the Bible. He would also appear when people pray to see him. The fact is, as we saw in Section 1, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus answers prayers. Wrong, time and time again.
© P-Dunn's Apologetics 2009. All rights reserved.