by Craig Branch – (Introduction to Areopagus Journal Jesus Legend or Lord Part Two Vol. 3 No. 4 – July-August 2003)
In our last Areopagus Journal (Vol. 3, No. 3), we began our apologetics response to the attacks on the trustworthiness of the gospel accounts of Jesus and His message, as well as His incarnational Deity. This issue is part two of that theme, focusing on the historical Jesus and especially on the centerpiece of the Christian faith – the reliability of His resurrection. As important as the accuracy of the life and teachings of Jesus is for the world, these events mean nothing without the true historical event of His death and bodily resurrection. His bodily resurrection affirms both his identity as the unique God-man and true Lord, and His atoning work which offers the gospel of eternal salvation to all men.
The resurrection was the center of apostolic preaching and therefore is ours today (Acts 2,4,10,13,17). In Romans 10:9, I Thessalonians 4:14 and in I Corinthians 15, Paul says that belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is absolutely essential to the Christian faith. If Christ be not raised, our preaching is useless, our faith is useless, the apostles were false witnesses, our faith is in vain, we are still in our sins, and those dead is in vain, we are still in our sins, and those dead 19).
The reliability of this historical event has manifold meanings for Christians and the world. Because of this event we can actually have and experience a new beginning (and many new beginnings), receive real power for living the life we are designed to live, and look to eternity with a confident expectation (the Biblical meaning of the word “hope”). Without the bodily resurrection of Christ, all Christians have is another human philosophy however noble, inspiring and useful.
With all this at stake, it is no wonder that the attacks, denials, and rejections are manifold. Along with the skeptics, atheists and agnostics, there are the Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny the bodily resurrection and deity of Christ. According to George Barna, even 35% of professing “born again Christians” deny the bodily resurrection. Most Protestant and many Roman Catholic seminaries, and thus churches, are liberal and neo-orthodox and regard the resurrection and much of the life of Christ as legend, allegory, myth or symbol. It appears that Satan uses the same strategy as he did to tempt man in the Garden. He came to Eve and said, “Did God say. . .?”
In this issue of Areopagus Journal, we have asked Dr. Craig Evans, a distinguished New Testament professor, to respond to the liberal perspective on the historical Jesus. It In the article, “What Can We Know About the Historical Jesus?,” Evans uses recognized historical methodology to discover what we can know accurately about Jesus. He responds directly to the charges with evidence gleaned using the historical criteria of multiple attestation, dissimilarity, and embarrassment, and points also to recent archeological discoveries. Evans ties together certain themes of Jesus’ life and message with overall biblical themes, which demonstrates both the cohesiveness and coherence of the message.
Also in this journal, ARC associate director and journal editor Dr. Steve Cowan focuses on the historical reliability and certainty of Christ’s resurrection. He, too, utilizes sound historical methodology to test and prove the superiority of the Christian’s historical belief in Christ’s resurrection against naturalistic hypotheses. These two essays demonstrate the problems with the liberal media’s darling, the Jesus Seminar, as well as the likes of John Shelby Spong and his arguments outlined in his Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism.
There are also occult forms of attack on the resurrection. These come to us through Oprah and the media. We have popular psychics John Edwards, James Van Praagh, and near-death advocates like popular author Betty Eadie. And then there are the claims of the many New Age groups and individuals who assert the doctrine of reincarnation over the resurrection.1
Whereas the above so-called supernatural claims may have some supernatural occult implications, most of them are explainable by the art of human deception and technique. Yet the life, meaning, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can be shown to be beyond human deception. For example, Josh McDowell notes that there are at least 332 prophesies in the Old Testament revealing Jesus Christ.2 Concerning His death, burial, and resurrection, one should be directed to the startling clarity of Isaiah 53; Psalms 22; Zechariah 12:10; 13:6; and Psalms 16:10; 2:7 when compared with the accounts in the Gospels and Acts 2:31; 13:13-17.
So the fact of the historical Jesus (which necessarily includes his death, burial and resurrection and its revealed meaning) is Christianity. It, by necessity, goes far beyond merely a concept in the world of religious ideas, but it is a fact in the world of space, time, and reality. Because this is a fact, it has ultimate significance and meaning for mankind—yesterday, today, and forever. Let us explore the objective truths and experiential implications for mankind.
One should expect that the meaning of the historical fact of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, if true, should combine both a supernatural element as well as be coherent and cohesive throughout. It does. In the Old Testament, God established the sacrificial system within His chosen nation. One especially significant feature of this system was the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). It was then that the high priest entered the holy of holies with a blood sacrifice to make substitutionary atonement for all the sins of the people of Israel (Lev. 16). Even so, God reveals that the sacrifice itself was unable to atone for sin, but it must be accompanied by God’s free grace (Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Ps. 51; Heb. 9:9f).
The culmination of all this is the Person and work of Christ ( Matt. 8:16f; luke 2:38; John 3:14f; 8:56; Rom. 4:1-25; 10:11-13; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:15; 10:12-14; 1 Pet.. 1:18f). Christ literally fulfills the established priestly office of the Old Testament (Heb. 6:20-9:26). Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world as the High Priest and serves also as our redeemer (Ps. 49:7; Isa. 43:3; Mark. 10:45; 1 Pet. 1:18f; Luke 1:67-79; John 1:29).
Christ’s office as King of kings and Lord of lords is rooted in the Old Testament prophecies of the perpetual throne and Kingdom of David (2 Sam. 7:12f; Ps. 89:3f.), and thus the Messiah is anticipated in royal terms (Is. 9:6f; Jere. 30:8f; Ez. 37:21f). Christ’s Kingship is inextricably and intrinsically linked to Calvary as he overcame the enslaving powers of darkness. His resurrection sealed and declared the reality of His triumph (Rev. 17:14; 1:5; 19:16; 1 Tim. 6:15-16; Eph. 1:20-23).
The historical fact and fulfillment of Christ’s work has dramatic implications for us. Scripture tells us, for example, that when we accept Christ as Savior, it is an actual historical fact with God that our old sinful, lost nature died with Christ. And because Christ was raised as an historic fact, we too shall be raised immortal, in Him (Romans 6:5-8). And even more (how good can it get!), all of these great truths of Christ’s fulfillment are brought into the area of our present Christian life – true spirituality, right now!
The manifestations of Christ’s satisfaction, redemption and victory in the cross and resurrection are wonderfully exegeted in John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ.3 Stott reminds us that the reversal of the Fall and the victory over Satan began with the ministry of Christ. We see the kingdom advancing, demons cast out, sicknesses healed, and even disordered nature obeying Him (Mark. 4:39). The final conquest was achieved at the cross and resurrection when the “strong man” (Satan) was bound, death was destroyed and the captives set free (Heb. 2:14-15, Rev. 12:10-11).
Christ’s position and activity now as Lord and second Adam over everything in heaven and earth has given to believer’s victory over physical and spiritual death. The same Holy Spirit active within the Trinity that made Jesus alive has made us alive as well (2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 8:11; John 11:25; Eph. 2:4-9; Col. 2:13-15; I Pet. 3:18). We have the great news that we have the same resurrection power to overcome sin (Phil. 3:10; Romans 6:5-12, 20-22, 1 Cor. 15:57-58). But as Romans 6 exhorts us, “Knowing these things,” we are still responsible to “present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead” and to not “present the members of our body to sin.” We are to “put on the whole armor of God” and to “fight the good fight,” knowing that the power and victory are ours to be realized. We are to “resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (1 Pet. 5:8-9; Jas. 4:7). We live in the “already but not yet” phase of His kingdom.
Yes, it does make all the difference in the world if the Gospels’ account of Jesus is true. Jesus said He came that we might experience the abundant life. He also came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. He came to seek and save those who are lost. He said, “As I was sent, so I send you” (John. 17:18). We have a positive message and we are positive about our message. Let us all go out and persuade men, yet with gentleness and reverence. AJ
Craig Branch is the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham, Alabama,
1 For free information packets on any of the above, contact our office.
2 Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life, 1979), 175.
3 John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,1986).
Glossary of Terms
Apocryphal Gospels.. Books that contain alleged stories and sayings of Jesus, but which have been excluded from the New Testament Canon because of their late date and obvious heretical teachings.
Christology. An area of systematic theology that addresses the Person and Work of Christ (his two natures, atonement, resurrection, etc.).
L, M, Q . Abbreviations for hypothetical sources used by writers of the Synoptic Gospels. “Q” (from the German term “Quelle” [source]), is used to designate the possible source for the literary material that is common to both Matthew and Luke, but which is not found in Mark. “L” designates the source for the material that is unique to Luke’s Gospel, and “M” stands for material unique to Matthew’s Gospel.
Quest for the historical Jesus. A series of research programs among modern biblical scholars to discover what Jesus actually said and did in history, as opposed to the “Jesus of Faith” believed in by the Christian Church. There have been three such quests. The First Quest for the historical Jesus began in 1775, with critical scholars seeking to construct a non-supernatural Jesus by going behind the “mythical” Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. Albert Schweitzer brought the first quest to an end in 1906 when he showed that the Jesus constructed by each first quest scholar was simply a reflection of that scholar’s own religious and political ideology. The Second Quest began in 1953, using historical-critical methods and knowledge of the first-century Greco-Roman background in order to
discern the real character of Jesus. The problem raised for this quest (which is still on-going) is that it ignores or downplays Jesus’ own Jewish background. The Third Quest was initiated in the 1980s by scholars who self-consciously seek to understand Jesus against his Jewish background. This third quest is far less skeptical than the earlier quests regarding the historical reliability of the biblical Gospels, and is thus amenable to evangelical scholars.
Synoptic Problem. The problem in New Testament studies of explaining the significant similarities in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Traditionally, the Church has believed that Matthew wrote first, and then Mark and Luke abbreviated and supplemented Matthew respectively. Some, on the other hand, have argued that each Gospel writer wrote independently of the others, and that the similarities are due to a common memory or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The majority opinion today, however, is that Mark wrote first and that Matthew and Luke borrowed Mark’s material, supplementing it with material from Q and their own unique material (M or L).