Can We Believe in the Resurrection?

March 1, 2016

Can modern people still believe in the resurrection of Jesus? George Eldon Ladd in his book, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, notes three approaches to the resurrection found in contemporary biblical scholarship:

  1. Christianity is a historical religion. The resurrection is a historical event—it really happened!
  2. The resurrection was a real event in past history whose nature is such that it transcends history, and therefore, it is not subject to verification.
  3. The resurrection did not happen, but talk about the Christ of Faith.

Approaches 2 and 3 have been influenced by an anti-miraculous, naturalistic approach that claims to be “scientific” and “objective.” Ladd counters, “A truly scientific method is the inductive method which accepts as a working hypothesis the best explanation for the known facts.” What are the facts that need to be explained?

  1. The empty tomb. Why would the disciples steal the body? If the Jewish leaders could have produced the body, why didn’t they?
  2. The eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses suffered and died for their testimony. If their testimony was a fabrication, why the dedication? If their testimony was a fabrication, why did they have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection? Why did they tell of their own faults and disbeliefs?
  3. The transformations. What changed fearful disciples into heroic martyrs? What changed Paul from their most ardent opponent into the most zealous evangelist? What caused Jewish Christians to transfer their worship from Saturday to Sunday? What caused Jewish Christians to accept Jesus as the Messiah when the Law said “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV). What caused Jewish Christians to call Jesus “Lord,” a term used in the Old Testament for Yahweh?
  4. The Prophecies. Mathematician Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks, had university students calculate the odds of eight Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in one person (he chose Micah 5:2, Malachi 3:1, Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 13:6, Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13, Isaiah 53:7, and Psalm 22:16). He came up with the odds of 1 in 1017. Stoner compares this to the odds of choosing the correctly marked silver dollar in a pile of silver dollars two feet deep over an area the size of Texas.

I believe in the historicity of the resurrection. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.


“The Messianic Mosaic”

August 7, 2015

Messiah means “anointed one” and comes from Hebrew; Christ also means “anointed one” and comes from the Greek language. Although a number of figures in the Old Testament were anointed with olive oil as part of appointing them to their ministry (like priests and prophets), the term when applied to Jesus has to do with the anointed king.

When I speak of messianic prophecies, I’m talking about the prophecies that Jesus fulfills in his role as king and savior. I find these prophecies convincing, but one of the questions that is asked is how could the Jews or any one else miss the point of the prophecies. I like the explanation of Michael S. Heiser:

By God’s design, the Scripture presents the messiah in terms of a mosaic profile that can only be discerned after the pieces are assembled.1

The point is straightforward: Only someone who knew the outcome of the puzzle, who knew how all the elements of the messianic mosaic would come together, could make sense of the pieces. Jesus had to enable the disciples to understand what the Old Testament was simultaneously hiding and revealing.2

Why was it necessary to reveal and hide at the same time? Paul gives us insight into the mission:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7–8 ESV)

If everything had been straightforward and clear, Jesus would not have been crucified, and the plan would have failed.

I think mosaic is a helpful way of thinking about the messianic prophecies. In them, you find the seed of woman who will bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), the seed of Abraham who will bless all the nations (Genesis 12:3), and David’s dynasty that will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). You find the suffering servant who dies an atoning death for others (Isaiah 53) and “one like the son of man” who receives an eternal kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). And the list could go on. As separate pieces before the coming of Christ, it would be difficult to know whether these go together or not. After the coming of Jesus, we see how the pieces fit together to form a picture of Jesus’s person and work. The prophecies present a compelling messianic mosaic.

1Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 241.
2The Unseen Realm, p. 242.


The Prophesied Christ

December 6, 2014

Early Christians did not counterfeit the prophesies about Christ. The first century Jewish understanding of the messianic prophecies and the Christian’s claims about those prophecies are not far apart as Arlie J. Hoover notes in his book Dear Agnos: Letters to an Agnostic in Defense of Christianity (pp. 209-210).

The best proof that Christians didn’t invent the messianic argument is that long before Christ the Jews had a body of messianic literature that agrees substantially with what Christians said of Christ. Both Jew and Christian expected that the Messiah would be a descendent of Judah and David, be born at Bethlehem, be filled with God’s Spirit, be a king and priest, rule with justice, bestow peace, have a glorious and enduring kingdom, subject the gentile nations to his law, and so on.

What some of the Jews in their unbelief failed to recognize was the fact that along side the passages that depicted the glory of the Messiah were those darker passages that also depicted his death and resurrection.

The important point to note is that the prophesies were written before the birth of Jesus. We can know that from the Jewish literature of the time, the manuscripts of the Old Testament that date before the first century A.D., and the translation of the Old Testament into Greek which dates from 200 to 100 B.C. We do not have to worry about the criticism that would claim the prophesies were written after Christ to make it look like Jesus had fulfilled them.

That means the messianic prophecies need to be taken seriously as evidence about Jesus. The number of prophecies to consider are numerous. James E. Smith in his What the Bible Teaches about The Promised Messiah treats 73 prophecies. Alfred Edersheim listed 456 passages which were interpreted as Messianic in ancient Jewish literature. J. Barton Payne in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy identified 1239 predictions in the OT (6,641 verses) of which 127 (3,348 verses) were personal Messianic predictions.

Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict (p. 167) gives an interesting statement on the odds of Jesus fulfilling the various Old Testament prophecies. McDowell notes that one mathematician calculated the odds of fulfilling eight key prophecies as 1 chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000. The fulfillment of these prophecies by Jesus is evidence of God’s intervention and omniscience. They are an important part of the evidence to authenticate Jesus as God’s promised Messiah.


“In Accordance with the Scriptures”

January 7, 2011

The witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection also testify that His death and resurrection were in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4, Luke 24:44). Another line of evidence that the seeker needs to consider about Jesus is prophecy found in the Old Testament or Jewish Tanach.

Alfred Edersheim listed 456 passages which were interpreted as Messianic in ancient Jewish literature. J. Barton Payne in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy identified 1239 predictions in the Old Testament (6,641 verses) of which 127 (3,348 verses) were personal Messianic predictions. An important point for the seeker to remember is that the prophecies were written before the birth of Jesus. We can know that from the Jewish literature of the time, the manuscripts of the Old Testament that date before the first century A.D. (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the translation of the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) which dates from 200 to 100 B.C. We do not have to worry about a criticism which would claim the prophecies were written after Christ to make it look like Jesus had fulfilled them.

Peter Stoner was chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College. He had students calculate probabilities for eight Messianic passages. He attempted always to remain conservative in their estimates. They found the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all 8 prophecies was 1 in 1017.

Stoner illustrated the probability by imagining 1017 silver dollars dumped onto the state of Texas. They would cover all of the state two feet deep. Stoner wrote: “Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom.”

We are faced with the choice between the inspiration of God guiding the prophets or some incredibly difficult odds. And as Stoner noted, it is not just a matter of 8 prophecies. We have more than 100 that could be added to the calculations. Stoner calculated if we were to take it up to 48 prophecies, the odds would then be 1 in 10157. Stoner concluded with these words: “Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world.”1

The witnesses claim that Jesus’ passion and resurrection are in accordance to the Scriptures. Have you examined? What have you decided?

1Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks: An Evaluation of Certain Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp. 99-112.