The Resurrection Challenge

If you do not believe in the resurrection then the challenge is to provide an alternate explanation that accounts for all 5 facts. If you are a believer, the challenge is to submit arguments and evidence that support the 5 facts or additional facts you feel support the historicity of the resurrection. Submit your video responses via YouTube and let’s see where the evidence leads. Now pay attention to my channel as I will be releasing videos that support my 5 lines of evidence.  The first one, History 101, is just a brief overview of some general principles historians use in evaluating evidence. I will post a video supporting each point. I will do my best to respond personally to the most challenging alternate explanations. I will not respond to videos are overly vulgar or disrespectful. 

I will make a decision at the end of September and mail prizes, (2 new hard backs, The Case for the Real Jesus by Strobel and prodigious atheist turned deist Anthony Flew’s, There is not/a God) to the winners. I will be posting videos all through the month with my research supporting the resurrection. I hope you will follow the evidence where it leads! So how do you explain the evidence?

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

We love our conveniences and because they can be largely attributed to scientific progress, science has become the new priesthood. Yet their prevailing consensus for man’s destiny is a bleak one, death is final. The Bible tells a different story. Jesus Christ conquered death.  John’s gospel is unique in its theological discourse on the deity of Jesus Christ. Seven times Jesus is recorded as saying “I am” attached to a metaphor (Jn. 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:5). These seven statements provide a unique window in which to view the person of Jesus. The words “I am”, ego eimi in Greek, had an unambiguous connotation to Jesus’ first century Jewish audience. When Moses first encountered Yahweh in the burning bush, he was given a mission to bring his people out of Egypt. Moses balked asking God, “who he would say had sent him?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’ ” (Ex 3:14).  The “I am” statements by Jesus are nothing short of a claim to be that voice in the bush. Fortunately, whenever modern higher criticism casts doubt upon Jesus’ claim to divinity, the Pharisees faithfully come to the rescue. For they had no doubts that Jesus was claiming to be the “I am” of the Torah. This is beyond question as they subsequently attempt to stone him for blasphemy (Jn. 5:17-18, 8:58-59). Of the famous seven “I am” statements found in the gospel of John, I believe the fifth, “I am the resurrection and the life” is the most explicit proclamation of Jesus’ power and deity.

The context of this astonishing statement is last of the great sign miracles discussed in the fourth gospel, near the end of Jesus public ministry. We learn that Jesus friend Lazarus is ill. The home of Lazarus was in Bethany, near Jerusalem (Jn. 11:1, 30; 12:1), located south east of the Mount of Olives.[1] Jesus was a close friend of the family. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is identified as the one who anointed the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair (cf. Jn.12:3). This unforgettable act will be retold in eternity as both Mark (Mk.14:9) and Matthew (Mat.26:13) immortalize.[2] In fact, Jesus was likely a frequent guest (Matt. 21:17; Lk. 10:38–41; Jn. 11:17). The sister’s message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” also reveals the close relationship. It employed the word phileo meaning “to love as friend.”[3] His personal affection for the family was shared, evidenced when speaking to the disciples Jesus also called Lazarus “our friend” (Jn.11:11).

In light of Jesus close relationship and the urgency of the request, Jesus’ response seems all the more perplexing at first. They were at least a day’s journey from Bethany and the disciples, like the sisters, were afraid that Lazarus might die. Dr. Towns thinks that perhaps Lazarus had already expired by the time Jesus received the message.[4] The sequence of events does make it likely.  Jesus foreshadows the imminent miracle when he replies that the end result would not be what it appeared. He said, “This sickness will not end in death”, rather that God would “be glorified” (Jn. 11:4). This seems alien to our human experience because of our temporal perspective. We are bound in time. In contrast, God as an eternal omniscient spirit has providentially ordained events and circumstances apart from our ability to perceive or conceive. Pointing to this reality, Jesus had made a similar comment concerning the blind man he previously healed.  When he was asked whose sin had caused the man’s disability, Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). Indeed, it seems as if at times God wants to remove all plausible deniability to a sign miracle. For instance, before calling down fire from heaven, Elijah had the priests of Baal pour water on the firewood (1 Ki. 18:33).  For this reason, instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side, Jesus stayed where he was for two days longer.

Jesus then tells the disciples that Lazarus has merely fallen asleep and that he is going to waken him. Obtuse as ever, they reply, “he will recover” (Jn.11:12).  Finally Jesus drops the euphemism and tells them “plainly,” or “with boldness” (Greek parrēsia̧), that Lazarus is dead (Jn.11:15). Driving divine providence home, Jesus says he is actually glad he was not there so that they would believe. Death is the great unknown and arguably the primal fuel for all human anxiety. Morris writes, “As far as men were concerned, the position of Lazarus, who had been in the grave four days, was hopeless.”[5] Even more, Jesus wants to risk stoning by going the way of Jerusalem. I sometimes think that Thomas was the scientist of the group because he is famous for demanding to see the evidence for himself. In step with his skeptical predisposition, he speaks for the hopelessness of the natural man’s temperament when he laments, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn.11:16).

Jesus finally arrives only to find a scene of mourning and sorrow. I believe Jesus tears (Jn. 11:25) are really over the general state of unbelief he encounters even amongst his closest friends. By this point, it had been four days since Lazarus died. To bolster my argument that God seeks to dispel plausible deniability, I contend the four days were by skillful design:

There was a well-known Jewish belief (attested from about a.d. 200) that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body “hoping to reenter it” for three days, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed. John wants us to know clearly that Lazarus is truly dead and that the miracle of Jesus cannot be construed as a resuscitation.[6]

Martha went out to meet Jesus and bemoaned his delayed arrival. When Jesus replied that Lazarus would rise, she acknowledges that she is a believer in the ultimate resurrection on the last day. This alludes to the fact the Jews really did not have a category for individual resurrections. The Jewish doctrine was largely based on the general resurrection of the dead in Daniel 12:2, which we now know occurs after the Parousia and is expounded on in Revelation chapter 20. It is at this point that Jesus delivers the great statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26).  Dr. Towns writes that, “Martha had expressed her faith in the resurrection as a principle, but Jesus now reveals the resurrection as a person.”[7] Even more, Jesus is not only pointing to his own future resurrection but also to his deity, for he even claims to be life itself. Never disappointing, Jesus delivers Lazarus, grave clothes and all, providing evidence that death is not final. A truth he expands upon and confirms with his own triumph over the grave.

The hopeless absurdity of modern man is best encapsulated by the belief that death is the cessation of being. The scientific consensus is one of philosophical naturalism and materialistic reductionism. We humans are merely bodies and brains, the products of random unguided forces. If it’s true there is necessarily no real meaning or ultimate significance to life and certainly no final justice. Despite this pathetic flee from ultimate accountability, I believe most people intuitively know better. It is only by burying oneself under heaps of rationalistic denial and Darwinian obfuscations that one arrives at such a pitiful worldview. Our thought life and nightly excursions into the dream state speak to a deeper metaphysical truth, even to children. Science is still mystified by the life force albeit all of its fortuitous accomplishments. We have a sense of our immaterial self which is greater than unintentional chemical reactions. This is only adequately explained by the idea that we spiritual beings having a material experience. Genesis records, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Ge 2:7).  Life is breathed by God. Jesus’ fifth “I am” statement is a claim to be one and the same.

[1]Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 3, H-L, (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 1009.

[2]Gerald L. Borchert, vol. 25A, John 1-11, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1996), 349.

[3] Elmer Towns. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 106.

[4] Towns, John, 106.

[5] Leon Morris. Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John. (Grand Rapids MH: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989), 38.

[6]Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 315.

[7] Towns, John, 109.

Why Eschatology Matters Part Two

Flashback to Daniel

continued from Part 1

This begs the question,  “What were they expecting that made them so sure Jesus was not the Messiah?” They knew the scriptures better than anyone. After all, some of the Pharisees could even boast having memorized the entire Torah! To answer this question, I think it is important that we take a look at the foundation of all Biblical eschatology, Daniel. Daniel was written by a Hebrew captive while in exile to Babylon beginning in 605 BCE. Recall Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:1) of a great statue that predicted four kingdoms which were represented by the four metals composing the statue.  The most important feature is that at the end of the dream the statue is destroyed by a great stone (Dan. 2:44-45). This is what the Jews were expecting then (and now) and this is what Christians understand to be the promise of the Second Advent. Because of the mention of King Belshazzar, Nabonidus’ son and co-regent, we can determine that the book moves chronologically from chapters one to six and then at chapter seven backs up in time to a point somewhere before chapter five. What is important is that Daniel’s vision in chapter seven parallels the dream in chapter two albeit, as I will argue below, from the divine perspective rather than a human perspective.

In biblical prophecy a “vision” is frequently the vehicle employed by God to reveal the future to His prophets. Whether earthbound or through mystical ascension to heaven, apocalyptic visions serve as means to encourage God’s people that the kingdom of God will certainly come. Usually the symbolic images are interpreted to the visionary by an angel. The ancients recognized both dreams and visions but frequently used the terms interchangeably.[i] If one accepts the inspiration of scripture, an apocalyptic vision should be interpreted as what the prophet actually saw not merely a genre of literature. Daniel chapter seven begins with the prophet lying in bed and seeing “a dream and visions of his head” (v.1). Scholars universally agree that this vision parallels the four kingdoms from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter two.[ii] However, between chapters two and seven there is a juxtaposition of imagery that speaks to a divine commentary on the vainglory of man.

Daniel saw four great beasts rise out of the sea that later we are told represent “four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (Dan 7:17). Conservative scholars unanimously agree that the kingdoms are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.[iii] While there are alternate interpretations, postulating Babylon, Median, Persia, Greece, I believe that only those bent by anti-supernatural bias relegate the vision to the Maccabean era by late dating the text and ascribing pseudepigraphical status. They must violate the historical record by splitting Medo-Persia into two separate empires. They then proceed to violate holy inspiration by assigning the fourth beast to the Greek Empire. They make the book a clever forgery. Because Jesus himself authenticated Daniel as the author (Mat. 24:15) this is a non starter for true Christians.

Due to my own first principles, I dismiss such biased conjecture outright. However, I will demonstrate that the traditional view is coherent with prophetic symbolism and the historical record, while the liberal critic’s position appears ad hoc and disingenuous. I also agree with H.A. Ironside, who commenting on the parallel with the chapter two statue dream writes, “In what we have already gone over we have been chiefly occupied with prophetic history as viewed from man’s standpoint; but in the second half of the book we have the same scenes as viewed in God’s unsullied light.”[iv] Daniel’s vision is illustrative of God’s view of imperialism. Contemplate the kingdom values expressed by Christ in His sermon on the mount. Then consider Nebuchadnezzar when Daniel first encountered him: proud, fierce, and ambitious. How aggrandizing it was to be represented as a head of pure gold. And isn’t this the way of us all apart from the grace of God?

The first beast that looked like a ferocious lion and represents Babylon corresponds to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden head. However, in this second vision additional details make for an apt description of Nebuchadnezzar himself. In view of chapter four’s events, the tearing off of the beast’s wings seems to symbolize Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling. When the lion-like beast is given the heart of a man, his restoration and testimony about God come to mind. The parallel is compelling. On a more earthbound note, in Nebuchadnezzar’s time the Babylonian Ishtar Gate entrance was lined with yellow lions in relief on blue-glazed brick.[v] The winged lion of Babylon was a well established emblem. One would be hard pressed to find a more fitting symbol.

The second beast is a great blood-thirsty bear raised up on one side which represents the Medo-Persian Empire. The description is subtly appropriate for a federation in which one nation dominates the other. In fact, the historical record is clear that the Persian contingent did dominate the Median. The liberal view that this beast is Median singular fails in this regard. Furthermore, the bear is divinely commanded to devour three ribs, corresponding nicely with the major three conquests made by King Cyrus and his son Cambyses: the Lydian (546 BCE), Chaldean (539 BCE) and Egyptian (525 BCE).[vi] Chapter 6 of Daniel is very plain that the kingdom at that time was the kingdom of the “Medes and Persians” (vv. 8, 12, 15). Thus the book of Daniel itself states that this was the Medo-Persian Empire at this time.[vii] The Maccabean hypothesis is incoherent in light of the evidence. This level of correspondence with verifiable history authenticates the traditional interpretation and speaks to the prophetic veracity of the vision. Yet it is a ghastly bloody scene, far removed from the shining silver of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

The four-winged leopard with four heads represents the Greek empire won by Alexander the Great. Like a swift and agile leopard, Alexander was famous for his expeditious conquest of the known world. Of particular interest to the biblical perspective, Josephus records that Alexander had intended to destroy Jerusalem until he recognized the purple robed high priest from his own dream about conquering Asia. The priest handed him the scroll of Daniel,

And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; …He granted all they desired: and when they entreated him that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired:[viii]

Leniency aside, Alexander died at the young age of thirty-two leaving his four generals Antipater, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy to squabble over the empire. The biblical writers used the term “head” as a symbol for leadership and ruling authority and this neatly explains the leopard’s four heads. [ix] Again the traditional interpretation is supported by the data and the liberal view fails. Also we get a glimpse from the heavenly perspective, a carnivorous monster rather than the cast bronze of man-centered majesty.

The fourth and final terrible beast of Daniel’s night visions is one unlike any known creature. It corresponds to the iron legs, feet, and toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and represents Rome. Several details tie the statue and dreadful beast together. The legs of the statue are iron like the teeth of the animal. The animal has ten horns paralleled in the ten toes of the statue, presumably representing ten kingdoms. However, a unique element not present in the dream of the statue is introduced in the vision of the four beasts: the appearance of “another horn, a little one,” which replaced three of the horns of the last and terrible beast. While the horns and toes seem to be kingdoms, this eleventh horn has eyes like a man and supplants three others. This appears to be the first biblical reference to the individual later described in the New Testament as the Antichrist. Daniel’s vision is still contemporaneously prophetic to the twenty-first century!

As a believer I take a high view of inspiration and I feel compelled to make much out of the sharp contrast between the vision given to the godly prophet and the impious king. It runs deeper than first appearance. In chapter two the interpreter is a man, Daniel. In chapter seven the interpreter is a holy angel from the divine council scene. World history from man’s perspective is triumphal idolatry, while from God’s perspective it is beastly carnage. Miller admits “there may be truth to it.” [x] Walvoord concurs, “…world history from God’s standpoint in its immorality, brutality, and depravity.” [xi] In the economy of Jesus Christ where the meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5), it should not be dismissed as fanciful.

To be continued…

[i]Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1998), 217.

[ii]Stephen R. Miller, vol. 18, Daniel, Includes Indexes., electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1994), 192.

[iii] Miller, Daniel, 196.

[iv]Henry Allan Ironside, Lectures on Daniel the Prophet., 2d ed. (New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1953), 117.

[v]Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Daniel” In , in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 85.

[vi]Archer, “Daniel”, 86.

[vii]John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key To Prophetic Revelation (Galaxie Software, 2008; 2008), 148.

[viii]Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged, Includes Index. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Ant 11.337-338.

[ix] Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 368.

[x]Miller, Daniel, 218.

[xi]Walvoord, Daniel, 151.