37 years after Jesus is crucified, the disciple he renamed, Peter, (a stone), writes his last letter to Christian believers, scattered about Asia Minor, which is now modern Turkey. He doesn’t have much time left for this world. He’s about to be crucified, upside down under a very mad Roman Emperor named Nero.
But in A.D. 67-68 he has one bold claim he to leave with this world: He was an eyewitness to the fact Jesus was crucified, died, and rose again on the third day. His fate is now sealed. He will imminently die a horrific martyr’s death for openly proclaiming:
“For we did not follow, cleverly invented stories, when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”
II Peter 1:16
Believing the Bible simply means you choose to accept someone’s eyewitness account. To remain creditable, the eyewitness accounts had to be recorded within what is called, “living memory.” The gospels (good news) were written in contemporary history– that is, written during the time while the eyewitnesses were still alive.
Although the first gospel doesn’t appear on the scene until almost 30 years after Jesus’ death, multiple eyewitnesses had retold their experiences many times over. This served only to strengthen the accuracy of their message without any embellishment. Many others, who were still alive, could have refuted their claims if the reports were not true. Also, if they wanted to refute an incident they knew exactly who to go to because the gospels give us their names- Martha, Mary, Lazarus, etc.
The gospel accounts are a pluralistic. Peter wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty…we ourselves heard this voice…from heaven.” The Bible is intriguing because unlike the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, one is not asked to naively believe in the eyewitness account of exclusively one person.
In contrast, here is a direct quote from an Islamic web-site introducing how the Quran came about:
The word “Quran” comes from the Arabic verb, qara’a meaning “to recite”, “to read”. According to Mohammed, the command given to him, by Gabriel three times in the cave of Hira was “to qara’a” or read. Mohammad replied, “What shall I read”? Thus, the word for Mohammad’s revelation is known as the Quran .The words in the Quran are linked to the 23-years of Mohammad’s call, from A.D. 610 to his death in 632. The revelations, in the Quran, according to Islam are from an identical book located in Heaven, revealed through the angel Gabriel. Truthnet.org
In the Bible multiple eyewitnesses come forth. The New Testament initially begins with not just one, but four evangelists who utilize eyewitness accounts. I always smile when I hear someone quoting from their alleged “Holy Book. I think to myself, “They are relying on the informational source of only one man. I have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!”
Luke 1:1-4, opens by revealing what the main criteria in the gospel writing it:
“Since…many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished in and among us. Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning [of Jesus’ ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word…It seemed good and desirable to me…also have searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first. To write an orderly account for you… [My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed…”
In contrast, Mohammad received his dictations from the angel Gabriel, between: A.D. 610-632. But more than 500 years prior,( 20 some years after Jesus’ crucifixion), Paul, the sent one, forewarned the church to never listen to only one man who tries to change the eyewitness accounts of the gospels; especially if they claimed they received it from an angel. He forewarned with these words:
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we preached to you, he is to be accursed! “ Galatians 1:8-9
Did Jesus actually die on the cross? The Bible says, “Yes.” The Quran says, “No.” Here is a direct quote from the Quran:
”That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah“;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:–“
Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157-158
What is more reliable, the eyewitness report of one man claiming he received it from an angel or the reports of over 500 at one time? Paul, the apostle, (the sent one) backs up his claims by citing the existence of over 500 eyewitnesses:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died… according to the scriptures, and he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day…and that he appeared to Cephas, then, to the twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all to me also…” Paul also wrote in the time of, “contemporary history,” when most of the eyewitnesses were, still alive. Again, both the Quran, and The Book of Mormon, were written by only one author and both claimed to receive their messages from an angel. They were also written 100’s of years after the events they claim occurred.
Is There any Historical Textual Evidence for Jesus’ Existence? There are over 42 sources within 150 years after Jesus’ death which mention his existence and record many events of his life. Here are nine Secular Sources: Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar-Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallus.
The following quote is taken from the famous historian, Josephus referring to the resurrection of Christ: “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous… Pilate condemned him to be crucified and die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive.”
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, however, did not endeavor to solely present history; but to present the gospels in such a way that we, with them, would be drawn into the same dilemma to figure out who exactly this Jesus is. The gospels make us face what they faced. They confront us with the report of miracles, with the words from the Sermon on the Mount, and also with what one author, F.F. Bruce, would appropriately title, “The Hard Sayings of Jesus.”
But at bay and the crux of it all is an incident sited by the three synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke share this account: “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’”
The four gospel accounts confront us with a strange alien figure they themselves found unsettling and mysterious. Each one, in its own distinctive way, is written to help us crack the code, to see our world view in a way in which we’ve never seen it before and so to be able to answer for ourselves the question Jesus posed, “Who do you say, I am?” Will we ponder… and hesitate? Or, like Peter, answer emphatically, “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God.”
Christianity came into a world controlled by the Cult of Caesar in which the emperor was to be worshipped as god. Its “good news” was that Caesar, the son of god, was now the lord of the whole world, claiming allegiance from everybody in return for bringing salvation and justice to the world. Resistance was met with crucifixion. The system was based on sheer power.
The gospels come along and finger the kingdom of Christ as a greater force and power to be reckoned with even than the Roman Empire. Resistance to it would not bring about a bodily death but an eternal death of the soul.
For instance, the term kurios meaning “Lord” was used as a divine tile for the emperor. The term huios theou, “son of god” was also used in the Cult of Caesar. Jesus claimed oneness with the God the Father (John 10:30). He said, “Before Abraham came into existence, I am” (John 8:58). He claimed to be the Son of God (John 9:35-38).
At least eight of the emperors insisted on being called, “savior of the world.” Thus the emperors were looked at as world-saviors. Muffling out the shouts of, “Hail Caesar,” Christianity infiltrated imperialistic Rome with this bold announcement: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Another term used by the emperors was “Pontifex Maximus,” high priest. Once again, the New Testament lobs a spiritual hand grenade in the middle of not only Judaism, but also imperial Rome, by saying, “We have a great high priest Who has passed into the heavens, Jesus the son of God…for we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses: but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us come therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). The Roman emperor was Pontifex Maximus, a high priest upon the throne of Caesars. But Jesus, as Lord, is high priest upon a throne of grace.
The emperor also used the title, basileus, “king” and many would refer to themselves as, “King of kings.” Jesus’ last living disciple will write in 90 A.D., “He [Jesus] is dressed in a robe dipped in blood…on his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16). Before this, a converted Jew, named Paul of Tarsus, who was beheaded by Nero, also claimed Jesus’ lordship when he wrote: “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess…Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).
Another expression, also commonly used in the Cult of Caesar was, “friend (philos) of the emperor.” By contrast, Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you…” (John 15:14). John, the disciple brings us into the court with Jesus on trial. We hear the words of his accusers to Pilate, “If you let this man go you are not Caesar’s friend” (19:12). We too are on the jury and must make a decision. Are we for Jesus or against him? Is he our friend or are the Caesars of this world? This is not an open and shut case. We are made to listen to Jesus’ accusers, skeptics and critics. Last of all we are asked to listen to his followers. We must make the choice who to believe.
John is the only disciple who followed Jesus all the way to the foot of his cross. He alone records the last loud screeching cry of Jesus from the cross: “Tetelestai” “It is finished.” The word picture of their day was the same as our rubber stamp when it says “Paid in Full.” After this, John witnesses a Roman soldier take his spear and thrusts it in Jesus’s side “…and immediately blood and water came out.” John interjects his recollection with these words: “The eyewitness to these things has presented an accurate report. He saw it himself and is telling the truth so that you, also, will believe.” (The Message John 19:35) The verdict now is up to you. The eyewitnesses have made their case. Is it thumbs up for Jesus or thumbs down? Who do men say, I, the Son of Man, am? Who do you say, I am? * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(Send your prayer requests to Paul: firstname.lastname@example.org)