Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Part 3 of "The Timing & Significance of the Rapture"

Question 3: Why is it Critical that the Church Understand the Doctrine of the Rapture?

Now that we’ve seen what happens to us, where we’ll be and some of what we’ll be doing in Heaven after the Rapture, we need to reflect carefully on what all of this means for us as children of God now, in our life before the Rapture. Why is it so crucial for the Church to understand fully this great doctrine? The answer is enlightening, and encouraging.

Our Mind is to be set on Things Above

A Christian who is maturing daily in a close and personal relationship with Jesus will begin to find themselves naturally living their entire life, every moment, in the immediate expectancy of His imminent return, which is initiated by this ecstatic event that has come to be known as the Rapture. Not only do we need to know this event thoroughly, we should be living for its outcome and in joyful anticipation of its transcendent climax. The Rapture transports us to the moment of our glorification in Jesus Christ, into His presence forever. Moreover, the Rapture declares the soon coming of God’s Kingdom on the earth, and its King, Jesus, reigning in justice and righteousness. If you are not living to be glorified in Christ and for the establishment of God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven, then what are you living for? Prayerfully consider that the New Testament believers were living for Jesus’ return, as abundantly reflected in the writings of the apostles and the words of the Lord.

The following verses are just a sample of what is underlying the thrust of the whole New Testament. We see this anticipation and expectancy in the Gospels and in Acts, in Paul’s letters and the general epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, as well as the book of Hebrews.

So think clearly and exercise self-control and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (for the Church, that is the Rapture); as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:13-16).”

…looking for and hastening (the Greek word is speudo, “to desire earnestly” –Thayer’s Lexicon) the coming of the day of God (2 Peter 3:12a)…

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7-8).

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28).

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

And through Paul, the Holy Spirit says again,

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (we are living lives looking for Jesus, and looking for His glorious appearing), (Jesus) who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you (Titus 2:11-15).

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (the wrath to come is God’s judgment of the world in the Great Tribulation and the final “Great White Throne” judgment of the unbelieving dead, both yet future to the Church Age) (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

…eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7b)…

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

So, how are we Christians to live in this present age? We are to live our lives looking to Jesus moment by moment as He “purifies for Himself His own special people,” and we should be looking for Jesus at the Rapture of the Church, eagerly waiting for Him to come from Heaven because He brings our blessed hope, our glorification in Him! We are to be resting our hope fully upon Jesus and the grace that is to be brought to us at His revelation, earnestly desiring that day! The grace to be brought to us at His revelation is our glorification, our eternal life in Him and the measureless blessing of our God’s lovingkindness. Forgiveness is the removal of sin once counted against us, but grace is both God’s undeserved kindness toward us in His blessing and power for His Church today and His unending and unknowable blessings that He will pour out on us for all eternity!

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:2-4).

Why do we live our lives with our minds set on Jesus and looking for His return at any time? Because “when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” The closer we are getting to Jesus, the more we groan to be clothed in our new bodies and to be one with Him in glory.

Our Blessed and Living Hope

Let’s look now at Jesus’ own comments on our blessed hope. Most Christians know that Jesus promised His Church that He would come again for her one day, but sadly, some still do not know that He was referring to what we now know is the Rapture, the day of the Church’s great departure from this temporary, fading life and out of this fallen, dying world.

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (the Rapture takes us to Heaven, where we “appear with Him in glory”, Colossians 3:4). And where I go you know, and the way you know (John 14:2-6).

With this very statement in mind, among others, Peter said,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).”

Our eternal life, in and through and with Jesus, is our living hope (Paul called it our blessed hope). We have been born again to it by our God and Father who has, according to His abundant mercy, begotten us again to a hope that is alive. Our hope of glory is Christ, who is alive through His resurrection from the dead. Because He is alive, we too are alive to God by faith in Him. And our Father has a place for each of us in His house that Jesus is preparing for each of us that are His, an imperishable and undefiled inheritance that will never fade away. Jesus is coming again to receive us to Himself, that where He is, we may be also, a place reserved in Heaven for each of us.

In the verses from John 14, Jesus is speaking to His disciples only. We know they are representative of all of His followers in general because His return for them did not take place during the disciple’s lifetimes. When each of the disciples died, they certainly did go to be with the Lord in His house, in a “mansion” made just for them, as all Christians do who die prior to the Rapture. But, the Lord specifically said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Now, when the Lord returns at His Second Coming, at the end of the Tribulation, He is coming from Heaven to the earth, with the previously raptured and glorified Church, to establish God’s Kingdom on earth for His 1,000 year reign. So, Jesus’ promise in John 14, speaking of taking His followers out of the earth to their Heavenly mansions, must be speaking of the Rapture, not the Second Coming. His promise lines up perfectly with the verses on the Rapture that speak of believers being snatched out of the earth to be with the Lord always (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Today, as Jesus said, we know where He has gone and we know the way. And, we are kept by the power of God through faith for this salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Someone may ask, “How can I know the way?”

Jesus says to one and all the same, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14).”

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6-9).

In light of our daily, personal relationship with the Lord, how critical is it for the Church to understand and live in anticipation of this, the greatest of all moments?

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post: What About the Trinity?

In Defense of the Faith
—  An excerpt from In Defense of the Faith (pp. 56-60)  by  Dave Hunt

What About the Trinity?
Question: Christians generally believe in the Trinity, a “God” who is three Persons and yet one Supreme Being. But the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear even once in the Bible, which plainly declares that there is only one God, not three. How can you possibly justify a belief in the “Trinity” from the Bible?
Response: There are only two basic concepts of God: 1) pantheism/naturalism—that the universe itself is God; and 2) supernaturalism—that God or gods exist distinct and apart from the universe. We have already shown the folly of the first concept, which leaves us only with the latter. Within supernaturalism are two opposing views: 1) polytheism—that there are many gods (Mormons as well as Hindus are polytheists); and 2) monotheism—that there is only one God. We have shown that polytheism, too, has fatal flaws. Its basic problem is diversity without unity.

There are also two opposing views within monotheism: 1) the belief that God is a single personage, as in Islam and Judaism, which insist that Allah or Jehovah is “one,” meaning a single being. The same belief is also held by pseudo-Christian cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Oneness Pentecostals, who deny the Trinity and claim that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are God’s three “titles” or “offices.” Here, the fatal flaw is  unity without diversity.
The Necessity for Both Unity and Diversity
That God must have  both unity and diversity  is clear. The Allah of Islam, or the Jehovah of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews, or the God of unitarian “Christian” groups would be incomplete in Himself. He would be unable to love, commune, or fellowship before creating other beings capable of interacting with Him in these ways. The quality of love and the capacities for fellowship and communion, by their very nature, require another personal being with which to share them. And God could not fully share Himself except with another Being equal to Him. Yet the Bible says that “God  is  love” in Himself alone. This could only be true if God himself consisted of a plurality of Beings who were separate and distinct, yet one.

Although the actual word “Trinity” does not occur in the Bible, the concept is clearly expressed there. The Bible presents a God who did not need to create any beings to experience love, communion, and fellowship. This God is complete in Himself, existing eternally in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, individually distinct from each other yet at the same time eternally one. These three loved, communed, fellowshiped, and took counsel together before the universe, angels, or man were brought into existence.

In contrast, the god of Islam and contemporary Judaism could not  be  love in and of himself, for whom could he love in the solitude predating his creation of other personal beings? Such a deficiency in God would affect man, who is made in His image, at every level of his being.
Plurality and Singularity: Both Apply
The very first verse in the Bible presents God as a  plural  being: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” If God were a single personage, then the singular word for God,  Eloah,  would be used. Instead of the singular form, however, the plural,  Elohim,  which literally means  Gods,  is used. Yet a singular  verb, bara,  is used with  Elohim.  This  plural noun (Elohim)  is used for God more than 2500 times in the Old Testament and almost always with a singular verb, thus indicating both unity and diversity and both singularity and plurality in the God of the Bible. It was Elohim (Gods) who later in this first chapter of Genesis said, “Let  us  make man in  our  image, after  our  likeness” (verse 26).

At the burning bush God ( Elohim —literally  Gods)  said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM . . .” (Exodus:3:14). Here  Gods  speak but do not say, “We are that we are” but “ I AM THAT I AM.”  Nor is the word  Elohim  the only way in which God’s plurality is presented.

Consider, for example, Psalm:149:2 nkjv: “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker” (in the Hebrew, “makers”); Ecclesiastes:12:1: “Remember now thy Creator” (Hebrew, “creators”); and Isaiah:54:5: “For thy Maker is thine husband” (Hebrew, “makers” and “husbands”). Unitarianism has no explanation for this consistent presentation of both God’s unity and plurality throughout the Old Testament.

At the very center of Israel’s confession in Deuteronomy:6:4 of God’s oneness (known as the  shema ) is the plural form for God  (elohenu): “ Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” ( Shema yisroel adonai elohenu adonai echad ). The word used for “one,”  echad,  often means a unity of more than one. Were that not the intention, then  yachid,  which means a single and  absolute one,  would have been used. The word  echad  is used, for example, in Genesis:2:24, where man and woman become “ one  flesh”; in Exodus:36:13, when the various parts “became  one  tabernacle”; in 2 Samuel:2:25, when many soldiers “became  one  troop”; and elsewhere similarly.
The great Hebrew prophet Isaiah declared of the birth of the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor,  the mighty God, the everlasting Father . . .”  (Isaiah:9:6). Such a concept is found nowhere else in the world’s religious literature but is unique to the Bible: A Son would be born into this world who, though a man, would be the Mighty God. And though a Son, He would at the same time be the Everlasting Father.

Isaiah clearly presents the  deity  of Christ, the Fatherhood of God, and the oneness of the Father and the Son. All three Persons in the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are clearly seen in the following: “ . . . from the beginning . . . there am I; and now the Lord God and his Spirit hath sent me” (Isaiah:48:16). It could only be God who is speaking, this One who has been in existence from the beginning; yet He says that He has been sent forth by God and His Spirit. In the Trinity, two Persons are invisible (God the Father and the Spirit of God), while one is visible, the Son of God who became man.
Some Helpful Analogies
How can we fully understand this concept of three Persons, each separate and distinct (the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit) yet which are all encompassed by one God? We can’t. Critics argue that because the Trinity can’t be fully explained by human reasoning, it therefore cannot be true. Yet who can fully explain God even if He is only a single entity? No one. We can’t even explain the  human  soul and spirit, much less the Spirit of God, yet these terms are used repeatedly in the Bible.

We can, however, see analogies to the Trinity everywhere. The universe comprises three elements: space, time, and matter. The first two are invisible, but matter is visible. Each of these is itself divided into three: length, breadth, and height; past, present, and future; energy, motion, and phenomena. Length, breadth, and height are each separate and distinct from each other, yet they are one because each is the whole. The length takes in all of space, as do the width and height. So it is with time: past, present, and future are each distinct from one another, and yet each is the whole. And here again, two (past and future) are invisible while the present is visible.

Man himself, who is made “in the image of God” (Genesis:1:27; 9:6, etc.) is composed of three elements: body, soul, and spirit, of which again two (soul and spirit) are invisible and one, the body, is visible. The way man functions as a being also reflects the same analogy to the Trinity. We conceive something in our minds (invisible), perhaps a poem or a symphony; we express it in speech or writing or in music and it enters the present, visible world; it is then appreciated in the emotions, once again invisible.

We could offer more analogies, but these should be enough. There is no doubt that the Bible clearly presents three Persons who are distinct, yet each is God. At the same time, we repeatedly have the clear statement that there is only one true God. Christ prays to the Father. Is He praying to Himself? We are told, “The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John:4:14). Did He send Himself? Or did one “office” pray to and send a “title,” as the United Pentecostal Church would have us believe?

Christ said, “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself [on my own initiative], but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John:14:10); “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth” (John:14:16–17). Throughout the New Testament, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each separately honored and act as God, yet only in concert with one another.

Bibliographic details:


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Guest Post: Answers on Homosexuality for a Post-Christian Culture

As a result of my last post, “The Bible Says It's a Sin,” this question came up: How are we as Christians to respond to the growing influence of homosexuality in our culture? A good question and one we need to thoughtfully consider. In the past 20 years, we have seen a massive shift in attitudes toward the subject throughout most of the Western world, to the point that most Western governments support and even promote the gay agenda. This puts the Bible-believing Christian between the proverbial rock and a hard place: the "rock" being the Word of God and the "hard place" being the cultural insistence that any disapproval of homosexuality is the equivalent of racism, bigotry, and hatred, as well as a clear violation of human rights.

What's a believer to do? First, we need to make sure that we are not overemphasizing the sinfulness of homosexuality. The New Testament writers did not single out homosexual behavior as more sinful than adultery, fornication, idolatry, blaspheme, greed, hatred, or any other specific sins. Paul consistently placed homosexual behavior right alongside a variety of other sins (see Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10). One reason they didn't single it out was because homosexual sex was as common in the Roman world as it is becoming in ours. That has not been the case with us until recently, so we have tended to overreact to homosexuality more than to other sins. Some have thought that Paul identified homosexual sin as more sinful in the first chapter of Romans, but that is not the case. In verses 26-32, Paul is using homosexual behavior to illustrate the inevitable moral insanity and sexual perversity that follows when people, nations, cultures, and civilizations reject the true God.

Second, we must avoid making homosexuality the primary issue because it's not. The primary issue is sin, and we are all sinners and consequently condemned to damnation apart from Christ. A friend of mine was once approached by a gay man who said to him, "So, I guess you think I'm going to hell because I'm gay." My friend rightly responded, "You are going to hell not because you are gay, but because you are a sinner who refuses to come to Christ for forgiveness." It's true: the one and only sin that sends people to hell is the rejection of the Savior. People don't end up in hell because they are thieves or covetous or adulterers or haters or homosexuals but because they are sinners; those sins are simply the fruit of the root of sin. God's way of dealing with sin is to attack it from the root, and that's the way we are to deal with it as well. Therefore, just as we approach any other sinner who needs Jesus with love, grace, mercy, kindness, and courtesy, we do the same for those living the homosexual lifestyle.

Many who have come to Christ out of the gay lifestyle have shared with me that those who influenced them in their decision for Christ did so primarily through love and patience; they did not focus on the specific sin, but on sin in general. I'm a firm believer, as was Dr. Lloyd-Jones, that conviction over specific sins is better left to the Holy Spirit. When it comes to homosexuality, I think that we are oftentimes guilty of moralizing rather than true evangelizing. It's perverse, it's unnatural, it's wrong, you shouldn't be that way, we say. But the real issue, regardless of our specific sins, is, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18). Thus, the need for the gospel: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).

So, back to where I started in the previous post. If you are ever interviewed publicly or questioned privately about homosexuality, remember to communicate these points: The Bible says it is sin, but it’s a secondary issue. It is a symptom of man’s universal problem: that of being dead in our trespasses and sins. The only remedy is the salvation that comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Brian Brodersen wrote this article. He is the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa located in Costa Mesa, CA. Brian is married to Cheryl and they have four children, Kristyn, Char, Kelsey and Braden. Follow Brian on Twitter, @BrianBrodersen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Guest Post: The Resurrection of Jesus

by William Lane Craig
I spoke recently at a major Canadian university on the existence of God. After my talk, one slightly irate co-ed wrote on her comment card, “I was with you until you got to the stuff about Jesus. God is not the Christian God!”
This attitude is all too typical today. Most people are happy to agree that God exists; but in our pluralistic society it has become politically incorrect to claim that God has revealed Himself decisively in Jesus. What justification can Christians offer, in contrast to Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, for thinking that the Christian God is real?
The answer of the New Testament is: the resurrection of Jesus. “God will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.31). The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’ radical personal claims to divine authority.
So how do we know that Jesus is risen from the dead? The Easter hymnwriter says, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!” This answer is perfectly appropriate on an individual level. But when Christians engage unbelievers in the public square—such as in “Letters to the Editor” of a local newspaper, on call-in programs on talk-radio, at PTA meetings, or even just in conversation with co-workers—, then it’s crucial that we be able to present objective evidence in support of our beliefs. Otherwise our claims hold no more water than the assertions of anyone else claiming to have a private experience of God.
Fortunately, Christianity, as a religion rooted in history, makes claims that can in important measure be investigated historically. Suppose, then, that we approach the New Testament writings, not as inspired Scripture, but merely as a collection of Greek documents coming down to us out of the first century, without any assumption as to their reliability other than the way we normally regard other sources of ancient history. We may be surprised to learn that the majority of New Testament critics investigating the gospels in this way accept the central facts undergirding the resurrection of Jesus. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about evangelical or conservative scholars only, but about the broad spectrum of New Testament critics who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries. Amazing as it may seem, most of them have come to regard as historical the basic facts which support the resurrection of Jesus. These facts are as follows:
FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. This fact is highly significant because it means, contrary to radical critics like John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, that the location of Jesus’ burial site was known to Jew and Christian alike. In that case, the disciples could never have proclaimed his resurrection in Jerusalem if the tomb had not been empty. New Testament researchers have established this first fact on the basis of evidence such as the following:
1. Jesus’ burial is attested in the very old tradition quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15.3-5:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:
. . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
Paul not only uses the typical rabbinical terms “received” and “delivered” with regard to the information he is passing on to the Corinthians, but vv. 3-5 are a highly stylized four-line formula filled with non-Pauline characteristics. This has convinced all scholars that Paul is, as he says, quoting from an old tradition which he himself received after becoming a Christian. This tradition probably goes back at least to Paul’s fact-finding visit to Jerusalem around AD 36, when he spent two weeks with Cephas and James (Gal. 1.18). It thus dates to within five years after Jesus’ death. So short a time span and such personal contact make it idle to talk of legend in this case.
2. The burial story is part of very old source material used by Mark in writing his gospel. The gospels tend to consist of brief snapshots of Jesus’ life which are loosely connected and not always chronologically arranged. But when we come to the passion story we do have one, smooth, continuously-running narrative. This suggests that the passion story was one of Mark’s sources of information in writing his gospel. Now most scholars think Mark is already the earliest gospel, and Mark’s source for Jesus’ passion is, of course, even older. Comparison of the narratives of the four gospels shows that their accounts do not diverge from one another until after the burial. This implies that the burial account was part of the passion story. Again, its great age militates against its being legendary.
3. As a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention. There was strong resentment against the Jewish leadership for their role in the condemnation of Jesus (I Thess. 2.15). It is therefore highly improbable that Christians would invent a member of the court that condemned Jesus who honors Jesus by giving him a proper burial instead of allowing him to be dispatched as a common criminal.
4. No other competing burial story exists. If the burial by Joseph were fictitious, then we would expect to find either some historical trace of what actually happened to Jesus’ corpse or at least some competing legends. But all our sources are unanimous on Jesus’ honorable interment by Joseph.
For these and other reasons, the majority of New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”1
FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following:
1. The empty tomb story is also part of the old passion source used by Mark. The passion source used by Mark did not end in death and defeat, but with the empty tomb story, which is grammatically of one piece with the burial story.
2. The old tradition cited by Paul in I Cor. 15.3-5 implies the fact of the empty tomb. For any first century Jew, to say that of a dead man “that he was buried and that he was raised” is to imply that a vacant grave was left behind. Moreover, the expression “on the third day” probably derives from the women’s visit to the tomb on the third day, in Jewish reckoning, after the crucifixion. The four-line tradition cited by Paul summarizes both the gospel accounts and the early apostolic preaching (Acts 13. 28-31); significantly, the third line of the tradition corresponds to the empty tomb story.
3. The story is simple and lacks signs of legendary embellishment. All one has to do to appreciate this point is to compare Mark’s account with the wild legendary stories found in the second-century apocryphal gospels, in which Jesus is seen coming out of the tomb with his head reaching up above the clouds and followed by a talking cross!
4. The fact that women’s testimony was discounted in first century Palestine stands in favor of the women’s role in discovering the empty tomb. According to Josephus, the testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that it could not even be admitted into a Jewish court of law. Any later legendary story would certainly have made male disciples discover the empty tomb.
5. The earliest Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (Matt. 28.15) shows that the body was in fact missing from the tomb. The earliest Jewish response to the disciples’ proclamation, “He is risen from the dead!” was not to point to his occupied tomb and to laugh them off as fanatics, but to claim that they had taken away Jesus’ body. Thus, we have evidence of the empty tomb from the very opponents of the early Christians.
One could go on, but I think that enough has been said to indicate why, in the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist in the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”2
FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:
1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.
2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances. This is one of the most important marks of historicity. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.
3. Certain appearances have earmarks of historicity. For example, we have good evidence from the gospels that neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in him during his lifetime. There is no reason to think that the early church would generate fictitious stories concerning the unbelief of Jesus’ family had they been faithful followers all along. But it is indisputable that James and his brothers did become active Christian believers following Jesus’ death. James was considered an apostle and eventually rose to the position of leadership of the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late AD 60s. Now most of us have brothers. What would it take to convince you that your brother is the Lord, such that you would be ready to die for that belief? Can there be any doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, “then he appeared to James”?
Even Gert L¸demann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3
FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. Think of the situation the disciples faced after Jesus’ crucifixion:
1. Their leader was dead. And Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising, Messiah. The Messiah was supposed to throw off Israel’s enemies (= Rome) and re-establish a Davidic reign—not suffer the ignominious death of criminal.
2. According to Jewish law, Jesus’ execution as a criminal showed him out to be a heretic, a man literally under the curse of God (Deut. 21.23). The catastrophe of the crucifixion for the disciples was not simply that their Master was gone, but that the crucifixion showed, in effect, that the Pharisees had been right all along, that for three years they had been following a heretic, a man accursed by God!
3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world. All the disciples could do was to preserve their Master’s tomb as a shrine where his bones could reside until that day when all of Israel’s righteous dead would be raised by God to glory.
Despite all this, the original disciples believed in and were willing to go to their deaths for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar from Emory University, muses, “some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was . . . .”4 N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “that is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”5
In summary, there are four facts agreed upon by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects which any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ entombment by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
Now the question is: what is the best explanation of these four facts? Most sholars probably remain agnostic about this question. But the Christian can maintain that the hypothesis that best explains these facts is “God raised Jesus from the dead.”
In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts.6 The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:
1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
2. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
3. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
4. It is not ad hoc or contrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.
5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis.
Now this puts the sceptical critic in a rather desperate situation. A few years ago I participated in a debate on the resurrection of Jesus with a professor at the University of California, Irvine. He had written his doctoral dissertation on the resurrection, and he was thoroughly familiar with the evidence. He could not deny the facts of Jesus’ honorable burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. So his only recourse was to come up with some alternate explanation of those facts. And so he argued that Jesus of Nazareth had an unknown, identical twin brother, who was separated from him as an infant and grew up independently, but who came back to Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’ body out of the tomb, and presented himself to the disciples, who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead! Now I won’t bother to go into how I went about refuting this theory. But I think the example is illustrative of the desperate lengths to which scepticism must go in order to refute the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, the evidence is so powerful that one of the world’s leading Jewishtheologians, the late Pinchas Lapide, who taught at Hebrew University in Israel, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead!7
The significance of the resurrection of Jesus lies in the fact that it is not just any old Joe Blow who has been raised from the dead, but Jesus of Nazareth, whose crucifixion was instigated by the Jewish leadership because of his blasphemous claims to divine authority. If this man has been raised from the dead, then the God whom he allegedly blasphemed has clearly vindicated his claims. Thus, in an age of religious relativism and pluralism, the resurrection of Jesus constitutes a solid rock on which Christians can take their stand for God’s decisive self-revelation in Jesus.

1 John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 131.
2 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.
3 Gerd L¸demann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.
4 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.
5 N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.
6 C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 19.
7 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (London: SPCK, 1983).

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus#ixzz32ZMMIVYO

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Guest Post: Is "Heaven is for Real" for Real?

Is "Heaven Is for Real" for Real?: An Exercise In Discernment

Bibiographic details:

  • Page name: Is "Heaven Is for Real" for Real?: An Exercise In Discernment
  • Author: McMahon, T.A.
  • Publisher: The Berean Call
  • Site name: thebereancall.org
  • Date published: May 1, 2011
  • Date accessed: April 30, 2014
  • Link: http://www.thebereancall.org/content/heaven-real-real-exercise-discernment-0