In case you missed it, the third entry of this series on apologetics was about eye witnesses to Jesus’ ministry. Consider this entry part two of entry #3. This is also going to be about eye witnesses, but from a different vantage point. You see, those that claim that the disciples just “made up” the stories or were “just trying to control people” are ignorant about the religious climate of the day. Let’s dig in!
Let’s start with the men that were the closest to Jesus during his ministry. After His arrest, Peter famously denies knowing Him three times. A less discussed point on this matter is Peter denied knowing Him to a servant girl (Luke 22:54-62). He was afraid to tell a little girl what his position was (And if you’re going to tell stories like this, wouldn’t you leave the personally embarassing bits out???). Peter was afraid of what the authorities might do to him if they found out he was following Jesus.
Just a short time later, Jesus was executed. Of the 12 apostles, the only one present at the cross was John (John 19:26). The rest of them deserted Him and fled for their lives (Mark 14:50). Fast forward a few years later, and their attitudes had changed dramatically. All of them except John (not for lack of trying) were martyred.
The only apostle of the twelve to die a natural death was John, but not for lack of trying. He was boiled alive in oil and exhiled to die alone on an island. Even then, he was still serving Jesus. Something pretty spectacular must have happened for a group of men to go from running scared to proclaiming Christ unto death. That was the penalty for Christianity. Death.
In the previous entry, I introduced two names that are bound together in scripture. Luke, the author of two New Testament books was a physician and historian. He’s bound to Theophilus, a nobleman. This honorable man thought so much of Luke’s credentials, that he hired him to investigate the life of Christ and the explosive growth of the church. He wanted to know if the rumors about Christ were true. If they lived through being found out, these men had prestige to lose.
There’s a second couple bound by scripture that are important to make this point. Those men were Stephen, the first known Christian martyr, and Saul of Tarsus, a religious leader of the day. Saul sanctioned the stoning and death of Stephen. This is especially relevant because Stephen defied the Sanhedrin and Pharisees publicly and to their faces even though they had the authority to execute him, which they eventually did when they could tolerate his preaching no more (Acts 7:54-60).
In the following chapters of Acts, Saul gives up his nobility to serve Christ. Why would this man step down from a pedastal of high repute and subsequently lose his social stature? Why would he then go on to do the same things he had Stephen killed for? Why would he continue on this way after being beaten (Acts 22:24), stoned (Acts 14:19), shipwrecked (Acts 27:27 – Acts 28:5), imprisoned (Acts 16:16-40) and put on house arrest (Acts 28:17-31)?
This man went on to contribute a sizeable portion of the New Testament preaching the same Christ he was slaughtering Christians over virtually overnight. So, what happened? Why did this man, a pharisee, well respected by his peers and feared by commoners, defect to the group of people he hunted down and imprisoned personally (Acts 8:1-3)?
This man spared man nor woman, but suddenly decided it appropriate to subject himself to the terrorism he himself inflicted on Christians. Why? Like all the other witnesses of the day, he met the resurrected Christ personally (Acts 9). It changed his life’s direction forever, until the day he too was finally beheaded for his faith.
Christians faced this hostility for another 300 years before Constantine put an end to it. That’s three centuries of crufixions, being fed to lions, being stoned and being lit up like tiki torches by the romans and STILL persisting. The accusation that the early church was making a power play is laughable at best and greviously insulting to the blood spilled at worst.
I’m going to stop here and point you to Acts 2. Peter here is preaching to the very people that had Jesus killed.
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