- I would think a group of first century Jewish dissidents who had just had their leader executed would probably only have two viable choices:
a. They could entirely give up their movement. Indeed, the Gospels relate that was what most if not all of the apostles wanted to do. Among other things, they didn't have the emotional wherewithal to continue the movement.
b. Or they could find another leader to take their original leader's place. Maybe they'd have picked Peter. Although the Gospels portray Peter as feeling so dejected after lying about being a follower of Jesus and demonstrating his cowardice, and thus betrayal of Jesus, that being any sort of a leader was probably the farthest thing from his mind (and indeed Jesus had to restore Peter as the Gospel of John relates). Or maybe they'd have picked James who was Jesus' brother and who of course later did become a leader in the early church. But at this point Jesus' family including James didn't believe in him or his movement, as the Gospels tell.
I would think the last thing anyone would expect would be for the same group of dissidents to start telling everyone that their leader who had just been executed was still alive if they truly believed and knew he was dead. How unrealistic! I mean, who's gonna believe that kind of a message? It's not as if first century Jews didn't know what happened when people were crucified and killed. They knew people who were killed stayed dead. So telling everyone that their deceased leader whom they knew was dead was alive again would seem to strain credulity, to put it mildly.
Jason Engwer notes N.T. Wright argues much the same:
So far as we know, all the followers of these first-century messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called "cognitive dissonance" when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all. (Cited in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, edd., Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 183)
- But let's say the apostles did do precisely this. And let's say many of their fellow Jewish people did believe their message. Let's say the apostles and their message was now the talk of the town too. Jerusalem was abuzz with news that Jesus was alive again (even though he really wasn't). People were eager to hear more about this Jesus and his message from his followers. Thus the apostles had a huge and popular platform with the public.
I would think it'd be more likely than not that these first century Jews would be tempted to use such a platform to undermine Rome's authority over Israel in some way (maybe especially Simon the Zealot). Indeed, the Romans themselves seemed to have thought that's what the apostles were really trying to do with Jesus.
But instead the apostles used their platform to make their central message about turning away from one's sinful, rebellious life against God (not Rome) and trusting in Jesus as the true Lord God and Savior to justly forgive people for their sinful, rebellious life against God (not Rome). They didn't use their platform to deliver the message that people should disrespect the civil authorities, overthrow the Roman Empire, and so forth. In fact, they even asked people to respect the civil authorities.
After all, what else could realistically be the apostles' motivation for seeking to continue and expand their movement despite knowing that Jesus really was dead? What else could be their real intention, especially in light of the fact that they were forced against their will to live as otherwise innocent men being hunted down one by one by their fellow Jews and others? This might make for a good movie but hardly a good life!
- Of course, we read what Gamaliel said in Acts 5:34-39:
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Life on the run
Let's say Jesus really was a mere human and died on the cross. He wasn't raised from the dead.