Whether someone already believes that Jesus is the Christ or not, the Gospel writers depicted Jesus expecting people to believe in him. One of the ways that the Gospels present Jesus expecting His followers to believe is by his resurrection from the dead.
Jesus’s Reaction to Unbelief
Jesus wanted others to believe because of those who witnessed him risen from the dead. When Jesus rose from the dead, he rebuked his disciples for not believing the witnesses of Mary Magdalene and two other disciples in the country (Mark 16:9–14). The Gospel of Mark records, “Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (16:14 ESV). According to the long ending of Mark, Jesus expected his closest disciples to believe without having to see him. He expected them to believe upon the evidence of two or three witnesses.
The Disciples’ Mission
Why would Jesus expect anyone to believe upon reports from a few witnesses?
According to the Gospels, Jesus sent out the disciples commanding, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15; cf. Matt 28:19). The disciples’ mission was to testify as witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection to the world (Luke 24:48–49). How can the disciples expect others to believe their reports that Jesus rose if they will not believe by the same evidence? Furthermore, because Jesus wanted people to believe, he revealed himself according to the legal standard of evidence. That standard remains a legal maxim today. Jesus recognized that the testimony of two or three witnesses confirms an event (John 8:17; cf. 5:30–47). This is why Jesus revealed himself first to his disciples by witnesses who saw him.
Critics Admit Experiences of Jesus Risen
Secular scholars recognize that doubting disciples and bias unbelievers experienced Jesus risen from the dead. Critical academics find that Saul of Tarsus did persecute the church and yet he came to believe because he experienced Jesus risen from the dead. Paul’s conversion happened about AD 32–33 less than three years after Jesus’s death. In AD 54, Paul recorded the early gospel message that he received and previously delivered to others among the churches. First Corinthians 15:1–11 records this early Christian confession from AD 30 affirming the Gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
As a critical scholar and agnostic, Bart Ehrman presented mainstream critical scholarship reporting,
Paul came to know about Jesus within just a year or, at most, two of his death. Paul too preserves traditions that stem from the early period of his Christian life, right after his conversion around 32–33 CE. […] Paul claims to have visited with Jesus’s closest disciple, Peter, and with his brother James three years after his conversion, that is around 35–36 CE. Much of what Paul has to say about Jesus, therefore, stems from the same early layer of tradition that we can trace, completely independently, in the Gospels.
Ehrman had previously summarized,
Moreover [than oral traditions], the information about Jesus known to Paul appears to go back to the early 30s of the Common Era, as arguably some of the material in the book of Acts. The information about Jesus in these sources corroborates as well aspects of the Gospel traditions, some of which can also be dated back to the 30s to Aramaic-speaking Palestine.
Paul also recounted his meetings with the apostle Peter and Jesus’s brother James (Gal 1:18–21). James was another bias opponent who converted after experiencing Jesus risen and became a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul implied that Jesus’s brothers became preachers (1 Cor 9:5). However, before this, Jesus’s four brothers were unbelievers until they experienced Jesus risen (Mark 3:13–21, 31; 6:3–4; John 7:1–5). Paul’s records contain source material that confirms the conversions of himself and Jesus’s brothers. Paul, James, and Jesus’s brothers are bias witnesses who came to believe, because they experienced Jesus risen from the dead. Furthermore, Paul also noted hundreds who were mostly still living who also experienced Jesus risen from the dead — even five hundred at one time (1 Cor 15:6). The church began because hundreds of witnesses experienced appearances of Jesus bodily risen from the dead. The church exists today as evidence of this event.
How the Witnesses Experienced Jesus Risen
The first witnesses would not have likely perceived Jesus’s resurrection as a strong feeling, a phantom spirit, or a vision so not as an hallucination, but they experienced Jesus as bodily raised from the dead. No one would have considered claims of Jesus’s resurrection because some experienced a vision, spirit, or feeling since people can experience these about anyone who has died. The definition of resurrection does not allow this. Danker and Gingrich’s lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines the word anastasis, αναστασις, to mean “Resurrection of the dead” (BDAG 13). As N. T. Wright observed, Jesus’s rising was a bodily rising from the dead. Furthermore, the church could not have begun as a movement if some saw visions, encountered a spirit, or felt a presence. People have claimed and experienced these before and these are not resurrection.
Jesus Predicted His Resurrection
The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus repeatedly predicted that he would suffer until he died and yet he would rise on the third day (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34). Critical scholars recognize that Jesus most likely made these predictions. For instance, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The details of Jesus’s prediction reveal that Jesus warned his disciples to pray that this event will not happen in winter; although, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the late summer according to another eyewitness Josephus (Mark 13:18). Likewise, Matthew 28:11–15 contains source material of an early polemic against Jesus’s disciples, and this accusation admits that soldiers guarded Jesus’s tomb because Jesus predicted his resurrection.
Believing via Preexisting Scripture
Besides his own predictions, Jesus expected his disciples to believe the Old Testament Scriptures and its predictions (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47). Without even perceiving that the Scriptures are from God, one can recognize that these predictions preexisted Jesus’s coming in the flesh as affirmed by the preexisting record of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, and the New Testament records. There are numerous predictions of the Messiah, the Christ (Psa 22; 110; Isa 9:6–7; 53). Within these ancient predictions, Psalm 16 of David was a known resurrection psalm to the Jews. This psalm described that God would neither leave his soul in the place of death nor allow his holy one to see decay (cf. Hos 6:2). Isaiah 53 described the Suffering Servant who would die as an offering for his people’s sins, have a grave with the wicked and a rich man, and then God would prolong his days.
Apostolic Evidence for Jesus’s Resurrection
When the apostles went out preaching the Gospel, Peter’s message in Jerusalem and Paul’s message in another country consisted of the same evidence. That evidence was that the prophets predicted the Messiah’s resurrection, Jesus’s tomb was found empty, and witnesses experienced Jesus risen (Acts 2:29–31; 13:29–37). That is the evidence that Jesus rose and that evidence remains today.
A Heart to Believe Jesus’s Resurrection
Why did Jesus’s disciples not immediately believe? Jesus rebuked his disciples for not believing the initial witnesses and predictions because of their hardness of heart (Mark 16:14). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus declared to the two on the road to Emmaus that they were slow of heart because they did not believe via the women’s report of the empty tomb and the Scriptures (Luke 24:24–27).
The Unbelieving Heart
John’s Gospel recorded Jesus’s words:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:18–21)
The writer of Hebrews noted, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb 3:12).
The Honest Heart
What kind of heart must someone have to believe? That person needs a heart that will repent and seek out God’s will. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declared, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). Jesus expressed, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
God loves you. May God bless you all.
- Scott J. Shifferd, “The Standard of Evidence, the Burden of Proof, and the Bible,” <Godsbreath.net/2012/11/26/standard-of-evidence-and-the-bible/> (2012).
- Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, (New York: HarperOne, 2012), Kindle edition, ch. 5, “Two Key Data for the Historicity of Jesus.”
- Nicholas Thomas Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
- Craig A. Evans, “Mark,” ECB, eds. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) 1065.
- Scott J. Shifferd, An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark, <Academia.edu/19927008/An_Introduction_to_the_Gospel_of_Mark> (2015).