What Is Christianity?
Christianity is a religious movement that recognizes the divine identity of Jesus of Nazareth and embraces the teachings of Jesus and the early, apostolic church. Jesus was born during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus and he was crucified about A.D. 30. Christians believe that the advent or arrival of Jesus on earth was the work of Almighty God, who was carrying forward his plans and purposes for the world. The advent of Jesus into the world represents the gracious intervention of God that has brought his salvation to a lost and alienated humanity. It is believed that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, performed many signs and miracles, was crucified and buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day. According to Christian teaching, Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah (the Christ) and the Savior of the world.
Because of the historical reality of Jesus and the extraordinary nature of his character, his miracles, his teachings, and his claims concerning himself, there was a response of faith. Because of the amazing and unprecedented qualities of Jesus, the Christian movement and the church (the Christ-confessing community) came into existence. In fact, the evidence for Jesus being of heavenly origin and the agent of God was so impressive that the Christian movement could not but otherwise develop and flourish. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and ultimately the entire collection of New Testament documents, were written in response to the unusual and amazing qualities of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians are followers of Jesus Christ and look to the Holy Bible, epecially the New Testament, as the standard for their beliefs, values and conduct.
Jesus is not a legendary figure or the invention of the human mind. Why would the evangelists–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–write about Jesus with exacting detail as eyewitnesses if Jesus did not exist or if nothing significant really happended? Because the historical witness to Jesus and the reliability of the New Tesament documents is both extensive and impressive, Jesus can be known with certainty and confidence.
Who is Jesus Christ?
According to the Bible, Jesus claimed that he was the Son of God, that he was sent from God and that he should be worshiped as God. He said that he had the power to forgive sins and taught that he alone was the way to enter the kingdom of God and receive the gift of eternal life. In light of these claims, Jesus cannot be viewed as just a good teacher or a great prophet. He was not simply a moral philosopher or a radical rabbi advocating unprecedented and superior ethics. Jesus was either the Lord–the unique, heaven-sent Son of God–or he was a liar or a lunatic. Jesus was either the person he claimed to be or he was an imposter and fraud.
The bodily resurrecction of Jesus from the dead is an undeniable fact of ancient history. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he woulf have been viewed as a liar and false messiah and the Christian faith would not exist today. No one ever made the claims that Jesus made and verified those claims the way Jesus proved them. Can other religions say that they are founded upon a person whose predictions concerning his own death and resurrection happened exactly the way he said it would happen? If Jesus is who he claimed, then he is the Son of God and all that he taught must be true and taken seriously.
What is the evidence for the resurrection?
The case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is overwhelming. First, the empty tomb is evidence for the resurrection. Skeptics contend that the women who visited the tomb early on the first day of the week went to the wrong tomb. However, Jesus was buried in a private garden and not in a huge cemetary with numerous graves. The women saw for themselves where Jesus was buried. Other skeptics assert that Jesus’ disciples stole the body of Jesus and fabricated the resurrection story. But when Jesus was crucified and buried, even his own disciples did not yet believe in the resurrection. They were afraid of the religious authorities and were in hiding, fearing for their own lives. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the disciples would go forth into the world to proclaim a resurrected Jesus and risk persection and martyrdom for preaching what they knew was a lie. People do not die for a lie. They will die for what they believe to be the truth. Still other skeptics argue that Jesus did not rise from the dead in a literal sense or with a real physical body. They believe Jesus simply rose in the hearts and minds of his followers and that Jesus “lives on” in the psyche of his followers. This attempt to discredit the resurrection fails to acknowledge that in Jesus’ day, the concept of resurrection was viewed as a physcial, bodily resurrection. The idea of a mystical or abstract resurrection would have been unintelligible to the contemporary audience. This view of an abstract resurrection fails to account for the bodily appearances of Jesus to his followers. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, why was the tomb empty? What happended to the body of Jesus?
Second, the appearances of Jesus to his disciples and others is evidence for the resurrection. Jesus appeared alive after his crucifixion and burial on numerous occasions. The disciple named Thomas was himself a skeptic until he saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes and felt his body with his own hands. The disciples were commissioned by Jesus to go forth and preach the good news of Jesus Christ as eyewitnesses of his resurrection. There would have been no good news to preach if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Furthermore, if the disciples were not eyewitnesses of the resurrection, the message they announced would not have been taken seriously or regarded as credible.
Third, the dramatic transformation in the lives of the disciples is evidence for the resurrection. When Jesus died, the disciples became sorrowful and despondent. They were overtaken with a spirit of “doom and gloom.” These disciples were thrilled to have been with Jesus and to witness his extraordinary works and to hear his superior teaching. The disciples believed Jesus certainly had “the kingdom and the power and and the glory.” But when Jesus was executed all this euphoria vanished. The only incident or event that can account for these discouraged disciples going forth as bold, confident and fearless preachers of Jesus Christ is the resurrection. These disciples really saw Jesus alive and were thus empowered and energized to proclaim Christ with a passion.
Fourth, the conversion and exploits of the Apostle Paul is evidence for the resurrection. This Paul, also called Saul of Tarsus, persecuted the church and took pleasure in putting Christians in prison. He rejected the notion that Jesus was the Messiah and thought he was serving God by opposing Christianity. Yet Paul had a dramtic conversion and became the church’s most intense and ardent supporter of Christianity. His evangelistic campaigns took him to Asia Minor and Greece and beyond. He may have travelled as many as 13,000 miles to proclaim Jesus Christ. What could possibly account for such a change in this man’s life? The answer is obvious. He really did have a personal encounter with the risen, living Jesus and actually saw him alive as he claims.
Fifth, the existence of the Christian church for almost 2000 years and the transformation of countless thousands of lives by the Gospel is evidence for the resurrection. Christianity made such an impact in the ancient pagan world that by the fourth century emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, making it the official religion of the empire. Extraordinary numbers of people through the centuries have believed the good news of Jesus and his resurrection and have been dramactically changed as a consequence. Christians have weathered intense persecution, taken the Gospel to the far ends of the earth and have submitted their lives to the leadership and lordship of Jesus Christ, often against the grain of cultural norms. What can possibly account for this extraordinary Christian movement if Jesus is not who he claimed to be?