Eye Witnesses

The Old Testament predicted that Israel would be sent a Messiah who would be executed (involving the piercing of his hands and feet) and be raised from the dead. The New Testament writings claim that Jesus was crucified and that he rose from the dead. Many of the people who wrote the New Testament books were eye witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus, they were his disciples. Why believe the New Testament writers?

The "tell it like it is" attitude of the disciples

It has already been shown that their accounts support each other. Another reason to trust their records is that they appear to be truthful in that they are a "warts and all" report of what happened, quite often showing themselves up in a poor light. The following examples demonstrate this point:

The Gospel of Mark reports that Jesus asked the Apostles,

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Mark 9:33-34, NIV

Matthew reports that just before Jesus was to be crucified he said:

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

Matthew 26:38-40, NIV

Peter's denial of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 26:69-75.

Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed.

Matthew 26:74, NIV

After the report of Jesus' resurrection by the eye witnesses, Thomas proclaimed:

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

John 20:25, NIV

This evidence highlights that the New Testament writers told the truth to their own detriment when they could have glossed over some of the embarrassing events.

The disciples report of Christ alive after the crucifixion

The following are various eye witness reports of Jesus being alive after his crucifixion...

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Mark 16:14, NIV

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

John 20:19-20, NIV

A week later, Jesus caught up with Thomas and said:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

John 20:27, NIV

Matthew reports that:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-17, NIV

The disciples proclaim that Jesus is alive in the face of adversity

Consider the case of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. They began their mission to inform the world that Jesus had risen from death at Jerusalem. They began their mission in the heart of the society which had been hostile enough to execute Jesus that had a full knowledge of recent events. This situation would make it impossible to deceive the audiences in Jerusalem. If their account had been false, it would have been virtually impossible to begin the work of convincing people that Jesus had risen by starting at Jerusalem.

The easiest way to introduce a change is to start with those who are most easily influenced. The hardliners are then more easily swayed by the weight of numbers. The disciples of Christ began their campaign by debating with the hardliners in the city where Jesus had been crucified. They must have had some convincing arguments.

The conversion of a hostile enemy

Jesus' followers remained steadfast in their insistence that Jesus was alive in the face of severe adversity. One of their adversaries was Saul of Tarsus. Shortly after the crucifixion of Christ, he was listening to Stephen (a believer in Jesus) recite the history of Israel up until Christ's death. The following words starting at Acts 7:51 are his concluding remarks and the crowds reaction:

"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him...

When they heard this, they were furious ... they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him...

And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.

Acts 7:51 - 8:2, NIV

The fanaticism of Saul is recorded in Acts 9. It shows that he was prepared to go out of his way to eliminate any who believed in Jesus:

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Acts 9:1-2, NIV

It was on his journey to Damascus that Saul had a change of heart which was caused by him seeing and speaking with Jesus:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Acts 9:3-5, NIV

This meeting with Jesus had a massive impact on Saul (who was later known as Paul). He turned from being a major persecutor of Jesus, to one of his major advocates:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

1 Corinthians 15:3-9, NIV

Paul's change of heart is remarkable. It was such that he became a persecuted believer. One would imagine that only an outstanding event would cause such a change. No doubt Paul's meeting with Jesus was outstanding enough to make the desired change. Paul must have been a severe embarrassment to the religious authorities of the day after his conversion.

What did the followers of Jesus stand to gain by spreading the news that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead? They received no money. They received no glory from the establishment. The Bible passages already quoted paint a graphic picture of the results of becoming a believer in Jesus in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus' death and resurrection.

It is evident that the leaders in Jerusalem were concerned about the Roman response to any form of civil uprising, John reports the sentiments which were partly responsible for their actions in executing Jesus...

If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

John 11:48, NIV

Is it co-incidence that the very thing that they were trying to protect was shortly taken from them?

With this level of concern about changing the status-quo and the actions that they took in an effort to keep a lid on things, it can be imagined that these leaders would take whatever steps they thought were necessary to quell the subsequent upheaval after Jesus crucifixion. The fact that they were prepared to send Saul to Damascus to arrest believers is an indication of this point. Another indication is that they arranged for Roman soldiers to guard the tomb of a dead man.

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead...

"Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Matthew 27:62-66, NIV

The proclamation of Jesus' resurrection happened within days of his death. Linking the fact that the leaders would do whatever was required to quell Christianity, why did they not produce the body of Jesus? The answer from the New Testament is that they had no body to produce. Matthew reports on the events leading up to Jesus' resurrection:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid... you are looking for Jesus... he has risen.

Matthew 28:1-6, NIV

The evidence shows that Jesus' followers were not motivated by the desire for personal glory or riches, they persisted in spite of persecution. Their claim is that they were motivated by the hope of eternal life. Their hope was based on their belief that Jesus had been raised from death. Paul's words quoted earlier in the paper are relevant at this point:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

1 Corinthians 15:13-19, NIV

Insisting that the first century Christians had no evidence that Jesus had risen from the grave removes the only motive that they had for risking their lives to promote their beliefs.

Their faith was based on their witness of Jesus' fulfilling of all of the Old Testament prophecies relating to the Messiah.

Their faith was based on their observation of the miracles that Jesus had performed.

Their faith was based on the fact that they had touched him and seen him alive again after he had been put to death by the political powers of the day.

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