Approximately 1,982 years ago, a man died. In fact, many men died that day. We know for sure of three men. Two were tied to crosses and crucified. One was nailed to the cross. Had that been the end of it, it would have just been like so many other Roman crucifixions. But, unbeknownst to most anyone at the time, the first Easter weekend would become the most important weekend in the history of the world.
In the grand scheme of things, few people reject the historicity of Jesus. But many reject the idea of his physical resurrection. It was that resurrection that has impacted the world in the way no other event before or since has. That event shaped art, set ships to sea, started wars, ended wars, inspired the pursuit of science, collapsed the slave trade in Western Civilization, and even now is disrupting of communism in China in a way nothing else has.
Though modern scholarship has tried to disprove Biblical writings, it is generally accepted that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew, Mark written based on testimony from Peter, Luke written by a doctor who interviewed eyewitnesses and John by the Apostle John. Additionally, the separate books of Peter, John, James and Jude were written by eyewitnesses, the later two being half-brothers of Jesus.
Then we have the early church fathers, Ignatius, Polycarp and Clement.
We know Polycarp existed. We have writings from Polycarp, and we have writings about Polycarp. He was born around 69 AD and was martyred in 155 AD. From the writings of others about Polycarp and from Polycarp himself, we learned that he, along with a man named Ignatius, studied under an older man named John.
Ignatius and Polycarp were two of the early second-generation leaders of the church. Ignatius was born some time around 35 AD and was martyred by being fed to wild beasts around 107 AD. Ignatius and Polycarp both claim that they studied under John, who they both identified as the Apostle John. They attribute the Gospel of John to him and much of what they learned about Christ to John’s eyewitness.
Then there was Clement. We know he existed because of his writings and the writings of others. Paul referenced Clement in Philippians 4:3. Clement, through his writings and the writings of others, came into contact with Peter, Paul and possibly John. Clement, not an eyewitness to Christ, was an eyewitness to these other men.
Peter, John, Matthew, James and Jude all wrote books of the Bible claiming to be eyewitnesses to both Jesus and the events of his life. Then there was Paul, who we know persecuted the early church, and then claimed a supernatural physical visit from Christ after his death. The other church leaders who he had sought to kill took him into the church and affirmed his ministry. But we do not even have to get to Paul to establish this — either Jesus existed, or a great many people over a century collaborated in an elaborate conspiracy to create him.
To claim Jesus did not exist, we must also declare a bunch of other people — who we know existed by their own writings and the writings of others — did not exist. The next step then is whether his resurrection happened.
I have learned a central truth in my life. All the evidence in the world will not convince those whose hearts are hardened to truth. The very same eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life proclaimed his physical resurrection and ascension to Heaven. Some want to pick apart the bits and pieces they accept, but there is a central truth.
Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. Around 1,982 years ago, the world rejected him in favor of a criminal named Barabbas. The path of Barabbas and the world ends in death, but Christ Jesus promises eternity. Many died and are dying this very day proclaiming him Lord. I believe in the resurrection. I believe in Jesus Christ. And I know one day he will return and all those who are with him have final victory over death. Rejoice and Happy Easter.
To find out more about Erick Erickson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.