Was Jesus a criminal?
Jesus was convicted and executed, but there’s more to the story, writes June Knop.
History gives us the facts: Jesus the man did exist, was born between 7-2 BC, spoke Aramaic (probably Hebrew as well), lived in Galilee and Judea and died between 30-36 AD, crucified by order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.
But there's more to the story – it's claimed that He rose from the dead. With such a radical claim is there actually any real evidence for this?
Given that history is based on accounts, both eye witness and secondary, we can look for clues as to how this event impacted those who knew Jesus and changed the course of their lives – and indeed history.
However, this doesn't look likely on first examination of the early evidence.
Jesus, a carpenter, left home and a stable career to become an itinerant preacher with 12 of His friends. As things unfolded it became evident that He was claiming to be equal with God and the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for.
Jesus' family, for a start, didn't believe that (John chapter 7, verse 5) and Mark goes on to say in the Bible that "When Jesus' family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control" (chapter 3, verse 21).
The Bible is also unflattering towards the 12 who were supposed to be his closest friends.
Judas turned Him in to the authorities for a reward. The others fled when He was arrested and one, Peter, fearing his own execution, even denied ever knowing Him three times in those first 12 hours. Thomas was so doubtful about the whole experience that he later basically said to his friends, your word isn't enough; unless I see some hard physical evidence for myself I won't believe it at all.
Some years later, another named Paul, described by some as a Jewish fanatic, was so convinced that Jesus was purely a troublemaker that he spent his life hunting down, arresting and persecuting anyone who showed any signs of being a Jesus follower.
On the face of it, Christianity should have died out with Jesus' death.
But something happened that drastically changed these frightened, weak, timid, doubtful (and in the case of Paul, determinedly decided) men overnight. They became courageous advocates set on a direction that they knew could – and in fact did for most of them – lead to a torturous death.
Among them Matthew was killed by stabbing as ordered by King Hircanus, Mark was burned during Roman emperor Trajan's reign, John was tortured by boiling oil and exiled to Patmos in AD 95 and Peter was crucified upside-down on the Vatican hill circa AD 64.
What could bring about such radical personal change that they would be willing to even give up their lives defending Jesus?
Each of Jesus' friends and family lost hope when they saw Him die on the cross. They thought it was over, even though Jesus said He would rise again from the dead and this would be the very sign that all He had said and done was true.
They had nothing to gain in a worldly sense from following Jesus, but everything to lose.
Early Christianity was illegal by Jewish law and later by common law, with Christians being stoned to death and fed to lions, among other horrific experiences.
So what happened to give them the courage to continue? One by one, they had a supernatural encounter with Jesus.
It started two days after Jesus was entombed. His friend Mary was grief-stricken to find the stone rolled away and His body gone. Suspecting He had been moved, she asked a person standing nearby where the body was. Hearing her name, she looked up and saw Jesus before her (John chapter 20 verses 10-18). She ran to tell the others.
That night some of Jesus' disciples hid in a locked room, as they were afraid of what the Jews and authorities were going to do to them. Suddenly Jesus was standing with them. They thought He was a ghost, but He told them to touch Him and see that He wasn't (Luke chapter 24 verses 36-39).
Thomas was not with them that night and he simply didn't believe it – obviously he thought it was some sort of mass hallucination.
A week later, though, he was in the same locked room – and Jesus appeared again. This time Jesus spoke directly to Thomas and told him to touch the wounds in His hands and side where He had been pierced by the soldier's sword on the cross. "Stop doubting and believe," Jesus said.
It was 40 days after his first appearance that Jesus finally went to heaven, saying He would be with all believers in spirit and this spirit would empower them to do the same things, and more, that He had done on earth.
Paul also had a personal encounter with Jesus after this time and went on to write in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 3-9:
"Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I'm not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God's church."
I think that would do it for me – seeing a man dead and days later having him walk with me in the flesh. They spent the rest of their lives telling this incredible story of how it all happened.
And Jesus still appears and speaks to people today.
I have heard Jesus myself and seen things, and I know personally that once these things happen to you, it is impossible to go back to the person you were. Seeing and hearing is believing and if you genuinely want to, you can see and hear him too. Or just take a leap of faith and invite Jesus into your life and you will never be the same person again.
Courtesy Warcry magazine of the Salvation Army