“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die (John 12:32-33).”
Marshall Poston, a sophomore at Rollins College, has gotten himself into hot water with his professor, Areej Zufari. The professor stated to her class as fact; “Jesus was not crucified and His disciples did not believe He was divine.” (1) Poston challenged her assertion and has since been suspended from school. It is hoped that the scholar was also a good ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) in responding to his professor and was not seeking quarrel (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Christians understand that how we answer is as critical as what we say in defense of the faith (1 Peter 3:15). But our Christian faith rises or falls with the truth of these two tenants – was Jesus crucified and raised and is He a mere man or, in fact, divine?
Regarding Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Paul stated these events as facts (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) but said that if He is not risen then our faith is meaningless and we have no hope of having our sins forgiven (vv.12-19). Christians cling to this passage with great comfort and hope because Paul continues, “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (v. 20). But Muslims reject this, citing from the Koran, “And their saying, ‘We did kill the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah;’ whereas they slew him not, nor crucified him, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified (Sura 4:158).” Two vastly different claims concerning the most important historical event in history. Which claim does the evidence support?
Elements within this passage of the Koran seem somewhat awkward – Jews who boast of killing Jesus call Him “Messiah!” Does it seem reasonable that they would have thought Him to be both the “Messiah” and “Messenger of God” and boast of putting Him to death? Or rather does the Bible seem to be accurate in asserting that “had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8)?”
Additionally there is ample objective evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus. In 52 A.D. a pagan named Thallus wrote that the darkness that accompanied His crucifixion (Matthew 27:45) was merely a natural phenomenon. (2) Others including the Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-117) wrote that “Christ(us), from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty.” (3) Other hostile writers, with no interests in validating Christianity have corroborated the fact of his crucifixion, such as Lucian and Josephus. The Muslims, like the first century Jews merely have to produce the body of Jesus to validate their claims.
As to whether the disciples viewed Jesus as divine we merely have to look to their own confessions. Thomas looked upon His scars from the crucifixion upon His resurrected body and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God (John 20:28)!” Paul wrote that Christians are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).” Similarly, Peter wrote to those of faith “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).
More powerful testimony of their affirmative beliefs to both of these questions is demonstrated by the fact that they were all willing to die for their testimony of Jesus. It is not unusual that men are willing to die for their beliefs as many from all ages and faiths have done. But how many would do so if their beliefs did not match their confessions? The disciples could have avoided martyrdom by renouncing their profession in Jesus’ deity and death burial and resurrection. But they had seen Him risen. So for those who find this evidence compelling, the answer to one more question remains – Have you been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20-21) as His disciples were?
“Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts17:31).”
- Historical Christian Evidences, Edward C. Wharton, Sunset Institute Press, 1997 pg.8
- Convicted, Brad Harrub, Ph.D., Focus Press 2009, p. 162