Matthew 5:11–12 (NKJV)
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus warned His disciples that persecution is coming. It didn’t take long to arrive either.
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. — Acts 7:59–60 (NKJV)
The New Testament clearly points to the truth of the Christian claims, but to prove the resurrection beyond reasonable doubt, we can’t just assume that the Bible is true. That’s what we’re trying to prove.
We’ll have to use all kinds of references. For example, Josephus records the martyrdom of James in Antiquities XX 9:1 (200).
Festus was now dead, and Albinius was put upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedron of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when they had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned;
Here we see, as with the stoning of Stephen, Jewish persecution of Christians. But that was small potatoes compared to the Roman persecution. The Romans, especially Nero, were brutal, even sadistic in their persecution and suppression of Christianity.
Nero’s suppression of Christianity backfired. It certified the very faith he sought to destroy. Without sadistic monsters like Nero, the proof that Jesus rose from the dead would be incomplete. We need the persecution to establish the sincerity of the first Christians. That’s step one of the proof.
It’s one thing to say something casually; it’s quite another to insist on something at the point of a sword.
The first Christians weren’t kidding around.
The persecution that the first Christians endured proves that they were sincere in their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Thus, proving that Jesus rose means proving that they weren’t wrong, fooled, or mistaken. To do this we’ll need to walk through every hypothesis for how the resurrection might not actually have happened.
There’s an interesting twist to this. Jesus gave His life to save sinners. The first sinners He saved gave their lives so that other sinners, like us, could know for sure that Jesus gave His life to save sinners.
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