Were the Apostles Willing to Die for a Misguided Faith?

By Published on December 12, 2015

SEAN MCDOWELL — Could the apostles have been sincere but misguided in their convictions about Jesus? In my recent book The Fate of the Apostles, I make the case that all the apostles were willing to suffer and die for their faith, and some of them did. Skeptics commonly object, though, that the disciples were sincere but misguided. In other words, the apostles weren’t liars — they just mistakenly died for something that was false.

One problem with this objection is that the resurrection lies at the core of the first Christian proclamation. In other words, to be a Christian was to believe in the resurrection. This is clear from the earliest Christian creeds, the New Testament itself, and the apostolic fathers. William Lane Craig writes,

It is difficult to exaggerate what a devastating effect the crucifixion must have had on the disciples. They had left everything for him, and now he was dead. They had left everything for him, and now he was dead. They had no conception of a dying, much less rising, Messiah, for Messiah would reign forever (cf. John 12:34). Without prior belief in the resurrection, belief in Jesus as Messiah would have been impossible in view of his death.

As Craig also argues, without the resurrection the Christian faith could not have come into being. It was the resurrection that turned tragedy into triumph. God vindicated Jesus Christ by raising him from the dead. Thus, he could be proclaimed as the long-awaited Messiah (Acts 2:32-36). If Jesus had not risen,  the faith of a Christian would have been worthless and there would be no forgiveness for sins (1 Cor 15:14, 17). But since Jesus has risen, salvation is possible (Rom 10:9).

Compare that to what would have happened if the disciples hadn’t believed in the resurrection. They would have seen Jesus as a failed Messiah (Luke 24:21). They would have returned to their previous jobs and gone on with their lives as before. Craig concludes, “The origin of the Christian Way therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.”

Second, the disciples never really expected the resurrection to occur. While Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31; 12:1-12; Matt 16:21; Luke 9:22; Luke 13:32-33), it’s clear the apostles did not understand what he meant until after his resurrection. And they were still incredulous when they first saw that he had been raised from the dead (Luke 24:13-35; John 20:24-29).

As Jews, the apostles had expected the resurrection to be a final event for the people of Israel at the end of all days. They simply were not expecting the resurrection of an individual before Israel’s history had reached its climax. And yet according to N. T. Wright, “The resurrection was the sign to the early Christians that this living god [sic] had acted at last in accordance with his ancient promise, and had thereby shown himself to be God, the unique creator and sovereign of the world.”

The apostles embraced the radical view that Jesus had resurrected in their time because they were convinced they saw him alive after his crucifixion.

The apostles were willing to suffer and die for their belief that they had seen the risen Jesus. It simply stretches believability to conclude that they were all misguided.

Adapted from the article at SeanMcDowell.org. Used by permission

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.


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