Friday evening an iconoclastic preacher was nailed to a Roman cross at the behest of a clique of corrupt Pharisees.
Friday evening His followers had, for the most part, scattered with fear.
They were silent, and in hiding. The preacher's ministry was over.
And yet within a matter of days His followers were not only seen in public, but they were preaching an even more heretical message --
And. They. Could. Not. Be. Silenced.
The Pharisees applied direct action this time. Instead of waiting for Roman authority, they killed one of the preacher's followers. They arrested others, throwing them in prison, beating & whipping others.
And still --
They. Could. Not. Be. Silenced.
The Pharisees applied relentless pressure on the followers: Humiliation, shame, ridicule, imprisonment, fines, torture, beatings, threats of eternal damnation. They put one of their own young hot shots in charge of tracking down the followers where ever they had fled, arresting them, and dragging them back to Jerusalem in chains for trial and punishment.
Young Rabbi Hot Shot got only halfway to Damascus when Something Happened to him and he went instantly from the followers' greatest foe to the preacher's most fearless advocate.
Many people find it comforting to pretend nothing happened, some going as far as to claim the preacher never really existed and that all documents about Him were forged centuries later.
There are three sets of first century documents that refer either directly to the preacher or to His followers: Christian, which champion the Good News; Jewish, which criticize the teachings of the preacher; and pagan, which simply observe without comment.
All three sources agree upon the following:
- There lived a preacher that the world today refers to as Jesus Christ.
- Jesus was executed by the Romans.
- His followers claim He was resurrected.
What happened between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?
It was a transformational event, it changed everything that came after it. There had been other cults and religions that had suddenly sprung up and swept through the ancient world, but they had no roots; they lasted a few years, a few decades, a few centuries at best and then they vanished.
None of them were based on verifiable historical events. They were either repackaged ancient myths or, like the Mithra cult, of unknown and unsubstantiated origin.
There was no reality to them.
Which is why to this day there are those who eagerly seek to deny Jesus ever existed.
If Jesus exists, then one can't simply ignore His teachings, one has to evaluate them and decide if they are true or false.
There is no middle ground here. As C.S. Lewis observed, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or what He claimed to be.
There are some who deny Jesus ever claimed to be the only begotten Son of God. Mohammed preferred to think of Him as simply a very, very good man, a prophet of God, but not Divine in Himself.
In Qur'an sura 5 (Al-Ma'ida), ayah17, Mohammed recites: “In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: ‘Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every - one that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things.’" while in Qur'an, Sura 112 (al-Ikhlas), ayat 1-4, he recites: “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.”
What we have here is a failure of imagination and faith. Imagination in that while acknowledging God can do anything He wishes, He cannot do something Mohammed can’t imagine.
God don’t work that way.
And that’s what was so shocking to the first century: The Good News, the Gospel of Jesus was a radical break from previous human perceptions of the Divine; it was “news” indeed.
Some claim the Apostles concocted the story of the resurrection in order to start a new religion where they would be the leaders.
To throw out some Latin: Cui bono?
Of the original 12 Apostles + Matthias (Judas’ replacement) & Paul (who met Jesus after His resurrection), only one -- count ‘em, one! -- didn’t die a martyr’s death after a lifetime of hardship & deprivation & relentless threats & persecution.
As Lee Strobel points out in his book, The Case For Christ, human beings will die for what they believe to be true, but they will not die in defense of a lie.
No, if the Apostles had stolen Jesus’ body as the Pharisees accused them of doing, then it would have only taken one of the remaining 14 to blow the whistle on the scheme.
The Pharisees & the Romans & Herod had all kinds of carrots (money, power, privilege, position) & sticks (imprisonment, flogging, torture, persecution, martyrdom) to employ.
Who would die defending a lie? Especially a lie that wasn’t paying off in anything but blood, sweat, & tears?
(And remember that while there were 12 original Apostles + Matthias & Paul, there were literally hundred of other disciples, many of whom encountered Jesus after His resurrection. If Jesus’ death & resurrection had been faked, it would take only one disgruntled person to wreck the whole scheme.)
No, Something Happened.
Something Happened to change everything, to give hope to the hopeless, courage to the craven, faith for the ones who felt abandoned.
Strobel's books are excellent jumping off points for contemporary apologetics.
McDowell's book is even better, but far more densely packed.
 Mohammed also had a much more personal reason for choosing not to endorse Jesus’ divinity: If he did, that would kinda render him moot as a prophet, since any religious teacher who comes after the Son of God is pretty much the definition of “anti-climatic”. Only by reducing Jesus’ standing from God Incarnate to merely a saint could Mohammed hope to shine. Blaming His disciples & accusing them of distorting His message is, in actuality, blaming Jesus: After all, He picked ‘em…
 The one who missed out on the fun of martyrdom, John the beloved disciple, spent the remainder of his life in lonely exile on the barren island of Patmos, a hunk of rock roughly the size of Manhattan but with only 1/10,000th its population; in John’s day it was far less crowded.
 Which would have meant overpowering a squad of Roman soldiers left to guard the tomb without killing them or losing any Apostles in the process, and the Roman soldiers deciding to tell Pilate they fell asleep on the job rather than they were attacked -- which normally would have meant summary execution but the Pharisees went to bat for the soldiers & pulled in every political favor they could muster to get their lives spared in exchanging for the soldiers copping a plea of snoozing on duty which makes sense only when one realizes the truth & reality of an actual resurrection would Just Not Be Accepted by Pilate.