Because He Lives
There is no example of a quicker or more complete transformation of an individual, or in this case of a group of individuals, than that seen in the Disciples following the resurrection of Jesus. When they came to grips with the reality of the Jesus’ resurrection and were given the Holy Spirit as God’s testimony to the truth of His word, everything changed.
The Disciples had spent approximately 3 years with Jesus during which time they became convinced that He was the promised Messiah. As such they believed He was going to raise up an army and overthrow Rome.
Peter was so convinced that Jesus was going to lead a rebellion against Rome and set up His kingdom that when soldiers came to arrest Jesus, he pulled out a little sword and single handedly took on a whole slew of them. He assumed Jesus would give them a miraculous victory.
Then everything fell apart. Not only did Jesus not move to overthrow Rome, but He allowed the soldiers to arrest Him. Peter still loved Jesus, but he dared not be identified as one of His followers lest he too be arrested and crucified. When questioned about that relationship, he denied it. If Jesus was not going to overthrow Rome, that was the smart and safe thing to do.
And it got worse. The Romans that Jesus was supposed to overthrow beat Him mercilessly and it did not appear He was going to do anything about it even if He could. It got still worse. They crucified Him. Jesus died. A dead Messiah could not hope to set up a new kingdom. No victory over Rome was going to take place and their dream of a role in the kingdom was over.
If Jesus was not going to use His power to give them victory, then obviously they were on the losing side and their lives in danger. If Jesus, who had displayed many miraculous powers could not win against the Romans, who were they to think they stood a chance. They had apparently picked the wrong side. Rome was still in charge, and they were in danger for being identified with Jesus and crucified like Him. The best thing to do was stay out of sight so off they went to a safe room and once inside locked the door so no one could find them. At least for a while they would be safe.
Then something happened they never expected. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them in that locked room. Try sometime to imagine the looks on their face at that moment.
Fast forward 50 days. It was the day of the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. Jesus had been with them for 40 of those 50 days so they knew with certainty that He was alive, but they still had no clear understanding of what was going to happen next. They joined thousands of other Jews who had come to Jerusalem from all over the Roman world to celebrate Pentecost. Suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they understood what the ministry of Jesus was all about.
Read the sermon Peter preached as recorded in Acts 2. Then skip ahead to Acts 4. Peter and John had just healed a crippled beggar. Read Acts 4:5, 4:7-8, 4:10-12. Acts 4:18 notes that the religious leaders “commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
So how did Peter, who a few weeks earlier had denied he even knew Jesus, react? How did John, who a few weeks earlier had hidden behind a locked door so no one could find him, react? Read Acts 4:19-20 for their response.
Peter and John refuse to yield to the pressure of the same religious leaders who had dragged Jesus to the Roman authorities and demanded that Pilate order Him crucified. And, from all history records, they were joined by all the disciples except Judas who, according to Matthew 27:5 “went away and hanged himself,” in a refusal to deny their faith regardless of the cost.
The only death of a disciple, beside Judas, that is recorded in Scripture is that of Stephen and the record of that death is found in Acts 6 and 7. Read Acts 6:8-15 which records how some opponents of Jesus tried to prove Stephen’s testimony wrong and when that didn’t work, they persuaded some men to falsely accuse him of blasphemy. On the basis of their false testimony Stephen was dragged before the Sanhedrin, that is the ruling Jewish counsel. Rad Acts 7:1. Acts 7:2-53 records Stephen’s answer. Stephen laid out God’s plan beginning with Abraham and ended with the declaration that they had betrayed and murdered Jesus. Needless to say, that did not set well. Read Acts 7:54. Read verses 59-60 which record they stoned Stephen to death.
I have never known some willing to maintain a lie to the point of dying for it. Stephen declared, in no uncertain terms, that he knew Jesus was alive because he had seen Him following His resurrection. I cannot imagine anyone willingly allow others to stone him to death for a lie. All Stephen had to do was cry out “I’m sorry, I lied” and the stoning would have stopped. He didn’t cry out because he knew it was no lie. He had seen the risen Lord.
The testimony of the other Disciples added to that witness. Commentators today are dependent on the records of the early church historians and there is considerable difference in the details of those historians.
Generally accepted historical records suggest that Peter was crucified in Rome. The most repeated aspect of that record is that he asked to be crucified upside down, saying he was not worthy to die the way Jesus did. Other records place his death in Persia with the same understanding that he opted for upside down.
The one thing all the historical records of the Disciples have in common is not a single Disciple ever recanted of his testimony of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Not a single Christian or secular historian even hinted at the possibility of one recanting.
There are three very powerful testimonies to the truth of the resurrection. First, no opponent ever produced a body that they could identify as Jesus. Everything in our faith hinges on the truth of that resurrection. Had any opponent of Christianity been able to produce a body the whole movement would have been stopped dead in its tracks.
Second, is the multiple witnesses to Him following that resurrection. Read I Corinthians 15:6. Paul declared that over 500 saw Jesus at one time and if someone wanted to verify that, many were still alive. Had that not happened, the opponents of Christianity would have immediately declared how many they interviewed who denied it. Jesus was seen alive because He lives.
The third testimony that cannot be denied is that of the Disciples who gave up everything and, if history is even close to accurate, died horrible deaths because they knew it was true. While we cannot be sure of the fate of each of the Disciples, we can say with certainty that not one of them ever recanted of their commitment to the resurrection of Jesus. How do we know that? We know it because we can be 100% certain that had even one of them changed his story the opponents of Jesus would have jumped all over it and declared it everywhere. History does not even hint that one Disciple recanted.
What does that mean to us? All of us have been challenged at some point to prove our faith to ourselves. Satan continually tells us our faith is unreal and the resurrection of Jesus is an ancient myth designed to keep a lie alive. When Satan whispers that in your ear remember, no one ever produced Jesus’ body, He was seen alive by many, and His disciples gave up everything including their lives because they knew He was alive. That’s good enough for me.