Does God Exist? And Why It Is Really Important to Know For Sure – Part 1

Christianity, if true, is of infinite importance

I have been a Christian for 15 years but spent the first 55 years of my life without giving much serious thought to religious or spiritual matters. Now, I know better. I agree with author C. S. Lewis when he states, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

Jesus Christ in heaven

If God does exist, and Jesus Christ is His Son, then all that Jesus tells us is true. In particular, His words about how, after this life on Earth, we can have a glorious eternal future with Him, instead of a miserable one without, should be our no-argument, must-follow, guidelines for living. After all, an 80-year or so lifetime on Earth is of little consequence when compared with eternity. Hence the tag line of this blog, encompassing my guidelines for earthly living, He rules, not me; His rules, not mine.

Conversely, if Jesus was not who He said He was, then all that He said and that which was written about Him would be false and could be totally disregarded. Now that I understand how these two widely different scenarios are the only two possible, I look back with some shame at my many decades of lukewarm indifference. I should have at least taken the time to check out the basics of each position.

If each of us, individually, is to comprehend the existence of God, we need to know the answers to two very important and fundamental questions: (1) Is there a God? and (2) Is the Christian God the one true God? A negative response to the first question would remove the need for the second so my initial focus will be on the former, which is addressed in this two-part blog. The second will be covered in a later blog.

Infinite distance and the beginning of time

Our physical realm consists of three spatial dimensions plus time. Atheists believe that the physical realm is all there is, and hence a God who lives outside of this realm cannot exist. For me, however, there are two aspects of physical life on Earth that steadfastly resist any practical physical explanation and therefore point to the existence of something more. Even before I became a Christian, I struggled with understanding how the physical world could explain the two concepts of infinite distance and the beginning of time.

Nothing Is Infinite in the Physical World

The word “infinite” is a label which we apply to immeasurably huge, limitless, quantities and is frequently used in many areas of mathematics and in life in general. While it is a useful, easy-to-use label, the simple word hides the huge complexity behind it, and the mathematical properties of this label just do not work in the physical world. For example, if I have an infinite amount of apples, and give you half, the result is that we both have an infinite amount of apples. This outcome totally defies common sense, as well as the law of conservation of matter and energy. An infinite distance has no boundaries, and yet everything in our physical world has a beginning and an end. So once again, infinity just cannot be explained within our physical realm. Another quantity that must have had a beginning is time itself. Before that, or possibly outside of that, must exist an alternative dimension of time, which supports an agent capable of creating our own temporal dimension.

Physical and spiritual realms

If there are clear examples of quantities that cannot be explained by the laws of nature and our own physical realm of three dimensions plus time, then there must exist an alternative realm outside of our own. This may take the form of an extra dimension or even several dimensions. A fourth spatial dimension would be invisible to us except when it intersected with our own three dimensions. At these locations, it would support actions that transcend the physical and the alternative realms, such as the existence of miracles, the appearance of angels, and the virgin birth and ascension of Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I now understand this alternative realm to be a “spiritual” realm, where God and spirits reside, and which contains our future home in heaven.

The Mission, The Faith, and the Fate of the Apostles

This post looks at what happened to the disciples after Jesus left: their mission, the extent of their faith, and their deaths.

The Twelve

The twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot, who took his own life after betraying Jesus to the Jewish leadership for thirty pieces of silver, were Simon Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (son of Alpheus), Simon, Thaddaeus, and Judas. After the death of Judas, Matthias became the twelfth apostle, although some believe that God intended Paul to be the twelfth.

Jesus Has Departed, Now What?

After Jesus had ascended, and the Holy Spirit had been imparted, the twelve apostles led the Jerusalem church until the time of Herod Agrippa (AD 41-44).[1] His persecution of Christians resulted in the arrest of Peter and the death of James, son of Zebedee, so the Twelve left Jerusalem and placed church leadership in the hands of James, brother of Jesus, and a group of elders.[2]

We can understand the nature of the apostles’ mission from this extra-biblical writing by Clement of Rome, “Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities.”[3]

dsc01768The Extreme Faith of the Apostles

The apostles were all willing to suffer persecution for their faith. “They were threatened, beaten, thrown in prison and killed for their faith, and yet they refused to back down because they obeyed God rather than men (Acts 5:29).[4] For me, this clearly demonstrates that they were totally committed to the cause of Jesus. They had nothing to gain from promoting Christianity, and everything to lose. In these circumstances, no one would willingly suffer death for a cause that was known to be a lie. So we can conclude that, after being Jesus’ constant companions for over three years, including through His horrific crucifixion, glorious resurrection, and His post-resurrection appearances, the disciples were, to a man, complete believers that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Fate of the Apostles

Peter. Biblical references to Peter’s teachings include locations such as Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, Samaria and Caesarea. It is possible that he visited churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and Brian Litfin, in his book After Acts: The Lives and Legends of the Apostles, tells us, “church tradition has Peter ministering in Syria, Greece, Anatolia, and Rome. While there is some disagreement over the fate of Peter, the Acts of Peter, a second-century collection of oral folklore, told that ‘Peter was crucified on a cross— and also that it was in an upside-down posture.’”[5] The picture depicting this and attached to this blog was taken by me, in a church on the outskirts of Rome

Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11: 24-25, Paul describes some of the punishment he received for his faith, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked.” The book of Acts tells us much about Paul’s life, but ends before his death. Popular tradition, reinforced by writings in The Acts of Paul, a second century collection of Christian writings, holds that he was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero, AD 64-67.[6]

And so the story continues. While there is often a lack of scholarly detail, the popular tradition provided by early Christian writings holds that: Thomas was martyred in India; Luke was hanged in Greece; Matthew died from a sword wound in Ethiopia; Mark was killed in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was dragged by horses until he was dead; James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded in Jerusalem; Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia; Andrew was whipped and crucified in Patras, Greece; and Philip was crucified.

Other early Christian protagonists, including James and Jude, brothers of Jesus, and Barnabas, a member of the larger group of seventy disciples, were also killed.

John, after surviving an attempt at execution in boiling oil, was exiled to Patmos, where he wrote the prophetic Book of Revelation.[7]

As Sean McDowell says in his article Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for Their Faith? “Even though they were crucified, stoned, stabbed, dragged, skinned and burned, every last apostle of Jesus proclaimed his resurrection until his dying breath, refusing to recant under pressure from the authorities. Therefore, their testimony is trustworthy and the resurrection is true.”[8]

[1] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 33.

[2] Ibid., (p. 33).

[3] Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, c. AD 95-96, quoted in Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 34.

[4] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 263.

[5] Litfin, Bryan (2015-01-16). After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (p. 149). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[6] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 113.

[7] Ibid., (p. 136).

[8] Sean McDowell, Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for Their Faith? Biola Magazine, Fall 2013, http://magazine.biola.edu/article/13-fall/did-the-apostles-really-die-as-martyrs-for-their-f/, accessed December 5, 2016.

Looking at Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

The Importance of the Resurrection of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus is probably the most important single event in the entire history of mankind. It fulfilled countless prophecies, some made over a thousand years earlier and some made by Jesus Himself. It was a demonstration that Jesus was who He said He was, and it provided the inspiration for the rapid growth of the early Christian church. In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright comments, “the resurrection validates a ‘supernatural’ view of the world, it means there really is a ‘life after death.’”[1]

Old Testament Predictions of the Resurrection

The life of Jesus fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies.[2] One thousand years before Jesus was born, His ancestor King David wrote Psalm 16, where verse 10 prophesies the resurrection, “because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” Similarly, Psalm 22:22-24 and Isaiah 53:10-11 are widely regarded as predictions of the resurrection.

During His later Judean ministry, Jesus compared the “sign of Jonah” to Himself as a sign to the then-current generation, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”[3] This suggests that Jesus regarded His forthcoming crucifixion and resurrection experience as being similar, or analogous, to that of Jonah and the fish some eight hundred years earlier,

Jesus Prophesies His Own Fate

In addition to the Jonah reference, the Bible records that Jesus made many predictions of His crucifixion and resurrection, as in Matthew 20:17-19, the final sentence of which is “On the third day he will be raised to life!” These predictions stand up in the light of stringent historical examination, as Licona states in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, “it is my opinion that the strong case for the historicity of Jesus’ predictions of his passion and resurrection stands.”[4]

The Gospels: Eyewitness Testimony to the Resurrection

The four gospels provide the most comprehensive reports of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and between them, act as reliable, multiple, eyewitness reports. The truth of the gospels with respect to these events, which ultimately changed the lives and characters of the authors to the extent that they willingly endured martyrdom, carries with it the foundation of Christianity. After reviewing the “Story of Easter” in the gospels, Wright states, “This belief about Jesus provides a historically complete, thorough and satisfying reason for the rise and development of the belief that he was Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true lord.”[5]

In his book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, J. Warner Wallace, a career cold-case detective, evaluated the truth claims of the gospels in a manner similar to his cold-case investigations. Using abductive reasoning, he came to the conclusion that “The most reasonable inference is that the gospel writers were present, corroborated, accurate, and unbiased. If this is the case, we can conclude with confidence that their testimony is reliable.”[6]

The Writings of Paul – as Early as A.D. 54?

In his book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Licona refers to Paul as “the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus” and that “Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus Himself.”[7] He further states, “Oral traditions played a large role in the Greco-Roman world, since only a small minority, perhaps less than 10 percent, could read and write.”[8] Using Romans 1:4, where Paul writes that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” Licona refers to scholarly opinion that Paul was using an oral tradition that could go back to the early church in Jerusalem, and which would, in any event, predate the authorship of the book of Romans, itself “typically dated between A.D. 55 to A. D. 58.”[9] This demonstrates that Paul’s writings began as early as A.D. 54, less than 25 years after Jesus ascended, and answers suggestions that New Testament books were written much later than that.

For me, the fulfillment of many prophecies made hundreds of years earlier is evidence of a supernatural element in the life of Jesus. The truth of the gospels, demonstrated by experts in widely different fields, is confirmation that Jesus represents the truth behind our earthly lives.

[1] Wright, N. T., (2003-03-17). Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press, 2003) 722.

[2] According to the Scriptures, January 20, 2015, http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html, accessed November 27, 2016.

[3] Matthew 12:40, NIV.

[4] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 300

[5] Wright, N. T., Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press, 2003), 681-682.

[6] Wallace, J. Warner (2013-01-01). Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Kindle Locations 4548-4550). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

[7] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 437.

[8] Ibid., (p. 220).

[9] Ibid., (p. 221).

Paul: The “Rock Star” of the New Testament

Paul before his conversion

The story of Paul is the classic “poacher turned gamekeeper” tale. In his early life, Paul was called Saul, or more completely, “Saul of Tarsus.” A Roman citizen of Jewish ancestry, he was raised and educated as a Pharisee, a member of the group which, together with the Sadducees, brought about the crucifixion of Jesus. He was a man of unusual ability, excelling among his peers, and his enthusiasm for Judaism and the Law lead him to actively persecute the followers of Jesus and the early church. He was present at the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and was responsible for the imprisonment and beatings of many others.

Paul Sees the Post-resurrection Jesus

On a journey to Damascus to further persecute Christians, Paul had an encounter with Jesus which left him with temporary blindness and an unquestionable realization of the Truth in the Word of Jesus. The dramatic nature of Paul’s conversion to Christianity has resulted in a reference to “the Road to Damascus” becoming a popular metaphor for any sudden human transformation of ideas or ideals. Yet in his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright describes Paul as not “’changing religions’, but receiving, so he believed, a fuller revelation from the god he had always worshipped.”[1] The “revelation, not conversion” theme continues when, in his subsequent testimony, Paul told of his new found knowledge coming, not from “flesh and blood”, but by revelation from Jesus, “For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”(Gal. 1:12) The fact that it was not just a change of heart, but a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of Christianity, that was imparted, appears to support this. Furthermore, in the first verses of 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul talks, in an account thinly disguised as being in the third person, of an out-of-this-world experience in the “third heaven”.[2]

Paul After His Revelation

After being the worst enemy of the early church, Paul became its strongest and most skilled advocate. The “poacher” referred to above would have a complete and personal knowledge of the ways of the poacher, and this, when becoming a “gamekeeper”, would be of enormous value. In a similar way, Paul was able to use his old knowledge and scholarship to support his exceptional prowess in his new role. His new understanding could, conceivably, have answered many of the questions that had troubled him before, and he was now in a position to pass on these answers with a measure of authority.

Paul’s travels and writings were a major part of the growth of the early church, and his writings form the backbone of the New Testament. As a biblical author, Paul is credited with writing 13 (14, if Hebrews is included) of the 27 books in the New Testament, more than anyone else, although statistics indicate that Luke wrote more of the original Greek New Testament words than Paul did.[3]

What Does This Mean for Us?

Paul’s conversion was symbolic of the opportunity God offers to all of us. Paul was originally an enemy of God, but was ignorant of the Truth. (1 Tim. 1:13) When presented with the truth in Jesus, he immediately repented and became an obedient servant of God. Following this, the Lord guided him into a growing understanding of what it means to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom. In a similar way, we, as sinners in this world and ignorant of the Word of God, will at times be presented with the Truth and have opportunities to repent and become obedient to God. If we accept this opportunity and become a Christian, we will be welcomed, and our own, personal, journey of growth will begin.

[1] Nicholas T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (Fortress Press, MN), 2003, (p. 376).

[2] Ibid., (p. 387).

[3] Felix Just, September 2, 2005, http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/NT-Statistics-Greek.htm, accessed November 14, 2016.