The Case for Jesus the Messiah – Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists/Part 23

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©{{{copyright}}}
Modern Jewish Views on Messianic Passages

APPENDIX: Did Jesus Christ Really Rise from the Dead?

Editor’s Note: This material was first published in book form in 1989 by the John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association (now known as the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute).

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Modern Jewish Views on Messianic Passages

Modern Orthodox Judaism denies that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. World famous Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide and Ulrich Luz have set forth the statements of some who have asserted that Jesus is not the Messiah in their book Jesus in Two Perspectives: A Jewish-Christian Dialog. After each statement we will give a brief response.

OBJECTION: “Eduard Schweizer writes: ‘Argument has waged for decades over whether Jesus himself thought he was the Messiah…. Nevertheless, there is not a single genuine saying of Jesus in which he refers to himself as the Messiah.’”[1]

Yet in John 4:25-26 anybody can read: “The woman said, ‘I know the Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he.’”

This is not the only place where Jesus refers to Himself as the Messiah. At His trial, He was asked by the high priest,

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death (Mk. 14:61-64).

World-renowned trial attorney John Warwick Montgomery, in examining the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ trial, has declared,

Although not much good can be said about the high priest at this kangaroo court, one thing is certain: he correctly recognized that Jesus was claiming to be no less than God Incarnate, and that if he was not what he claimed, then he was a blasphemer.[2]

OBJECTION: “… it has been established historically that ‘only later was Isaiah 53 associated with the Messiah.’ ‘Actually the thought of a suffering Messiah was completely remote from the synagogue of Jesus’ time.’”[3]

Such early rabbis as the great Maimonides and Crispin might disagree with the above statement concerning Isaiah 53. They said, “[Isaiah 53] was given of God as a description of the Messiah, whereby, when any should claim to be the Messiah, to judge by the resemblance or non-resemblance to it whether he were the Messiah or no’ …. [Crispin also said that those who apply the passage to Israel have “forsaken the knowledge of our teachers, and inclined after the stubbornness of their own hearts and of their own opinions.”[4]]” (Ellison says the suffering Messiah concept cannot be traced earlier that 150 A.D., but see footnote 22.)

Another rabbi, R. Elyyah de Vidas, says, “The meaning of ‘he was wounded for our transgressions,… bruised for our iniquities’ is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for them himself.”[5]) (See our discussion of Isaiah 53 earlier.)

 

OBJECTION: “For Jewish scholars the evidence of the resurrection was not a proof of Jesus’ messiahship, because for them the idea of resurrection was not connected with the messianic expectation of salvation.”[6]

But Isaiah 53:10-11, without specifically using the word resurrection, certainly calls for it.

Also, David prophesied of the Messiah in Psalm 16:10 and 49:9 that, “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Ps. 16:10, cf. Acts 2:27-31; 13:34-37).

And finally, if Jesus actually did resurrect from the dead and offered this as proof for His claims to be God (See Appendix: Did Jesus Christ Really Rise from the Dead?), then such a miracle would prove He was God whether or not Jewish scholars held the idea previously. In other words, just because someone has never considered the idea of a man resurrecting from the dead, to ignore it when it happens because you had not thought of the idea first would be ridiculous.

 

OBJECTION: “… Jesus never revealed himself publicly as the Messiah, and strictly forbade others to describe him as such.”[7]

Such a statement insults people who have read Jesus’ statements where He plainly said He was the Messiah.

 

OBJECTION: (Concerning certain political prophecies of the Messiah) “Jesus of Nazareth did not fulfill any of these expectations—nor did he ever promise to fulfill them.”[8]

To say Jesus never promised to fulfill prophecies connected to the political realm cannot be taken seriously in light of what He told the Jewish high priest at His trial, “I am [the Christ]; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 14:62). The expression “Son of Man” is a direct quote from Daniel 7. “[It] is really one of the loftiest ascriptions given to God’s Messiah in the Old Testament.”[9] An even stronger promise of Jesus concerning His return to rule the world can be seen in Matthew 24:27-31; 25:31-33.

 

OBJECTION: Genesis 3:15—”Yet there is absolutely no proof to assume that this verse is messianic or that the Messiah is to be born in a supernatural way.”[10]

How can anyone make such a statement when proof can easily be found in the pre-Christian Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures? (See our discussion of Genesis 3:15.)

As Dr. Kaiser has written,

But you may say, “Are you sure that anyone ever had this idea before the Christian century?” Yes. There is an article that appeared in the 1965 issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature… written by Ralph Martin. It deals with the earliest pre-Christian interpretation of Genesis 3:15 which could be demonstrated. He took the Septuagint rendering of this text (the Septuagint comes from the 3rd century B.C.) and “demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt, on philological grounds, that the Jewish community—at least the one in Alexandria—understood this to be Messianic and this well in advance of the birth of Christ.”[11]

 

OBJECTION: Deuteronomy 18:15, 18—”It is claimed by Christian missionaries that the verses constitute a prophetic reference to Jesus. There is absolutely no truth to this contention.”[12]

If so, why is it that the apostles and the early Christians all used this quote without explanation and assumed their Jewish audience knew what they were talking about? Stephen used this prophecy in Acts 7:37 and Peter used it in Acts 3:22. (See our discussion of Deuteronomy 18:15.)

 

OBJECTION: Isaiah 52:13-53:12—”What Jews find even more amazing and mystifying is how any person who studies this chapter critically can possibly believe it alludes to Jesus…. Isaiah 53 speaks of the nation of Israel,…”[13]

The great rabbis Maimonides and Crispin, as we have already seen, specifically state that this passage does not speak of the nation of Israel but it does refer to the Messiah.

To see if this passage does fit Jesus, see our discussion of Isaiah 53.

 

OBJECTION: Micah 5:1—”This verse refers to the Messiah, a descendant of David…. The text does not necessarily mean the Messiah will be born in that town, but that his family originates from there…. In any case, being born in Bethlehem is of dubious value in establishing messianic credentials for Jesus.”[14]

No one can know the meaning of the text except from the words in the text, and the biblical text plainly says the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, not his family.

It’s amazing that anyone would make the above statement when it is clear from the historical background in the New Testament that the chief priests and teachers of the law advised Herod that according to the verse, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Magi (wisemen) asked King Herod, “‘Where is the one that has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, for this is what the prophet has written…’” (Mt. 2:1-5). (Also see our discussion on Micah 5:2.)

 

OBJECTION: Zechariah 12:10—”Of course, God cannot literally be pierced.”[15]

The problem with this objection is that in the text that is exactly what God did say: “They [Israel] will look on Me whom they have pierced.” The only way to get around this statement is to change the plain meaning of the words.

If God takes upon Himself a human nature and becomes a man in the Incarnation, then, if anyone pierced or crucified that man, it would be correct to say they “have pierced or crucified” God. Jesus claimed He was God and was crucified. But remember, because Christ was full humanity and full Deity, when His human nature died, His divine nature, which could not cease, continued to live and reside fully in Jesus’ body. When Jesus rose bodily from the grave, Jesus was again full humanity and full Deity in One Person.

 

OBJECTION: Psalms 22—”The early Christians, in interpreting and expanding the accounts of Jesus’ death, sought confirmation of their claims in the Hebrew Scriptures. Believing Jesus to be the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, they proclaimed him the Messiah. The Scriptures were searched for evidence which could be used to demonstrate the truth of their hypothesis. This was especially true for the crucifixion.… [But] Psalms 22 cannot be made to apply to the life of Jesus.”[16]

One only needs to read Psalm 22 to see whether or not this description fits Jesus’ suffering. It’s not a matter of making it apply; rather, it is a matter of whether it does apply.

APPENDIX: Did Jesus Christ Really Rise from the Dead?

Of [the many] Messianic claimants, only one, Jesus of Nazareth, so impressed his disciples that he became their Messiah. And he did so after the very crucifixion which should have refuted his claims decisively…. It was not Jesus’ life [alone] which proved beyond question that he was the Messiah, the Christ. It was his resurrection. It was only when his disciples were convinced that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead that they were stunned into awareness that Jesus was the Christ.[17]

If Jesus Christ did, in fact, rise from the dead, then one must accept the claims about Himself as being true—that He was in fact God Incarnate (Jn. 5:18; 19:7; Rom. 1:3). No one else of an estimated 100 billion persons who have ever lived in human history has ever risen from the dead. He predicted in advance He would rise from the dead (on several occasions—Mt. 16:21; 26:32; Mk. 14:28; Lk. 9:22; Jn. 2:19) and then proceeded to do just that.

Some individuals have tried to make similar predictions about coming back from the dead throughout history, but in the end they all have been proven liars. Only Jesus Christ conquered death and offered His resurrection as verifiable proof, validating His claim to be God Incarnate.

Even the skeptics of this world believe Jesus Christ stands as a symbol of truth and integrity. But if He was such a man, how could He make such incredible claims about Himself unless they were true? He could only make these claims for Himself if He was telling the truth and if He knew that He was the Jewish Messiah, the God-Man, the Savior of the world.

Right here, Dr. Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, has a logical problem in his consideration of Jesus. He says he accepts Jesus’ bodily resurrection “as a historical event” and “a fact of history.”[18] But after admitting Jesus rose from the dead, and after admitting this was a true miracle of God, Dr. Lapide rejects Jesus as being the Messiah of the Jews. How can Dr. Lapide know more about the significance of the resurrection than Jesus Himself who said this showed He was the Messiah and truly God?

How do we know the resurrection really occurred?

  1. On the basis of accepted principles of historic and textual analysis, the New Testament documents are shown to be reliable and trustworthy historical documents. That is, they give accurate (eyewitness) primary source evidence for the life and death of Jesus Christ. In fact, in 2,000 years the New Testament authors have never been proven unethical, dishonest, or to have been deceived.
  2. In these historical records, Jesus clearly claims to be God Incarnate (Jn. 5:18; 10:27-33); exercises innumerable divine prerogatives; and rests His claims on His miracles (Jn. 10:37-38; 11:43-45), His greatest miracle being His literal physical resurrection from the dead (Jn. 10:17-18).
  3. In each of the Gospels, Christ’s resurrection is minutely described, and for 2,000 years it has been incapable of disproof despite the detailed scholarship of the world’s best skeptics. The simple truth is that the historic fact of the resurrection proves Jesus’ claim to Deity.[19]

The resurrection cannot be rejected on anti-supernaturalist grounds. Miracles are impossible only if one knows in advance that they have never happened. But the only way anyone can know that is by first examining the evidence. The probability of a miracle is determined by the cumulative weight of the evidence, not philosophical bias.

On the basis of internal, external, and bibliographic data, one may establish beyond all doubt that the Gospels are reliable primary source material. The internal evidence proves that the writers were neither deceived nor deceivers. The external evidence (evidence lying outside the New Testament itself) also points clearly to the truthfulness of the accounts and the factualness of the resurrection of Christ (see quote below).

The bibliographic evidence proves that the content found in these documents is reliable and accurate.[20] This is why it is a historical fact that Jesus Christ taught and lived what the New Testament says He taught.

We have over 5,300 extant Greek manuscript portions or manuscripts of the New Testament, over 10,000 Latin Vulgate plus 9,300 other versions as well as 36,000 early (100 to 300 A.D.) patristic quotations of the New Testament. In fact, if the documents we now possess of the New Testament were lost, we could reconstruct the entire New Testament (except 11 verses) from the writings of the Church Fathers.[21]

Given the fact that the early extant Greek manuscripts (the papyri and early uncials) date much closer to the originals than any other documents of ancient literature, and with the overwhelming abundance of manuscript attestation, any doubt as to the integrity or authenticity of the New Testament text has been removed.[22]

In fact, this is the accepted consensus of biblical scholarship in general. This wealth of manuscript material has led such scholars as Westcott and Hort, Ezra Abbot, Philip Schaff, A. T. Robertson and Geisler and Nix to place the restoration of the original text at 99 percent.[23] They have concluded that no other document of the ancient period is as well attested as the Gospels, and if their reliability is rejected, then all the works of ancient antiquity must be rejected on the same basis. But such skepticism is not seen concerning other works.

In examining the Gospels, it is an accepted standard of historical analysis to assume the truth of an author of a document unless fraud or error disqualifies the writer. Examining the trustworthiness of the Gospels, one finds extreme care was exercised by the writers (Lk. 1:1-3), there are numerous claims to eyewitness testimony (Jn. 19:35; 1 Jn. 1:3; Acts 2:22; 26:24-26; 2 Pet. 1:16, etc.) and there is no error or contradiction in their writing. This shows the New Testament authors can be trusted.

In examining the ancient documents outside the New Testament (the external evidence) Professor of Philosophy Dr. Gary R. Habermas in his Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus observes,

Using only the information gleaned from these ancient extrabiblical sources, what can we conclude concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus?… Of the seventeen documents examined in this chapter, eleven different works speak of the death of Jesus in varying amounts of detail, with five of these specifying crucifixion as the mode…. It is this author’s view that the death of Jesus by crucifixion can be asserted as a historical fact from this data…. The ancient references to the resurrection are fewer and more questionable. Of the seventeen sources, only six either imply or report this occurrence, with four of these works being questioned in our study…. [Can] the empty tomb…be established as historical by this extrabiblical evidence alone[?] There are some strong considerations in its favor. First, the Jewish sources which we have examined admit the empty tomb, thereby providing evidence from hostile documents.… Second, there are apparently no ancient sources which assert that the tomb still contained Jesus’ body. While such an argument from silence does not prove anything, it is made stronger by the first consideration from the hostile sources and further complements it. Third, our study has shown that Jesus taught in Palestine and was crucified and buried in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate. These sources assert that Christianity had its beginnings in the same location. But could Christianity have survived in this location, based on its central claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, if the tomb had not been empty? It must be remembered that the resurrection of the body was a predominant view of first century Jews. To declare a bodily resurrection if the body was still in a nearby tomb points out the dilemma here. Of all places, evidence was readily available in Jerusalem to disprove this central tenet of Christian belief. The Jewish leaders had both a motive and the means to get such evidence if it was available.[24]

In his excellent study The Son Rises, Philosophy of Religion Professor Dr. William Lane Craig, on the basis of the historical evidence in the documents, has concluded that literally every attempt to explain the resurrection of Jesus on the basis of other theories outside the New Testament fails. Indeed, these theories are actually more difficult to believe than the resurrection itself.

Craig shows ten converging lines of historical evidence that support the fact that Jesus’ tomb was found empty and that no natural explanation could account for this.[25]

Next, he shows that there are four converging lines of historical evidence that support the fact that, on various occasions and at different places, Jesus appeared bodily and physically alive from the dead to many witnesses. Again, no natural explanation could account for these appearances.[26]

Third, Craig points out that the very origin of the Christian faith depends completely on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.[27] Christianity would never have begun, nor could it have continued, if the resurrection were not true. In summary, “Each of these three great facts—the empty tomb, the appearances, the origin of the Christian faith—is independently established. Together they point with unwavering conviction to the same unavoidable and marvelous conclusion: Jesus actually rose from the dead.”[28]

But is the evidence in the New Testament the kind that would stand up in the real world—evidence that would stand up in a court of law and be conclusive enough to convict someone? Many of the great minds of legal history (Hugo Grotius, Simon Greenleaf, Edmund Bennett,[29] Irwin Linton, etc.) and of today, Lord Chancellor Hailsham,[30] Sir Norman Anderson,[31] Jacques Ellul and John Warwick Montgomery[32] have, on the grounds of strict legal evidence, accepted the Gospels as straightforward history. Because of the facts, they have also been compelled to believe in the resurrection of Christ.

Now, lawyers are known for their expertise in investigating the evidence—indeed, for them, the evidence is everything. It is not by mistake that Hugo Grotius, “the father of international law,” wrote The Truth of the Christian Religion (1627). The greatest authority on English and American common law evidence in the nineteenth century was Harvard Law School Professor Simon Greenleaf. After being challenged by his students to apply the laws of legal evidence to the Gospel accounts, he wrote Testimony of the Evangelists in which he concluded the resurrection of Christ did happen. Edmund H. Bennett (1824-1898) was for over 20 years the dean of the Boston University Law School. He wrote The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint (1899) and concluded they were truthful accounts, including when they spoke of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Irwin Linton had represented cases before the Supreme Court and wrote A Lawyer Examines the Bible (1943, 1977). In this book he stated:

So invariable had been my observation that he who does not accept wholeheartedly the evangelical, conservative belief in Christ and the scriptures has never read, has forgotten, or never been able to weigh—and certainly is utterly unable to refute—the irresistible force of the cumulative evidence upon which such faith rests, that there seems ample ground for the conclusion that such ignorance is an invariable element in such belief.[33]

There can be no doubt that the men just noted are well acquainted with legal reasoning and the nature of evidence. They all concluded the writers of the New Testament were reliable and telling the truth. They all agreed that on the basis of legal evidence, no jury in the world would fail to bring in a positive verdict for the resurrection of Christ.

The point is this: if the evidence shows that Christ rose from the dead, then He is both God and Messiah, just as He claimed.

Read Part 24

Notes

  1. Lapide and Luz, p. 46.
  2. John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity: A Vigorous, Convincing Presentation of the Evidence for a Historical Jesus (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, nd.) p. 54.
  3. Lapide and Luz, p. 30.
  4. Baron, Rays, p. 228.
  5. Ibid., pp. 225-229.
  6. Lapide and Luz, p. 31.
  7. Ibid., p. 39.
  8. Ibid., p. 29.
  9. Montgomery, History and Christianity, p. 54.
  10. Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary, p. 3.
  11. Ralph A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 84 (1965), pp. 425-427; cf. Kaiser, The Old Testament in Contemporary Preaching, p. 42; Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, p. 42.
  12. Sigal, p. 17.
  13. Ibid., p. 36.
  14. Ibid., pp. 76-77.
  15. Ibid., pp. 80.
  16. Ibid., pp. 95, 97.
  17. Marc H. Tanenbaum, et. al. (eds.), Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation on Scripture, Theology, and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 62.
  18. Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, pp. 7, 126-131.
  19. Craig, The Son Rises; cf. John W. Montgomery, The Shape of the Past: A Christian Response to Secular Philosophies of History (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1975), pp. 138-139; R. C. Sproul, “The Case for Inerrancy: A Methodological Analysis” in John W. Montgomery (ed.), God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1974), pp. 248-260.
  20. Norman Geisler, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), pp. 135-185; Josh McDowell, Evidence, pp. 39-53.
  21. Geisler, Introduction, p. 359.
  22. Ibid., pp. 39-46, 121.
  23. Ibid., pp. 238-239, 365-367.
  24. Habermas, Ancient Evidence, pp. 112-113.
  25. Craig, The Son Rises, pp. 45-91.
  26. Ibid., pp. 91-127
  27. Ibid., pp. 127-135.
  28. Ibid., pp. 134.
  29. Edmund H. Bennett, “The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint,” The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, Vol. 1 (Orange, CA: The Simon Greenleaf School of Law), pp. 15-75.
  30. Lord Chancellor Hailsham, “The Door Wherein I Went,” The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, Vol. 4 (Orange, CA: The Simon Greenleaf School of Law), pp. 1-69.
  31. J. N. D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1970).
  32. Montgomery, History and Christianity.
  33. Irwin Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible: A Defense of the Christian Faith (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1977), p. 45.

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