Reflections on an Alleged Resurrection – Three Letters from Jim
You have been insistent that the resurrection is an event that proves that Jesus was the Messiah. I have argued elsewhere that the resurrection is irrelevant to the Messiah. But, for your sake, I will take up several objections to the resurrection. For the ease of reading, I will address these problems in separate posts. In this one I will take up the question of its credibility.
The question of whether or not the resurrection happened is difficult. Certainly, we do not wish to argue that God cannot resurrect someone. It is not beyond the realm of possibility. However, that does not mean it happened. The problem with knowing whether or not it happened is that it was a private event. Jesus revealed himself to a relative few.
Complicating matters, the gospels are written in such a way to earn the reader’s sympathy. One sees things through the eyes of a believer. The telling of the story inclines one to accept it, because of the perspective from which it is written. It is as if the reader is there with the disciples when Jesus comes back. To help us examine the credibility of the claims of the NT, I would like us to alter our perspective for a moment. Let us separate ourselves from the perspective of the writer, and consider ourselves as people who lived during the time of Jesus. Let us figure out what the resurrection would have looked like to us as people who did not witness for ourselves the resurrection.
For this thought experiment, we will assume that we have heard of Jesus. Perhaps we have even heard him speak. Perhaps we have even been moved by his teaching. According to Matthew, the Jewish leadership understood that Jesus was to be resurrected after three days, so we will assume that we know of this claim. We have heard that Jesus was to return three days after his death.
So, here we are, wondering if this man just might be the Messiah. To our horror, he is put to death, a brutal death. This saddens us, for we thought that he just might be the one for whom we had been waiting. Now we see that he was just another false claimant to the throne. But wait! We remember that he is supposed to come back after three days.
And so we wait expectantly, wondering if it just might be true. Will he come back?
Since we are not in the inner circle, three days come and go for us uneventfully. According to the NT, Jesus only appears to a few on the third day and the event is not publicized. You and I have heard nothing about it. We continue about our business.
Then, 47 days later, suddenly we hear news. His disciples claim that Jesus returned just as he said he would. I do not know about you, but I am wary at this point. He was supposed to come back on the third day. We are only hearing about it on the 50th. This seems rather suspicious. But, if you are willing to hear them out, so am I. So we ask them to take us to Jesus. And they tell us that he ascended to be with the Father ten days prior to their announcing his resurrection. He is not here anymore.
This is the story according to the NT. It is not until day 50, not day 3, that the resurrection of Jesus is announced. And then, he is not around to prove the claim. My question to you is this: do you find their claim credible?
Before you answer, consider the way a magician performs an illusion. He tells you that he is going to turn an egg into a dove. Then he puts the egg behind a handkerchief, a veil through which you cannot see. All you can see is movement, while he distracts you with patter. Then, as if by magic, from behind the veil, emerges a dove. So, do you believe that this was actual magic?
Of course you do not. You know that the reason the magician veils his actions is because he is not practicing actual magic. He distracts you and obscures his actions while he swaps the egg for a pigeon. And while you may be delighted by the illusion if it is performed well, you do not believe for a moment that you saw actual magic.
With the resurrection, things are the same. There is a remarkable claim made, but everything happens behind a veil. You are told that Jesus came back on time. But the event was private. It was not publicized until 47 days after the event was predicted to happen. Moreover, at that time, there was no Jesus. At least with a magician, you get a pigeon. With the resurrection, you do not get Jesus at all.
This is like a magician who forgot the pigeon and tries to fake it. He flutters the veil quickly and looks up like the pigeon just flew away. He tries to inspire amazement in the audience talking about how quickly the pigeon flew for having just been transmuted from an egg. He says that he’s never seen the trick go so well. None of the audience sees the bird. Just so, they never saw Jesus.
So, is the claim that Jesus was resurrected credible? No.
Continuing to contemplate the resurrection.
I have already argued that it is not a credible event. There is no reason to believe it. Now, I would like to argue that Jesus cannot be taken as a prophet, precisely because of the promise of the resurrection.
According to Matthew 12.38, some Pharisees and scribes approached Jesus and asked him for a sign. Inasmuch as Jesus seems to claim special knowledge through revelation, this is a reasonable request. Jesus uses it as an opportunity to attack them, as is his way. Jesus does not like to be questioned. He expects one to just take his word for it.
However, he does give them a sign, if in a surly manner. Basically, he says that he will come back from the dead after three days and three nights. So now, the Jewish people have a test. The only question is whether or not Jesus fulfills the sign that he offered them.
Now a note about signs: a sign is something observable. If one cannot see a sign, then the sign is not a sign. If I tell you that I am a police officer, the sign of my being one is my badge and identification. But they are not signs unless I show them to you. If I tell you I am a police officer and that I have a badge in my pocket but that you cannot examine it, you are not likely to take my word for it. I have offered you no proof by claiming that the proof is in my pocket where you cannot see it.
With that in mind, let us consider what happens. Jesus is supposed to have come back from the dead. At that point, the only way to fulfill the sign and his word is to present himself to the Pharisees. This is his responsibility. Instead he skulks about, hiding for forty days until he rises, like Romulus, to the heavens.
It is the testimony of the NT that Jesus never fulfilled the sign. Deuteronomy 18.22 tells us what we are to make of this: “If the prophet will speak in the Name of HaShem and that thing will not occur and not come about–that is the word that HaShem has not spoken; with willfulness has the prophet spoken it, you should not fear him.” Jesus prophesies, but his prophecies do not come about. He promises a sign and does not fulfill it. We are to reject such a prophet.
Keep in mind, even the NT acknowledges that Jesus did not present himself. This is why the Church has created a new definition of faith, which is believing what it says without proof. (See Jesus’ treatment of Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen, etc.”) Faith in the NT means taking the NT’s word for it.
Very frequently, critics of Christianity cite Jesus’ failure to return in the lifetime of his contemporaries as a false prophecy. And certainly they are correct. But according to the NT, his failed prophecies begin earlier than that. Jesus told people that he would return after three days, and then never came to them and showed them. He just disappeared.
As I pointed out, then, he never fulfilled the sign, even if he did come back, because it was not observable. It is as if he said that he was a police officer, but he cannot show you his badge just now. Even if he did return from the dead, he did not fulfill the sign. So, we are not to listen to him.
Continuing my remarks on the resurrection:
Let us assume that the resurrection did take place. And let us imagine that Jesus did present himself to the Pharisees. Would this have been enough to establish him as a true prophet and the Messiah?
The Torah system does not rely solely upon miracles. As R’ Blumenthal recently spoke about, miracles by themselves do not prove anything within the Torah system. Deuteronomy 13 tells us that there may be false prophets who are able to perform signs and wonders.
Before pressing on, we must note something here: the Torah does not differentiate in the magnitude of the miracle. The Torah does not say that if one heals the sick, that’s pretty good, but if he raises the dead, then the prophet is certainly a true prophet. There is no ranking of miracles. The Torah is about to apply a test to the prophet, but that test does not relate to the difficulty of the miracle.
Within the Torah system, which you acknowledge as having been given by God, the prophet is not entirely validated by his signs or wonders. The Torah says that if the prophet should say, “Let us follow gods of others that you did not know and we shall worship them,” they should not be heeded (v. 3). In fact, this prophet is to be stoned. Deuteronomy 13 makes clear that one is to follow HaShem alone. “HaShem, your God, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave” (v.5).
Here is where Jesus runs into another problem. Even if the resurrection story were credible, which it is not, and even if he had presented himself to the Pharisees as promised, which he did not, if Jesus claimed divinity, he is not to be heeded. The remarkable nature of the supposed resurrection does not grant license to worship him. Deuteronomy is clear that one is to worship HaShem alone, and it does not allow for a new understanding of him, as has been discussed regarding Deuteronomy 4.
If Jesus claimed to be divine, then he was a god that the Jewish people did not know. They did not receive a revelation of Jesus. In fact, Deuteronomy 13 is making quite clear that one’s devotion is to Hashem alone. One must keep His laws and serve Him. The perversion of those laws advocated by Jesus, by turning Pesach into a day about himself, for example, is another violation of these conditions. Jesus ends up failing the test of the prophet in two ways then, and must be viewed as a seducer.
The resurrection, therefore, if it had happened, would be interesting. By itself, however, it would not vindicate Jesus. He would not be granted carte blanche to teach whatever he wanted. He must not teach others to worship him. The magnitude of the sign or wonder does not give license to devote oneself to anyone other than HaShem. If Jesus claimed to be divine, then his resurrection becomes irrelevant. It is known by his message that he is a false prophet. And, being a false prophet, he is certainly not the Messiah either.
The appeal to the resurrection has failed three ways, then. One, the claim is not credible. Two, Jesus did not fulfill the conditions of the resurrection to make it a sign. Three, even if he had resurrected, if he advocated worship of himself, he is in violation of Torah and is not to be heeded. One’s faith just cannot rest upon the resurrection.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal