Christianity, a Clear Case of History

The Pentecost Phenomenon: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (2)

I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all the truth.
-Jesus to the Apostles

On the day of Pentecost following the crucifixion, a change of extreme proportions occurred within the apostles, permanently transforming them into utterly new men. From the third hour of the day-about 9 o'clock in the morning-their authoritative proclamation, their unity of knowledge and boldness of spirit stood in distinct contrast to their former lives before that day. Before Pentecost, they were fearful of the Jews, confused about the kingdom of God, uncertain of their purpose as apostles, and, on occasion, at odds with each other. But on Pentecost, they were unified into a bold band of authoritative and knowledgeable preachers. They became fearless in spirit and dedicated in their purpose to preach the gospel to the whole creation. In only hours, they would assume the dynamic leadership of a new religion which would quickly cover the earth and persist through their teachings until the present time. In addition, they were empowered to speak the languages of all races. This can no more be denied than can the amazement of the Jews who stood in awesome wonder of it.

The throngs of Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from various parts of the empire were stricken with the phenomenon and asked for an explanation (Acts 2:12). These events called for an explanation, because this renewal and empowerment of the apostles was immediate, not gradual. The answer they gave was that this phenomenon was due to the intervention of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had earlier promised.

Coming of the Spirit Is Proof of the Resurrection

Jesus had promised the apostles that after he ascended to heaven, he would send them the Holy Spirit. Then, within hours he was slain. If the promise was to be kept, Jesus would have to rise from the dead in order to go back to heaven and to send the Holy Spirit.

Due to the nature of the case, if it can be established that the change in the apostles was the result of the coming of the Holy Spirit, then the resurrection of Jesus, which was essential to his return to heaven, can be logically and historically sustained.

THE FACTS IN THE CASE

Nothing is to be assumed regarding the resurrection evidence. Facts are essential in the development of the proposition. Therefore, ever keep in mind that the factual evidence coming to us from the New Testament is as historically reliable as that from any other ancient source considered to be reliable. There are five important facts from which the argument emerges.

Fact Number One: The Promised Mission of the Holy Spirit

Before his crucifixion, Jesus promised to his apostles that the Holy Spirit would come to them and endow them with a full knowledge of the gospel. He promised that the Holy spirit would give them a perfect recollection of all that he had said to them during his personal ministry and that the Spirit would teach them all things which were inherent in that gospel ministry (John 14:26). He promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them into a total knowledge of all gospel truth, which at the particular time of the promise they could not have known: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12-13). The language unmistakably reveals that the promise was to be fulfilled by a supernatural intervention by the Holy Spirit, who would superimpose his own knowledge upon the apostles' minds. The knowledge of the meaning of Christ's life and death was to be an immediate gift, not a gradual process of learning.

Fact Number Two: The Coming of the Holy Spirit Was Conditional

Jesus imposed upon himself the condition of returning to the Father in heaven as a prerequisite to sending the Holy Spirit to the apostles: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because I go to the Father" (John 16:7-10). His statement makes it clear that the Holy Spirit would not be able to come to the apostles until after he had returned to the Father.

Fact Number Three: Jesus Died On the Cross

Eyewitness testimony that Jesus died on the cross has been carefully documented by Matthew (27:50) and John (19:30). Mark testified that the centurion in charge of the execution was convinced that Jesus died and so satisfied Pilate to grant the corpse to Joseph of Arimathaea for burial (Mark 15:39-45). John gave his eyewitness account that one of the soldiers of the execution squad pierced Jesus' side with a sword to the extent that both blood and water flowed out freely from the gaping wound (John 19:34-35). His preparation for burial and his entombment are thoroughly attested to by all of the gospel writers (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42).

Any suggestion that Jesus survived the ordeal of the cross and the spear to live out the rest of his life in some other area of the world, as claimed by some Hindus and Moslems, is without any historical basis and disregards four reliable testimonies to the fact of his death and burial.

The Force of the Argument

The facts thus far have brought Jesus to his death. Keep carefully in mind that Jesus promised to return to the Father in heaven before he could send the Holy Spirit to the apostles, but that he died before returning (John 20:17). Therefore, to ascend to the Father and dispatch the Holy Spirit, he would have to be raised from the dead. It is essential, therefore, to prove that the Holy Spirit came to the apostles and performed his work as promised in order to prove the resurrection of Jesus. Our task in this instance is to show that the Holy Spirit accomplished his work upon the apostles and by this means established the resurrection claim to be true. The evidence that the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and fulfilled his mission as Jesus had promised will be developed from the following facts.

Fact Number Four: The State of the Apostles Prior to Pentecost

During the ministry of Christ, the state of the apostles theologically, intellectually, positionally, emotionally, and educationally spans in extreme contrast to the superior level of excellence which they attained in each of these areas on Pentecost morning. When this phenomenon is coupled with the fact that it occurred within each of the apostles in no more time than it takes for a gust of wind to pass by, the claim of supernatural intervention cannot be easily discounted. Consider the prePentecost state of the apostles.

1. Theologically

In a word, it was nationalistic. The Jewish concept of the prophecies of the kingdom was of a literal sort that viewed their nation to be bathed once again in Solomonic splendor, their Messiah-King to be enthroned in ultimate regal glory, and the power and influence of their Israelite dominion to be extended to the ends of the earth.

Their nationalistic view of the kingdom was demonstrated in their response to Christ's feeding the five thousand with but two fish from a lad's lunch sack and five loaves of barley bread. They interpreted the act as an ability to supply Jewish armies with food and weapons to throw off the Roman yoke and made an attempt to take him by force to make him their king (John 6:14-15). Christ's rejection of this overture highlights the distance between their theological expectations of Old Testament messianic prophecies and Christ's own messianic intent and purpose. This nationalistic view led the apostles to miss the redemptive purpose of Christ and to misunderstand his theology of the kingdom of God.

We recall the incident when Jesus asked his disciples saying, "Who say ye that I am?" and Peter responded that he was "the Christ (Messiah) the son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16). Then Jesus charged his disciples "that they should tell no man that he was the Christ" (vs. 20). It seems natural to ask why Jesus charged them to silence about his identity after eliciting this confession from them. But Jesus did not equate their confidence in him with and understanding of the true spiritual nature of his messiahship and so charged them to keep silent about it until they were better informed. That information would come at Pentecost.

Immediately following this discussion, Jesus began to explain that he was to go to Jerusalem and suffer death at the hands of the Jewish hierarchy. Once again, Peter responded that as long as he was anywhere near his Lord, he would do what he could to prevent anything like that from happening: "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee." Christ's answer must have stabbed Peter to the heart; "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men: (Matthew 16:21-23). Human nature being what it is, Peter may well have wondered why Jesus asked them to confess him only to charge them to say nothing about it, and then why Jesus rebuked Peter, calling him Satan when he volunteered to lay down his life for his Lord! But while the words of Jesus were hard at the time, they exposed the nationalistic concept which Peter and the apostle had of Christ and of his kingdom. Therefore, Peter was minding the things of men and not the things of God.

On another occasion, two more of his apostles, spurred on by their mother's ambition for them, requested of Jesus seats of authority at Christ's right hand and left hand in the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:20-22; Mark 10:35-39). But Jesus countered: "Ye know not what ye ask," and so contrasted his own view of the kingdom with theirs.

This contrast of conceptions of the Messiah and his kingdom explains the amazement expressed by the disciples when Jesus proclaimed that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). Their own pre-Pentecost conception of the kingdom could not conceive of rich men not gaining access through their riches to the kingdom. The spiritual nature of the kingdom was in Jesus' mind alone. They simply were not able, at that time, to grapple with such statements as, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).

An impressive incident following the crucifixion serves to illustrate the Jewish view of the messianic kingdom which they interpreted strictly in terms of partisan Israelite nationalism. Two of Jesus' disciples were despairing that their messianic hopes had been blasted by the crucifixion of Jesus and so they gave as the reason for their sadness that they had "hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel" (Luke 24:13-21). Their conception of the redemption of Israel did not come close to the spiritual idea of a kingdom composed of regenerated men saved by the blood of a crucified king. At that moment, the idea of a kingdom brought into existence by the death of their king was incomprehensible. Redemption from sin would soon replace their present idea; but for the moment, their desire was for the redemption of their nation from its low position under Roman domination to the national glory which they believed would be the fulfillment of their messianic prophecies.

Pentecost was only a few days away; until then their nationalistic concept of the kingdom of God would persist. Even though they had their Scriptures interpreted to them as being fulfilled in a redemptive context (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), they did not take hold of the spiritual meaning. Even after the resurrection, Jesus clearly stated that what he had told them throughout his ministry was exactly what he would tell them now: that the Scriptures were fulfilled in his death, burial, and resurrection and that, as a result, repentance and remission of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations (Luke 24:44-47). Yet they did not fully understand and wouldn't until Pentecost. Even at the empty tomb, they did not know of the Scriptures which foretold the resurrection (John 20:9).

This explains Jesus' words in John 16:12-13, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth." The apostles had been blocked from a spiritual view of the kingdom of God by their nationalistic theology. On the day of Pentecost, their view was drastically changed.

2. Intellectually

The apostles were rather dull of perception prior to Pentecost regarding a number of Christ's statements concerning the kingdom and his messianic intent and purpose. After two occasions of feeding multitudes with loaves and fishes, hardly adequate for one person (Matt. 14:15-21; 15:32-38), he told his disciples, "take heed and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matt. 16:6). Immediately, the disciples began to talk about their failure to bring bread to eat. Jesus then asked why they didn't perceive that he wasn't talking about bread. He could have produced more bread as easily as he did when he fed the multitudes. Then, after another explanation about their lack of perception about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they understood that he warned them against their particular doctrine. On another occasion (luke 18:31-34) Jesus plainly told them that he would fulfill the Scripture in his death, burial, and resurrection at Jerusalem and would rise again on the third day. But "they perceived not the things that were said." They just did not grasp his meaning.

3. Positionally

The apostles were ambitious for seats of power in the coming kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28). As they jockeyed for position, they divided their ranks with jealous indignation. On the very eve of the crucifixion, they contended with each other as to who was greatest (Luke 22:24-30). They were not united in relation to each other.

4. Emotionally

Jesus told his disciples that at his crucifixion, they would be scattered abroad like sheep and that Peter would deny him three times before the cock finished crowing (Matt. 26:31-34). All the disciples were adamant that they would not deny their Lord; and at the time Jesus was arrested, it seems they tried to make good their boast. But their bravery turned to fear as they beheld the overwhelming flow of circumstances against them, and they fled (Matt. 26:35-56). Peter's fear led him to deny Christ, just as Jesus had predicted (Mark 14:66-72). On the third day after the crucifixion, all except Thomas quietly secured themselves behind closed doors "for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). These men were not cowards, but the natural emotion of fear gipped them at the crucifixion events.

5. Educationally

The apostles were not educated in rabbinical training, which is reminiscent of the statement made by the Jewish leaders about Jesus in John 7:14-15. Therefore, they could not know the minutiae of oral law or be expected to engage in Scripture argumentation as of the Law. Luke is clear on this point (Acts 4:13).

Taken as a whole, the state of the apostles prior toPentecost would not produce any expectation that this disorganized band of inept men could assume the dynamic leadership of a new movement that was soon to catch the attention of the entire Roman Empire and persist with millions of adherents for the next two thousand years.

Fact Number Five: The Change at Pentecost

Luke records the drastic change which took place within the apostles on Pentecost morning and claims that it was due to the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Barely fifty days had passed from the event at Calvary to Pentecost. Suddenly, on that day, they were transformed.

Their theology was now redemptive rather than nationalistic. They no longer cringed at the thought of Christ's death on the cross. They preached the necessity of their messiah's death for Israel's redemption, which now they knew was in the forgiveness of their sins. They no longer anticipated national prosperity and worldwide glory. They no longer interpreted messianic prophecy in terms of the redemption of the Jewish nation from their inglorious position of being just one more nation under the sway of Rome. They preached that prophecy was fulfilled in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and in the resulting salvation from sin, death and hell and in the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Intellectually, they were sharp, speaking confidently of the resurrection and lordship of Jesus with the authority that comes from knowledge and conviction. They spoke fluently in the multitude of dialects and languages that represented the different nationalities that had converged upon Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. No longer were they at odds with each other, but were united upon a common faith with a single redemptive purpose. They were emboldened to the amazement of the multitudes, fearlessly proclaiming their message as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And without exception, they maintained their doctrinal position and newly acquired capabilities through ensuing persecution. Here was a change of such proportions that the mind is boggled to think of it happening so quickly. Yet, it is one of the facts of history.

WAS THE CHANGE NATURAL OR SUPERNATURAL?

This fact of history must be explained. The question to be answered is: What processes combined to produce this phenomenon, this change in these Galileans in such a brief moment of time? Luke claimed it was the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). So did the apostles (1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:12). But inasmuch as the Holy Spirit could not have come to the apostles until after Jesus had ascended back to the Father, and since Jesus had been crucified, it follows that for the Spirit to have come to Pentecost, Jesus had to have been raised from the dead.

Can the Pentecost Phenomenon Be Explained by Natural Causes?

The only alternative explanation to the one offered in the New Testament is that the change in the apostles was caused by natural processes. But, what natural processes could have possibly combined to produce such a radical change in so short a period of time? The two essential ingredients required to produce such a thorough-going change in religious concept and thought patterns and linguistic ability are time and education. But the fact is that the time essentially required for an educational process to produce such an effect as this one was absolutely not available. A mere ten days had lapsed since they manifested their utter confusion about Christ's purpose and their future (Acts 1:6).

If the time normally required was not available, how, then, was the change produced? At the same time, we must ask who their teacher would have been? Who was able to unify them in both concept and spirit in that scant moment of time before Pentecost? How can we explain the exegesis, the arrangement, and adoption of the great mass of apostolic doctrine which interpreted Old Testament prophecy as fulfilled in Christianity? The concept which the apostles preached from Pentecost was not theirs ten days earlier. Is it reasonable to believe that in ten days the apostles could have assimilated and categorized that great volume of doctrine for the church to continue in (Acts 2:42), to successfully relate it to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, all in perfect accord with one another and without a dissenting voice among them, and to have done it all by mere human effort?

Only a Supernatural Answer Is Consistent With the Facts

The explanation that the Holy Spirit came and superimposed himself with his knowledge and power upon the apostles perfectly corresponds with the facts in this unique situation. This is the only explanation that harmonizes with the fact that Jesus promised the Spirit's coming, that harmonizes with the fact of the apostles' radical change, and with the fact that the apostles and Luke claimed that the change was due to the Spirit's coming and supernatural guidance.

CONCLUSION

We are left with a fact and a question. The fact is: The apostles changed drastically on the day of Pentecost, and natural processes cannot explain that change. The question is: Was it a natural or a supernatural change? The only reasonable answer in keeping with the facts lies in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is reasonable to believe that the Holy Spirit came from God and endowed the apostles, for their change came in a moment of time, entirely too fast for the natural course of things to produce it. And inasmuch as the crucified Jesus was not to send the Holy Spirit to accomplish this change until he had returned to the Father, it is also reasonable to believe that Jesus Christ was therefore raised from the dead, that he ascended to heaven, and that he sent the Holy Spirit who produced this great phenomenon at Pentecost. Based on the facts as we have them, this is a very reasonable conclusion.

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