Daniël Maritz

The Most Dangerous Idea: Reflecting on the Resurrection of Jesus (Part 1)

Daniël Maritz | 16 November 2020 | 8 min read

Introduction – The Most Dangerous Idea

Peter Hitchens, brother of the late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), once participated in a panel discussion with three other speakers on a show called The Festival of Dangerous Ideas.[1] This discussion aimed to answer questions from the audience. Near the end, the panellists were asked which dangerous idea they consider to have the greatest potential to change mankind for the better?

One panellist responded by saying “population control” since there are too many people on the planet. He elaborated and said that in his darker moments he is not even pro-choice, but anti-choice and is of the opinion that abortions should be mandatory for about 30 years.

The other one responded to the question explaining that “freedom” is the most dangerous idea, and that people need to better understand that they are free to make their own choices.

The third panellist answered the question claiming that the most dangerous idea is for parents to supervise their children less. She explained that modern-day parents are doing too much with their children and distorting their freedom in the process. According to her, instead of doing more with one’s children, one should do less with them.

Hitchens answered that the most dangerous idea in the history of the world, remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died on the cross and rose again from the dead. He added that the reason for this is that it alters the entirety of human existence. It changes the universe from a place of meaningless and hopeless chaos into a place of justice, purpose, and hope. Moreover, he said that it gives each person a responsibility to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. He concluded his answer by claiming that regardless of whether you accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus or not, you cannot escape its ramifications.

Hitchens is echoing the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Paul also describes the resurrection of Jesus as a very “dangerous idea” in an implicit way. He uses the phrase “if Christ has not been raised,” to sketch three very dark implications for the Christian: First, if Christ has not been raised, then all Christians are false witnesses and liars. This means that all church ministers in the whole world should find honest jobs and probably join another religion since Christianity would be a fraud. Second, if Christ has not been raised, then there is nothing substantial left for the Christian faith. It is on the historicity of the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus that all Christians through the centuries have hung their hearts, souls, and minds. In short, the whole foundation of Christianity will crumble if Christ has not been raised. Third, if Christ has not been raised then we are all still in our sins with no way out of it. This assumes that without a resurrection, Jesus’ crucifixion did not really mean anything regarding His atonement for sin. This is perhaps why Paul ends this passage by saying that if Christ has not been raised, Christians are to be the most pitied people of all.[2]

To be sure, many objections have been levelled against the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and still, the belief in His resurrection does not seem to go away. It has been around for 2000 years.[3] Consequently, you must reckon with it, or let it reckon with you. The historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead seems to be the one thing that is too dangerous to handle and yet, too important to ignore.

I suggest that the reason why the dangerous idea of Jesus’ resurrection has not disappeared, and has continued to be believed through the centuries of the church, is because it offers you a significant truth for your mind to embrace and a beautiful hope for your soul to enjoy, the kind of truth and hope which you will not find elsewhere.

The Resurrection of Jesus as Truth

To really understand the truth of the resurrection, we first need to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the meaning of a crucifixion and a resurrection as it was understood in the 1st century A.D.

A crucifixion was a terrible and embarrassing affair. It was one of Rome’s ways of signalling their superiority over any form of rebellion or challenge against their rule. The message it signalled was “Do not mess with Rome, and if you do, you will die a humiliating death on a cross.” Michael Licona explains that a crucifixion was especially reserved for “members of the lower class, slaves, soldiers, the violently rebellious, and those accused of treason.”[4] An execution by way of crucifixion was probably one of the most brutal and horrible ways to die, and the Romans perfected it.[5] Before you were nailed to the cross and then left there while you slowly suffocated and bleed to death, you were first “tormented with whips, fire and all sorts of tortures.”[6] The point is that if you were crucified, your lifeless body was removed from that cross. You did not get off the cross alive – you died on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus was no exception.[7]

The next important phenomenon to contemplate is a resurrection. The Greek phrase for resurrection is anastasis sarkos/nekro (ἀνάστασις σαρκός/νεκρόω) which literally means “the standing up of the flesh/corpse.” A resurrection was understood to be a concrete and literal body coming back to life after being dead for a period of time.[8] In other words, a resurrection was not just some vague reference to the afterlife or maybe even a resuscitation of sorts. It did not mean that you rise up in sheol after you died or that your soul is somehow freed from its bodily existence. No, it was a literal, bodily resurrection after being dead.[9] The claim with regards to Jesus is that He died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead after three days. Accordingly, Herman Bavinck notes that “in his death Jesus belonged among the dead and at his resurrection returned from their domain to the land of the living.”[10] The next question to ponder is whether this historical claim is true?[11]

John 20:1-8 is the account where Mary Magdalene goes to the disciples telling them that the tomb of Jesus is empty and that someone removed His body from the tomb. Upon hearing this news Peter and one of the other disciples, presumably John, ran to Jesus’ tomb. The other disciple arrived there first, but he did not go into the tomb. He only stooped over to get a good view of the tomb and saw the linen cloths in which Jesus’ body was wrapped. When Peter arrived however, he went into the tomb, and also looked and saw the linen cloths lying there.

The interesting thing to observe in this account is that the other disciple just stooped over to look into the tomb. The Greek word used there for look is blepō (βλέπω), which is just the normal everyday word for looking and seeing. However, Peter went into the tomb and he also looked, but it is a different word that is used in the Greek in this instance. When Peter looks, he theoreō (θεωρέω), which is where we get our English word to theorize from. The point is that, even in this moment, Peter is looking for evidence in order to find out what exactly happened there. He sees the linen cloths lying there and the face cloth folded up on one side. He is using his mind to discover the truth concerning the event. He is weighing the evidence, engaging with it, thinking about it.[12]

When Timothy Keller preaches on John 20:1-8, he states the following to indicate the implication of the apostle Peter’s theorizing on faith as such:

“Jesus always gives you evidence. Faith starts with a convinced mind… [Mary’s, John’s, and Peter’s] minds are grappling with the evidence, and that’s the way anybody will start with faith. What do you do? Faith always starts with a convinced mind. You talk to people. You see people who’ve had their lives changed. You study the evidence. You read the Scripture. You look at the historic evidence for the resurrection, and it always starts with a convinced mind.”[13]

Elsewhere he also comments on this passage stating that

“One of the things we learn is faith may be more than thinking (of course it’s more than thinking; it’s commitment, it’s love), but it’s not less. Faith is not primarily a feeling. Faith may lead to feelings, but at first, faith is thinking about the truth. It’s thinking out the truth. It’s looking at the evidence. It’s reasoning.”[14]

In part 2 we will briefly examine three pieces of evidence, which if properly theorized and thought about, points one to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.[15] Thus, to be continued…

Suggested Readings

Bass, Justin W. The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2020.

Flew, Anthony & Habermas, Gary R. & Bagget, David J. (ed). Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.

Habermas, Gary R. and Michael Licona R. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.

McGrew, Tim and McGrew Lydia. “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” (In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009], 593-662). Preprint version (without Blackwell page numbers or copy editing, posted with the publisher’s permission), available at http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf, accessed April 4, 2020.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.

[1] This discussion is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnD98hNq6ZY accessed July 3, 2020.

[2] It can also be added that in Romans 10:9-10 a true belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection is set forth as a precondition for salvation. This contributes to the fact that it is a ‘dangerous idea.’

[3] The author acknowledges that this is not an argument for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event, only a potentially valuable observation.

[4] Michael R. Licona. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press), 303.

[5] Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), a Jewish historian, for example referred to a crucifixion as “a most miserable death” (Flavius Josephus & William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged [Peabody: Hendrickson], 760).

[6] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 303. For a detailed discussion of the medical consequences of a crucifixion also see Joseph w. Bergeron, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Medical Doctor Examines the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (St. Polycarp Publishing House), 2018.

[7] Norman Geisler unpacks some of the data with regards to the crucifixion of Jesus as follows: “the nature and extent of Jesus’ injuries indicate that He must have died: He had no sleep the night before He was crucified, He was beaten several times and whipped, and He collapsed on the way to His execution while carrying His cross. This in itself, to say nothing of the crucifixion to follow, was totally exhausting and life-draining… the nature of crucifixion assures death. Jesus was on the cross from nine in the morning until just before sunset (Mark 15:25, 33). He bled from wounded hands and feet and also from the thorns that pierced His head (in addition to His shredded back). There would have been a tremendous loss of blood after more than six hours. Plus, crucifixion demands that a man constantly pull himself up in order to breathe, thus causing excruciating pain from the nails. Doing this all day would quickly kill nearly anyone who might even have been in good health before” (Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume 2: God, Creation [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers], 612-613).

For a more detailed discussion of Jesus’ crucifixion, it is also worth reading Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 303-318. He basically lists and discusses four reasons for believing that Jesus died on the cross: (1) “Jesus’ death by crucifixion is multiply attested by a fair number of ancient sources, Christian and non-Christian alike.” These ancient sources appear in different forms ranging from annals, creeds, biographies, historiographies, letters, hymns, and oral formulas. (2) The reports for Jesus’ death by crucifixion starts no later than 55 A.D. and are thus very early. (3) More evidence “for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is that the Passion Narratives appear largely credible given their satisfying of the criterion of embarrassment and the plausibility of certain peripheral details.” These details would typically include the crowds following Jesus on His way to be crucified (Luke 23:27), the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross in light of the preparation for the Passover on the Sabbath (John 19:31), the breaking of the legs of the crucified victims (John 19:32-33), etc. These details correspond to other accounts of crucified Jewish victims. (4) The impossibility of surviving an execution by way of crucifixion.

Moreover, the death of Jesus as the Messiah, is also something that was prophesied and therefore predicted in the Old Testament. One can think for example of Isaiah 55:5-10 and Zechariah 12:10. This consequently paves the way for the theological significance of Jesus’ crucifixion.

[8] Keep in mind that the Jews and the Christians of that time knew that dead people do not rise from the dead. This fact is not something discovered by modern science, it was common knowledge for the people in the 1st century A.D. and prior to that.

[9] This particular understanding of Jesus’ resurrection has been part of the Church’s confession through the centuries. For a confessional approach to this claim see Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers), 51-65.

[10] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, H., trans. John Vriend(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 437.

[11] It is beyond the scope of this article to establish a philosophy of history which allows for objectivity when investigating historical truth claims. However, a couple of remarks may be helpful. Winfried Corduan observes that “the Judeo-Christian tradition rides on history. The truth of the teachings is predicated on particular persons and events in history… Thus biblical revelation is historical revelation” (Winfried Corduan, Handmaid to Theology: An Essay in Philosophical Prolegomena [Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers], 86). In the same manner Thomas Howe asserts that “Objectivity in history is a particularly important issue in biblical studies since the Bible presents itself as an historical book. Any problems with objectivity in history generally will pose a serious problem for objectivity in the interpretation of the Bible” (Thomas A. Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation [USA: Advantage Books], 47). Suffice it to mention that objectivity in history is attainable and objections against objectivity of historical knowledge can be dealt with in a successful manner. Many have argued for a kind of historical relativism leveling objections on the grounds of epistemology, methodology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and psychology. Norman Geisler notes however that “whatever is meant by the ‘objective’ knowledge of history they deny, it must be possible, since in their very denial they imply that they have it. How could they know that everyone’s knowledge of history was not objective unless they had an objective knowledge of it by which they could determine that these other views were not objective? One cannot know not that unless he knows that” (Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume 1: Introduction, Bible [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers], 189). Howe also explains that “If the interpreter cannot lay claim to an a-historical, transcendent perspective, then the possibility of objectivity in historical knowledge is a fantasy. Indeed, the very notion of objectivity becomes meaningless since there is no standard of measure by which to measure the possible objectivity of any claims about history” (Howe, Objectivity, p. 53).

Douglas Kelly also contributes meaningfully to this point. He explains that how “we determines what constitutes valid historical evidence will depend upon our underlying historiography, which in turn depends upon our view of ultimate reality” (Douglas F. Kelly, Systematic Theology: Grounded in Holy Scripture and Understood in Light of the Church, The Beauty of Christ – A Trinitarian Vision, Vol. 2 [Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor], 467). He goes further to indicate that the problem of approaching, reading, and interpreting historical texts objectively is the consequence of abandoning the metaphysical framework of realism and opting instead for a metaphysical naturalism and/or skepticism: “The reason for the rejection of a realist… reading of the New Testament text by scholars (such as those in the Jesus Seminar) is based on their metaphysical naturalism… This kind of anti-supernatural bias excludes a serious reading of the New Testament text on the resurrection” (Ibid.). According to Kelly, realism “is open to the real world, and to the plain teaching of ancient (or modern) texts,” because it “assumes a true relationship between the written text and the external reality to which it leads you” (Ibid., p. 468 & 469). While scholars like Bart Ehrman assumes nominalism when engaging with the New Testament texts, Kelly, in line with the general “Church Tradition,” opts for “moderate realism” which “sees ‘forms’… as existing in the mind that has perceived these realities through sense perception, although they are not free creations of the mind, but truly reflect objective realities outside the mind… that is to say, a true text can accurately convey objective truth from outside itself, but that text does not totally include the fullness of that reality, and is under the reality, not above it” (Ibid., p. 469). Accordingly, nominalism, together with other metaphysical frameworks like naturalism and skepticism, are good ways to avoid truths to which the New Testament texts are pointing one. The focus of these approaches tend to be on “discrete pieces, broken off from the whole, that what Athanasius termed ‘the scope’ of the text is eclipsed, and the mind of man is no longer under the direct mastery of the objective truth” (Ibid.).

[12] Concerning Peter, he might have considered the possibility that Jesus’ body was stolen. Maybe His body was taken by grave robbers or maybe the other disciples stole Jesus’ body. However, he saw the linen cloths and the face cloth folded up on the one side. It would have been strange for grave robbers or the other disciples to leave these articles behind. The point remains that Peter was engaging in abductive reasoning at this point, trying to find the best explanation for Jesus’ missing body. Today, we can do exactly the same thing Peter did with the public evidence available to us with regards to Jesus’ resurrection. The author is indebted to Timothy Keller for these insights (see for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59L1CkF1y98&t=468s accessed October 24, 2020).

[13] Timothy Keller, Believing and Seeking (In Timothy Keller Sermon Archive [New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church]). This observation from Keller is in line with Augustine’s view when he asserts, “For who cannot see that thinking is prior to believing? For no one believes anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. For however suddenly, however rapidly, some thoughts fly before the will to believe, and this presently follows in such wise as to attend them, as it were, in closest conjunction, it is yet necessary that everything which is believed should be believed after thought has preceded; although even belief itself is nothing else than to think with assent” (Augustine of Hippo, A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints [In P. Schaff, ed. Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. New York: Christian Literature Company], 499).

[14] Timothy Keller, Faith: The Complete Guide (In Timothy Keller Sermon Archive [New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church]).

[15] It is sometimes objected, on the grounds of Luke 16:31, that one should not argue for the truth and/or present the truth of the resurrection of Jesus since it will not be helpful in an evangelistic encounter. Some comments on this passage can however be considered. Since the rich man, who is now in Hades, calls Abraham “father Abraham” (Luke 16:30), it is safe to assume that he was a Jewish rich man who as a Jew had access to Moses and the prophets throughout his whole life. This rich man then wants Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to his five Jewish brothers to warn them of the consequences of not believing in God – they will end up where he is now, in Hades. Since his brothers are Jews, they already have Moses and the prophets, and Abraham’s response to the rich man suggests that Moses and the prophets are sufficient to warn his Jewish brothers. As Jews they are supposed to hold Moses and the prophets as authoritative, and if they do not take heed of the warnings of Moses and the prophets, someone who rises from the dead will also not convince them. Daniel 12:1-4 is a good example of where the prophets refer to the resurrection from the dead and also the fate of those who are living in disobedience to God. It would however be different of course if someone does not have access to Moses and the prophets or at least does not hold them to be authoritative. In such a case a resurrection might very well be used by God to convince someone to take the one who is risen from the dead seriously and regard him as an authority. However, since these people are Jews, they already have Moses and the prophets, they are just not heeding the authority of Moses and the prophets. More can still be said about the immediate context of this passage and its implications, however, there are other factors to consider as well.

In Matthew 12:38-40 some of the scribes and Pharisees challenge Jesus, asking Him to produce a sign. He answers them saying that “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jesus exposes them as hardened unbelievers but nevertheless informs them that the sign of the prophet Jonah will indeed be given. The sign of Jonah will serve as an illustration of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (also see Matthew 16:1-4). On another occasion in John 2:18-22 Jesus predicts his own resurrection to a group of Jews by referring to the temple. It is interesting that Jesus predicted the sign of His resurrection and performed other signs when He knew only some of His hearers would believe in Him (cf. John 2:23-25). The point is that an unbeliever’s moral and/or volitional response to an historical argument for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, or some other presentation of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, for example, is in God’s hands.

John 11:38-44 tells of the account when Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus resurrected him he was already dead for four days. After Lazarus was resurrected from the dead one reads that “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (verse 45-46). Some of the Jews “believed” in Jesus when they saw what he did, and others did not. Later in John 12:9-11, the resurrected Lazarus is facing death threats from the chief priests since “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” who resurrected him from the dead. Those who plotted to kill Lazarus obviously did not believe in Jesus and wanted to conceal His works from the public eye. In fact, the very reason they wanted to kill Lazarus in the first place was because of the public evidence the living Lazarus provided to the people. On account of Lazarus being alive again many Jews came to faith in Jesus Christ. This at least demonstrates that Jews can come to faith by witnessing a resurrection. Chrysostom comments on John 12:11 saying that “No other miracle of Christ exasperated the Jewish leaders as much as this one.… It was so public, and so wonderful, to see a man walking and talking after he had been dead four days. And the fact was so undeniable” (Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John [In Elowsky, J.C. ed., John 11–21, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.], 50). One must also not downplay verses like John 10:38 and 14:11 where Jesus points His audience to the truth of His works.

The apostles and early Christians never preached or presented the Gospel apart from Jesus’ resurrection (see Acts 10:39-41, Acts 17:16-43, and Acts 26:1-32 for example). Depending on the situation therefore, the truth of Jesus’ resurrection can legitimately be argued for historically or presented in some or other manner, knowing that the response of one’s listener(s) to this truth is in God’s hands.



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