Against all the odds
The accounts of the resurrection must have been very convincing. The Tacitus document mentioned previously shows that there were believers in different parts of the Roman empire, and even in Rome itself, just one generation after Jesus’ death, while many were still alive who would have seen Jesus on a day-to-day basis, and who were fully aware of His crucifixion. Something, therefore, persuaded these people that they should continue to believe in a man who had in human terms been dead for 30 years. Furthermore, they took this line even though (as we are told) they were hated for doing so, to the point of being used by a cowardly emperor as an easy scapegoat. And we are not talking here of a few individuals but of a “vast multitude” (Acts 2:41, 14:1).
If we move on another generation, the faith persisted and grew despite the ongoing reality of torture and death for many. The Pliny letter quoted above confirms some of the key points of the gospels and shows us that within perhaps 70 years of Jesus’ death, large numbers of people were convinced enough of the Christian message to die for their faith.
If Christ was not a truly extraordinary individual, if He did not die on the cross, and if He did not rise from the dead, then what was it that kick-started the Christian religion? What happened, against all the odds and under the most brutal of regimes, that persuaded thousands upon thousands of people that it was all worth it? What persuaded them that they should commit no “evil actions”, that they should speak the truth at all times and at whatever cost, and that they should ultimately accept torture and an appalling death rather than deny what they believed?
It is easy in our time to be cynical about these matters, as many states manipulate religious beliefs for political purposes, but that was not the case for these first century Christians – there was no state in the world where Christianity had even been recognised, never mind enforced. These were individuals who were prepared to swim against the most dangerous of tides because, with a simple and passionate faith, they believed strongly enough that Jesus Christ had died and had risen again from the dead.