"The Apostle Paul"--by Rembrandt
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes, "... and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."
Paul's apostleship was unusual in at least two senses. (1) He had been a persecutor of the first Christians. (2) He did not see the risen Jesus until after the ascension. Was this a vision or an appearance like the others who saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion? That question is hard to answer.
One thing is clear: Saul did not want to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He was on his way to Damascus to have Jesus' followers put in prison. Saul could not understand how a crucified, and thus, from a Jewish perspective, cursed man, could be the Messiah of Israel. Thus, Saul bet his life on the idea that Jesus was not the Messiah. But he became the ultimate hostile witness to the resurrection. His life was transformed by an encounter with the risen Jesus.
There are three possible explanations for these resurrection appearances. First, all the people who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion and burial could have been lying. However, as I noted in an earlier post, many of these people gave up their lives because of their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. It simply does not make sense to me that anyone would give up their lives for something they knew was a lie.
Second, all those who say they saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion could have hallucinated. However, the problem with this solution is that hallucinations do not happen en masse and Paul notes over 500 disciples who saw the risen Jesus at one time. Nor do I know of another instance where a number of people imagine they have seen something over a period of forty days and are thus able to independently corroborate each other's stories. Hallucinations just don't happen like this.
That leaves only one possibility: that is that all of these people, some 500 or more, actually saw Jesus risen from the dead. Accepting the resurrection of Jesus as a historical reality seems to me to be the most logical thing to do.
Of course, just because we can make logical sense of the resurrection that does not mean everyone will believe. As human beings we have emotional reasons for not accepting certain truths. The question is: how honest are we willing to be in our pursuit of truth?
Tomorrow we will look at the significance of the resurrection for us today.....