The Table Podcast

Resurrection and the Vindication of Jesus

In this episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Gary Habermas with Mikel Del Rosario discuss how the resurrection of Jesus vindicates the claims He made about Himself. Note: This episode was recorded before March 2020.

Timecodes
0:30
Drs.Bock and Habermas are introduced
1:41
What is the background and significance of Jesus’ triumphal entry?
13:22
What is the background and significance of the Jewish examination of Jesus?
19:23
What is the significance of Jesus’ claims in Mark 14:62?
23:20
How does Pilate deal with the claims of Jesus?
27:30
What evidence exists for the crucifixion of Jesus?
32:16
What evidence exists for the empty tomb of Jesus?
39:20
How did the resurrection vindicate the claims of Jesus?
42:25
How can I talk to my neighbors about the vindication of Jesus?
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to the table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at he Hendricks Center. And our topic on the table podcast today is resurrection, and the vindication of Jesus. And I have two guests in the studio today. First guest is Dr. Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement, and Senior Research Professor of New Testament here at DTS. Welcome to the show, Darrell.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Glad to be with you.
Mikel Del Rosario
And our second guest is coming to us from Skype today. It’s Gary Habermas. Gary is the Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy, and he’s the Philosophy Chair at Liberty University, all the way in Virginia. Welcome.
Dr. Gary Habermas
Thank you, Mikel. Always glad to see you guys for one of these broadcasts. They’re great.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. You’re a veteran of foreign wars. [Laughter]
Mikel Del Rosario
So this is not the first time this has happened before, but I do need to take a step back and just appreciate how awesome it actually is to have both of you on the show today, because you guys are both Jesus guys, and we’ve had wonderful conversations in the past about the evidence for the resurrection. And today we’re gonna take a look at something that’s near and dear to both of your hearts, which is the vindication of Jesus, and how the claims of Jesus actually fill the resurrection with theological meaning. And so we’re gonna take a look at some key things that Jesus did towards the last week of his life, and what we celebrate during Easter time, and how that connects, how his words and deeds connect to the resurrection and its significance.

So we’ll just jump right in. I want to start with the triumphal entry, or as Darrell likes to call it, the a-triumphal entry, right?

Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
Help us just set the stage, and I’ll just throw it open to whoever wants to go first here. Just set the stage for whats going on at this point in Jerusalem, where people are coming into the city.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, they’re coming in to celebrate a feast. And I liken it to being at a football stadium and people parking their cars and getting ready to come in, and they all come in to the same locations, the same time. They’re coming from all over the country. They’re coming by foot, or if not by foot then riding on an animal, or at least a few people might be riding on an animal. So it’s a gathering throng, if you will.

And the reason for the a-triumphal as opposed to the triumphal is is that normally when a dignitary shows up to a city, what happens is the city gathers its prominent people, and they go out and meet this prominent person coming to the city, and escort this person into the city. It’s much like the way, in the modern world, a VIP might be greeted by the nation’s leader’s host if they’re coming from another country, that kind of thing, and then walk on a red carpet, et cetera, with a lot of pomp and circumstance.

And so, for example, if Pilate was coming into Jerusalem, he would be greeted by the Jewish leaders, and they would escort him into the town as a way of showing their respect for his position. And so, the reason then, the entry of Jesus is called an a-triumphal entry is because he presents himself as a king … at least that’s how the disciples are presenting him. Granted, it’s a humble king, but still he’s presenting himself as a king, and there’s no reception welcome coming from the other side. In fact, there’s protest.

So, that sets the scene for the nature of Jesus’ ministry. He’s been presenting himself as this hope for Israel. He’s been supported by miracles that I like to call power points, points about his power. And in the midst of all that evidence, people, a significant number of people are not responding, as opposed to welcoming what he’s doing. And the entry into Jerusalem is a little cameo snapshot of that reality.

Mikel Del Rosario
So he’s starting to become much more public now.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right. And one of the things that is happening with this ride on the donkey into town, which is an allusion to Zachariah’s passage about arrival on a donkey of a humble king. One of the things that’s happening is is that Jesus has been very circumspect about claiming who he is in public. He’s talked privately about this with his disciples, and even gaining the confession at Caesarea Philippi, he tells them, “Don’t tell anybody, because the public has a certain expectation of what Messiah’s gonna be.” And then there’s the kind of Messiah Jesus is gonna be, and they don’t match. So he doesn’t want to create a sense of false expectation.

But when he come to Jerusalem he’s gonna force matters. He’s going to publicly reveal who he is, declare by his actions what he is doing, ’cause the first thing he does after the triumphal entry is cleans the temple, which is claiming sacred space by the king. And in the midst of doing that, in the midst of making this public declaration, really force the hand of those at the temple, and those who are leading in the city to make a decision pro or con about what they think about what he’s doing.

Mikel Del Rosario
Gary, how do you see the authority of Jesus being shown in this scene here?
Dr. Gary Habermas
Well, I think it’s quite amazing. I think, as Darrell just said, it sets the table and it raises all kinds of questions. If you’re gonna be careful about who you say you are, and then you start revealing it maybe in bits and pieces, or the Markan messianic secret, and all these things. But then he’s reaching the time where it’s gonna come out. And it’s not long after this, what, just a matter of days, when he’s gonna be before the priests. And, to me, Darrell’s written maybe the best book on the subject, but to me, that’s the most amazing proclamation. He’s been quiet for all this time, and he’s gonna come out and make some statements that are gonna get him blame for blasphemy, and fit to die. So it certainly ushers in the beginning of the end.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And there’s another detail that’s important, vs. the way this is popularly conceived, at least, the triumphal entry. The picture that you get in popular expectation about this event is that the whole city welcomed him. And then later on in the week, the same city is rejecting him. And how does that happen? And the shock of that turnover. But I actually think a careful reading of the text suggests that’s not quite what happened. What happened was the disciples were proclaiming who he was. They were bringing a lot of attention.

And the general environment of the event that they are attending is festive. And so, again, I’ll go back to the football analogy. It’s like a football crowd going to a game. Before the game they’re all excited about the competition and what’s gonna happen, and how that’s gonna play out. And so everyone’s reacting. So some people are praising Jesus because of who he is and their connection to him. But other people are just joining in ’cause the time itself is festive. And so I think that takes the edge off the so-called switch in Jerusalem of people who are so for Jesus at the beginning of the week end up being against him at the end. I actually don’t think that’s what happened. I think what you had is people were presenting Jesus. They were vocal and certainly present and effective. And then a second thing that was going on was a lot of the crowd was just coming into town to celebrate the feast. And so that’s important.

There’s one other important part of the detail that sometimes gets mentioned by skeptics. Skeptics say, “Well, if Jesus really went out and presented himself as a king right there at the beginning, why didn’t the Roman soldiers simply arrest him at the time?” And the explanation that I just went through is actually the explanation for that. You have 120 or so disciples who’ve gathered with Jesus, who’ve come in from Galilee with him … that’s the number that was in the upper room later … who are presenting Jesus. But you’ve got this crowd thronging to the city in a festive mood, coming to celebrate the feast. And so everybody’s in a … how can I say? … uproarious mood, if I can say it that way. And so as long as nothing violent is happening, there’s nothing that signals, in a significant way, that there’s any danger or any violence or any disruption going on that would draw the attention of soldiers, particularly over a distance.

If you’ve ever been to Jerusalem, and you’ve looked out over the Western Wall towards the Mount of Olives, that’s a long distance. And cars are specs, and people are half specs. So you wouldn’t necessarily be seeing, as someone’s coming in on the Mount of Olives, all that celebration. And the noise that would be generated would be the noise of a huge large crowd, not necessarily the specific noise of what’s happening around someone riding a donkey coming into the city.

Mikel Del Rosario
One of the objections that I’ve heard is that … Gary, maybe you can chime in on this as well … is people were singing all kinds of songs at that point. And maybe they weren’t singing specifically about Jesus and this blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. How would you respond to that?
Dr. Gary Habermas
I think one thing is for sure. There were a lot of different concepts. And you have to put them all together. And some are there, as Darrell suggested, some along for the ride, some are there for the excitement, sort of like tailgating, only they were walking and they were doing their tailgating together in a crowd, and all the palm branches and everything else. I think a lot of them, to me, I think they’re hoping this is gonna be it. This is gonna be it when the Romans are overthrown, Passover, best time of the year. Don’t we expect it to all hang out right now? And he goes on down to the temple, and some other things are going on now.

So, it just … I don’t know if they knew what to expect. Everybody had their own expectations. You see that in the gospels, when he responds and people respond differently to what he says. So I just think, to me, that it’s a wild time where they’re hoping for something that didn’t happen. And then those who were faithful to him, he’s on a cross a few days later. So you got the ups and downs on both sides.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well they’re certainly, if they’re using the palm branches, they’re laying down their cloaks for him, they’re certainly directing these things toward him. Even the sign on the cross later on that we see, the king of the Jews, that speaks to the historicity of this, doesn’t it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Everything rotates around the cross. Why is Jesus put to death? Everything that’s associated with that. We’re probably coming to a discussion we talk about the different motives as to what put Jesus on the cross, depending on whether you are Roman or a Jewish leader.

But the challenge of the laying down of the palm leaves, and Jesus entering in is that it is this announcement and presentation of the arrival of a king. Some people might have seen it just as the arrival of some kind of a dignitary, something like that. They may not have been able to specify. In fact, John tells us they didn’t realize the connection to Zechariah until after Jesus was glorified, which is a way of referring to his death. So a lot of people didn’t put together the symbolism until, upon further review, since we’re using football illustrations. And so everything is presenting itself, and people are having to reflect.

Now what’s interesting is, the Jewish leaders get it. They walk out to Jesus’ disciples and they say, “Tell him to stop.” And Jesus responds by saying, “Well, if these disciples weren’t doing what they were doing, the rocks would cry out.” And this is one of those cases where in scripture, when creation speaks, we’re supposed to listen. And when there’s the possibility of creation speaking, we’re supposed to listen. So all the rhetoric of what is surrounding this event, coming from the people who are participating in it, is sending a signal of, this is something to pay attention to. But I do think that a lot of people who were around the fringes of the event really had no clue what was going on. And the leadership was rejecting what was taking place, even though they understood the symbolism.

Mikel Del Rosario
So if Jesus is presenting himself as a dignitary or a king, if you get it, then it’s time to follow him, unless …
Dr. Darrell Bock
At least pay attention.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. If he’s not who he claims to be, then we need to stop him at this point.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right. So it raises the tension. Of course, when Jesus goes in, the next thing that he does is go into the temple and cleans it. And now that really does ratchet up the pressure. The leaders are responsible for the temple. It’s a rebuke of the way the temple is operating. And he’s really, at that point, forcing their hand in terms of making a decision about him. It’s a claim of sacred space. In fact, it’s the most sacred space on earth, as far as a Jewish person is concerned, ’cause it represents the presence of God.

And so there’s no wiggle room for the leaders, once he goes in and cleanses the temple. They either have to be supportive of what he’s done, or stop it.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well, let’s take a look now, fast forward to the Jewish examination. And Gary, could you help us just set the stage for what is going on at this point, and how palpable the tension would be in this meeting?
Dr. Gary Habermas
Yeah. You’re talking about before the Sanhedrin, right?
Mikel Del Rosario
Yes.
Dr. Gary Habermas
Yeah. We’re doing this football analogy, and we’re doing tailgating, and we’re doing things like that. I think … Here’s my take on how I see that event. The high priest is there, and he’s got these witnesses coming in, and he wants them to present their charges, ’cause in Jewish data, and in the Old Testament, you have to have witnesses, and you have to have more than one witness. And they’re saying things, I get the feeling that the high priest is not terribly happy with the arguments they’re bringing. Like, “Tear this temple down. In three days I’ll raise it up.” Okay, that’s pretty bad. As Darrell said, that’s one of the worst things you could do is tread on the temple. But it’s not quite getting to the fact of blasphemy.

So he hears these witnesses. And to me, he’s saying, “Alright. Good enough. Look, you guys have had your say. I’m gonna step in, and it’s gonna be mano a mano, Jesus and me. Alright? Just tell me straight.” And I wonder if in the back of his mind he’s thinking, “My guys have been out there a lot, and they see you a lot, and they keep losing arguments with you. But you and I are gonna have it our right here. It’s gonna be like a little mini debate.” And he says, “Are you the Christ?” In Mark 14, “Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed one?”

And as Darrell and other commentators, Craig Evans and Tom Wright and others have mentioned, there’s even Jewish elements here. He doesn’t say, “Are you the Christ, the son of God?” He says, “Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed one?” which is one of the indications that passes as authentic. And so he asks Jesus, and Jesus responds, for me, Jesus responds with four things. He says, of course in the Greek, “Ego eimi.” And there’s discussions whether that’s the ego eimi of Exodus 3 and so on. I think normally not, with most of the commentators. But I’m sure Darrell is well up on that.

So he says, “Ego eimi.” And then he says, “Henceforth you will see the son of man coming”. Now, in the Old Testament, son of man can mean more than one thing. It could be a mere man, Book of Psalms. Could be a prophet, almost 100 times in the Book of Ezekiel. And it could be the enigmatic figure of Daniel 7, who’s often portrayed as a pre-existent figure. It’s not God, because the ancient of days is there. And he’s sent to earth to set up God’s kingdom.

And, I might just mention, Darrell, I don’t know where you are on this, but the end of the Septuagint there, at the end of that passage, the word latreuo is used. And some translations say they worshiped him. Most of them say they served him, the son of man. But …

Dr. Darrell Bock
I can talk about the Aramaic there. Go ahead.
Dr. Gary Habermas
Yeah, the Aramaic. Okay. Well, Mike Licona did a study of latreuo, and almost every time the word is used, it’s serving, but it’s in a worship context. It’s in a temple context every time but one, if I remember correctly. So, that’s a context. And he says, “Ego eimi.” And then henceforth you’ll say the son of man. Now, the high priest could have gone, “Son of man, son of man. Who’s the son of man? We’re all sons of men? Come on. Stay on the subject. I asked you if you’re the Christ.” No, he didn’t say, “This is a small thing. We’re all sons of men.” He starts getting flustered. And Jesus said, “I’m coming on the clouds.”

And most of all, I think most commentators think where he really crossed the line was not even the ego eimi, it’s the co-regent on God’s throne. Sitting on the right hand of God. He crosses the line. So you get a formal declaration of blasphemy and the tearing of the garments. And, of course, he puts the words in everybody else’s mouth, the high priest, and he says, “Hey. I think this guy is guilty of blasphemy. What do you all think?”

And I can hear this … what if we change images from the football game to the ancient west, the black and white westerns where they’re getting ready to hang somebody? And these guys that move from set to set to set, and they’re paid whatever to sit there and go, “Yeah, yeah. Hang him high. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And you’re getting the crowd of everybody hanging … jumping off there together going, “Crucify him.” “Kill him.” And to me, that’s the most significant, single passage in the gospels where Jesus comes out, and the text or Jesus, either one, makes it very clear who he is.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly. And there’s a whole … let me … I’ll walk back through it, ’cause this is interesting. In Mark you get initially the presentation of the temple charge, “Tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” And, of course, what John tells us is he was talking about his body. He wasn’t talking about the physical temple at all. And it says, “The witnesses couldn’t agree with one another.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to look at an event, not from the perspective that you’re used to reading it from, but from the perspective of the opponents. And in this particular case, the last thing that the Jewish leadership wants to do is take a case to Pilate that they can’t prove. Because if they take a case to Pilate that he cannot prove, and Pilate releases Jesus saying, “We looked at this and there was nothing here,” that is a public relations disaster for the Jewish leadership. That’s the last thing that they need.

In this meeting before the Sanhedrin, which is often called a trial. That’s actually a misnomer. It’s an examination. It is like the grand jury phase of deciding whether you’re gonna present a charge, rather than actually having a formal trial in the technical sense. This is why some of the mishnaic rules I don’t think apply to the situation that we’re in. Having said that, when the question gets asked, and I think Gary’s right to point out the four things, but three of them are very tightly connected to one another. The ego eimi is debated as to whether we’re alluding back to Exodus or not. You can sign me up as a skeptic on that one. I think that, stuck in the sentence, it’s just not clear. If it’s an allusion, it’s an extremely subtle one.

But the next three are crucial and belong together. You will see the son of man, seated at the right hand of power, is the way … Jesus responds with equal respect for the name of God that the high priest showed when he asked the question, “Are you the son of the blessed one?” It’s a circumlocution to prevent saying the name God. You’ll be … are you the son of the blessed one, rather than the son of God. And the I will be seated at the right hand of power, rather than at the right hand of God. Okay. So again, Jesus was responding in kind, showing equal respect.

Coming on the clouds. Now the reason those three are important linked together is because who gets to sit with God in heaven? If you are a strong monotheist and share his presence, and share his glory, that’s just a good question. And then, the second part of it is, and you’ve got a son of man figure riding the clouds. Gary said earlier that the son of man in Daniel is not God because we have the ancient of days. But it’s confusing, because only God rides the clouds.

And so I’ve got a human being riding the clouds, something that in the Old Testament only God does. And so he’s doing God stuff as he’s presented to God and receiving authority from God about the things of judgment that are things that God executes. And so you’ve got this huge mix. So what you’re seeing is the crashing of what I call the Christological glass ceiling. He’s coming through from below to the above, and it’s demonstrating who he is. And the theologians in the room get it.

Another important thing that’s important about the gospels is that even though the leadership doesn’t believe what Jesus is saying, they understand what he’s claiming. They get what he’s saying. And so the reason it’s blasphemy is because if Jesus is not actually who he’s claiming to be, it is blasphemy. And so they don’t believe that he is what he’s claiming, so they naturally goes into the blasphemy bucket. But Jesus is claiming exultation that God is going to be responsible for. What he’s really saying to them, when they ask who he is, he’s actually making a prediction. He isn’t just answering, “Yes,” in effect, although he doesn’t say … “This is what I’m gonna be doing,” which is the way he always answers the question of who he is.

He always answers the question of who he is by what he’s doing. John the Baptist asked a similar question earlier. “Go tell John what you see and hear.” And you’ve got the same thing going on here. And in the midst of doing that, he presents … he basically says, “You can do with me whatever you want. But one day God is gonna vindicate me. In fact, henceforth God is gonna vindicate me, and you’re gonna see me at the side of God, riding the clouds, executing judgment. And you may think I’m on trial here, but one day you’re gonna be on trial, and I’m gonna be the judge.”

And they did not like that answer, not only for the Christology that it presented, but for the eschatology that it also represented. It’s a prediction of God’s gonna vindicate him, no matter what they do. And so they ripped their clothes and said that it’s blasphemy, ’cause they don’t believe what he’s claiming. And the battle is … you set this up nicely, Gary, kind of a boxing match. On the one side we had the side that represents blasphemy, and on the other side we had the side that represents divine exaltation and vindication. And those two things are clashing at this event. And now the question becomes, who’s right? Who’s got this right?

Well, before we get there, we’ve got to get to the cross. And so they go on to Pilate and they take a religious charge, blasphemy, they translate it into a political charge, because if they had walked into Pilate’s office and said, “Hey. We’ve got a figure here we want you to judge, and he’s guilty of blasphemy against our religion,” Pilate would go, “So? I don’t care about that.” So they translate it into a political charge. The political charge is he’s claiming to be a king. Now, Pilate has several responsibilities. He’s supposed to keep the peace. He’s supposed to look after Caesar’s interest. He is supposed to collect the taxes, and he appoints the high priest once a year. Those are the four things that he does.

And when Jesus claims to be a king, as far as Pilate’s concerned, only Rome appoints the kings. So if you claim to be a king that Rome doesn’t appoint, Rome believes very much in law and order. You follow our law, or we’ll put you in order. And so that’s exactly what’s happening here. He’s challenging them. And in the midst of that, then we get this transfer from a religious charge to a political charge, which Pilate has to deal with, ’cause this is right in the hub of why he’s there. You gotta keep the peace, you gotta look after Caesar’s interests. Caesar’s interests are not in having kings floating around who Caesar didn’t appoint. And so Jesus ends up going to the cross for sedition, and that sets up this potential for vindication. Who’s right? The people who say Jesus is dying because he’s blasphemed, and committed sedition, or because Jesus is who he claims to be?

Mikel Del Rosario
So now we’re transitioning into the crucifixion. Pilate’s meeting with Jesus. So we have him coming in, the triumphal entry as a dignitary, later certainly as a king. Now he’s claiming to have the kind of authority that God has, where he rides the clouds. The son of man in I Enoch, is this pre existent figure who has the right to judge. There’s a great … maybe you can just comment on this briefly … in I Enoch, at the end where the people who see the son of man are the people who are judged. That’s an amazing passage.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Everything about Enoch is interesting. We think … I edited a book with James Charlesworth at Princeton who knows these Jewish materials backwards and forwards. We think that I Enoch was written in the period in the switch from BC to AD. We even think it might have been written in Galilee, which is where Jesus ministered. So people would know when Jesus said son of man, they would know what that is. And particularly, once you connect it … and he only did this twice, at the Olivet discourse, and then in this scene with the Jewish leadership. When you connect it to riding the clouds, you’ve identified the passage that connects to the son of man. It’s Daniel 7.

And so this is the glorious son of man. And he always went around saying, “the son of man,” not a son of man, which he’s talking about himself. He’s not talking about anybody else. And so, when he says, “You will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds,” he’s talking about who he is, not a separate figure. And in the midst of doing that, he’s making all those claims. But it’s in cultural script. And by cultural script I mean it’s almost coded. But the Jewish leadership understands the code. They just don’t agree with it.

Mikel Del Rosario
Psalm 110:1, as well, seated at the right hand. Now it’s taking on this idea of the ultimate eschatological king that they’re waiting for.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right. You’ve got the kingship passage out of Psalm 110:1, one of the most popular passages of the Old Testament cited in the New. And then you’ve got this Daniel 7 text, which is someone being ushered into God’s presence, but getting there in a means that only God travels, even though son of man means human being. So you’ve got this human/divine thing going on in the way Jesus is presenting this. And so he’s leading people to ponder what it is that he’s saying, and the Jewish leadership gets the claim. They don’t miss the signal. They just want to turn off the radio signal.
Mikel Del Rosario
Gary, talk to us a little bit about the evidence for the crucifixion. This is something that is virtually uncontested in scholarship right now. Is that correct?
Dr. Gary Habermas
That’s correct. In fact, if you take just three figures that people point to as being three major skeptics today, John Dominic Crossan, the late Markus Borg, and of course Bart Ehrman, Crossan and Borg have almost identical comments. And what they both say is, well Crossan says that the crucifixion of Jesus … he says he takes it absolutely for granted that Jesus died on the cross. And they infer or say things like this is the most incredibly established event in the ancient world.

You take Bart Ehrman, who of all the criteria, and I know the criteria are under fire today, but you still have … almost nobody’s willing to walk away from. And you have Bart Ehrman saying that his favorite is multiple attestation. And he takes great pain to say that there are at least 15 independent sources that attest to the crucifixion of Jesus. So, on historical grounds, he’s got a chapter in his book, Did Jesus Exist. He’s got a chapter on two of the best evidences that Jesus lived and was somebody special. And one of them is what we know about the cross. So he considers death by crucifixion to be untouchable, as far as skeptical.

In fact, Dom Crossan even sounds like the way evangelicals talk once in awhile, because he starts guessing as to why Jesus died on the cross. So he talks about the possibility of hanging down low, and pulling down on the muscles, or intercostal pectoral deltoid muscles, and he could have asphyxiated on the cross in low position. That’s Dom Crossan. So yeah, I think you’re right. Almost nobody questions the crucifixion of Jesus anymore. It’s a given. Of course, you have to go on to bigger things after that.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Is the sign above Jesus’ head, the king of the Jews, is that part of the consensus as well? Or what’s the evidence on that?
Dr. Gary Habermas
Well, in my reading, that goes back and forth. Sometimes you have a few scholars who say it’s one of the signs of historicity, along with the voice of the baptism, the sign over the cross, these are major moments where Jesus’ identification comes out some way or another. And yes, it’s often pointed historicity. I don’t … in the reading I do from these skeptics, many, many, many of them, there’s not a lot of comments about the sign on the cross. But there are passing comments that it’s a good look at the history of the situation.
Mikel Del Rosario
And there’s the authority as well that’s mentioned there.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Martin Hengel thinks the titulus, which is what you call the sign on the cross, is one of the most important features of the scene, because it tells you why Jesus was crucified. He was crucified for sedition. That’s precisely why Rome would crucify somebody. So it fits the cultural backdrop. Sometimes people quibble about the different wordings that are presented in the gospels for what is on the titulus. But you need to remember that sometimes we’re dealing with summary, as opposed to detail. And all of them agree that the declaration was is that Jesus was crucified for claiming to be a king.

So all that is at work. And then the reason it’s important is because you can work both backwards and forwards from the event of the crucifixion to understand why Jesus is on the cross. I tell my students that if you look at technical, historical Jesus studies, written by people who may or may not be believers, the whole scope of that, if you want to understand if they’ve really done their work, if they will acknowledge a public declaration that Jesus claimed to be a messiah, he claimed to be the king, then they’re probably doing a good level of work. If they argue that Jesus is something less than that, in the midst of his life, they’ve missed what’s going on, historically. And because, when Jesus hangs on the cross, it’s for this claim.

Now, the next question, what kind of messiah is he, how great a messiah is he, is a whole ‘nother layer to that question. But at the least, recognizing that Jesus was crucified for being the Messiah, for claiming to be the king of the Jews, for claiming to be the anointed one … that’s what Christ means … that is a very, very central part of the narrative. And the titulus is the sign … pun intended … of that meaning.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well, let’s move on to the reports of the empty tomb, now, and the resurrection. Gary, you’ve said before that we’re not talking about the resurrection of John Doe, we’re talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so because of that, we have this context in which to interpret what happened. Give us a little bit on the evidence for the empty tomb as you present it.
Dr. Gary Habermas
The empty tomb? Well, I think of all the facts there toward the end … and I do this deal where using a small number of what I call minimal facts, we still have enough of a basis to say that Jesus raised from the dead. Now I don’t count the empty tomb in that group, only because not as many scholars allow it. But the data for the empty tomb is as great as any of the other facts there. I have a list of over 20 historical arguments for the empty tomb. And the crazy thing about the list is, they’re all derived critically from the text. These are what critical scholars say, not somebody who’s quoting hook, line, and sinker, like to paraphrase Bart Ehrman. Ehrman says, I’m quoting all these verses, not because they’re in the Bible. I don’t quote them because they’re in the Bible. I quote them because they are arguable from the data, and according to criteria we use.

So, using those criteria there’s over 20 considerations. The first few I think are more powerful than the rest of them. And, of course, two scholars … well, the big one that critical scholars mention more than any other one is the women going to the tomb, and the fact that these are four biographies around the Mediterranean. They’re not looking over each other’s shoulder. They can read sources, but they’re not like sitting at a table, “What do you have for that?” “What do you have for that?” They’re all telling the story their own way. And to me what’s incredible is they could have. With the passion for mentioning males instead of females to get your case in court, it’s wrong to say women couldn’t testify in a court of law. It’s plain they could. But the more important the issue is, and where there are men around really was important.

Carolyn Osiek’s article on women at the tomb, she says that was the attitude toward women around the entire Mediterranean, Greek, Roman, Jewish, Egyptian. That’s just how they viewed it. And those men who wrote the gospels could have said … Luke and John mention it … they could have said, “Well, on Easter Sunday a couple of our guys went to the tomb and checked this out.” And it could have been a totally different story. It could have been the men going late and seeing it. But all four of them say, “Hey. Men or no men, it starts with the women.”

And, of course, the women are the, for all intents and purposes, just about the only one at the cross. They’re just about the only one at the burial, except for two fairly obscure, Joseph and Nicodemus. But the women are there. The women are the only ones going to the tomb. And we’re told in John they were, the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews. The women are the first ones to see Jesus. So at every spot, the women are the key.

And then the second point I’d make, the two greatest to me, is that the resurrection was first proclaimed at Jerusalem, not Rome, not Antioch, not Alexandria. It was proclaimed in Jerusalem. And what’s so bad about that, if you’re a critic, is a walk, a sabbath day’s journey could have seen if that tomb was empty. And sometimes critics will say things like, “Well, hey. Come on. Even according to your Book of Acts, 50 days later, what’s that body gonna look like in the tomb when the first sermon’s done on Pentecost?” And that’s the wrong look, because the question isn’t was there a body in the tomb that we couldn’t recognize? The question was, was there a body in the tomb? And that the teaching of the gospels is there was no body in the tomb. If you go, “Guys, I’ve got a body here. I can’t make out who it is.” Now you got questions about where the nails were placed, you could tell what happened to the body. But … and by the way, pathologists have told some of us who’ve done this research, that in a spring environment, 50 days would not have been too long to not recognize somebody. But to me it’s irrelevant.

If there was any body in the tomb, the proclamation is wrong. And Jerusalem is the place where the proclamation was made. So you don’t make a proclamation that is readily falsifiable, unless it’s true. So I think those two things. Women witnesses, and the location of Jerusalem. This Jerusalem factor for the proclamation are two. And we’ve got a number of others, whether Paul implied it in the pre-Pauline creed I Corinthians 15, Acts 13, Acts sermon summary about the burial. We’ve got other data. But I think those are the two biggest evidences.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Let me elaborate on the women thing, ’cause I think that’s important. And Gary’s right, that women could testify. Now the fact is, their testimony was limited to certain kinds of cases where a woman’s presence would be important. So it was restricted, but it existed.

But imagine this, ’cause remember the alternative is the early church made it up. So you’re in the PR meeting after the Messiah’s been crucified, and the group has gathered, and they’re saying, “Alright. How are we gonna keep hope alive here? They killed our Messiah.” And someone raises their hand and says, “I got a brilliant plan. Let’s take a difficult idea, resurrection from the dead, which almost no one believes. Only the Pharisees believe in it. The Sadducees don’t believe in it. The Greeks don’t believe in it. So we gotta sell this difficult idea. And we’re gonna go out, and our major witnesses are gonna be women. And they’re gonna sell it to the world, as the starting point.”

And the whole group goes, “Yeah. That’s the plan. That’s the way we’re gonna do it.” And they go out and … There is no way in first century heaven that that plan is gonna work, and that that’s gonna be a plan that someone’s gonna make up. The only reason you have something so culturally outlandish … if I can say it that way … is because it happened. That’s the only way you get that in the story.

And so that’s why we’re saying, that is one of the key reasons for believing that this took place, and that it wasn’t a created story, which is the only alternative. And the point that Gary is making about Jerusalem is very important, because everything happened in Jerusalem. As he said, you could take a seven pace walk and go see. There’s the tomb that he was supposedly buried.

Now, Bart Ehrman comes around and says, “Well, he wasn’t buried in a tomb. He was left like everyone else who was crucified to go in effect into a pauper’s grave, and he was just dropped in with everybody else who had been crucified.” But the text doesn’t let you go there. So, that’s an explanation looking for a rationale, and looking for a basis in the text that doesn’t exist.

So, the only reason the women are in the story is because the women were in the story.

Mikel Del Rosario
Now Gary mentioned the Book of Acts. And I think immediately of Acts, chapter 2, where we have the first Jewish apologetic for Jesus as a Lord and a Messiah connected to the resurrection and his ascension. Talk to us about the vindication that is seen in the resurrection.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So we’ve already set this up in saying what Jesus did in front of the Sanhedrin was to predict what it was that was going to happen, that was gonna show who he was, and in effect, be the answer to the question that the high priest asked. “Are you the son of the blessed one?” In effect, Jesus was saying, “One day God is gonna show you.” And the empty tomb and the resurrection is that show. That was show time.
And so you get this raise … in fact, Peter says it outright. He says, “Therefore let all Israel know, God has made this one who you crucified both Lord and Christ,” on the order of the Greek is, “God has made Lord and Christ this one who you crucified.” And the evidence is the empty tomb, he cites Psalm 110
1, the same text that Jesus applied at the Sanhedrin in the midst of that speech. And so, the way I like to joke about this, that what Jesus was predicting in front of the Sanhedrin was, “You can ask me this question, but one day you can contact me and you can contact me at www right hand of God dot com. I will still be alive and be able to answer your question, and you will see evidence of my presence and power.”
And that’s exactly what Peter is arguing. The spirit has come down, which is the promise of the new era, it is come from the Father. The Son has received it. Actually, the Christ has received it. He’s passed on what you see and hear. And what you are seeing in the presence of the Spirit is the Messiah bringing the Spirit of God to the people of God, as he promised would happen when the kingdom comes. That’s the language of new covenant, of Jeremiah 31, and I’m gonna put the law in your heart. Ezekiel says, I’m gonna put my spirit within you.” So this is the promise of the new era that is arriving. And that shows that Jesus is the Christ, because John the Baptist said, in Luke 3:16 … Luke 3:16 is as important for soteriology as John 3:16 is … “that the way you’ll know the Messiah has come is he’s gonna baptize with spirit and fire.” He’s gonna bring the spirit of God.
So this act is the vindication of God. We preach the resurrection on Easter oftentimes as he’s alive, so one day we’ll be alive. We present it as our hope. But behind the our hope part of this message is Jesus is who he claimed to be. And the resurrection is the vindication of who Jesus is and his claims. And without a raised Jesus at the right hand of God, we don’t get the alive part. So it’s all tied together very much as … and I think we don’t talk about that part of the Easter message enough on Easter.
Mikel Del Rosario
Gary, at the end of the book that you did with Michael Liacona on the resurrection, you have a little section on how to take this material and share it with somebody at a hockey game, or your kids’ soccer game or whatever. How would you take the evidence for the resurrection, say, in a couple minutes, and then transition that into something more personal, where you’re challenging people with who Jesus claimed to be.
Dr. Gary Habermas
To me, when you go back … we started with the triumphal entry. But if you go back where Jesus is weaving this message throughout some very, very important texts in the gospels, you think about the so-called Q passage in Matthew 11:27 and the Luke parallel, which is often called the Johannine thunderbolt, and only Jesus knows the Father. Works the other way around, too. Or Mark 13:32, where a very embarrassing text, no man knows the time of my coming, not even me, which … it’s so embarrassing, as some scholars have said, if he wanted to say he was the son of the Father, which is what he is in that verse, he should just say, “I’m the son of the Father.” Don’t go saying something embarrassing like, “I don’t know when I’m coming.”

So you have these passages where he uses phrases like son of God, son of man. Then, of course, what we did talk about today, the fourfold proclamation of blasphemy, coming on the cloud, sitting on the right hand, whatever you do with ego eimi, it’s at least an affirmation. I agree with Darrell about not going back to Exodus 3. But it’s at least an affirmative to the priest’s question. And then, of course, the proclamation of blasphemy. You put all these things together, and other passage, too, Mark 2, forgiving sin, and he’s almost killed there. They blame him of blasphemy. You have this picture that’s coming together in blocks. “Oh, wow. He claimed this over here.” “Wow. He said this over here.” “Wow, well put that in your back pocket and see what …”

So Jesus makes these claims that he’s really somebody special. And I tell my students that to me, the two most radical, i.e. blasphemous if not true things Jesus said were, number one, claims to be deity, and number two, every religious founder said, “I have the way to God. I’m gonna give you the words of truth.” Jesus says that. But Jesus says something far more radical. He makes what philosophers would call an ontological comment. He says, “There is a way to God. I’m gonna show you.” But then he says, “I’m gonna show you it’s me. I am, in my being, the path to eternal life. What you do …” I’m paraphrasing Bultmann. But you go back to even that early date in radicality there, and Bultmann basically says, “What you do with Jesus determines where you spend eternity, and he’s the key to the kingdom.”

So those two things are pretty radical. The he dies as a false prophet, as a blasphemer according to some. And … You don’t have long to wait. Sunday morning he’s raised from the dead. Now, if Jesus isn’t the son of God, he’s not doing anything on Sunday morning. He’s not going anywhere. Dead men don’t do much. And when he’s enlivened, when he’s raised from the dead, I tell people, even in casual conversations on a plane, if I’m asked what I do or something. In a casual conversation, if God gets involved, which a resurrection would require, because dead men don’t do much, what else could it be for, except to put your blessing on this person?

And that is the way it’s treated in the New Testament. In Acts, chapter 2, verses 22, 23, 24, Peter says, “Jesus is shown to be these things by his resurrection from the dead.” Acts chapter 17, Paul says he’s given proof of all these things as the word is sometimes translated there, by raising him from the dead. And over and over again, the resurrection’s a crowning achievement. Now I know that’s a lay level sort of a what do you think God was doing here? But I would challenge somebody to tell me a better explanation for the resurrection, unless you’re gonna say he’s a false prophet. And that doesn’t work, ’cause he’s raised.

So what exactly is going on here? He must have been vindicated. And I think resurrection, which is taught throughout the New Testament to be vindication, it’s exactly clear on another level, just because nothing else makes sense. God doesn’t raise heretics from the dead, ’cause Deuteronomy 18, don’t claim to be a prophet and make a wrong prediction. Deuteronomy 13, don’t claim to be a prophet and do a miracle, and then teach us to go astray. All the way through the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, a prophet speaks for God. The son of God would really speak for God. Deuteronomy 18, there’s gonna be one who’s gonna come who’s gonna speak all the words of God.

So Jesus does what he’s supposed to do, and then God responds. It was showtime, as Darrell said. And God comes through. He raises him from the dead, and the rest is history. But what do we do with that connection made in Acts 2:22-24, if it’s not vindication?
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. The rest is history. I like how you said that. How does that history now connect to challenging somebody with the gospel? Darrell, how would you make that move in a conversation?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, what I would do is just make the point that what God was doing was showing his vote in this dispute. You really have two options. It’s blasphemy, or it’s exultation. It’s like the choice early on in the gospels about Jesus’ miracles. Is it from above, or is it from below? I like to say C. S. Lewis is too complicated leaving three choices, liar, lunatic, or Lord. That’s too complicated. It’s from above, or it’s from below. And if God has acted to show who Jesus is through the empty tomb, and through the resurrection, and if that is vindication, that’s God’s vote in the dispute, and there’s only one vote that counts. That’s God’s vote.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, if Jesus is who he claimed to be, then eternal life is, in fact, possible, and it’s available to us. So thank you guys so much for joining us today. Thank you, Darrell.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, my pleasure.
Mikel Del Rosario
Thank you, Gary.
Dr. Gary Habermas
Enjoyed it very much. Always do, Mikel.
Mikel Del Rosario
And we think you so much for joining us on the table as well. If you have a topic that you would like us to consider for a future episode, please email us here at the table, and our email address is thetable@dts.edu. Thanks again for joining us. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, and we hope will see you again next time here on the table, where we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Gary Habermas
Dr. Gary Habermas has dedicated his professional life to the examination of the relevant historical, philosophical, and theological issues surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. His extensive list of publications and debates provides a thorough account of the current state of the issue. He has also contributed more than 60 chapters or articles to additional books, and over 100 articles and reviews in journals and other publications. In recent years, he has been a Visiting or Adjunct Professor at about 15 different graduate schools and seminaries in the United States and abroad. Dr. Habermas is a Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at the Rawlings School of Divinity. He is married to Eileen and they have seven children and 11 grandchildren.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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