Saturday, December 22, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 183: (Predictably!) yesterday was not the end of the world . . . but that does not mean that there is not "a day in the which God shall judge the world in righteousness by the man he has ordained, whereof he hath given proof to all men, by raising him [Jesus] from the dead"

Today, obviously, is December 22, 2012. 

Normally, that would be unremarkable, but there has been a lot of new age-tinged popular speculation on how the Mayan calendar comes to an end on the 21st (the Winter solstice, shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere) and how this presages the end of the world on that day. (I gather, that in fact it really means the Mayan calendar cycle ends and starts over.)

Predictably, this date-setting exercise on the end of the world has failed, just like the ones last year and any number of others for many, many years now. 

Indeed, it is predictable: in Ac 1:6 - 8, Jesus clearly warned us that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons which God set by his own authority, but we are instead to be about the business of bearing witness to the Christ and his gospel, calling the nations to repentance, trust in Christ and godly, life-transforming, community reforming discipleship.

So, do we instead join with the mocking skeptics prophesied in 2 Peter 3, that:
 2 Pet 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” [ESV]
 By no means. For, as Peter continues:
2 Pet 3:5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,1  not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies  will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
He then concludes: 
 2 Pet 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Earlier in the same letter, he had said, reminding us of the long years that Israel waited for the fulfillment of the prophesied messiah, which authenticates the message of these now oh so often cruelly -- and foolishly -- mocked scriptures:
2 Pet 1: 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

The Transfiguration, Carracci (Cr: Wikimedia commons)
17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,9  with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 

21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Here, Peter speaks of the now oh so familiar accusation that the Christian faith is founded on deceptive myths that took in the oh so ignorant and gullible peasants of twenty centuries ago, but we live in an enlightened age today. In reply, he appeals to two bedrock foundation points.

First, he was an eyewitness to Jesus' glory. His own personal eyeballs Mark I were there on the Mt Of Transfiguration, along with two other credible witnesses. His own personal ear-bags (pardon my use of Montserrat idioms) Mark I, were there and heard the conversation with the OT prophetic worthies, Moses and Elijah. As Luke records from eyewitness testimony and record:
 Lk 9: 18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

 21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

 28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 

30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure,2  which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”-not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 

35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One;3  listen to him!”
Notice, in this event that is so full of prophetic allusions and fore-shadowings [e.g. cf Dan 7:9 - 14], the upcoming passion of Jesus was predicted.Where of course, Isaiah 53 is so devastatingly clear in predicting both the passion and the resurrection of Jesus, and gives as well the context that has grounded the theology of redemption by the sacrificial death on the cross ever since. That is, we now have a clear view of what the prophets had to say and how Jesus fulfilled them in the presence of eyewitnesses whose report we should heed.

His second point, of course, was to point to the fulfillment of the prophecies of the OT. 

This is particularly evident from the book-ends to his apostolic career, the letter on the eve of his execution under Nero; being unjustly blamed as being a ringleader of the alleged terroristic cult that that demonically mad emperor falsely accused of deliberately burning Rome.

The substance of the last recorded message we have for the apostle Peter is clear, especially how it speaks to a case of foolishly false predictions of the end of the world, such as we have just had. 

The other book-end, his first address as a fully fledged apostle, at Pentecost is also just as important and quite relevant on eyewitness grounding and fulfillment of the prophecies of the OT scriptures, as we may see from Ac 2:
Ac 2: 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven [at Pentecost, after the descent of the Spirit and the gathering of a partly wondering, partly mocking crowd], lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.2  16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

      17 ​​​​​​​​“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
        that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
        and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
        and your young men shall see visions,
        and your old men shall dream dreams;
      18 ​​​​​​​​even on my male servants3  and female servants
        in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
      19 ​​​​​​​​And I will show wonders in the heavens above
        and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
      20 ​​​​​​​​the sun shall be turned to darkness
        and the moon to blood,
        before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
      21 ​​​​​​​​And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know- 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

                    “‘I saw the Lord always before me,
        for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
      26 ​​​​​​​​therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
        my flesh also will dwell in hope.
      27 ​​​​​​​​For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
        or let your Holy One see corruption.
      28 ​​​​​​​​You have made known to me the paths of life;
        you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,    

                    “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
        Sit at my right hand,
      35 ​​​​​​​​until I make your enemies your footstool.’

 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
So, now, we face the challenge, whose report will we believe, why.

Let me add, here is a video discussion we would do well to pause and watch:

  The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel from Slaves4Christ on Vimeo.

So, whose report do you believe, why? END

F/N: Let me excerpt a table and discussion from this, on the ways skeptics have tried to dismiss the eyewitness testimony on the resurrection, as it is instructive on whose report we should believe at Advent 2012:


>> [. . . ]

The minimal facts method only uses sources which are multiply attested, and agreed to by a majority of scholars (ranging from atheist to conservative). This requires that they have one or more of the following criteria which are relevant to textual criticism:

    1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic
    2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic
    3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic
    4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be prefered
      Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one

Having first established the well attested facts, the approach then argues that the best explanation of these agreed to facts is the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . . [Source: "Minimal facts" From Apologetics Wiki. Full article: here. (Courtesy, Wayback Machine.)]

Why is that so?

The easiest answer is to simply list the facts that meet the above criteria and are accepted by a majority to an overwhelming majority of recent and current scholarship after centuries of intense debate:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion [--> which implies his historicity!].

2. He was buried.

3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.

4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).

5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).

6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.

7. The resurrection was the central message.

8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.

9. The Church was born and grew.

10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.

11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).

12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

[Cf. Habermas' paper here and a broader more popular discussion here. NT Wright's papers here and here give a rich and deep background analysis. Here is a video of a pastoral presentation of a subset of the facts. Habermas presents the case as videos here and here, in two parts. Here is a video of a debate he had with Antony Flew.]
The list of facts is in some respects fairly obvious.

That a Messiah candidate was captured, tried and crucified -- as Gamaliel hinted at -- was effectively the death-knell for most such movements in Israel in the era of Roman control; to have to report such a fate was normally embarrassing and discrediting to the extreme in a shame-honour culture. The Jews of C1 Judaea wanted a victorious Greater David to defeat the Romans and usher in the day of ultimate triumph for Israel, not a crucified suffering servant.  In the cases where a movement continued, the near relatives took up the mantle. That is facts 1 - 3 right there. Facts 10 - 12 are notorious. While some (it looks like about 25% of the survey of scholarship, from what I have seen) reject no 4, in fact it is hard to see a message about a resurrection in C1 that did not imply that the body was living again, as Wright discusses here. Facts 5 - 9 are again, pretty clearly grounded.

So, the challenge is to explain this cluster or important subsets of it, without begging questions and without selective hyperskepticism. The old Deist objections (though sometimes renewed today) have deservedly fallen by the wayside. [Also, cf. ten video shorts on popular myths here.]
 We may briefly compare:   


Match to four major credible facts regarding Jesus of Nazareth & his Passion
Overall score/20
Died by crucifixion
(under Pontius Pilate) at
c 30 AD
Was buried, tomb was found empty
Appeared to multiple disciples,
many of whom proclaimed
& suffered for their
Appeared to key
objectors who then became church leaders: James & Paul
Bodily Resurrection
Wrong tomb
Stolen body/fraud
Quran 4:155 -6: "They did not slay him, neither crucified him." 1 1 1 1 4
 "Jesus never existed" 1 1 1 1 4
 "Christianity as we know it was cooked up by Constantine and  others at Nicea, who censored/ distorted the original record" 1 1 1 1 4
"What we have today is 'Paulianity,' not the original teachings of Jesus and his disciples" 2 1 1 2 6
Christianity -- including the resurrection --  is a gradually emerging legend based on a real figure
Complete legend/pagan copycat (Greek, Persian, Egyptian, etc)

(I have given my scores above, based on reasoning that should be fairly obvious. As an exercise you may want to come up with your own scores on a 5 - 1 scale: 5 = v. good/ 4 = good/ 3 = fair/ 2 = poor/ 1 = v. poor, with explanations. Try out blends of the common skeptical theories to see how they would fare.)
 Laying a priori anti-supernaturalism aside as a patent case of worldview level question-begging closed mindedness, the above table shows that there are two serious candidates today, the resurrection as historically understood, or some version of a collective vision/hallucination that led to a sincere (but plainly mistaken) movement.

The latter of course runs into  the problem that such collective visions are not psychologically plausible as the cultural expectations of a resurrection would have been of a general one in the context of the obvious military triumph of Israel. Nor, does it explain the apparently missing body. Moreover, we know separately, that the culturally accepted alternative would have been individual prophetic visions of the exalted that on being shared would comfort the grieving that the departed rested with God. So, an ahead of time individual breakthrough resurrection -- even, one that may be accompanied by some straws in the wind of what is to come in fulness at the end -- is not part of the mental furniture of expectations in C1 Judaism.  Where, hallucinations and culturally induced visions are going to be rooted in such pre-existing mental "furniture."  

Where, also -- tellingly -- the women who bought spices and went to the tomb that morning plainly expected to find it occupied by a dead prophet, one unjustly judicially murdered as so many others had been.  (And if you doubt the account that reports how these women became the first to discover the tomb and to see the risen Messiah, consider how dismissive C1 Jews were to the testimony of "hysterical" -- that very word in English is rooted in the Greek for womb, hustera (reflecting a very old prejudice . . . ) -- women. Such an embarrassing point would only be admitted if the reporter was seeking to tell the full truth as best as he could, regardless of how poorly it would come across to his audience; a C1 audience, not a C21 one.)

The Easter event cuts across all reasonable cultural expectations, and obviously forced a much closer -- transforming -- look at messianic prophetic passages such as Isa 52 - 53 which plainly led to an aha moment.

Moreover, the visions suggestion also runs into the problem of the empty tomb; hence the skeptical resistance to that otherwise quite reasonable fact. 

(Remember, the NT record is that the women disciples who went to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning to complete the burial rituals that had been hastily begun just before the Sabbath, on finding the grave open and the body missing at first thought the authorities had taken the body. These primary documents subsequently record the Sanhedrin's official talking point as that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. Oops. The point of agreement is obvious: the body was missing, and neither group seemed to be responsible for it. [Cf below for more.])

You may think that this sort of balance of evidence should be well known and that educated, responsible and reasonable people would at minimum be willing to accept it as well-grounded that Jesus of Nazareth was a significant Galilean Jew and teacher who had clashes with the Jerusalem authorities which cost him his life. Whereupon, his followers then proclaimed to one and all across the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean and beyond over the next several decades, that Jesus was the prophesied Jewish Messiah, and that though shamefully (though unjustly) crucified -- blatantly true by the criterion of admitting an utterly embarrassing claim -- he was risen from death as Lord and eschatological Judge; until Nero would find it convenient to divert suspicion by falsely accusing Christians of setting fire to Rome in 64 AD.