Disillusioned Disciples Die for a Lie?

Jesus! He’s our focus in this blog series based on Josh’s best-selling apologetics classic: More Than a Carpenter. Our goal is to definitively answer “Who is Jesus?,” so that you can answer these big life questions: “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?” 

Jesus’ disciples thought they knew who Jesus was — and what He was here to do. They got that entirely wrong — until they interacted with the resurrected Jesus. Then they finally understood His purpose. The power of their fact-based testimony is unmistakable. Did they die for a lie? Not likely.

Those who challenge Christianity often overlook the amazing transformation in these men: these disillusioned disciples suddenly became all-in evangelists willing to die for sharing the Good News. Men who boldly claimed, “Here lies the truth!”

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Disillusioned Disciples

On the night Jesus was arrested, His supposedly committed disciples not only hightailed it from the scene, they hid. Only Peter followed at a safe distance, but he, too, within hours abandoned Jesus by denying three times that he even knew his rabbi. Ouch. With His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples viewed Him to be as dead as their movement. Their hopes slashed, along with their expectations.

We have to remember that the Jews at that time were expecting a powerful, political Messiah to liberate them. Jesus’ life and teachings were in tremendous conflict with this expectation. Jesus’ own disciples were convinced that Jesus would kick some Roman butt and restore Israel as an esteemed, independent nation. The Messiah would be victorious. Publicly humiliated and killed by their hated enemy? Nope. Nope. Nope.

It is a psychological fact that we hear only what we are prepared to hear. Jesus told His close companions more than once that He would suffer and die (and resurrect), but they couldn’t make sense of His words. It seems weird to us now, as we read the Gospel accounts, that they could be so unprepared for His arrest and death. Their minds simply couldn’t comprehend this reality.

So as they hid together in that upper room, their disillusionment was likely so thick it draped heavy on their bodies and heart. Shock? Grief? Disillusion? Yup. In buckets. Hope? Nope. And yet, only three days later, the resurrected Jesus appears and blows their minds wide open!

Fully Convinced Disciples

Jesus first had to convince His close companions that He was physically there — not just a mirage or hallucination, as some skeptics suggest. And He had to meet each of them in their fear and doubt. Thomas, for example, refused to believe that Jesus had risen until he got the chance to personally touch Jesus’ wounds. And with His customary grace, Jesus lovingly restored Peter, so that Peter could release his shame and fulfill the critical role Jesus had for him.

All but one of these disciples would eventually be murdered for doggedly sharing the Good News. Peter was crucified. Andrew was crucified. James was killed by the sword. Philip was crucified. Bartholomew was crucified. Thomas was killed by a spear. Matthew was killed by the sword. James, son of Alphaeus, was crucified. Thaddaeus was killed by arrows. Simon, the zealot, was crucified. Only John died a natural death.

During Jesus’ ministry, his brother James scoffed at Jesus being more than human. (Sounds like Mary didn’t allow miracles at the dinner table!) But James was apparently convinced against his will. He became not only an enthusiastic evangelist after Jesus resurrected, but a leading figure in the Jerusalem church. James, a book in the Bible, starts with “James, a slave [servant] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). James also suffered for proclaiming the Good News. He was eventually stoned to death by order of Ananias, the Jewish high priest.

These men all had one thing in common: An unshakeable belief they were willing to die for. Would they so stridently pursue their goal for a lie? As religious scholar Michael Green notes, “You could imprison them, flog them, kill them, but you could not make them deny their conviction that ‘on the third day He rose again.'” The unanimity of their message and their conduct is amazing.

The Disciples Testimony Matters

As Christian apologist J. P. Moreland notes, “they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. It’s not as though there were a mansion awaiting them on the Mediterranean. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.”

Without the testimony of these men, we have no window into any historical event involving Jesus. So we rely heavily on their testimony — as we should. The bold conduct of the apostles after they were convinced of Christ’s resurrection makes it highly unlikely that it was all a fraud.

As Josh McDowell notes, “These men learned the truth about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The Jews had misunderstood. Their national patriotism led them to look for a Messiah to save their nation. What came instead was a Messiah to save the world. A Messiah who would save not merely one nation from political oppression, but all of humanity from the eternal consequences of sin. The disciples’ vision had been too small. Suddenly they saw the larger truth.” The Good News!

Have you ever been disillusioned, but then had your expectations radically overturned? How do you think the disciples felt the very moment they realized Jesus was the Messiah? How do you think they felt when they fully understood the Good News? Have you felt this realization yet? We invite you to do so!

Jesus: He’s More Than a Carpenter!

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