The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics
The Resurrection of Christ.
It is no surprise that the evangelistic apologist makes use of the fact of the resurrection of Christ. It is a singular moment in history, the theological focal-point of history. Everything prior to it points to it; everything that follows the resurrection depends on it; everything to come is based on the power of the resurrection of the Lord Christ.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Rom 4.25 (followed by Greek):
The One [The Lord Christ] who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
ὃς παρεδόθη διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν
It is beautiful and each of the two phrases is balanced (in syntax and semantics) in the original:
- a relative pronoun for the subject,
- followed by a pair of identical syntax, five-word phrases
- connected by a single conjunction.
ὃς: the one who (NSM, relative pronoun, subject of the sentence)
παρεδόθη διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν: "delivered over (API) on account of our transgressions"
ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν: "raised (API) on account of our justification"
The first phrase is the one we tend typically to understand easily and “naturally”:
Christ was sacrificed (aorist passive indicative) on account of the sins of His people.
Stated a little more literally,
“the sins of His people were the proximate cause of His being delivered over to death”.
The second phrase is syntactically identical to the first and must be understood according to the same rules as the first phrase:
Christ was raised (aorist passive indicative) on account of the justification of His people.
Again, stated a little more literally,
“the justification of His people was the proximate cause of His resurrection”.
Do you see this? Christ was not raised and then the justification took place—no! His resurrection occurred because (διὰ) the Father accepted His sacrifice and justified His people! The resurrection is here declared to be the logical and necessary outcome of the accomplished justification of sinners!
I fear that too often this magnificent point goes unnoticed and is essentially turned around: in that erroneous view, the resurrection caused the justification!
Truly, this must be the single most important facet when attempting to use the fact of the resurrection in a witness to the lost.
I can’t overemphasize the point I’m about to make from this observation…
Let’s begin with a vital aspect of the resurrection that I’ve not seen mentioned in any article on apologetics: the scope of those who actually saw the person of the Lord Christ subsequent to the resurrection.
In order to do so, I begin by reviewing what the Lord Christ taught us in Luke chapter 16, the account of the rich man and Lazarus.
We are given little background into either the rich man or Lazarus, and as we’ll see, their backgrounds are not essential to present the truth which the Lord revealed through their experience. Nonetheless, here are a few details to set the context:
- The account demonstrates the existence of Hades, which prior to the resurrection of Christ held all the dead (saved and lost).
- The states of both the saved and lost could not be changed.
- The saved and the lost were completely sentient.
- The saved and the lost were aware of the other’s existence and state.
- The saved and the lost understood their state to be permanent.
- The saved and the lost remembered their prior, temporal lives.
- The lost dead experienced constant torment.
- The saved dead experienced peace and rest.
However, I believe that it is clear that the Lord’s main purpose was not to describe the unspeakable horror of experiencing divine wrath or the existence of the peace and contentment of the saved, but rather was designed to tell us something about the spiritually dead state of the lost in contrast to the preeminence of the revealed, recorded Word of God. Remember, once the rich man realized the permanence of his new state in Hades he desired that at the very least Abraham send Lazarus back to his (still) living brothers. Abraham declined the request, along with the prominent reason for his refusal:
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Note that it was not a matter of whether or not it was possible to send someone back from the dead; the Lord is certainly able to do so (remember Samuel, 1 Sam 28). It was because the Word of God recorded in the Prophets was already available to his brothers—as it had been to Lazarus—along with the truth that the revealed Word was all that they needed to avoid Hades and live in peace (at that point in time) with Abraham! When the rich man objected to this, Abraham nonetheless continues in the refusal, stating clearly that to do so would be futile.
Consider this stunning truth, then attempt to name, from the inspired pages of the NT, even one lost person who viewed the person of the risen Christ and as a result repented and confessed Christ as Lord: there isn’t one—no Sadducee, no Pharisee, not Pilate nor any Roman soldier, no lost Jew—not one! Why? We just read the answer: repentance is not produced even if a lost person actually had the opportunity to view the resurrected Christ.
"... they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."
This is the reason that you never read in the pages of the NT of Christ appearing to the lost in His resurrected person.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the Lord never engages—indeed, can’t engage—in any activity that He declared won't work! He won’t appear to the lost for the purpose of their repentance, because to do so would make Him contradict His own word in Luke chapter 16. That can’t and won’t ever happen!
Let me prove this point from the pages of the NT by reviewing the names/persons of those recorded that actually saw the risen Christ.
Perhaps the best synopsis comes from the Apostle Paul here:
1 Cor 15.3-8
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
You’ll note that there is not a single lost person is named in the lot—every single one was already a believer. (Remember: “… they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”)
[I’ll have more to say about the Apostle Paul’s name in that list shortly.]
In gospel order, we have these records:
And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.
Luk 24.13-16; 28-31; 36
And behold, two of them [we learn later that they were Cleopas and Peter] were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.
And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.
While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.”
Joh 20.14-16; 19-20; 26
When she [Mary] had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Putting together the accounts of the visits to the tomb, we learn at least three angels were at the tomb when the women came to properly anoint the body of Christ for burial (something they had not been able to do because of the pair of Sabbath observances that occurred between the crucifixion and the resurrection).
[EDIT Feb 2019: There is now a separate article devoted to the chronology of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Christ, The Myth of the Friday Crucifixion of the Lord Christ.]
We can safely assume that at the appearance of the first angel the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb fled; so, they didn’t witness the risen Lord Himself. (So, no lost witnesses there…)
After being told of His resurrection, the angels told the women to return and report to the other disciples. As far as we can tell from the account, there were a few trips by different disciples between the tomb and wherever the disciples were hiding, but it was Mary Magdalene to whom He first revealed Himself in His risen person.
He would later that day appear to the apostles (except for Thomas who was absent for unknown reasons). Then, as John records, Thomas was finally present with them eight days later when the Lord appeared again.
We are not told by the gospel writers when the appearance to the 500+ disciples took place, but obviously it had either to be before or coincident with the Lord’s ascension.
We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
Did you see that? "not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God ...". It is evident that the election of grace affects more than (merely!) the Lord's choice of those He is pleased to save: during the several weeks following the Lord's resurrection it also implicitly specified those to whom the Lord would appear in person.
There simply is no example of the person of the Lord Christ appearing to any lost person in the entire record of the NT!
At this point I anticipate one question and one objection that someone will likely raise:
- The question: What, then, is the apologetic use of the resurrection?
- The objection: What about Saul of Tarsus?
As I’ve phrased the first question, the answer is “none”—except to use it to state the fact that the resurrection is an unequivocal demonstration of the justification of the sinner who comes to Christ by grace through faith. (Eph 2.8-9)
Given the Lord’s own words in Luk 16.31, the fact of the resurrection has no use as an apologetic to convince the lost of the authority, validity, reliability, etc. of the NT, and it certainly—in and of itself—won’t lead to his/her repentance.
But, let’s think a little more deeply on the typical use of the resurrection as an apologetic in order to demonstrate how futile it is.
I’ve found that apologetic arguments (that is, logical arguments intended to prove reliability, authority, etc. of the Bible) based on the resurrection of Christ to be a significant example of foolish and circular reasoning by the apologist.
Let me demonstrate:
- The apologist seeks to demonstrate the authority, validity, reliability, etc. of the Bible. [This is the typical modus operandi of the apologist as he/she seeks to “set the stage of the gospel with his/her 'pre-evangelism'”.]
- The apologist appeals to the resurrection of Christ as a demonstration of the authority, validity, reliability, etc. of the Bible. It is, after all, a perfect illustration of the power of God, and by association, the power of the Word of God.
- But the only inspired, authoritative data on the resurrection of Christ comes from the Bible, which the apologist is attempting to demonstrate from the resurrection.
OOPS… CIRCULAR LOGIC!
This is a stunning intellectual oversight from a discipline—evangelistic apologetics—that claims to be the intellectual and rational tool of choice and which is designed to engage in conversation the modern, intellectual lost person.
[Actually, it is closer to the "blind leading the blind and falling into a ditch".]
This method of argumentation is the perfect storm of illogic and can lead only to the frustration of the well-meaning (but actually careless and unthinking) evangelistic apologist.
Now, to forestall the additional objections that I’ll likely get at this point, let me make these assertions perfectly clear:
- I am not saying that the fact of the resurrection of Christ shouldn’t/can’t be used when speaking to the lost; no, not by any means (as I’ve already maintained!). The Lord’s resurrection is a demonstration of the efficacy of His sacrifice (as I showed above from Rom 4.25 above) and as such is a powerful truth.
- I am saying that if a lost person viewed the Lord Christ standing right in front of him/her right now, that person would not, as a result, automatically repent! Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lost, dead heart—and that comes about only as a result of the “birth from above” ordained by the election of grace.
Let’s move next to the objection: What about Saul of Tarsus?
As I’ll demonstrate below, Saul/Paul actually proves my point that simply seeing the risen Christ does not lead to repentance. Something quite remarkable and different took place with Saul of Tarsus.
To prove this assertion, let’s review the authoritative record of the event:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
We all should be very familiar with the account, but have we really paid attention to the details? If you read what’s actually there, you’ll notice some very interesting details that bear directly on my assertion: the person of the Risen Christ was never seen by any lost person, including Saul of Tarsus.
As Saul journeyed to Damascus, he and his traveling companions encountered a very bright light, not the person of the Risen Christ in His resurrected body (as did, for example, to His disciples on the road to Emmaus or those who saw Him before His ascension—I'll have more to say about this below).
Saul and those with him certainly heard the voice of Christ but did not observe His person. I think it a reasonable speculation that Saul, the very religious Pharisee, would naturally think this spectacular occurrence a Divine Presence, but he was completely unable to resolve the apparent conflict that he—the one who thought he served God so tirelessly—would be accused of persecuting the Divine One whose light he observed for an instant!
All he could say was “Who are you, Lord?”
Saul was truly bewildered; it is easy to imagine that he was thinking something like “How is this happening?! This can’t be happening!?!? I have served the Lord from my youth!”
The effect of the Lord’s voice rendered the men with Saul dumbfounded, but nothing is mentioned of their becoming blind—or repenting! However, the effect on Saul was the fact that sustained instant blindness and was knocked to the ground. The Lord Christ—still unseen—now had Saul’s undivided attention.
The question before us now, though, is whether my claim that the person of the Lord Christ never appeared to a lost person for the purpose of bring about his repentance is a valid one.
[Frankly, it must be in order to be faithful and obedient to the truth of Luk 16.31. I don’t challenge that Saul was converted as a direct result of this encounter; that isn’t the point. It is the point that his conversion was only one facet of what the Lord intended, by the election of grace, to do with Saul.]
So, why did the Lord Christ do this? If not to convert Saul of Tarsus, then why? That answer is presented a little further into the account.
When the Lord gave Ananias a revelation with the command to go to him and lay hands on him in order to restore his sight, he was very concerned: “This one Saul has done much to harm your saints, Lord. Are you sure You want me to do this?” The Lord’s answer is another stunning demonstration of the election of grace:
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
The Lord Christ struck down and blinded this one Saul because He had chosen him, not just for salvation but also to be a powerful ambassador of the gospel of grace specifically to the Gentiles.
The Lord called Saul in this extraordinary manner because He had an extraordinary job for him!
The text does not tell us the moment that Saul actually repented, but it implies that this had taken place sometime before Ananias arrived. Once there, Ananias refers to Saul as “brother.” And, we learn another detail as well: Saul is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, in addition to being given his sight, by the laying on of the hands of Ananias.
As we know, it would take some time for the disciples in Damascus to accept Saul, but that process was helped along greatly by Barnabas (who later traveled extensively with the [then] Paul the Apostle).
On that road, Saul saw—for an instant a glory (and that certainly can’t be separated from the person of Christ) but did not see the person of Christ in His resurrected body as the other disciples had. Perhaps that fact is the reason for these texts:
1 Cor 9.1
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
2 Cor 11.5
For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.
2 Cor 11.12-13
But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
2 Cor 12.11
I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.
2 Cor 13.1-3
This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone, since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead) …
(for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),
There are about two dozen references to the Apostleship of Paul in his epistles. In those I cited above, there is the clear inference that some disciples were unwilling (or at the very least hesitant) to accept him as an Apostle—probably because of the unique nature of his calling. Paul’s (paraphrased) response, especially in Gal 1.1 is clear: “I’m an apostle because Christ called me, just as surely as He called the other eleven. That He did so after His ascension, rather than before is irrelevant: the One who called me is the same Christ as the One who called them.”
There is one last point I want to make here, speaking again to the purpose which the Lord states regarding His calling of Saul:
1 Cor 9.16-18
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
This is a glimpse of what the Lord meant when He told Ananias “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Act 9.15)
The Lord chose Saul of Tarsus to be His special witness to the Gentiles, and to borrow a modern phrase, “would not take ‘No’ for an answer”. Paul recognized this fact and shared it with the Corinthians in chapter 9: “I was given a ministry, a stewardship of the gospel, whether I wanted it or not—I am under Divine compulsion. The Almighty gave me no opportunity to refuse because He entrusted me with a sacred stewardship!”
This principle is found in the closing statements of Romans chapter 11, in a context speaking of the yet-uncompleted work in and with national Israel:
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
This principle of irrevocability of the LORD's will has always been the case: the sovereign, almighty LORD has no bounds to His power, holiness and wisdom.
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
The Lord willed to save Saul of Tarsus and use him powerfully as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and that’s exactly what He did. Saul was brought irrevocably to the Lord Christ because he was chosen for a specific task, not because Saul of Tarsus saw the person of the risen Christ and as a result fell to his knees in repentance because he was finally convinced by the truth of the resurrected Christ.