By Erick Erickson
Around 1,986 years ago, Jesus was crucified on a cross. No major historian disputes this. Much about Jesus is disputed, but there really is no dispute that Jesus was a real person and that he was crucified. We actually know more about Jesus than many Roman emperors and have more contemporaneous accounts of Jesus than of many other historic figures of the era.
Christians believe Jesus died on a Friday and physically came back to life on Sunday. There are many who call themselves Christians, but only those who actually believe in the physical resurrection of Christ are truly Christian. This is not opinion but a clear statement in New Testament scripture. Denominationally, Christians have quibbled with each other for two millennia, but on the physical resurrection, there is no dispute.
Since the 19th century, led by German scholars first and then others, consistent efforts have been made to undermine the truth of scripture. Whole classes of biblical criticism have sprung up out of academia. Even now, despite widespread pagan and Christian historic sourcing, academic scholars have invested in the idea that Christian persecution in the Roman Empire was not as bad as documented, the people and places of scripture were not real, and Jesus was just one of many people claiming to be the Messiah.
That last one complicates the rest. There were dozens of men who claimed to be the Messiah. All of them were ruthlessly exterminated by the Romans. But this one guy, Jesus of Nazareth, who had been rejected in life by his own family, is still worshipped today.
Historians in the early church documented that Jesus' brothers rejected him in life and would not even show up at his execution. But they became leaders in the early church. Two of Jesus' brothers (half-brothers, actually, or, as some denominations believe, first cousins) penned books of the Bible — James and Jude. Jude, in fact, made an extraordinary claim about his brother. He wrote, "Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe." He connects the man he knew as a relative directly to the eternal God who delivered the Israelites from captivity. Jude and James would both die at the hands of the Romans as the empire exterminated all of Jesus' relatives.
But faith in Jesus grew. Like a tree being pruned, the church kept getting stronger and bearing more fruit. Two thousand years later, the church may seem like it is fading in the West, but it is growing around the world. The Council on Foreign Relations noted last year that "by some estimates, China is on track to have the world's largest population of Christians by 2030. ... China could have as many as 160 million Christians by 2025 and 247 million by 2030." About 30% of Protestants in China attend state-approved churches. The more the Chinese bulldoze churches and persecute believers the more the faith blossoms.
Secular scholars offer plenty of explanations, but I accept the simplest of the explanations: It is all true. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, buried, descended into hell and rose again on the third day. He ascended into Heaven and will return to judge us. The Apostles' Creed sums it up nicely.
This simple truth spreads across the world even as the secular West seems to expect Christianity to disappear. It will not. Unlike every other religion, Christianity is unanchored from a physical location. It dwells in our hearts.
As C.S. Lewis once noted, Christianity is the only religion with a real concept of grace. Other religions command we do certain things to be accepted by God. Christianity teaches that God has already accepted us, so we should do certain things.
God loves us. He sent his son to die for us that we might have eternal life. All we must do is put our faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior. The message of the Easter season is one of grace, forgiveness and redemption. Christ died that we might live. His very being is a truth we all need.