The Resurrection: Religious Belief or Historical Fact?
Topic: Easter Passage: Acts 25:13–25:21
All of us Christians have unbelievers in our lives. One of the main things they should know about us is our belief in the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus to human immortality. If they don’t know that, we may have failed to share the gospel with them accurately. Or they may know we believe this, but they may place this idea in a category of “religious belief”, which allows them to understand how we could believe in something so ludicrous.
In Acts 25:13, we meet King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, as they pay their respects to Festus. King Agrippa is Herod Agrippa II, the great grandson of King Herod the Great (Cf. Mat. 2:1-19), and the son of Herod Agrippa I who had James put to death in Acts 12:1-2. Bernice is his sister (yes, this was an incestuous relationship). Since Paul has appealed to Caesar, Festus needs an indictment to bring against Paul and he thinks King Agrippa may be of some help in understanding the charges the Jews were making.
Festus’ words in Acts 25:19 represent the worldly, darkened view of the resurrection. Festus was expecting a serious crime from Paul, but instead writes it off as a religious squabble. Festus models a very dangerous approach to Christianity, which says that the goal of religion is merely to produce better people. It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist, but what matters are the values religion produces in a person. This viewpoint says that the resurrection is outside the realm of the rational, and religion is a matter of private opinion. And if that’s true, Christianity is wrong. Christianity stands or falls upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Cor. 15:13-17, 15:3-8). The resurrection is not a matter of private opinion. It is a declared fact of history that confronts every single human being (Cf. Acts 17:30-31). It’s not about Jesus being raised from the dead in your heart so that you feel more happy. Paul and the other apostles were presenting the gospel as eyewitnesses and giving testimony that Jesus was truly raised from the dead.
So what do you do with that testimony? Maybe Paul was just hallucinating. But that doesn’t explain Paul’s radical conversion from persecutor of the church to apostle. Nor does it explain the transformation of the other apostles from their state of utter fear after Jesus’ crucifixion to then being willing to suffer and die for the gospel. And what about the empty tomb? Why wouldn’t the Jews have just turned up the body? Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy after Old Testament prophecy.
Festus didn’t understand why the Jews made such a big deal about this. But he did grasp that Paul was asserting that Jesus was alive. Paul proclaimed that when any Jew or Gentile stands before God, they will either bear the weight of their own sin or they will be declared to be justified because of their love for Jesus.