People die everyday. Some of them die from natural causes. Some deaths are accidents. Others though, are on purpose. Those people that die on purpose usually die for a purpose.
In this day and time, we’ve become accustom to people dying on purpose. We see it on the news daily. With the Islamic war on the West encroaching on us, we see daily reports of suicide bombers, hijackings, and other self-sacrificial style deaths. Dying on purpose has become old hat.
Unfortunately, because Islam is considered a religion, and many people are familiar with the reason that Muhammadans actually commit suicide, martyrdom has been marginalized. Any and all religious self-sacrifice has been labeled fanatical. The kind of mindset that would drive someone to die for his or her faith is now considered insanity.
I’d like say that this may be true for the Apostles who died on purpose almost 2000 years ago. That’s only on one condition. They were insane if and only if they died for a lie. Let me explain.
As I said earlier, many people die on purpose for a number of reasons. Here are some.
People die for ideals.
During the American Revolution only about one third of the Colonials who lived on the American continent were pro-rebellion. Another third were Tories and the last were uncommitted. The leaders of the Colonial rebellion against King George and his English rule were well aware of the consequences of their rebellion. If captured, they would surely die. Many of them did.
Why did they remain dedicated to the cause, even under such a threat? Their cause, their purpose, was one of liberty. They desired to be free men, free from the oppression of the English.
Liberty is an ideal. It is a grand one, but still it is something in our minds. It is virtuous and should be a standard for humanity, but it is still an ideal. Liberty is neither true nor false; to make that claim would be to place liberty in a category that it doesn’t belong. Liberty is good. It is right. But it is not truth. It is another kind of thing.
When those who die for liberty do so, they do not die for something they know to be true. They die for some thing that they believe to be right. It is not something that they can test for coherency; Liberty is something that they must try. It is not true that everyone should have it. Habitual criminals should not have liberty.
Liberty is an ideal, one worth dying for, but only an ideal.
People die for beliefs.
Islamic terrorists die for something that they genuinely believe is true. There is no doubt that their faith is authentic. Their actions prove it. Their resolve is unmoving. Their dedication is solid. Their fear is absent. They believe what they have been taught. That is the purpose for which they die.
Dying for a belief is admirable. The world has known many who have died for what they believe and whether what they held so dear was virtuous or not, their self-sacrificial deaths should be admired. Killing innocent people as a part of your death is not. Even so, dying for a belief is virtuous.
Many Christians have died for their beliefs. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells many of their stories. Other Faiths have had their share of martyrs as well. Many soldiers and politicians have died for beliefs too. In fact, that probably happens pretty often. War is the amplification of dying for beliefs as well as ideals.
These deaths are sad ways of bringing about change. People die on purpose for a cause greater than themselves. They die for a belief that something is true based upon teachings or testimonies. They die for great causes like liberty and equality. The things that they die for cannot be tested against truth and found false. Their purposes are great faiths and virtues found in their minds. They are no less worth dying for.
I am afraid sometimes that there is some confusion of those types of deaths and the deaths of the Apostles. The Apostles died for another reason.
The Apostles died because of something they saw. They would not stop preaching the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, because of an event that they themselves had witnessed.
The Apostles saw Jesus die. They may have helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus to his tomb. In a culture that was very familiar with death and rigor mortis, they knew Jesus had died. They saw it with their own two eyes. They witnessed his stiffening joints and lifeless wounds once flowing with blood, stilled by the stopping of his heart. The Apostles knew what a dead person was and they knew that Jesus was a dead person because their culture was intamintly familiar with death (unlike ours).
The Apostles witnessed the burial of Jesus. It is possible that they took part in his preparation, which was a lengthy process. The lifeless body of Christ needed to be carried to the tomb. It was not a one-man job and the man who gave his tomb to Jesus probably would not have been allowed to touch his dead body. It would’ve been considered unclean. The Apostles were eyewitnesses and acquainted with Joseph of Arimathea and the women who we know prepared Jesus’ body. They had no reason to doubt and every reason to believe that he was dead!
The Apostles witnessed the empty tomb. After the testimony of the women, some of the Apostles went back to the tomb to verify the testimony of those ladies that “Jesus was gone”. They found an empty tomb. It was only the beginning.
The Apostles saw Jesus alive, walked with him, touched him, ate with him, and spoke with him. For over a month they did this.
All of these things confirmed their belief that Jesus was the Christ, not the other way around. All of these things were real events, real experiences with a real person. They were not merely virtues or ideals. The Apostles didn’t just believe in Jesus, they believed in him because they saw him resurrected!
There is a difference between the deaths on purpose of most people, even religious people, and the deaths of the Apostles. People die for abstract things that may be virtuous but are no less abstract in that they are thoughts or concepts. The Apostles died for something that they claimed to have seen. People can believe things that they are convinced are true but can never really be disproven in their own minds as false. The Apostles would’ve known that what they were proposing, the resurrected Christ was falsifiable. If they would’ve known or were not certain that Jesus was raised from the dead, they would’ve died for a lie. Who would do that?
J. Warner Wallace makes a very good case for why the Apostles or disciples of Jesus of Nazareth did not die for a lie in his book Cold Case Christianity as he explores the historicity of the resurrection account. He gives several reasons why the testimonies of the witnesses to the resurrection can be trusted. His experience as a cold case investigator gives an interesting take on the possibility of tainted testimony of the witnesses. I’d like to recommend that book for further study.
The idea though, is that the eyewitnesses were reliable. They would’ve each known the truth about Jesus’ alleged resurrection. They would’ve also been privy to their fellow disciples fates. They would’ve had every chance to save their own lives and recant. The conclusion that we would have to come to is that because they knew the truth and never recanted, each one of them must have sincerely believed that they saw the resurrected Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman believes that!
There is the difference.
I admit, if the Apostles died for a lie, they were lunatics. Why would each one of them do that? Wouldn’t at least the last few of them have decided that there was no reason to carry on with this charade? Wouldn’t they just have said, “Okay, you got me? We made it up.”
No, they did not die for a lie I don’t believe. They died for a person that they saw alive, after he was dead. He is risen. He is risen, indeed!
My friend, that’s a hard one to overcome.