Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“Today the term ‘Jesus’ accounts for 1 out of every 10,000 words appearing in scanned books. How much more prominent could he possibly have ever been? There is not enough room for much upside here.”
– Who’s Bigger, a book that ranks the most famous people in all of human history. Jesus came in first place by far.
When I was a teenager, the number one high school recruit in the nation was a guy named Todd Marinovich. Todd was a great quarterback, who ultimately signed with Southern California, and went on to play pro football for the Oakland Raiders. Todd’s father raised him from a baby to be a quarterback, utilizing every opportunity possible to train his son. In fact, Todd was famous as the kid who had never eaten a hamburger (or much other junk food) by the time he signed with the Trojans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, things didn’t end up so well for Marinovich. While he did play quarterback at a high-profile college, and did play some football in the NFL, his career ultimately ended poorly due to drugs and other troubling issues. As of 2017, Todd has been arrested for wandering around naked with marijuana and amphetamines. It seems that it might be a bad idea to raise somebody to be a “Robo-quarterback,” from the age of two.
It does cause you to think, however. Let’s do a thought experiment: What if your goal was not to raise a great quarterback, but to raise your son to become the most famous person that ever lived? Let’s consider that you have a budget of 25 million dollars to make it happen, and you use a chunk of that money to hire some of the best ‘fame’ consultants that the world has to offer. After a year-long research period, these consultants come to you with the following 7 step plan: 1. Your son needs to be born in a dank and unsanitary room, unfit for human habitation, with urine and animal droppings all around. For good measure, they tell you, make sure your son sleeps his first few nights in an animal’s feeding trough. 2. Your son’s birth should be heralded and announced by some dirty and poorly thought of shepherds to proclaim his arrival. 3. Your son must stay almost 100 percent exclusively in an area the size of Rhode Island for his entire life. 4. Your son may never write a book or leave any art behind, or letter or even a self-portrait – only his memories and teachings. 5. Your son should have followers, but very uninfluential followers – ones that are possessed of little fame, money, or import. 6. You son must die before he reaches the prime of his influence, which for most men is in their mid-forties to fifties. 7. Finally, these consultants recommend that your son must be executed by the state in the most dishonorable way possible. For an American, that might be the electric chair, for a first century Jewish person, that would be a cross. Would such advice produce somebody likely to become the most influential or important person in history? Hardly!
I suspect that you would fire your advisers with extreme prejudice the moment they presented you with such a ridiculous plan. Not a single one of the seven steps above are even remotely conducive to becoming famous. Indeed, every single one of those seven steps would seem to favor anything but fame, import and influence. And yet, Jesus met all of the above criteria, and then some. He was born in a most embarrassing and unimpressive manner. His childhood was spent as an immigrant on the run, in a foreign country, from governmental officials that desired to kill him. To our knowledge, Jesus never wrote a book, or a letter, or any work of art whatsoever. There are no surviving pictures of Him, so we have no idea what He might have looked like. He lived in the tiny country of Israel, which is much smaller than most people realize. Consider the state of Alabama, which is 52,000 square miles in size. As the 30th largest state in the United States, Alabama is much smaller than its neighbor Georgia. And yet, one could fit six and a half Israel’s in Alabama and still have room left over for the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery and Huntsville! And, with maybe two exceptions, Jesus never travelled beyond the borders of his tiny nation. Finally, as noted above, He died the most ignoble death possible as a condemned enemy of both His home country, and the ruling power of the world at the time.
Given all of that, how in the world has Jesus become the most famous and influential person to EVER LIVE? It’s not like he had an army of followers – just 12 uninfluential men and a group of women that travelled with the Jesus Team to met their needs, per Luke 8. Jesus might have been somewhat famous in His own home country, but even there, He was quite unpopular with the rich and famous, with perhaps Simon the Leper and Joseph of Arimathea being the lone exceptions.
If there was no resurrection, then what might explain Jesus’ startling and sustained rise to fame and influence? The Bible, of course, would point to the fact that Jesus is the only person that ever lived who has permanently overcame death. (Lazarus, you will remember, only temporarily overcame death.) The Bible would also indicate that, after Jesus’ ascension, God sent the Holy Spirit to fill and empower all who followed Jesus, which enabled them to take His good news to every corner of the earth. But, if you don’t agree with the biblical account of the spread of Jesus’ fame, what is your explanation? And, in the name of science, do you think your theory might be repeatable? In other words, do you think it would be possible, given a skeptic’s explanation for the rise in fame of Jesus, for that process to be duplicated? Could somebody else with Jesus’ giftings (and geographical/technological limitations) become as famous as Jesus did?
I suspect not. Every hypothesis which attempts to explain the fame of Jesus apart from the resurrection of Jesus is ultimately not scientifically sustainable, since such a hypothesis could not be tested. Skeptics, like Jeffrey Jay Lowder, suggest that a claim like the resurrection of Jesus requires extraordinary evidence before one could logically accept it as true. I concede his point, and agree with him. However, I believe that there is PLENTY of extraordinary evidence that points to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, including the fame of Jesus, the spread of the Gospel, and the fact that almost 1/3 of the known world today worships a Galilean that was born over 2000 years ago. I suggest that, if you are going to doubt the resurrection, you should have extraordinary evidence that refutes it. I have never seen a skeptic produce any such evidence that would refute convincingly any Christian claim about the resurrection of Jesus. In that light, ponder the following statement from pastor and writer Tim Keller:
“The resurrection of Jesus was a major historical problem, no matter how you looked at it. Most modern historians made the philosophical assumption that miracles simply cannot happen, and that made the claim of the resurrection highly problematic. However, if you disbelieved the resurrection you then had the difficulty of explaining how the Christian church got started at all. “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything. Most people think that, when it comes to Jesus’s resurrection, the burden of proof is on believers to give evidence that it happened. That is not completely the case. The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.”
Essentially then, I am arguing here that Jesus’ coming from utter obscurity to time dominating ultra-relevance is a proof, so to speak, of the veracity of the Bible, and the plausibility of the resurrection. Before you scoff too much at this, my dear skeptic friend, consider well how you would explain Jesus’ meteoric and sustained rise to relevance absent the resurrection.
 Remember that, even in tiny and insignificant Israel, that Galilee and Nazareth were both considered tiny and insignificant.
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, ©2008), 200
 Steven S. Skiena and Charles Ward, Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 32.
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Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)