From The Cross in the End-Times
“And through his policy also he shall cause deceit to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many; and he also shall stand up against the Prince of princes, but he shall be broken without hand.” (Dan. 8:25)
If God wanted to provide incontrovertible proof to the world that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and the promised Messiah to Israel, all Jesus had to do after He was raised from the dead was to walk into the Temple in Jerusalem. This is so obvious that we miss it.
This is like the theological controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the first century regarding resurrection of the dead. Jesus answers this question posed to Him as a theological challenge by the Sadducees (Mk. 12:18-27), by pointing out in the scriptures that at the burning bush God identified Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus then says that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, thus resolving this first century controversy as to whether there is life after death.
Even though the Old Testament is not overly definitive on the subject of the afterlife, the answer to this specific question was right there all the time in plain sight in one of the most well-known encounters in the Old Testament, in this exchange between God and Moses at the burning bush.
If the risen Jesus can suddenly appear in a room where the disciples are gathered (Lk. 24:36), and earlier the same day walk alongside two disciples heading for the nearby village of Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-32), it would not have been any more difficult for Jesus to walk into the temple in Jerusalem. Then everyone, including the Pharisees and scribes, would believe in Him.
Why did Jesus only appear to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Jn. 20:11-18), to Peter (Lk. 24:34), to James (1 Cor. 15:7), to the eleven apostles (Jn. 20:19-23), to five hundred people (1 Cor. 15:6), and to Paul (1 Cor. 15:8)? Why did God set up the gospel-message preaching of the early church based upon the eyewitness testimony of the disciples, instead of the more obvious and beyond-a-doubt visual proof of Jesus walking openly through the streets of Jerusalem after His resurrection?
Why did God moderate and fine-tune the impact of the Son of God’s ministry on earth in such a way as to leave intact the ability of large numbers of people to remain in skeptical unbelief for centuries to come? Why is this fine-tuning of the balance between belief and unbelief in the spiritual realm, at a level comparable to the precision of the fine-tuning of the strength of gravity or the cosmological constant in our natural world?
Why does the Christian witness today begin with our testimony that Jesus Christ lives, that He redeemed us into a new and living way…that the transformation in our lives demonstrates that God is real, and that our knowledge that we now possess eternal life sets us free from a past life in bondage to sin? Why do we come home from a prayer meeting at the age of 18, like I did, after becoming a new Christian, into a house and a family that is antagonistic toward the Christian faith (Mt. 10:34-36)?
Why do we start out having to earnestly resolve to live the Christian life in all of its purity so that those around us will see His Light within us and also believe? Why is it so important for God to maintain this delicate balance between the ability to freely believe in God and the freedom to remain in skeptical unbelief, which makes evangelism and the conversion of others so difficult?
The answer to this question is profoundly deep, yet profoundly simple. The only thing that really matters, in the final analysis, in our verbally spoken and life-in-action witness about Jesus Christ, is the quality of our transformation into becoming new improved people in Christ. All of the persuasive speech in existence will sound empty and flat if our faith in Jesus Christ produces no tangibly noticeable improvement in our outlook, our attitudes, our countenance, and in our actions.
The acid-test in the witness of any Christian’s testimony to the world is the positive change that has occurred in our lives (Jas. 2:18). Once people see this positive change, it is then up to them to evaluate whether or not they will consider and be open to the possibility in their own lives of repenting of their sins before God, abandoning self-in-control through the cross, and following Jesus into a journey of faith creating genuine meaning and purpose for their existence. Jesus Christ as seen in Christians is what attracts people to the Christian faith (Mt. 5:16).
This is why a universally accepted, factual acknowledgement of the existence of God through something like the fictionalized hypothetical example of the risen Jesus walking openly down the main streets of Jerusalem, is unacceptable. There must be a broad separation between the two extremes of belief and unbelief, having a wide gray-area center of indecisive fence-sitting, for the intentional and committed picking-up-of-the-cross-and-following-Jesus discipleship to have real value.
God could easily confirm His existence supernaturally anytime to the satisfaction of the most skeptical people on earth today. God could remove unbelief in an instant. But then our decision to follow Jesus Christ in response to His love would not be based upon a voluntary free-will choice. We do not voluntarily choose to believe in the existence of the noonday sun. We do not choose to believe in two plus two equals four. These are obvious, involuntarily acknowledged facts that require no faith or choice whatsoever.
A resurrected Jesus walking into the Temple in Jerusalem, or walking openly down its main city streets, would not result in a free-will choice to believe, trust, and follow Him in response to His loving invitation for an intimate friendship. It would simply change the nature of faith in Jesus Christ into an incontrovertible fact, conferring no more virtue upon its adherents than upon the observation that the noonday sun exists.
One reason that God has maintained the delicate balance between belief and unbelief throughout the long course of human redemptive history is that it adds meaning to the free-will choice of human beings to believe in God to the point of yielding their lives to His will and leading. The virtue of following God through thick-and-thin, like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, only has meaning in a world where people can freely push God away and live their lives in total self-sovereignty apart from God.
This delicate balance between belief and unbelief in the spiritual realm is just as vitally important, indeed maybe more so in the eternal scheme of things, than the delicate balance of the fine-tuning of the current laws of physics in the natural universe. Alter even slightly the force of gravity in the cosmos, and the delicate balance of factors needed to support complex life collapses. Alter even slightly this delicate spiritual balance of belief and unbelief, and the working out of the eternal issues of right and wrong in our relationship to God lose all sense of free-will, purpose, and meaning.