The Temple authorities did everything they could to squelch the Christian movement. They failed. Then, the Romans tried in earnest, ten times in particular over the next three centuries to squelch Christianity. But they failed too.
Dr. N. T. Wright of England, once said this when I interviewed him for a television program: “The disciples, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, were completely devastated. Everybody in their world knew that if you were following a prophet or a Messiah or a leader or whatever and that person got executed by the Roman authorities, then it meant you had backed the wrong horse. Since everybody knew that a crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah, the only thing which explains why they said Jesus was the Messiah is that they really did believe that He had been bodily raised from the dead.”
Another recent example of Christian-bashing in our time was when Saturday Night Live crossed a line of respect/disrespect, when they portrayed Jesus vanquishing the Roman Empire through violence. The fascinating thing is that Jesus did vanquish Rome -- by love, forgiveness, and non-violent means.
Historian Will Durant wrote a definitive, multivolume survey of world history. Durant commented on the Gospel’s success in ancient Rome.
He said, “There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fiery tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has ever known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.”
You can walk around Rome today and see the ruins of “the strongest state history has ever known,” and yet you can walk into a storefront in one of our inner cities and hear the name of Jesus, the risen Lord, being praised. Or in a cathedral, for that matter.
When beautiful American spirituals are performed in church, I’m reminded of how such hymns praising Jesus were written by slaves. These songs of praise are still used today, while the evil system that oppressed those slaves is “gone with the wind.”
William F. Buckley, Jr. once introduced a debate between a Christian scholar and a skeptic: “If during the course of the debate, [the skeptic] disappears in a puff of smoke, then rest assured that Jesus up in heaven has just cleared His throat.”
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