The skeptics charge the disciples invented the story of the resurrection after Jesus died. But, on what evidence do skeptics base this on? Actually, the evidence is contrary to the assertion and the disciples wouldn’t invent a story of a resurrection. Instead, when Jesus died, he was just another failed messiah that did not fulfill their expectations as a savior.
The disciples abandoned Jesus when the tough got going. Once they realized their hope of Jesus as the Messiah overthrowing the Romans would not be fulfilled, they deserted him. Even Peter vehemently denied knowing Jesus three time after he witnessed him being brutally beaten by the guards and doing nothing to save himself. None of the disciples were recorded to have been at his death sentence and witness his crucifixion. After his death, in John 21, the disciples gathered wondering what to do next at the Sea of Galilee. Peter was not thinking about how to build the church with him being the rock. Instead, he went back to fishing. To them at that point, he was just another failed messiah.
History has been full of failed and false messiahs, from ancient history to modern history.
Several Jewish rebels and military leaders lived in the 1st century, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas, Simon of Peraea, and Athronges, all of whom are only documented by Josephus in surviving accounts. None of them was explicitly stated to have been thought of as a Messiah but some scholars make this as an inference.
From Josephus it appears that in the first century before the destruction of the Temple a number of Messiahs arose promising relief from the Roman yoke, and finding ready followers.
Jews have long believed in the eventual coming of a Messiah — someone who will bring about a new period of true redemption for the Jewish people — and many in the possibility of predicting when he will come and who he will be. Over the last two millennia, the arrival of the Messiah has been predicted many times — always incorrectly, and often with disastrous results for the wider community.
By the late Second Temple period, references to the Messiah had proliferated throughout Jewish writings. As the Greco-Roman empire subjected the Jews to harsh and anti-Semitic decrees, there was a renewed sense of urgency to find a leader who would bring respite from suffering.
Understandably, this increase in messianic discussion brought an increase in messianic predictions and even the coronation of certain people as the Messiah. During the first few centuries of the Common Era, there would be scores of individuals claiming to be moshiach, the vast majority of them never able to amass any type of following.
Perhaps the most famous of all the false messiahs was Shabbetai Zevi, an early modern charismatic Jew who lived in the early Ottoman empire. Building off Kabbalistic messianic traditions, Zevi started to gain a following to whom he would teach esoteric and mystical Jewish ideas. As his following grew, Shabbetai Zevi began to perform open “miracles”, publicly chant the name of God, and eventually declare himself the Messiah. At first few accepted this messianic declaration but over time a variety of well-known Kabbalistic leaders embraced this young moshiach. Towards the end of his life, Zevi was imprisoned by the Islamic hegemony and given an ultimatum: be killed or convert to Islam. As he chose the later, thousands of his own followers also converted while others looked to the creation of a different religious movement known as Sabbatianism.
For every example of a false Messiah written about here, there are dozens of examples not mentioned. In times of hardship and fervor, Jews have repeatedly believed the Messiah was identifiable and at hand — only to be disappointed. A detailed account of all the false Jewish Messiahs recorded in history could fill a book, and this precludes the mention of hundreds of claimants lost to the dustbin of history. While the setting and scope of each of these stories widely differ, they are united by failure and false hope — the vast majority causing death and destruction, loss of property, or conversion.
Shabbtai Zvi wasn’t the first or last Jew to claim to be the Messiah. In fact, there have been many Jewish and non-Jewish messianic claimants throughout history. And it’s not just something that happened a long time ago in the ancient world. Every year, as many as a hundred people succumb to what’s known as Jerusalem Syndrome, a type of psychosis that causes some who visit Jerusalem to have messianic delusions, often wrapping themselves up in white hotel sheets and wandering around the city saying Messiah-like things. Even Homer Simpson falls victim in an episode of the long-running animated TV show where the family visits Israel.
None of these failed messiahs in history really had any significant and long lasting impact after the death of their leader, except for one, and that of course would be Jesus. So the question is what can account for the difference? Out of all the failed messiahs in history, why should the case be different for Jesus?
Derreck Bennett on MythVision addresses the question, “Josephus mentions many failed messiahs whose movements died with them. Why would a failed apocalyptic prophet who met a humiliating death be different?” His answered, “Why is it that this happened to Jesus and none of these other fellow messiahs? To be completely honest with you, I don’t know. For sure all I would say is that oftentimes just the right person right place right time.”
So, again, we have the typical agnostic response of “I don’t know”. If you compare this explanation with the Christian explanation, it is obvious the Christian explanation has more explanatory power.
Then he adds, “Oftentimes it’s just a matter of Darwinian natural selection.” This doesn’t really explain anything more than simply saying the truism that whatever is the outcome is the result of being the best outcome.
He further adds, “What happened here with Jesus is utterly unique therefore it must be true. That’s just a non-sequitur.” The logic used by apologists is not because he was an unique failed messiah, therefore Jesus rose from the dead. The logic is what is the cause of the difference between Jesus and all other messiahs where Jesus made such an impact on history and all others did not? I actually agree that Jesus came at the right place and the right time. J Warner Wallace’s book, Person of Interest, is a good book that goes into this. The difference between Jesus and all other failed messiahs is that he did something else that nobody else was able to do – he rose from the dead.
The resurrection account of the Bible has the explanatory power to account for the turn around of the disappointed disciples into believers and to initiate a revolution in world history. All other failed messiahs in history had nothing comparable to motivate their disciples after their leader died.