Two thousand years on, why are Jesus’ teachings still so influential in our world today? And why is he appearing in people’s dreams? The answer to that question lies in the evidence for his death and resurrection, says Justin Bass
Virtually all non-believing scholars agree that Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul and James, Jesus’ brother were honest and trustworthy when they claimed Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead. They really believed that the same Jesus who was crucified and buried walked among them. So if Jesus stayed dead and did not rise again, who or what did they see?
Whatever it was - at least in the cases of Peter, James and Paul - it transformed their lives to the point of being willing to suffer and die for what they saw. They sealed their testimonies with their own blood.
In addition to these four bedrock eyewitnesses (Mary, Peter, James, Paul), we have three other individuals who saw Jesus: Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7), Ananias, who baptised Paul (Acts 9) and John, who wrote Revelation (Revelation 1).
We also have nine groups of people who believed the risen Jesus appeared to them:
- The women with Mary Magdalene (Matt 28:9-11)
- The two on the Emmaus Road, one named Cleopas (Luke 24)
- The disciples, without Thomas (John 20:24-25)
- The disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26-29)
- The seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21)
- More than 500 men and women at once (1 Corinthians 15:6)
- All the apostles, including James and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:7)
- The disciples at the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20)
- Around 120 men and women at the ascension (Acts 1)
That’s a total of sixteen documented appearances of the risen Jesus in the first century AD, to more than 650 people!
New Testament scholar Dale Allison admits this evidence is extraordinarily unique. He writes: “Early Christianity offers us a missing body, plus visions to several individuals, plus collective apparitions, plus the sense of a dead man’s presence, plus the conversion vision of at least one hostile outsider. Taken as a whole, this is, on any account, a remarkable, even extraordinary confluence of events and claims. If there is a good, substantial parallel to the entire series, I have yet to run across it.”
By any empirical measure, Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential human being who ever lived
This “extraordinary confluence of events and claims” did not end with Jesus’ appearances to Saul of Tarsus, Stephen, or even John of the Apocalypse. If Jesus Christ rose from the dead, if he is alive and is Lord of the world, it makes sense that he would continue to influence individuals and nations today for his glory, in every nation, on every continent until he returns.
Let me demonstrate this continuous, worldwide influence of the risen Christ with three streams of evidence.
1. Prophecies fulfilled
Standing on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in the early 30s AD, Jesus prophesied: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations” (Matthew 24:14). The risen Jesus is also reported as saying to his apostles: “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus’ desire for his message to go to all nations is repeated throughout the Gospels (Matthew 16:18; 26:13; 28:18-20; Mark 13:10, 31; 14:9; John 10:16). Furthermore, this hope of all the nations one day united under the banner of YHWH, worshiping the one God of Israel, is a running theme throughout the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 11:10-12; 66:18-19; et al).
We know, then, what Jesus of Nazareth desired and what he prophesied would happen. Namely, his words would never pass away (Mark 13:31), his Church would prove to be indestructible (Matthew 16:18), and his Gospel would be proclaimed to every nation on the planet (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Extraordinary claims from a Jewish carpenter.
Now that 2,000 years have passed since Jesus spoke these words, we can ask: “Have Jesus’ prophecies been fulfilled?”
Well, firstly, have Jesus’ words passed away? No. In fact, his words and teachings are still the most influential, most read, repeated and preached throughout the whole world. Secondly, has his Church been destroyed? No, but not for lack of trying. The Roman Caesars, the barbarians, the Vikings, the Ottomans, the Enlightenment, Communism, even the Beatles tried to extinguish Christianity – and failed. As GK Chesterton said: “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
Lastly, has Jesus’ gospel gone to all nations? Indeed, it has. There are currently 195 nations on the planet. Every single one of these nations contain Christians proclaiming: “Hallelujah, Jesus is Lord!” Many people still need to be reached with the gospel, but it is undeniable that the good news Jesus proclaimed has literally reached “the ends of the earth”, from Jerusalem to Papua New Guinea.
Over 95 per cent of people who live in Papua New Guinea today profess to be Christians! Had Matthew, Luke or even the Roman Caesars ever heard of Papua New Guinea? Of course not. But long after the “eternal” Roman Empire fell, Jesus’ gospel went on conquering nations the Romans never knew existed.
2. Multiplying the witnesses
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Did that “seeking” end in the first century AD? Of course not. Jesus has been seeking and saving his lost sheep for the last 2,000 years and will continue until he returns. We know his primary method for saving lost souls is through missionaries, through the scriptures, the sword of the spirit, through the foolishness of preaching Christ crucified and risen again, but a more infrequent, but no less effective, method is through dreams and visions.
I became interested in the subject of dreams and visions of Jesus after serving for three years in the Middle East as a missionary and professor. I met Muslims from Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Gaza and Iraq who had converted to Christianity as a result of having dreams and/or visions of Jesus. There are documented cases throughout the Middle East. In fact, this is so common that missionaries post signs saying: “If you’ve had a dream of the Man in White call this number…”
The phenomenon of dreams and visions of Jesus are unique. I have now looked at over 1,000 documented cases – it is not only Muslims dreaming about Jesus, it is Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Satanists, Wiccans and even the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. From Perpetua in Tunisia to Constantine in Turkey; to Francis of Assisi in Italy to John Bunyan in England; to Sundar Sing in India to Sojourner Truth in America to Moses Xie in China…Aslan is on the move.
Why aren’t Christians having dreams of Buddha, Krishna or Muhammed?
Phillip Wiebe wrote an outstanding book called Visions of Jesus (Oxford University Press) documenting over 30 cases of dreams and/or visions of Jesus in the 20th century from people in America, Canada and Australia.
Where is the book called ‘Visions of Buddha’? Or ‘Visions of Krishna’? Or ‘Visions of Mohammed’? Or ‘Visions of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’? Search Google and Amazon, ask ChatGPT all you want, you won’t find them. Which leads to another question. Why aren’t Christians having dreams of Buddha, Krishna or Muhammed? Or why aren’t Muslims having dreams of Krishna or Hindus having dreams of Muhammed? When has a Muslim dreamt of Joseph Smith, woken up, and proclaimed: “Mormonism is true!”
It has never happened. And there is one reason for that: Jesus is alive and still seeking and saving his sheep.
3. An extraordinary life
Before a live audience, atheist Sam Harris and his fellow panelists were asked by a questioner: “If you had the DeLorean from the film Back to the Future and could time travel anywhere in the past or future, where would you go and why?” After a brief discussion, philosopher Rebecca Goldstein said: “I would love to go back and see who Jesus was and what the deal was.” Harris also said he wanted to meet Jesus and added: “Strangely, Jesus is on the list, because of the mysterious sway he has over so much of humanity.”
The mysterious sway indeed.
If Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, if he is Lord of the world, then we would expect him to have an overwhelming influence - or “mysterious sway” - over humanity. Jesus’s teachings, the stories he told, his actions and deeds, his humility and, most of all, his love for sinners, for the leper, the outcast, even for his enemies still melts our hearts. People who saw and heard Jesus are consistently described as being “amazed at him” (Mark 12:17).
2,000 years later, billions are still amazed.
By any empirical measure, Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential human being who ever lived. That Jesus rose again from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind, is a unique and extraordinary claim. But we are dealing with a unique and extraordinary individual.
I met Muslims who had converted to Christianity as a result of having dreams or visions of Jesus
Of more than 100 billion human beings who have walked this planet, how many are worshipped by billions of other humans today? Only one. Could the fact that Jesus of Nazareth somehow achieved this extraordinary anomaly mean that he achieved another?
Ultimately, Jesus’ movement should have died the death of the 14 other messianic movements that failed in the first century. Where are the followers of Judas the Galilean, Theudas, Simon bar Giora or Simon Bar Kochba? Why didn’t their messages reach to the ends of the earth? Because they all stayed dead.
Jesus, on the other hand, has triumphantly demonstrated throughout history that he is the living one: “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
Listen to Justin Bass and Bart Ehrman debate the resurrection on Premier Unbelievable’s The Big Conversation