The First Forty Days

Wednesday: The Living Christ

Acts 1:1-11 In this week’s study we see that Jesus and His resurrection are rooted in history, and that we are to tell others of the Good News concerning the salvation of sinners.  
The Living Christ

Thomas was the greatest of the skeptics. Even after the resurrection, when the other disciples had seen Christ and had come to Thomas to proclaim the resurrection, Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). But when Jesus appeared to Thomas this alone was sufficient to dispel all this doubter’s doubt. He fell before him with the confession, “My Lord and my God” (v. 28). This and other similar experiences are what Luke had in mind when he wrote of “convincing proofs.” He was saying, “I am going to chart the spread of Christianity. But I want you to know at the very beginning that this is a religion based upon historical facts, including even the amazing matter of the resurrection. The resurrection has been demonstrated by many convincing proofs, and it is proof of everything else that needs proving.” 

Here is the way the argument goes. 

1. The resurrection is a fact. The disciples knew Jesus had been raised from the dead. 

2. If the resurrection is a fact, it proves the deity of Jesus. This is because Christ claimed to be divine before His crucifixion. If that was true, it was a great truth. If it was false, it was blasphemy. Moreover, Jesus said that God, His Father, was going to raise Him from the dead after His crucifixion. That was a nearly impossible claim. Yet when Jesus was raised from the dead after three days, when the tomb was opened and Jesus was seen no longer to be there, this fact proved His deity, for it is impossible that God would have raised Him from the dead if His claim to deity had been false.  

3. A divine Christ must speak truth, because God is truthful and must speak truthfully. 

4. If what Jesus says is true, then we can trust everything He teaches. We can trust the Bible, because Jesus taught that it was the Word of God. We can believe that God has forgiven us our many sins, because Jesus taught that God would do that for all who believe on Him. 

There is a second thing to see about these opening verses, and that is the dominant presence of the living Christ. 

These opening verses are noteworthy for referring to each member of the Trinity. In verse 3 Jesus speaks about the “kingdom of God,” a reference to God the Father. Verse 5 mentions the Holy Spirit: “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Verse 6 refers to Jesus as the Lord: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” This is not unusual for the New Testament, of course. It occurs elsewhere. What is striking here is not that Acts 1 refers to each person of the Trinity, as other books do, but that it refers to the person of Jesus Christ over and over again. Every one of these first eleven verses either records Jesus as speaking or refers to Him. 

The ending of this section is particularly important. The angels are talking about Jesus: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (v. 11). That is important, because in critical New Testament studies there has been an attempt on the part of some scholars to abandon the New Testament in order to discover what they choose to call the real or “historical” Jesus. 

The historical Jesus movement began more than one hundred years ago with a German scholar whose name was Hermann Samuel Reimarus. When he died he left a manuscript in which he suggested that future New Testament scholarship would have to distinguish between what he called “the aim of Jesus” and “the aim of his disciples,” that is, between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. By “Jesus of history” he meant the real Jesus, the Jesus who actually lived so many centuries ago. By “Christ of faith” he meant the Jesus of the fervent belief of the early Christians, the Christ about whom we are told in the pages of the New Testament. In other words, Reimarus suggested—and later German scholarship affirmed as fact—that the Jesus we find in the Gospels is not the true Jesus.1 

As a result of Reimarus’ work, German scholarship, in its typically thorough way, launched itself upon what became one hundred years of historical Jesus research. During these years, great German thinkers produced volume after volume purporting to tell who the historical Jesus really was. Nevertheless, toward the end of that period, Albert Schweitzer wrote a book titled The Quest of the Historical Jesus, in which he exposed these efforts as a critical dead end. He said that, despite their ability, each of these scholars only managed to create a Jesus in his own image. If he was a socialist, he produced a socialist Jesus. If he was a moralist, he produced a Jesus who was a teacher of ethics. If he identified with the common man, he produced a Jesus who was a model of the common man. Schweitzer pointed out rightly and wisely that it is impossible to separate the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history. 

The reason is obvious. It is because the Christ of faith, the Christ presented to us in the pages of the New Testament, is the Jesus of history. There is no other. This is what Luke says as he begins both the Gospel and Acts. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is and has always been the object of the faith of Christians down through all the Christian centuries, is the Jesus who really lived, who was crucified and who rose from the dead. 

1For a fuller treatment of Reimarus’ work and its significance, see James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 81-82. 

Study Questions
  1. Review the argument presented for the resurrection and Jesus’ deity.
  2. Where is the Trinity mentioned in Acts 1?
  3. What do the angels say about Jesus in v. 11? How does this refute the beliefs of those who sought only the “historical” Jesus?

Key Point: The Christ of faith, the Christ presented to us in the pages of the New Testament, is the Jesus of history. There is no other.

Reflection: Does your faith in Christ sometimes waver? Do you ever have doubts about the Bible? Reflect upon the truth that Christianity is based in history and proven facts.

Prayer: Pray for an opportunity to show an unbeliever that your faith is based in history.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “The Building of an Apostle.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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