A New, Messianic Jewish Perspective on the Resurrection

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As a young Jewish believer in Jesus, the rabbis were constantly challenging my faith.

They challenged me on the Messianic prophecies. They challenged me on how the New Testament authors quoted the Hebrew Scriptures. They challenged me on the role of Torah and tradition in my own life.

But they almost never challenged me on the resurrection of Jesus.

They certainly didn’t believe for a second that He actually rose from the dead. But somehow, in all our polemics and debates and discussions, we didn’t spend a lot of time disputing the resurrection. Consequently, over the years, as I began to develop my responses to the most common Jewish objections to Jesus, I did not focus on objections to the resurrection. Plus, there were top Christian scholars who have devoted decades of study and thought to the subject. I could focus on other things.

Certainly, the resurrection of Yeshua was always a major theme in my own personal life and ministry. He is risen indeed! But again, in terms of Jewish apologetics, I did not focus on it.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was sitting with two young men, both Messianic Jews with a great heart for outreach and apologetics, and we began talking about the resurrection. For the first time, I felt the importance of writing about it in a focused way as well, and that led to my new book Resurrection: Investigating a Rabbi from Brooklyn, a Preacher from Galilee, and an Event that Changed the World.

You might say, “But why another book on the resurrection?

Didn’t you already say that fine Christian scholars have covered it well?”

They absolutely have. But my book comes at the subject from a different angle.

That’s probably why I received some great endorsements for the book from perhaps the two top Christian scholars on the resurrections, Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. What an honor!

So, what, exactly is this new and different angle?

And why is it so important and faith-building?

Well, for years scholars and skeptics and psychologists and sociologists have told us that the disciples experienced a form of cognitive dissonance after Jesus died. It so rocked their world and crushed their expectations that they went into deep denial to the point of believing that Jesus really rose from the dead.

To be sure, other scholars have attacked this tenuous theory from a number of powerful and persuasive angles, but my new book tackles it from a different angle. Specifically, I focus on a modern-day, parallel test case that completely demolishes this argument.

To give the relevant background, in 1994, a leading rabbi died at the age of 92. His name was Menachem Mendel Schneerson and he was known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. But this rabbi had become so influential that, before his death, his followers began to proclaim that he was the long-awaited Messiah. Redemption had come for Israel!

Toward the end of his life, however, he suffered two serious strokes and was no longer able to communicate, making it impossible for him to quiet those who were convinced he was the Messiah. They were sure that, at any moment, he would be glorified, and around the world, they eagerly awaited the announcement. Instead, to their absolute shock, he died. Yes, the Rebbe, their revered leader, was dead.

But some refused to believe it. “He will soon rise!” they proclaimed. Others said, “He’s not really dead. This is just a test for our physical eyes.” Some even camped out near his gravesite, waiting for his resurrection, but it never happened. And yet this Jewish movement not only continued after the Rebbe’s death, it actually grew, with many of his followers to this day claiming that he is the Messiah.

In the eyes of some Jewish scholars, this paralleled the early Christian movement. Both movements centered around a charismatic Jewish rabbi. Both movements believed their rabbi was the Messiah. Both claimed that their rabbi somehow lived after death. And both movements survived their leader’s death and continued to grow and flourish. Cognitive dissonance explains what happened with Yeshua and with the Rebbe.

What I demonstrate in my new book, Resurrection, is that the exact opposite is true on several levels. In fact, we now have a parallel test cast in which we can examine the cognitive dissonance theory in depth.

First, the followers of Jesus were completely devastated by His death and were shocked by His resurrection. They were not expecting it. Basically, their reaction was, “Risen from the dead? No way! I won’t believe it unless I see Him with my own eyes!” Even though the Lord had repeatedly told them He would die and rise, they just didn’t get it, losing all hope when He was crucified and then being completely blown away when it really happened.

In contrast, the most devoted followers of the Rebbe were waiting for him to rise, expecting him to rise, convinced he would rise. And yet, to this day, none of them claim to have seen him risen and in the flesh. They may speak of his spiritual presence or claim that he’s not in the grave. But the reality is that none of his followers, especially the leaders, claim to have seen the Rebbe risen from the dead, in the flesh.

Second, the early followers of Jesus boldly and repeatedly pointed to His very real death. They preached “Messiah crucified,” emphasizing the horrible nature of His death and then pointing to His glorious resurrection.

In contrast, those followers of the Rebbe who still claim that he is the Messiah will not speak of his death. They don’t have the date on their calendars (whereas the death of a famous rabbinic leader is normally memorialized and commemorated), and they still speak of it in mystical rather than physical terms. He passed into another realm, they might say, but they will not acknowledge the full reality of his death.

Third, the Jesus movement grew and flourished based on the certainty of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. Both were witnessed firsthand, and the eyewitnesses became the core of the movement. Not only so, but the New Testament records that at one time, Yeshua appeared to 500 people after He rose.

In contrast, the Lubavitcher movement has splintered, with the large majority of the Rebbe’s followers no longer proclaiming him as the Messiah. In other words, the only way the movement could continue and have credibility was to deny the idea that the Rebbe was the Messiah, since he died before completing his mission and did not rise from the dead.

So, in these three ways, which I develop at length in Resurrection, we have further proof for the reality of the New Testament claims. He is risen indeed!

In the book, I also get into a number of fascinating Jewish traditions, including: the idea that there is a potential Messiah in every generation; the belief in gilgul, a form of reincarnation in some traditional Jewish circles; the utterly bizarre story of the false Messiah Shabbetai Tsevi, known as the mystical Messiah; the concept of a dying and rising Messiah in the Hebrew Bible; and the mystery of the divine Angel in the Hebrew Bible.

Please pray with me that God will use this book to edify all followers of Jesus, both Gentile and Jew, and that He will use it to reach the lost sheep of the house of Israel, especially religious Jews, and even more particularly, followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I believe He will do this very thing!

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