Jesus made the audacious claim that he is the son of God. These claims drew the ire of the religious establishment in Jerusalem and lead to his crucifixion. His crucifixion became the ultimate test of these claims because if he did not rise from the dead like he said he would then it would have become apparent to his followers that he was either a fraud or delusional. If his death and lack of resurrection proved that he was a fraud then we can expect that his followers would give up and go back to their former lives, and that Jesus Christ would have been forgotten by history, but that is clearly not the case.
In the midst of an incredibly hostile environment, Jesus’ followers rallied. With the might of the Roman Empire and the religious elite of Jerusalem coming down upon them, Jesus’ disciples held to their beliefs. All of Jesus’ 12 disciples but John were executed for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, the risen savior. Half of them were crucified, which is one of the most horrific ways to die. These 12 men who had watched Jesus’ ministry followed him everywhere and ate with him. If anyone would have good insight into the claims of Jesus it would have been them. The fact that they endured beatings, torture and execution lends huge credibility to the Bible’s assertion that Jesus rose from the dead and that he is the son of God. If they had lost faith in Jesus then they wouldn’t have died for him.
Suffering for Christian beliefs was not for the apostles alone, members of the early Church suffered for their faith as well. Nero made human torches out of Christians, and having wild animals attack Christians was a part of the bloody spectacle of the Colosseum. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote about the suffering of the Christians and their explosion of activity following Jesus’ crucifixion. In the “Annals” Tacitus writes:
Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius 14-37 at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.Why would this group, who the Romans held to be subversive, risk death for a fraud messiah? The early church withstood the pressure of the Roman Empire and grew. If Jesus would have been a fraud then I believe that Christianity would have died with the man who claimed to be the son of God. Why would all these people suffer for a fake savior?
When I encountered this question that I could not answer I had to seriously consider the claims of Christianity. It was this question that played a major role in pushing me from Agnosticism to Christianity.