The birth of Christianity is a long process that has not really ended today. Faith, religion is forming, believers are changing, and there is only one which is not changing, the Holy Scripture. And yet for me the birth of Christianity can be linked to a single well-defined moment, at that moment all decided, faith was born, that is the faith in the resurrection of the Savior, which is the basis of the Christian faith, religion, without which there is no Christian man. He or she, who does not believe that Jesus really died for our sins and then was resurrected, is not a Christian. One may accept the teachings in many things and may even live by them, but if he lacks faith in the resurrection, he or she may be excellent, very good man but not a Christian.
And the development of Christianity, the birth of faith in the resurrection, can be grasped in one sentence in its fullness, light, and purity: “And he saw and believed.” Where does this sentence come from? Recall chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, for me this is the turning point in the Bible, because when I read and first fully understood it, I also saw and believed. The excerpt in its old form, but the point is understandable: “And he saw and believed.”
“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.”
The first thing I would highlight from this short story is who was the first to go to the tomb early in the morning, Sunday, when the Sabbath was over, and it was possible to see Jesus be buried with honor. It was not the disciples who went there first, but Mary Magdalene. The disciples who lived with Jesus, visited the country with Him, witnessed His teachings, His miracles, saw Jesus walk on the water, then saw His glorious arrival to Jerusalem, then saw Him die on the cross, did not go to the tomb early in the morning. I think the reason for the hopelessness, the desperation was that they were weak and depressed. Probably the later they wanted to face the undeniable reality that their teacher, in whom they had placed their trust, died, the later they wanted to see the dead body, which at the time was still thought to be the end.
Yet Jesus told them he would be resurrected. Of course, if I had been among the disciples, the doubt would have been there in my heart as well: He will be resurrected, but how, is it possible? I don’t think any of them could believe that then, and that’s why they weren’t the first to be at the grave.
Nor did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb because she believed that Jesus had been resurrected, for even when she met the resurrected Master face to face, she did not recognize Him and believed that the Lord’s body had been taken somewhere and was desperately trying to find out where.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb because she loved the Lord and knew that the body had to be put in the tomb quickly, she knew that the corpse had to be washed again, smeared with the proper spices, and honestly re-placed in the tomb. So he hurried so that the Savior’s body could begin his eternal dream in the tomb as soon as possible in a worthy way.
But the body was no longer there. Frightened and even panicked, she rushed to the disciples and took the news that the Lord had been taken from the tomb. She did not say that the Lord was risen, it was unthinkable for her then. She chose the simplest option: they took the Lord out of the tomb.
The news, of course, may have surprised the disciples greatly, with a plethora of possibilities and thoughts running through them: who might have had an interest in the abduction of the body, if that was indeed the case? They saw the sealed, stone-sealed grave, the soldiers in front of the grave, they might have thought it unlikely that the body had indeed disappeared. Mary was probably wrong. But they still had to check what Mary Magdalene claimed, as she could have been very definite and very upset, she should have a reason to say that.
Who hurried to the grave? Peter and the other disciple who was John, as the Scriptures refer to him as “whom Jesus loved”. John arrives there first, looks into the tomb, but does not go in yet, lets Peter forward, there was probably some hierarchy between them, and in this Peter overtook John.
Peter sees the tomb, sees that the body is not there, but he does not know yet what happened. The most important moment in the history of the birth of Christianity is when John also enters the tomb, sees the veils, and sees that the body is not there.
The Bible writes of this moment, “and he saw and believed.” How could John attain enlightenment to become faith in him instantly instead of despair?
Peter was not there at the crucifixion, the fact that he had refused Jesus three times could have been so embarrassing to him that he would have preferred to run far from Jerusalem and the other disciples, he was not there even when Jesus was taken off the cross and placed in the tomb.
John, on the other hand, was there with Jesus’ mother at the crucifixion; when the body wrapped in shrouds, and was placed in the tomb.
He had a clear picture of what the tomb looked like, with the body lying wrapped in shrouds, and now he saw the same picture, the shrouds as they had been left on Friday night, except that something was no longer there under the shrouds: the body of Jesus. And so John could be enlightened immediately, and therefore believed confidently and in a single moment, grasping reality: the body could only disappear from the veils — leaving the veils untouched — if the body had indeed disappeared in a supernatural process.
If we put an apple in a three-dimensional cube and that apple suddenly disappears without any opening on the surface of the cube, science also knows a solution: in four-dimensional space, the three-dimensional cube is open in the direction of the fourth dimension, so in this direction the apple can be removed. Of all this, three-dimensional beings only notice that the apple is gone, for them the fourth dimension is invisible.
So John was the first man to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Later joined to him the others when Jesus appeared to them, and even Thomas believed when the risen Jesus showed him His wounds. And He also appeared on the road to Emmaus, and we know from the letters of Peter that Jesus also appeared before many other people, in whom, of course, that encounter became the Christian faith.
But the first to become a believer through personal experience was the Apostle John. He saw the untouched veils without the body, as well as the veil on which, after being taken away from the tomb, an image of a crucified man seemed to emerge, this veil known today as the veil of Turin.
So that’s the story. Something else is worth talking about. Many claim that Jesus did not actually die or be resurrected. But then who had the interest in removing the body from the grave? It was the worst case scenario for the Romans and the Jews, so they couldn’t be. The disciples alone would have had a reason to take the body in secret and thus set off a legend on its journey about the risen Jesus. But the tomb was sealed with a stone and sealed, guarded by soldiers at all times. If someone even got into the tomb and took the body away, why would he care to put the veils back in their original position and roll up the napkin as well, and then falsify an image on the veil later? If a robbery had taken place, the scene should have been appropriate.
And if Peter had known about the abduction of the body, would he have been able to play all his life and then let himself crucify upside down in Rome? Would John have been able to write his gospel and then the Book of Revelation based on a lie? Would Martyr Stephen have been willing to let stone himself to death for a lie? Would people who became Christians have been able to die in gladiatorial arenas for their faith if it were based on the whole lie?
There are many stories imaginable, but to me only one of them is believable, one in which John saw and believed.