I have read a few posts this week that defend the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection by stating that a physical bodily resurrection must have occurred because it would take something extraordinary and miraculous to cause the apostles and Christian followers to come out of hiding and boldly express their belief in a dead messiah, and especially to cause early Christians to become martyrs.
That argument lost merit for me in 2001. When Islamic extremists willfully and mindfully flew two planes into the twin towers I realized that it does not take witnessing a miraculous event to cause people to martyr themselves for the sake of their religion. I have drawn the conclusion that people will commit to what would seem impossible of their rational mindset when a unifying cause results in an allegiance.
In my opinion there did not have to be a physical resurrection for the apostles to continue move forward with their new found beliefs. All it took was belief and hope in the message, and love and respect for the messenger.
By the time of the crucifixion the apostles had already been mentally conditioned to an evolved form of spirituality. It would be unlikely that they would return wholly to their former beliefs because once a belief is dismissed it is difficult to fully embrace it again, mainly because in the current state of mind there remain thoughts defining why the original belief was faulty in the first place, and those lingering definitions create resistance and doubt that cannot be easily disregarded.
In the days of the ancients, visions were commonly accepted as messages from God. Someone who had claimed to have had a godly vision of Jesus, confirming all that he had taught and offered them could have been enough motivation to cling to the new faith, and to hope beyond the stark facts that Jesus lived after death just as he said that he would. Jesus taught a message of hope and worthiness in the human existence. He offered profound meaning and purpose, and lifted the spirit of the downtrodden. What Jew who had embraced his message would have wanted to return to a religion of condemnation under the law when they had experienced the presence of Jesus and found hope in the message he taught?
The hope of the heart is powerful, the need to survive beyond the grave is powerful, and a group of like- minded thinkers is powerful, and it is enough to suspend disbelief even when facts and disturbing truths challenge the will to believe. As conscious beings, we struggle to accept that this one life may be all there is. We find difficulty assigning meaning and purpose in a temporary existence where all of our knowledge, experience and emotion seems such a waste, and for naught, if consciousness does not continue beyond the grave.
It seems likely to me that someone claiming to have had a vision of Jesus alive in an afterlife would have been enough to convince the apostles to carry forward his message. What may have been a simple reference to Jesus being alive in the human spirit may have been construed into a claim that he was a heavenly spirit living in the godly realms in order to satisfy the need to overcome the finality of death and to break free from the burden of the Jewish religious laws.
My conclusion to the question asked in this post is that the willingness to become a martyr for the cause does not require miracles, just the willingness and desire to believe in the message.