worshipping a Jewish craftsman who lived 2000 years ago, wandered around teaching an in-credible message and healing before being executed by Rome, is weird. In Acts 25 the Roman governor is thoroughly bewildered about the controversy surrounding Paul and certain Jewish leader regarding "their own religion and about a certain Jesus, whom had died but Paul asserted to be alive." I mean, its NOT hard to believe, given today's celebrity-culture that people might worship the most handsome man in all Israel (as we find him in many 'Jesus' films, veritably glowing with divinity). But what about this guy?
I am not the first person to point out that early Christianity (and therefore later Christianity) makes no sense unless we believe that the apostles believed that Jesus did not stay dead. So what happened? Its easier to say what didn't happen.
1. Jesus did not survive his execution. The Romans were pretty good at executions. If Jesus had survived, he would have been in VERY bad shape and the apostles probably would not have had much enthusiasm for preaching his "victory over death." In addition, this is not what the word 'resurrection' meant to anyone, as N.T. Wright has fairly conclusively shown. "Resurrection" meant the post-mortem restoration or re-creation of one's own physical body by God. In three of the four gospels we see the writers struggling to communicate the continuity and discontinuity of they experience with Jesus' post
2. The disciples did not think they saw some sort of "spiritual apparition" of Jesus. When they thought Peter had been executed in Acts 12 and then he showed up, they dismissed the servant who met him by saying, "Its only his 'angel.'" Remarkably, they did not (believing in resurrection) say that the servant had witnessed Peter's resurrection, they just put it in another category, one that was dismissable. Various people have written about the possibility or impossibility of mass hallucination. It seems inconclusive to me.
3. Christian beliefs about Jesus were not just derivatives of a numerous other "born of a virgin, died and risen" pseudo-gods of the ancient world. Don't let the Zeitgeist film, or any other popular teachers of comparative religion tell you that the "Jesus-cult" was just a clone of numerous ancient devotional cults; an oddity only for its survival. Jonathan Z. Smith, a highly respected scholar of the history of religions (and no Christian apologist) has said that claims of similarity are the normal but misguided constructions of scholars who can only make sense of these VERY different devotional sects by identifying commonalities as overlooking the massive differences, some of which exist even in relation to the things that look "the same."
I'm NOT willing to say that the survival of Christianity proves that Christians are right, only that they believed something that was unbelievable by anyone's standards, ancient or modern and that they managed to convince many people who did not see what they claimed to see that what they were saying was true. It was the resurrection that vindicated Jesus as God's man. If he was vindicated as God's man, then his "gospel" must have been true, no matter what he looked like.