2.1: Jesus Christs Resurrection

The culmination of Jesus’s life was His final death through crucifixion on a Roman Cross and His Resurrection after three days. Tom Wright is one who writes and speaks very clearly on these themes at: http://www.ntwrightpage.com In one of his many articles, he writes one called: ‘The Church must stop trivialising Easter:

Christians must keep their nerve: the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical fact’

Private Eye ran a cartoon some years ago of St. Peter standing in front of Jesus’s Cross and saying to the other Disciples: “It’s time to put this behind us now and move on.” It was a satire not on Christian belief, but on politicians and counsellors, and their trivialising mantras. It depended on Jesus’s death being not just an odd, forgettable event – and that it was His Resurrection, rather than a shoulder- shrugging desire to “move on”, that got the early Christians going.

Easter was the pilot project. What God did for Jesus that explosive morning is what He intends to do for the whole creation. We who live in the interval between Jesus’s Resurrection and the final rescue and transformation of the whole world are called to be new-creation people here and now. That is the hidden meaning of the greatest festival Christians have.

This true meaning has remained hidden because the Church has trivialised it and the world has rubbished it. The Church has turned Jesus’s Resurrection into a “happy ending” after the dark and messy story of Good Friday, often scaling it down so that “resurrection” becomes a fancy way of saying “He went to Heaven”. Easter then means: “There really is life after death”. The world shrugs its shoulders. We may or may not believe in life after death, but we reach that conclusion independently of Jesus, of odd stories about risen bodies and empty tombs.

But “resurrection” to 1st-century Jews wasn’t about “going to Heaven”: it was about the physically dead being physically alive again. Some Jews (not all) believed that God would do this for all people in the end. Nobody, including Jesus’s followers, was expecting one person to be bodily raised from the dead in the middle of history. The stories of the Resurrection are certainly not “wish-fulfilments” or the result of what dodgy social science calls “cognitive dissonance”. First-century Jews who followed would-be messiahs knew that if your leader got killed by the authorities, it meant you had backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: give up the revolution or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying that he’d been raised from the dead wasn’t an option.

Unless he had been. Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn’t have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: “I think he’s still with us in a spiritual sense” or “I think he’s gone to heaven”. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.

The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn’t defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon – He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.

Let’s be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St. Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn’t mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you, not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God’s life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St. Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect – and in the whole world.

Now, suddenly, the real meaning of Easter comes into view, as well as the real reason why it has been trivialised and sidelined. Easter is about a new creation that has already begun. God is remaking His world, challenging all the other powers that think that is their job. The rich, wise order of creation and its glorious, abundant beauty are reaffirmed on the other side of the thing that always threatens justice and beauty – death. Christianity’s critics have always sneered that nothing has changed. But everything has. The world is a different place.

Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn’t fit our prevailing world view. For at least 200 years the West has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves.

The split between God and the “real” world has produced a public life that lurches between anarchy and tyranny, and an aesthetic that swings dramatically between sentimentalism and brutalism. But we still want to do things our own way, even though we laugh at politicians who claim to be saving the world, and artists who claim “inspiration” when they put cows in formaldehyde.

The world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant or, for that matter, the anarchist, and resurrection indicates that this weapon doesn’t have the last word. When the Church begins to work with Easter energy on the twin tasks of justice and beauty, we may find that it can face down the sneers of sceptics, and speak once more of Jesus in a way that will be heard.

The Apostle Paul his writings as in 1 Cor 15: 12 – 58 elaborates on the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ being foundational to their whole experience of spirituality.

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EVIDENCES OF JESUS CHRIST’S RESURRECTION

  • I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history …” E. M. Blaiklock – Professor of Classics, Auckland University
  • The Resurrection of Christ is the most powerful event in history. It has affected the last 2000 years of history and politics, from peasants to kings to nations. Christianity has spread across the entire world, into every country and into a vast number of ethnic groups and languages. Billions of people have experienced the life-giving, healing, forgiveness and freedom offered by God because Jesus Christ conquered death and rose again from the grave.
  • The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:12-22 that without the resurrection of Christ, the Christian faith is useless. “And if Christ be not raised,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
  • There are many skeptics who disregard the resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as a fable. However, the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is extremely strong, even to the point of converting some who sought to disprove it:
  • The Empty Tomb: Though well-trained Roman soldiers guarded the tomb of Jesus Christ, it was empty 3 days after Jesus’ death as Jesus had repeatedly foretold (Matt 12:40, Mark 8:31). The guards had fled (a death penalty offense). The massive stone had been rolled away, and the body was gone – and was never produced by the enemies of the Christians. The linen grave clothes in which the Jews bury their dead were still in the tomb, undisturbed. From the Jewish historian Josephus to a compilation of 5th-century Jewish writings called the “Toledoth Jeshu”, even Jewish sources and traditions admit that the tomb was empty. The body was never found.
  • Living Witnesses: There were a multitude of witnesses who saw Jesus Christ alive after his death. The disciples, the travellers on the road to Emmaus and a number of women all spoke to Jesus alive. Thomas doubted until he was able to put his fingers into Jesus’ wounds (John 20:26-27). He later spread the Gospel all the way to India. The apostle Paul tells of 500 people to whom Jesus appeared at one time, most of whom were still alive and available for questioning when Paul wrote his letter (1 Cor 15:6). When several people testify in a courtroom that they witnessed an event, and their accounts are found consistent with each other, their testimony is considered factual information. Jesus Christ was seen alive many times by hundreds of different people over the course of forty days after his death (John 20-21, Acts 1:3).
  • The Disciples: Christ’s followers, who had been fearful and who had run away when Jesus was arrested, were completely changed after the Resurrection and became courageous witnesses. Peter, who had denied knowing Christ when recognized by a simple servant girl, became the powerfully bold leader of those who had seen Christ alive, speaking to the thousands gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot – Pentecost. A person may die for a lie if they do not know it is a lie. But people do not give their lives up and face severe persecution to spread a lie they themselves invented. The fact that the disciples willingly suffered beatings and persecution and death is strong evidence that they had actually witnessed the resurrection they refused to stop telling people about.
  • Saul of Tarsus: A devoutly religious Pharisee, who persecuted the Church and had Christ’s followers thrown in prison, Paul had his life absolutely changed by his encounter with Christ. He became a devoted follower of Christ himself, spreading the Gospel throughout Turkey and Greece in the face of beatings and shipwrecks and imprisonment and, finally, execution.
  • If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.” – F. F. Bruce, Manchester University
  • Skeptics Arguments Against the Resurrection:
  • The Hallucination Theory claims that the witnesses who met the resurrected Jesus were all “seeing things” – they were hallucinating. However, this goes against common sense as well as psychological principles. Five hundred people do not all hallucinate the same thing. Jesus appeared to many people at many different times. Also, the body was never produced.
  • The Swoon Theory argues that Jesus did not die – that he simply fainted from loss of blood and exhaustion. However, this also goes against common sense. The Romans were professionals who severely whipped Jesus, hung him on a cross, and then stabbed him in the side with a spear to make sure he was dead. He was in the grave for three days, wrapped head to foot in a burial cloth, without food or water or medical treatment. When he appeared to his disciples he was completely whole and healthy and his appearance inspired awe and worship that lasted throughout the rest of the disciples lives.
  • The Disciples Faked the Resurrection: Discouraged, fearful fishermen and former tax collectors, whose teacher had been viciously murdered, were in little position to take on a detachment of trained Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. They would have had to create a fantastic plan in order to fight off or bribe the professional soldiers, raid the tomb, unbind the grave clothes from Christ’s body, take the body away, and hide it where nobody would ever find it. The Roman soldiers faced death if they failed in their guard duty, and the disciples had little money for bribing anybody. Many people would have had to be involved in the conspiracy, and all those involved would not only have known the truth, but would know that they were risking meeting the same fate as their recently crucified leader. And what purpose could it possibly serve, if Jesus were dead? They would have had nothing to gain. Their leader was gone and they would have only faced persecution and death for their invented resurrection story.
  • And again, the disciples’ attitudes completely changed after the Resurrection and especially after Pentecost. They became bold and courageous in spreading their message, fearless of beatings or imprisonment. They never sought to fight Rome or to establish any position or kingdom or authority for themselves. They had nothing to gain, physically speaking. They simply went about the known world, telling their story in spite of persecution and suffering, poverty and ridicule. Their message quickly spread across the Middle East and Europe and even into Asia without any military conquest or political support involved – and in spite of strong opposition. Only belief and hope based in the reality of their experiences would have produced such dedication in the lives of Christ’s followers.
  • Perhaps the greatest evidence today of Christ’s resurrection is the work that he is still doing in the lives of every day people. In the name of Jesus, people are still being healed emotionally and physically and spiritually by the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Sinners are being freed from the burden and pain and shame of sin – sometimes immediately, sometimes after long years of steady work by the Holy Spirit in their lives. Hearts are being mended and lives are being turned around. The best evidence today is the faithful follower of Christ who can say, “He saved me, and I am not the person I used to be” just as the apostles testified 2000 years ago.

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See the Next Post:   2.2 Jesus and Organisation

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