The context of the resurrection of Jesus
Eyewitnesses disagree. It makes us laugh as a family how we can all talk about the same event in such different ways. We all focus on different aspects of the scene, interpret the details differently through the lens of our own feelings, slightly alter the dialogue to what we thought we heard. And yet it is still the same event.
In ‘Surprised by Hope’ (page 44), Tom Wright makes this point about the resurrection of Jesus. The discrepancies in the Gospel accounts don’t discredit the event; they actually serve to confirm it. Discrepancies are normal, especially 50 years after the event when these accounts would have been written. If all accounts were exactly the same, that would have been deeply suspicious.
However, given all that we now know, how can we possibly begin to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead? It’s scientifically impossible. Maybe it was easier to accept back then because they didn’t know all that we now know. However, Tom Wright points out that even then, they did know enough to know that resurrection from the dead was impossible. So even then, believing in the resurrection of Jesus was a completely radical (and seemingly crazy) notion.
Will we ever be able to prove that Jesus’ resurrection took place beyond any doubt? According to Tom Wright, we need to study the eyewitness accounts, have an understanding of the context and then take into account that whatever happened caused an emerging Christian movement that still exists over two thousand years later.
Today, we look at the context.
As far as the ancient pagan world was concerned, the road to the underworld ran only one way. Death was all-powerful; one could neither escape it in the first place or break its power once it had come. Tom Wright, page 47
Resurrection has always referred to something that happened to the physical body. Most Jews believed in a final resurrection of the body at some point ‘on that last day’. Jesus himself spoke of resurrection in this way. However, resurrection cannot be used as a synonym for life after death. It’s more physical than that. While most believed in some sort of life after death, all pagans rejected this belief of resurrection as a new bodily life that followed ‘an interim period of bodily death.’ So when Jesus’ followers said that Jesus had risen from the dead, they knew exactly what they were saying – something that had never happened like this before or was ever expected to happen.
When Jesus was crucified, no one imagined what would happen next. Even though Jesus had spoken to them about it, they had no idea what he meant and no capacity to imagine resurrection in this way. Crucifixion put an end to all their hopes. And then resurrection happened (completely revolutionary and unthinkable – no one would ever have come up with this idea on their own and persuaded others to believe them. Imagine that happening now? It was as foreign and crazy an idea then as it would appear now!). The first Christians were surprised by hope and built this new faith firmly on the irrefutable foundation of Jesus’ resurrection.
The writings of the New Testament are founded on the resurrection of Jesus and are meaningless without it. Paul talks about a new body, a transformed body that will be different in certain ways from our current bodies (it will never die for a start), but it is still a physical body nonetheless.
In resurrection, death is defeated once and for all. Overthrown.
Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? If so, that changes everything.