The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Feb 1, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection (Jesus' and ours): Part 1 (Salvation)

I've become a bit obsessed about the resurrection recently, ever since getting a copy of Acquittal by Resurrection by Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964). I've come to realize that quite often we tend to relegate the Resurrection to a footnote in our preaching, our witnessing, and our theological meditation, not considering the fact that without the Resurrection, we actually do not have a "Gospel" (good news). (I'm preaching to myself here as well--I've been sloppy with this in the past). 

In other words, statements like "Jesus died for your sins and if you trust in him, you can go to heaven for ever," if simply left on their own, are missing a core piece of the Gospel, for a crucified Messiah who does not rise again does not equal "good news."

This, then, is why in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul makes it explicitly clear that the Resurrection is an essential part of the good news. In fact, verses 14-19 declare that Jesus Christ - resurrection = "vain faith" and "no hope."

This, then, is why the vast majority of speeches and sermons in Acts have some emphasis on the resurrection at some point. Thus Peter, in his Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2) goes to great length to prove that David prophesied of the Messiah's resurrection. In Peter's second recorded sermon twice (Acts 3:15 and 26) focuses on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Apostle Paul was mocked by the Greeks and persecuted by the Jews for preaching the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:18-32, 23:6, and 24:10-21).

Dead messiahs do not start world-changing movements. This can be amply illustrated throughout history. In approx. 132 AD, a Jewish military leader named Shimon Bar-Koseva, under the name Shimon Bar-Kokhba ("Simon, Son of the Star"), also called Nasi ("Prince"), both names loaded with Messianic implications, of Davidic lineage, led a revolt against Rome. Not only did he manage some incredible early success and field approx. 400,000 troops, he forced the Roman Empire to allocate one-third of the entire Roman army to put him down, in the process possibly decimating the Legio XXII Deiotariana. However, in the end, the great Roman general Julius Severus managed to put down the rebellion, and Shimeon Bar-Kokhba was killed at the final battle in his headquarters in AD 135. (For more information about this revolt, click here, here, here, and here).

My point is this: after Shimeon's death, you did not see people going around declaring that they believed he was the Messiah, or that they believed "Shimeon was in their heart" or that they believed Shimeon would some day come back to judge the world. His death eliminated the possibility. As N. T. Wright aptly states, " If, after the death of Simon bar-Giora in Titus’s triumph in Rome, or if, after the death of Simeon ben-Kosiba in 135, you had claimed that Simon, or Simeon, really was the Messiah, you would invite a fairly sharp response from the average first-century Jew.  If, by way of explanation, you said that you had had a strong sense of Simon, or Simeon, as still being with you, still supporting and leading you, the kindest response you might expect would be that their angel or spirit was still communicating with you—not that he had been raised from the dead" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").
This is why, then, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were rather downhearted, assuming that Jesus' death actually ruled out the possibility that he was the One they were waiting for. Only seeing and talking with a literal and physical Jesus (not "Jesus in their hearts") gave them cause to rejoice.

This also completely rules out the Resurrection of the Messiah as a personal spiritual experience, i.e., "I feel Jesus in my heart" a la the liberal theology of Rudolf Bultmann and Gerd Ludamann. As Wright has pointed out, it is one thing to feel that a man you admire is now in the presence of God, or that you feel a special emotional bond with him. However, this is not what people in the first century meant by "resurrection"! Indeed, as Wright states, " If you had said to a first-century Jew that you had had a wonderful experience of the forgiveness (or the love and grace) of God, she or he would have been delighted for you.  But if you had gone on to say that the kingdom had come, that a crucified leader was the Messiah or that the resurrection had occurred, they would have been deeply puzzled if not downright offended.  This language is simply not about private experiences, even communicable private experiences, of forgiveness.  It is about eschatology, about something happening within history that resulted in a world being now a very different place" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").

In other words, if all Peter had experienced was a "warm and fuzzy" feeling, the other disciples would have tried to comfort him and encourage him and share their own "warm and fuzzy feelings" about their leader who had led a good life and died in betrayal. Yet they would not have gone around claiming that a Resurrection had occurred. They would have disappeared into the woodwork like all other followers of failed messiahs. 

My point is this: we must emphasize a literal, physical Resurrection for the Scriptural data to make sense--indeed, the description of Jesus' burial both in the four gospels and 1Cor 15 makes it explicitly clear that this is a physical resurrection, not a "spiritual" resurrection (I am indebted to Anthony Thiselton's New International Greek Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians for stressing this point).

One side note--it is precisely for this reason that I am very uncomfortable with the last two lines in the chorus of the otherwise great hymn "I serve a risen Savior"/ "He lives" (with all due respect to Alfred Ackley). When asked, "How do I know He lives," the biblical answer is not "because he's in my heart" (shades of Ludamann, though no-doubt unintentional). Rather, the correct answer according to Scripture (Luke 24:27 and 34f; 1Cor 15:4-8; etc.) is the two-fold testimony of OT prophecy and contemporary eyewitnesses.

Thus the Resurrection is essential to the Gospel. In fact, Paul states in Romans 4:25 that we are justified by the Resurrection. This lies in the fact that the Resurrection represents God the Father's declaration, via resurrection, that Jesus is indeed Messiah and Savior of the World. Had Jesus lain in the grave, this would have been evidence that he was not who he claimed to be. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, "in the light of Old Testament texts . . . is an act of vindication which was performed by God, and which could be performed by God only!" (Markus Barth, Acquittal by Resurrection).

Consider, then: we ourselves can only be justified (and resurrected) before God because Jesus Christ Himself was declared righteous and resurrected by God the Father. The former cannot exist without the latter. If Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God, was not resurrected by the Father, then it was all a lie. Yet we can thank God that rather than staying dead, Jesus was indeed "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Amen and Amen!

Make no mistake, the Resurrection is a scandal. If Jesus' body was physically raised and infused with life, this means we cannot be content with a tame "Jesus the good teacher" who simply dies for being a good teacher or, for the more "spiritually-minded," a cosmic-guru Jesus who becomes one with the "Life-force" upon his death, remaining as a sacred memory with his disciples. Not only that, but "Jesus as an immortal soul" doesn't even cut it. As
Markus Barth points out "Resurrection and immortality of the soul are not the same. The resurrection of which we intend to treat is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was from the beginning not a welcome equivalent to the immortal soul of some philosophers, but a laughingstock to both Stoics and Epicureans. By resurrection we understand the bodily resurrection of the one Jesus Christ" (emphasis added).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a footnote to the Gospel, and we need to stop treating it as such in our proclamation to the Gospel. The Resurrection and the Crucifixion go hand-in-hand as the foundation for our hope that Jesus saves us from the penalty of our sins. It remains an essential part of the good news, for if Jesus was not physically and bodily raised from the dead, we cannot be saved. Period. End of story. Eternal thanks to God the Father, then, for raising the Son and thus procuring our salvation.

 Next post I will discuss the other side of the scandal, namely our own physical and bodily resurrection, of which Jesus Christ was the first-fruits.

Direct Scriptural quotations taken from the King James version unless otherwise noted.

The article by Wright cited above, available here, is N. T. Wright, "Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection as a Historical Problem," Sewanee Theological Review vol 41.2 (1998). I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article Paul! Thanks for the important reminder.
    Angi Harris