Why Does the Resurrection Matter?

Yesterday, most Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus (for Orthodox Christians, Easter isn’t until this coming Sunday).  On Facebook, Nicholas Kristof asked “How literally do you think most Christians today interpret the Resurrection? And if one doesn’t accept it literally, then is one still a Christian?”  Though I’ve been convinced of an answer to that question for many years, N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church addresses the question of the resurrection (both Jesus’ and our own, future resurrection) in the context of current Biblical scholarship, the contemporary church, and our (post)modern culture.  I highly recommend the book, but if you’d like a sneak preview, you can listen to Wright answering the question “Why does Jesus’ Resurrection Matter?” at a Veritas Forum last year at Emory.  Part 1 and part 2 of the talk can be downloaded from the Veritas Forum website. They’re less than 90 minutes together, and well worth the time.

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on April 13, 2009 Reply

    Can someone fill me in? Is the resurrection now being questioned or downplayed in evangelical circles, or by Wright? I would not be shocked, but it would be depressing.

  • amywung@gmail.com'
    Amy commented on April 13, 2009 Reply

    I can only speak for myself, but as someone who accepted Christ in college, the crucifixion story always spoke a great deal more to me than the resurrection story. I would imagine that I’m not alone in that. It wasn’t actually until recently, when I heard the Message translation of Romans 5, that I gave greater thought to the significance of the Resurrection. “If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!”

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on April 13, 2009 Reply

    Amy, I would agree with you. It’s not that the doctrine of the resurrection is being questioned (not among evangelicals anyway), but that the full implications are not being realized.

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on April 14, 2009 Reply

    When I was in Intervarsity in the 80’s we had various books and tracts on the Resurrection being passed around and spoken about, with what I recall as strong emphasis that this changes everything. If Jesus really rose from the dead, then Jesus was who he said he was, God is not aloof but really can intervene and change the natural order of things, and we can rise from the dead, too.

    I have written and spoken on how we need to have more emphasis on the hope of heaven. The NT is full of discussion of the hope of heaven, and in recent years and I have been convicted how I and others spend so little time thinking about it, when it has such huge implications, if we truly will live forever.
    See e.g. blog.cityreformed.org/2009/02/thoughts-on-jubilee/

    I still didn’t get– is N.T. Wright questioning the resurrection, or its relevance, or is he promoting it? I have not followed his writings.

  • Tom Grosh commented on April 14, 2009 Reply

    Dave, N.T. Wright is affirming the resurrection and as you desiring to explore the ‘hope of heaven’ more deeply. This involves a ‘wholeness’ of salvation and resurrection, see the Q&A at http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/2008/04/157-conversatio.html (157: Conversation with “Tom” Wright on Resurrection, Heaven & Hope on Earth)

    In “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” Wright states,

    “Christianity began as resurrection movement. As I have already remarked, there is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement. In particular, we can see woven into the earliest Christian theology we possess—that of Paul, of course—the belief that the resurrection had in principle occurred and that the followers of Jesus had to reorder their lives, their narratives, their symbols, and their praxis accordingly (see, classically, Rom. 6:3-11).

    I want here to note on interesting phenomenon in particular. This thinking about the resurrection has a remarkable precision and consistency. Unlike the Jewish beliefs we glanced at earlier, from the very beginning Christian re-use of resurrection language is astonishingly free of vague and generalized speculation. It is crisp and clear: resurrection means going through death and out the other side into a new mode of existence. This whole position is comprehensible only within the thought-world of Judaism, but it is much more precise than anything that non-Christian Judaism had at that stage produced.” — http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm (Originally published in Sewanee Theological Review 41.2, 1998).

    In a similar essay entitled “Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins,” Wright concludes,

    “There are many other things to say about Jesus’ resurrection. But, as far as I am concerned, the historian may and must say that all other explanations for why Christianity arose, and why it took the shape it did, are far less convincing as historical explanations than the one the early Christians themselves offer: that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning, leaving an empty tomb behind him. The origins of Christianity, the reason why this new movement came into being and took the unexpected form it did, and particularly the strange mutations it produced within the Jewish hope for resurrection and the Jewish hope for a Messiah, are best explained by saying that something happened, two or three days after Jesus’ death, for which the accounts in the four gospels are the least inadequate expression we have.

    Of course, there are several reasons why people may not want, and often refuse, to believe this. But the historian must weigh, as well, the alternative accounts they themselves offer. And, to date, none of them have anything like the explanatory power of the simple, but utterly challenging, Christian one. The historian’s task is not to force people to believe. It is to make it clear that the sort of reasoning historians characteristically employ — inference to the best explanation, tested rigorously in terms of the explanatory power of the hypothesis thus generated — points strongly towards the bodily resurrection of Jesus; and to make clear, too, that from that point on the historian alone cannot help. When you’re dealing with worldviews, every community and every person must make their choices in the dark, even if there is a persistent rumour of light around the next corner.” — http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm (Originally published in Gregorianum, 2002, 83/4, 615–635).

    I hope this helpful in providing some clarification of Wright’s position on the resurrection. In Christ, Tom

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on April 14, 2009 Reply

    That is good to hear. I heaven-less Christianity is a hopeless Christianity– “we are most to be pitied…” I was really saddened to hear a plenary speaker at Jubilee saying that evangelicals need to talk about heaven less. He must be running in totally different circles from the ones I run in.

  • mercurio@netcon.net.au'
    Sue commented on April 28, 2009 Reply

    Its quite amazing really. You dont even really know what you are altogether. What is your body or your mind?

    Where do all these thoughts come from?
    Why are you always constantly and stress-fully thinking?

    You cant even account for your own appearance here. Or how and why the entire cosmic process coalesced at this point in time and space to create the stack of molecules that you now identify as your body.

    Plus the only thing that you really know in any and every present moment is what is directly within your current field of perception.

    And what is that?

    Einstein for instance told us that everything is a beginningless and endless play or modification of energy or light.

    And yet you presume to know all about the “resurrection”. And thus to know all about how the church developed.

    Were you there? Did you witness or participate in any of that?

    Can you fully account for whatever happened in your field of experience five minutes ago—or right now?

  • emergingscholar-p@venables-r.us'
    Peter V commented on April 28, 2009 Reply

    Some good questions, Sue.

    I can’t claim to answer them all but you might be interested in a book titled “Why should anyone believe anything at all?” (by James W. Sire)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=HGrYLNDzH6kC (Read it online!)

    Do you believe anything at all? Everyone does, even if we often doubt. I sometimes wonder if the world really exists, but I can’t stay in that mode for long. I have to get on with my life.

  • ohara@augie.edu'
    David O'Hara commented on April 28, 2009 Reply

    Sue raises some good questions; we know very little about ourselves and our world, and we arguably know nothing or nearly nothing with absolute certainty.

    Of course, my inability to provide an indubitable account of my actions or of history doesn’t justify extreme skepticism about history. If we go down that road, then we can’t trust Einstein either. For that matter, we can’t be sure that Sue asked those questions, and if we doubt that too much, well, then we don’t need to try to answer them.

    We find ourselves in an interesting position: we know that we don’t know a lot of things, which means that we know that knowledge is possible. Sue is effectively pointing out that one of the main features of our being is an awareness of our deficiencies. In order for that awareness to be meaningful, those deficiencies must point to the possibility of not being deficient. In a sense, our own skepticism about our own knowledge suggests the reality of something like a divine knower, or of divine knowledge.

    That doesn’t prove any accounts of the Resurrection; but it justifies our taking seriously any claims that divine knowledge or divine being has been made manifest.

    Thanks for the posting, Sue!

  • rbives103@comcast.net'
    robert ives commented on April 28, 2009 Reply

    The things that we know or do not know depend in part upon assumptions that we make about life and its character. This year is the 500th year of the birth of John Calvin, so I’ve been re-reading The Institutes, and Calvin deals with some of these questions from the perspective of humanist thinking that is helped by what he calls in I.vi.1, “spectacles”, meaning how the Scriptures work, gathering up confused knowledge of God in our minds and showing us the true God. But then he adds in I.vi.2, ‘all right knowledge of God (and his ways) is born of obedience.” He notes in I.vii.1, that God doesn’t send daily oracles from heaven, meaning we need to depend upon some other source for understanding God’s ways, and for Calvin, that source is the Scriptures. We don’t have direct access to God but the Scriptures offer a picture of him; but it appears like any difficult work, how do I understand this? To which Calvin’s answer is, we are only affected by this through the Spirit. Well, since Calvin’s argument goes on for many more pages this is a start, but one that many people still respect some 500 years later while immersed in other cultures and other world views.

  • David commented on April 30, 2009 Reply

    Tom Grosh invited me via Facebook to contribute some thoughts.

    It’s really hard to do better than NT Wright on Resurrection. His third volume in his Origins of Christianity series is The Resurrection of the Son of God. You might read his paper, The Resurrection as an Historical Problem (http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm)

    Here’s the train of reasoning in a nutshell. What gave rise to the Christian movement? How did first-century Jews come to believe that a crucified would-be Messiah was after all God’s Messiah and therefore the Lord of all the earth? That is the historical problem. The answer lies in the resurrection of Jesus bodily from the dead.

    I say “bodily” from the dead, because resurrection meant the resurrection of a physical body. That’s what it meant to Jews (the Pharisees affirmed resurrection and the Sadducees denied, but BOTH groups meant the resurrection of a physical body). And the Greeks also meant the resurrection of a physical body and almost all did NOT want to be come back in a physical body.

    So what happened that Jews came to believe that the crucified Jesus was the Messiah? It was that they came to believe–despite all expectations–that God had raised Jesus from the dead and they experienced him in the flesh for a period of 40 days after his resurrection.

    Resurrection also meant that Jesus went through death and out through the other end into a transformed physical bodily reality. Resurrection is to a transformed physical reality and not a return merely to the physical reality of the Present Age.

    Jesus was also the first fruit of Resurrection. That is, many others are to join him at the day of Resurrection. All who believe in the Lord Christ share his death and resurrection. All who are in Christ died and rose with him, and look forward to the Christian hope, which is the hope of resurrection to die no more.

    Interesting about Lazarus. Ben Witherington believes that Lazarus was “the disciple Jesus loved” that occurs throughout the Gospel according to John. Remember that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Then in John 21: “20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ 21When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ 23So the rumour spread in the community* that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’*

    24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

    If “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was indeed Lazarus, it would explain why Peter wondered about him. Why would Peter wonder about him? And why would Jesus respond the way he did? IF the disciple whom Jesus loved is Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead, then Peter might have thought that Lazarus was “resurrected” and would live forever. But the compiler of the Gospel (John the Elder perhaps) says that Jesus didn’t claim that he would not die. That is, that Lazarus was not resurrected to a transformed physical reality fit for the Age to Come but would still undergo a death characteristic of the Present of Age. Check out Witherington’s blog entry on this–http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/01/was-lazarus-beloved-disciple.html

    Back to Resurrection–first of Christ and then of all who are “in Christ”. We make a mistake if we confine Resurrection to that of Jesus. The whole point of the Resurrection of Messiah Jesus is that he would bring with him one day all who believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. We thus now live our lives between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of all who are “in Christ” by faith (includes all the OT Jews who believed as Abraham believed).

    But how do we live NOW as God’s people who will be Resurrected? Paul uses resurrection language as metaphor now because of the fact on the day of Christ’s return. We are thus now “raised with Christ” and “seated in the heavenly realms”. That is, we are new creatures in Christ and must live that way. See e.g. Col 3:1ff.

    Part of the story of Resurrection is that the risen Jesus is the Second Adam. And all who are “in Christ” by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are NOW part of God’s One New Humanity (his Jew+Gentile One New Humanity–see Eph 2, e.g.). WE now live as God’s One New Humanity–in the family, in the academy, in the workplace, in the arts and sciences, in whatever endeavor we put our hands and minds too. We do all things in the name of Christ, we find out what pleases the Lord, we seek to grow in Christlikeness in all areas of life (both so-called “private” and “public” spheres of life).

    Read 1 Corinthians 15 and you’ll see a bit how Resurrection works–resurrection (first) of Jesus and then of all who believe in Christ by faith. Another great read of Wright is indeed his book, Surprised by Hope. I recently finished a reading group of this book with graduate students and faculty. It was a great discussion. You might also read and/of listen to Wright’s lecture, “Can A Scientist Believe in Resurrection?” http://www.jamesgregory.org/tom_wright.php

    That paper raises some of the epistemological issues Sue raised. “How do we know” kinds of questions come up.

    Well, it’s late and these are some thoughts on the discussion.

  • David commented on May 1, 2009 Reply

    I’m replying to my own post. Lame or what? Actually I thought too of another booklet–The Scandal of Jesus, by Vinoth Ramachandra. Vinoth was not a Christian but he started reading the New Testament. He noticed that the early Christians were doing something really really odd. They were going around the Roman Empire with a message of a crucified Messiah that had been raised bodily from the dead. What he found odd was that IF you were going to make up a religion, you would NOT tell the Jews about the crucifixion and you would not tell the Greco-Roman world about a resurrection to a physical body.

    To the Jews, a crucified Messiah was a failed messiah. To the Greco-Roman world, the resurrection to a physical body was not what they wanted at all.

    So Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra said to himself, “This has a ring of truth to it.” If you were going to make up a religion THIS IS NOT HOW YOU’D DO IT. So he checked into it more thoroughly and found himself believing in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

    I just remembered of The Scandal of Jesus and thought I’d contribute that as a provocative read.

  • David commented on May 1, 2009 Reply

    While I’m at it. Here’s a handout to a talk I gave to the grad Christian fellowship at the University of Chicago. http://www.gfmuiuc.net/Resurrection.pdf People in this discussion might find it helpful.

  • lutheranblogger@yahoo.com'
    nonsupernaturalist commented on January 9, 2016 Reply

    According to the Bible, how many Old Testament prophets raised people from the dead? Answer: Two. Elijah and Elisha.

    That’s it. And they only did it three times. So the act of raising someone from the dead would have been seen as a very, very big deal. It was not like healing someone of a disease or casting out demons. Lots of people, it seems, could do those miracles. Nope, raising someone from the dead was the big kahuna of all miracles!

    In the Gospel of John chapter 11, we are told that Lazarus had been dead for four days. His body was decomposing to the point that he stunk. Lazarus death and burial were very public events. His tomb was a known location. Many Jews had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and some of them were wondering why the great miracle worker, Jesus, had not come and healed his friend Lazarus; essentially blaming Jesus for letting Lazarus die.

    Let’s step back and look at the facts asserted in this passage: Only two OT prophets had raised people from the dead, and these two prophets were considered probably the two greatest Jewish prophets of all time: Elijah and Elisha. If this story is true, the supernatural powers of Jesus were on par with the supernatural powers of the greatest Jewish prophets of all time! If this event really did occur, it should have shocked the Jewish people to their very core—a new Elijah was among them! This event must have been the most shocking event to have occurred in the lives of every living Jewish man and woman on the planet. The news of this event would have spread to every Jewish community across the globe.

    And yet…Paul, a devout and highly educated Jew, says not one word about it. Not one. Not in his epistles; not in the Book of Acts. Think about that. What would be the most powerful sign to the Jews living in Asia Minor and Greece—the very people to whom Paul was preaching and attempting to convert—to support the claim that Jesus of Nazareth himself had been raised from the dead? Answer: The very public, very well documented raising from the dead of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus!

    But nope. No mention of this great miracle by Paul. (A review of Paul’s epistles indicates that Paul seems to have known very little if anything about the historical Jesus. Read here.)

    And there is one more very, very odd thing about the Raising-of-Lazarus-from-the-Dead Miracle: the author of the Gospel of John, the very last gospel to be written, is the only gospel author to mention this amazing miracle! The authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke say NOTHING about the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Nothing.

    This is a tall tale and nothing more!

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