The religious and cultural background, out of which the story of Jesus’ resurrection comes, is an interesting one. It’s clear that there was a Jewish belief in resurrection at the time of Jesus. It was pictured as a final physical resurrection at the end of time, an event for the just, on the last day.
What was revolutionary about the claims of the first Christians is that they were saying that what God was expected to do for all his faithful people at the end of history, he had now done for one single man within history. So where as Judaism saw resurrection as a single event at the end of time, Christian’s saw it as a 2 stage event, with Jesus first and then the rest of humanity.
And it’s also interesting to note, that no one in Judaism believed that the Messiah would be raised from the dead. Rather, he would be a military leader, who would kick the Romans out and restore Israel’s fortunes. Christianity, however, claimed that the resurrection was fundamental and demonstrated that indeed Jesus was the Messiah.
So what were the key factors that bought about this very different thinking – bearing in mind that no one saw the resurrection happen? We have no eyewitness accounts of the resurrection itself and, interestingly, no one at the time tried to make one up. What we do have are strands of evidence that weave together, with the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus and the change in the disciples, being the most significant.
No one at the time seems to have disputed that the tomb was empty. The only rumour of an alternative explanation is the conspiracy to say that disciples had stolen the body at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Even the Jewish leaders don’t have an argument with the fact that the tomb was empty. I also find it interesting and rather wonderful that the first people to broadcast the news were women – the people in society least likely to be believed. Women in the eastern world at the time of Jesus were not regarded as credible witnesses. So if you were trying to make things up, why give the good news to the very people who would not be believed.
When we think about the appearances of Jesus, I am amazed just how many there were. He was seen at the tomb, in the upper room, on a walk back from Emmaus, by the seashore in Galilee, and on a mountaintop, among other places. He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, James, to the disciples several times and in Corinthians it says that he appeared to more that 500 at one time. I am also struck by the nature of these appearances and that Jesus didn’t come all robed in heavenly glory, a figure of majesty. Rather, he appeared as his followers had known him, showing his friends his hands, his feet, his side – his body, animated by God’s Spirit, seemingly robust and full of life!
And finally the New Testament, records the change in the disciples, who quite literally were stopped in their tracks, turned around and sent off in completely different directions. I love the “before,” and “after” pictures that we read. Before, they were broken, scared, hiding, demoralized, having denied and deserted Jesus. In Acts we find them, forgiven, reconciled to God, fearless, joyful, unstoppable, and prepared to be martyred. They knew that something had happened to Jesus himself and his presence and message needed to be shared – heavenly peace and the birth of a new world.
Rev Julia April 2018
The comfort of the resurrection ….
Enough! The Resurrection,
A heart’s – clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
Gerard Manley Hopkins