Jesus’ Resurrection: Then and Now
Excerpts and Summary
Excerpts from a taped presentation1 and “Discussion Guide” with Dr. N. T. Wright, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey; Dr. Sarah Henrich, Associate Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary; and Pastor Joel Quie, Prairie Lutheran Church.
1. “The Historical Jesus”
“The serious study of Jesus has produced many Jesus-figures, most of whom have been found wanting before the bar of history. . . . The messianic vocation [of Jesus] was to announce the kingdom of God. He said that God was king, not Caesar, and he ended up on a Roman cross. . . . [O]ther messianic movements, both before Jesus and after, . . . ended with the death of their founder. Why did the ‘Jesus movement’ survive — not only survive, but flourish? In a word, it was Jesus’ resurrection.”
Summary. Isaiah had prophesied that YHWH would personally return to Zion. He would defeat all evil, vindicate Israel in a new Exodus for the sake of the world, reign as King, and sit on his throne in the Temple (Isaiah 52). To the Jews that throne was the very center of the cosmos. YHWH as Jesus fulfilled all these promises in his embodied resurrection from the dead.
2. “Jesus: The Resurrected Messiah”
“ . . . Jesus’ followers continue[d] to regard him as the Messiah . . . because they believed that he had risen from the dead. So Christianity started as a resurrection movement. It is strange, though, that Jesus’ followers believed him to be the Messiah, because he hadn’t done something that messiahs were supposed to do: defeat Israel’s enemies. And it is strange that his followers, all of whom were Jews, said that he rose from the dead, because the Jewish view of resurrection . . . was that the righteous dead — the patriarchs, martyrs and others — would be raised at the end of history . . . ”
Summary. After the resurrection of Jesus, his Jewish followers joyfully celebrated. They believed that the anticipated apocalyptic events had already occurred. For them the resurrection of Jesus did not mark the last days of the world but the first days of God’s new world. They were therefore determined to proclaim that new world “out there.”
3. “The Jewish Understanding of Resurrection”
“The only people who believed in bodily resurrection in the first century were the Jews [and even they differed among themselves].
. . . For instance, the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, whereas the Pharisees believed in bodily resurrection — in the re-embodiment of the dead. . . . [For them] resurrection meant that something happened to the body, rather than the body going somewhere.”
Summary. The resurrection of Jesus was not about our souls’ going somewhere to await reunion with our to-be-resurrected bodies. Rather, the resurrection of Jesus was about what God was going to do for the entire world and the whole cosmos. Resurrection was about God’s transforming human beings — re-embodying human beings — into a new life to live in a new world that God was going to make.
4. “Paul’s Understanding of Jesus’ Resurrection”
“In 1 Corinthians 15, [Paul] . . . tells the Corinthians that resurrection is something that happened to Jesus, and will happen to all who believe in Jesus. . . . Paul says that Jesus was raised as the ‘first-fruits’ of the coming resurrection. When he returns, he will defeat every enemy, including death itself, and those who believe in him will be raised also [with] . . . transformed resurrection bodies. . . . Thus Paul holds to a robustly Jewish view of bodily resurrection, and by clear implication, an empty tomb.”
Summary. For Paul the resurrection of Jesus involved a transformed physicality. Likewise for mankind, the present body, animated by “soul,” will be transformed to a new body, animated by “spirit.” The body, therefore, will not be abandoned or simply resuscitated but transformed. Today we live between Jesus’ past and our future. Our true life is bound up with Christ in God.
5. “The Gospel Writers’ Understanding of Jesus’ Resurrection”
“ . . . [T]he Gospels . . . do not contain accounts of Jesus’ waking up in the tomb or coming out of the tomb but, rather, his post-resurrection appearances. Second, they are stated as fact. . . . Third, they emphasize . . . the element of surprise: no one was expecting what happened on Easter morning, even though Jesus said that he would be raised on the third day. . . . Fourth, they highlight the women at the tomb, which is strange, because in the first century women were not considered to be credible witnesses. . . . Fifth, . . . Jesus’ risen body . . . is clearly a body, with wounds that can be felt, but it is somehow transformed — Jesus is not immediately recognized; his body is physical but it can pass through doors; and he is able to eat and drink as he did when he was alive.”
Summary. Jesus did indeed suffer and die. He was buried, and he did rest in the tomb on the seventh day. But at sunrise on the first day, he rose from the dead with a transformed body. This was the beginning of the new Creation, the new world. Henceforth every sunrise marks a new day for the entire cosmos. And we are privileged to be both the beneficiaries of and the agents for this new dawn.
6. “Jesus’ Resurrection Today”
“ . . . [T]he meaning of Jesus’ resurrection . . . [is t]hat in the person of Jesus, God has broken into the world — the kingdom of God has come — and we are to be witnesses to this, and to God’s love and mercy, and to live with confidence that we will be with him for all eternity.”
Summary. The new Creation and the new age have already begun with the resurrection of Jesus. With the resurrection, God as Wisdom, as Logos [Word], as Glory, has become human. In the resurrection, God also has manifested a new way of “knowing.” As Bernard Lonergan once said, the “primary knowing is love.” Since we are lovingly known by God, we are now free to love one another.
- N. T. Wright, Sarah Henrich and Joel Quie, Jesus’ Resurrection: Then and Now (Nashville: Distributed by EcuFilm, 1999), VHS video. www.worldcat.org/title/jesus-resurrection-then-and-now/oclc/44422937/editions (go back)
- N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), available from Barnes & Noble at www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-challenge-of-jesus-n-t-wright/1117780900. (go back)