Monthly Archives: January 2015

“This I Know, For the Bible Tells Me So”

We have come to the point in our discussion of the resurrection of Jesus where we can see clearly what is involved in a reasonable and responsible decision to believe and adopt the Christian faith and life. If we’ve studied the first disciples’ recorded memories of Jesus’ life, teachings, and death, if we’ve listened to the testimonies of Paul, Peter, James the Lord’s brother, and many others to the resurrection, if we’ve been favorably impressed with the way of life of the early disciples, if we know and admire some contemporary believers, and if we are attracted to the Christian hope, I believe our decision to enter the Christian way can be reasonably and responsibly made. This transition is not best described an inference from premises to conclusion or an inference to the best explanation or a decision about the level of probability that a narrated event really happened. It is certainly not a blind leap of faith or a careless fall into wishful thinking. It is best described as the deepening of a personal relationship from respectful listening to trust and love for those who are in a position to know what we do not.

As a personal relationship of trust and love, faith makes a decisive commitment. It does not deny the possibility that it could be wrong, that it could be deceived. But it will not accept an obligation to withhold commitment while it anxiously seeks more evidence to confirm its trust. Nor does faith proportion its commitment to the weight of probability on each side. Genuine trust and love pushes aside the whispering voice of doubt that says, “But what if you are wrong?” Faith asserts in response, “I understand that I cannot know absolutely that I am right, but I believe that I am right. And I have decided and am determined to live as if I am right, even if I am wrong!” I shall have more to say about daily living in faith in future essays in this series. We are focusing here on the initial decision to believe.

Beyond the Fourth Decision Point

We have made the decisive move beyond the fourth decision point, that is, the division between mere theism and Christian faith in God. Now what? What are the implications of this decision? The first result of this move is a dramatic change in our relationship to the apostles and other early disciples. As seekers and enquirers, we treated the apostles’ writings as we would other historical documents. We gave them no advantage, no special deference, no authority above other texts. But once we come to believe that the apostles experienced Jesus’ conquest of death in his resurrection, everything changes. Now we are eager to know everything they can teach us about Jesus Christ and how we too can become his disciples. Because of their special relationship to Jesus, we accept them as our teachers, exclusively authoritative for what it means to believe, love and, hope as Christians. As a matter of historical placement, no other teachers, no other texts can guide us. But this way of understanding the authority of the Bible may seem new to many, so I want to deal briefly with that concern.

The Bible Tells Me So?

The children’s song says, “Jesus loves me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so.” A wonderful thought! Comforting to adults as well as children! But this line in the song does raise a question. Do Christians hold all their Christian beliefs simply because the Bible tells them so? Should nonbelievers be urged to believe in Jesus simply because the Bible tells them so? But why should a nonbeliever feel obligated to believe what the Bible says simply because it says so? Should believers attempt first to convince nonbelievers of the Bible’s divine authority and then argue from the Bible’s authority to the truth of everything the Bible teaches? In my view, it would be a serious mistake to place a decision about the authority of the Bible before a decision about Jesus and the apostolic testimony to his resurrection. Such a stance presumes either a culture in which the Bible is already held in high esteem or it obligates us to argue from historical and rational evidence to the Bible’s divine authority. Neither option is very promising. We no longer live in culture where we can assume that people will accept a claim just because the Bible says so. And most contemporary people view as implausible and unpersuasive arguments to the divine authority of the Bible from its historical reliability or internal coherence or its sublime teaching. Such arguments raise more questions than they answer.

As I argued above, I believe the proper basis for an individual’s recognition and acceptance of the authority of the Bible is the act of faith in the apostolic testimony to Jesus’ resurrection. Acceptance of the Bible’s authority is implicit in this act. In future posts I will continue to develop the implications of this thesis, attempting to place particular Christian teachings in their proper order in relation to the central Christian claim, that is, that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

Jesus is Risen—History’s Probability and Love’s Certainty!

It is a huge mistake to think of the questions of the resurrection of Christ and the truth of Christianity merely as philosophical or historical problems. Approaching them as if they could be limited in this way will lead to interminable debates and wild speculation. Today I want to place the question of the resurrection in larger framework that better models how a person actually comes to believe reasonably and responsibly.

First: Of course philosophical and historical reason plays a role. Christianity does not ask us to believe contradictions or impossibilities. Nor does it ask us to believe that an event happened that we know did not happen. We’ve already looked at some New Testament statements about the resurrection from a historical perspective. Paul’s testimony in 1 Corinthians and Galatians possesses the strongest historical warrant in the New Testament because it is direct, firsthand. The number of ways we can respond to Paul’s claim is limited. We can believe that he is telling the truth about his experience and interpreting it correctly or that he is lying or mistaken. Paul also tells us in his own words that Jesus appeared alive after his death and burial to Peter, James, John and many others (1 Cor 15). We know that a few years after his conversion—more than three but not more than 5 or 6—Paul met Peter and James the Lord’s brother in person. He stayed 15 days with Peter (Gal 1:18-19). Hence Paul was in a position to hear about Peter’s and James’ (and others’) resurrection appearances from their own mouths. We must either believe or disbelieve Paul’s claim to have met with Peter and James, and through Paul we are placed in the position of having to believe or disbelieve Peter’s and James’ testimony about the resurrection. Now add to this most direct historical connection, the accounts in Acts and the Four Gospels. (I place them second in historical weight because we can’t say how much is direct and how much is indirect testimony.) In Acts, we have accounts of Peter’s and Paul’s preaching and Paul’s Damascus Road experience. In the Gospels, we have very detailed accounts of the crucifixion, and we hear the story of Jesus’ burial, the empty tomb, and some resurrection appearances. Some facts mentioned in Acts and the Gospels are also supported in Paul: the empty tomb, the dramatic conversion of Paul, the appearances to Peter and the others. Hence we have a historical warrant to fill in the gaps in Paul testimony by using Acts and the Gospels.

There is no doubt that if we possessed this level of historical support for an “ordinary” historical event, no one would doubt that it really happened. Supposed we substitute for Paul’s claim to have experienced an appearance of Jesus Christ, the claim of having visiting the Temple in Jerusalem after his visit to Arabia. Suppose further that this fact is mentioned in the Four Gospels and Acts and serves as an assumption for the rest of the New Testament documents. No historian would doubt it. Indeed no historian would even think of doubting it. It would be historically certain. But because it is a miracle, and not simply a miracle but a miracle with revolutionary, world historical, religious, moral, and metaphysical significance…some people are willing to entertain the most outlandish conspiracy theories and speculative alternatives to the resurrection. Paul, the Pharisee and persecutor of Christians, changed from persecutor to persecuted preacher because of a deception? Peter, James the Lord’s brother, and all the rest conspired to deceive the world? The disciples saw Jesus die but lost track of his body after his death? Historically speaking—leaving out the bias against miracles and the epic implications of the resurrection—any event as directly and widely documented as the resurrection appearances would be accepted as historically established without question. Hence no one can be warranted historically for rejecting the resurrection. There must be another reason.

Second: To think reasonably about the resurrection event in historical terms, one cannot apply the presupposition that miracles cannot happen. To do so would make historical argument a waste of time. I have already dealt with the issue of rejecting the resurrection because of a belief that miracles cannot happen. Last week, I pointed out that believers should not take seriously historical objections to the resurrection based on atheism or deism. The discussion must be focused elsewhere, that is, on one of the first three decision points in the move from atheism/materialism to full Christian faith.

Third: Belief in the event of the resurrection from a historical perspective is just like belief in any other event. But from an existential, moral, and religious perspective, belief in the resurrection is dramatically different. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ demands from us what it demanded from Paul and the first disciples, a complete change of life direction! To say believingly “Jesus is risen!” is to say “Jesus is my Teacher, Lord, and Savior.” It is to reject ordinary, prudential, worldly life and risk everything! From this perspective, to believe Paul, Peter, James the Lord’s brother, the women at the tomb, and all the rest appears as a very scary proposition. Even if historical science tells us the resurrection really happened and even if rejecting the resurrection requires us to consider outlandish conspiracy theories, we still hesitate.

At this point in the argument, apologists often attempt to construct an argument for the trustworthiness of the New Testament witnesses, centering perhaps on the fact that they gave their lives for their testimony. And I have no strong objection to these arguments. But arguments create incentives to rebut and think of reasons to doubt. Arguments always create their dialectical opposites. Hence I want to take another approach. In his Confessions, book 10, Augustine of Hippo expresses confidence that his readers will believe him when they read his confessions to God, which they cannot check out for themselves, because their “ears are opened by love.” He says, with reference with 1 Corinthians 13:7 “love believes all things, at least among those love has bonded to itself and made one.” In his reflections on faith, Gabriel Marcel speaks of the certainty of faith as an intersubjective bond that not only credits but “rallies to” the one in whom it believes (The Mystery of Being, Vol. 2). The certainty of faith in the resurrection arises when we get to know the New Testament witnesses, enter into their minds and hearts and see through their eyes. In other words, we believe them because we love them. If we don’t love them, we will not believe them.

Fourth: How can we get over the scariness of the revolution called for by the resurrection faith? Augustine famously said, “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” Believing in the resurrection is not merely a matter of examining the credibility of some 2,000 year old documents. You have to love the people who bore and bear testimony to Jesus. You have to see that the resurrection faith and all that flows from it produces good people, people whose virtue and love you admire. The church should be, and sometimes actually is, the living reality that embodies the revolution implied in the resurrection of Jesus. How can a nonbeliever, one who understands practically nothing about the New Testament, come to love Jesus and those who loved him first, Paul, Peter, and the others? Only if they get to know a living human being who loves Jesus, Paul, Peter and the others! Only if they are loved by someone who has been transformed by their faith and love for Jesus, and for Paul, Peter and the others! The church—I mean the living body of believers under Christ their head—helps people believe by helping them love, and it helps them to love by loving them.

Presenting the Case for the Resurrection: Some Cautionary Advice for Would-be Apologists

Today we begin to address the question of the historical facticity of the resurrection of Jesus, which, as I have emphasized, is the crucial event at the origin of Christianity. All subsequent Christian history and teaching is premised on the reality of the resurrection. And as Paul readily admits, “if Christ is not risen” (1 Cor 15:14-19), the Christian message is false, the Christian way of life is useless, and the Christian hope is groundless. It has taken us four essays on the resurrection to get to this point. We had to get a feel for how the first believers understood the event of the resurrection. How else could we know what is at stake in our decision to accept or reject their witness? Now we know that to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead is to accept a radical reorientation in our worldview and a revolution in our way of life. Likewise, to reject the resurrection of Jesus is to reject all that flows from it, the forgiveness of sins, hope of the resurrection, the identity of God, the meaningfulness of suffering, and the love of God.

Allow me to remind readers that this is the twenty-fourth essay in this series on the truth of Christianity. We are now dealing with the fourth decision point on the journey from atheistic materialism to full Christian faith. In my opinion, only those who have gone through the first three decision points are ready to face the question of the historical facticity of the resurrection of Jesus. What sense does it make to present a case for the resurrection of Jesus to a materialist? Nor is a polytheist or pantheist or committed deist ready to make a rational judgment or a responsible decision about it. Perhaps, if the atheist or deist could have seen the crucifixion and burial of Jesus on Good Friday and accompanied the women to the tomb on Sunday morning to see the empty tomb and meet Jesus alive…or, if they had been struck down like Paul on the Damascus Road and heard Jesus speak directly to them, they would have come to believe in Jesus’ resurrection and the existence of God at the same time. Perhaps they would not deny the evidence gathered by their own eyes and ears. But we cannot reproduce these events for them or for ourselves. We have only the testimony of those who say they experienced them and the testimony of those who believed them.

And for those who do not want to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, there are plenty of ways to evade that conclusion. If you are an atheist materialist, you think you know apart from any historical evidence that the resurrection did not happen, because, since there is no God, God could not have raised Jesus. No evidence will move you. Deists respond much the same way. God set up the world to run on its own and does not interfere. Since God never interferes with course of natural events, God did not reverse the course of nature in Jesus’ case either. If atheists or deists bother with history at all, they see their job as finding plausible naturalistic explanations for historical reports of miracles: the supposed eye and ear witnesses were mistaken or they lied. The reports do not come from eye witnesses but from hearsay, and, whatever really happened, the story has become overlain with legend or myth.

For those who believe in the one God who made the world and sustains it in existence every moment, for those who are open to divine revelation in nature and history, and for those who have no rational or theological objections to miracles, objections that are based on presupposed atheism or deism don’t carry much weight. They are either irrelevant because they presuppose atheism when we are convinced of God’s existence or they are disingenuous because they make metaphysical objections in the guise of historical arguments.

My reading of Christian apologetic literature has led me to conclude that many of these well-intentioned works do not take the preceding cautions into account; and they make other serious mistakes that limit their value in helping people come to faith: (1) they do not take care to follow the most rational decision cascade from atheism to full Christian faith; (2) they fall into the evidentialist trap of accepting the burden of proof; (3) they give the impression of anxiety, of being over-eager to convince; or (4) they overstate their case, providing easy targets for rebuttal. Each of these mistakes in its own way deflects nonbelievers’ attention away from the seriousness of their situation and from the necessity of making a decision in the moment.

Perhaps these considerations will help you understand why I am somewhat impatient with objections to the resurrection faith that are based on atheism, deism, or any other philosophy that denies the possibility of miracles. Responding to such objections is fruitless endeavor. I am also impatient with equivocations, demands for more evidence, and alternative ways of explaining the resurrection faith that seem to be designed to evade the real issue. The division between faith and unbelief is not merely a matter of dispassionately weighing evidence in some neutral scales. It is also a matter of friendship or hostility, love or hate; this decision has an unmistakable moral dimension. Paul and the others claim they know that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and they staked the meaning of their entire existence on this fact. Either they are correct or they are lying or they are mistaken. You have to look them in the eyes and say, “I believe you” or “I don’t believe you.” You have to make a decision and live with it. And you have to do it now. This is a vital component of any apologetic situation. Any apologetic that does not make this clear risks failure.

The Damascus Road Revelation and Paul’s Gospel

We have been pursuing the idea that the event of the resurrection of Jesus, set in its historical context of the acts, teaching, death of Jesus, contemporary ideas about the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age, and the resurrection appearances themselves, contains the core gospel at the origin of Christianity. Today we consider some New Testament texts that refer to resurrection appearances. Since in this series so far we are not presupposing Christianity’s truth but examining the evidence for this conclusion, I will proceed with some historical caution. Hence we will give the highest priority to testimony from sources historians consider as having the most direct access to the appearances of the resurrected Jesus.

All New Testament writings presuppose or explicitly refer to the resurrection of Jesus. The Four Gospels narrate Jesus’ appearances to his original disciples, to the women who visited the tomb, and to Peter, John, and the others. And Acts presents the preaching and testimony of Peter and Paul concerning the resurrection. A good case can be made that these accounts derive from the people who actually experienced the appearances first hand. But Paul’s testimony is unique. He records, in his own words in letters written by him, his direct experience of the resurrected Lord. Someone might argue that the narrations in the Gospels or Acts or Hebrews are indirect, second or third-hand, and therefore could differ from the original witnesses’ testimony. No such argument can be made about Paul’s testimony in 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians. In this case, we must choose to believe Paul or not believe him. There is no issue of corruption in transmission.

Paul teaches about the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in many places (For example, Phil 3:10-11, 20-21; 1 Thess 1:9b-10; 4:13-8; Rom 1:1-4; 4:18-25; 6:1-10; 8:9-11, 22-26; 10:9-10; 14:7-9; and 2 Cor 4:7-15) . But he refers to his own experience of the risen Jesus three times, twice in 1 Corinthians and once in Galatians:

1 Cor 9:1

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?”

1 Cor 15:3-8

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Galatians 1:11-17

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.”

The topic we are considering is so huge that many books could be written on it. Sadly, I have time and space to make only one point. The two references to “revelation” in Galatians 1:11-17 (quoted above), considered along with the other two texts also quoted above, clearly refer to the appearance of the resurrected Christ to Paul (cf. Acts 9, 22, and 24). In verse 12, Paul says he received his gospel by revelation.  In verses 13-16, he elaborates on this revelation, its context, and its results. Before this revelation, Paul thought he should persecute the church and be zealous for the traditions of his fathers. But God intervened and graciously revealed “his Son in me”. Paul’s experience of the resurrected Jesus as an act of divine grace and as God’s choice to have mercy on a sinner and an enemy (cf. Rom 5:1), definitively shaped his understanding of the gospel. For Paul, the good news proclaims that God’s grace and mercy do not depend on our works of righteousness. And, if we don’t have to win God’s grace and avoid God’s wrath by scrupulously keeping the Law, God’s people can be opened to the Gentiles by faith in Jesus!

Further elaboration of the meaning and implications of the resurrection would lead us deep into the field of Christology. My point so far in this series on the resurrection is to show that the resurrection is not merely a brute fact, a miracle whose meaning is exhausted by its unusual nature. Given its context in the life of Jesus, the religious thought of the day, and in the lives of those to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared, we can see how Jesus’ resurrection implied a religious revolution that has in fact changed the world.

Next time we must ask whether or not Jesus Christ really rose from the dead and whether or not we can make a rational judgment and a responsible decision to affirm that “He is risen.”

“Who is this?” The Resurrection of Jesus as the Answer

We continue today with the theme of the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I said previously, the meaning of an historical event is determined by its surrounding circumstances. To understand the impact of the resurrection faith on the disciples and their interpretation of its meaning, we need to set the resurrection event into three contexts: (1) the life of Jesus as experienced and remembered by his disciples; (2) contemporary speculations, beliefs, and hopes surrounding death and resurrection and beliefs about God’s historical plan for defeating evil and saving his people; and (3) the impact of the resurrection appearances themselves.

Last week, we dealt with the first context, the life of Jesus. We saw that Jesus was remembered as an extraordinary figure, as performing miracles, forgiving sins, speaking with authority, exhibiting unheard of familiarity and intimacy with God, and making claims about himself that struck his adversaries as blasphemous. These extraordinary acts and claims left everyone asking, “Who is this?” This question voices their sense of not having a category into which Jesus easily fit. Something new is happening. But then he was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of the religious leaders of the Jews for blasphemy and rebellion. The judgment and execution of Jesus as a blasphemer and a rebel contradicted the entire trajectory of Jesus life and teaching and negated the expectations that had arisen in the hearts of those who knew him best and loved him most.

The question “Who is this?” seemed to have been answered: not what we had hoped. But the resurrection placed the question “Who is this?” on a completely different plane. Not only must the disciples ask, “Who is this who raises the dead, speaks with authority, opens the eyes of the blind, makes the lame walk, and forgives sins?” The resurrection forced the addition, “and who was crucified as a blasphemer and rebel but whom God raised from the dead?” Who is this?

The second context within which we must interpret the resurrection faith is “the contemporary speculations, beliefs, and hopes surrounding death and resurrection and beliefs about God’s historical plan for defeating evil and saving his people.” When the first disciples concluded from the resurrection appearances and the discovery of the empty tomb that Jesus had been raised from the dead, what did they think about its significance? The most important data relevant to this question come from the New Testament itself. There are also relevant data in documents contemporary with the New Testament, but we must be cautious about generalizations. Historians who study this era point out that there is no one “Jewish” view of resurrection and eternal life. Some did not believe in the resurrection or in any form of life beyond death and others may have believed in the survival of the spirit at the death of the body. We see in the New Testament itself that not every one believed in resurrection; for example, the Sadducees did not. But the Pharisees believed that God would bring about a future age in which (at least) the righteous dead would be raised bodily to everlasting life. For the Pharisees, the resurrection of the dead signaled the end of the age of death, sin, disease, violence, and oppression and the dawning of a new age.

Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection was clearly nearer to the Pharisees than to the Sadducees. He argued for the resurrection, claiming that the Sadducees do not understand Scripture and don’t know the power of God (Matt 22:23-32). If you follow Jesus in this age, enduring the suffering that accompanies discipleship, you will be rewarded “in the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:4). Paul argues with those in Corinth who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15). He refutes crude caricatures of resurrection as restoration of our present corruptible bodies. Nevertheless, he argues for a bodily resurrection at the end of the age. The resurrection overcomes death, transforms the corruptible and mortal body into an incorruptible and immortal body. Paul clearly affirms the resurrection of the body, not merely the survival of the spirit. But the resurrection of the body is also a radical transformation of the body. For Paul, resurrection means restoration of life in continuity with the identity, history, and bodily existence that otherwise would be negated forever by physical death. Also, like the Pharisees, Paul sees the resurrection as signaling the end of the age and a transformation of the world.

In this context it stands out clearly that Paul and the rest of the New Testament see the “resurrection” of Jesus as the restoration of his life that had been extinguished in death, as the transformation of his physical body that had been buried in the tomb, and as his translation into a mode of life expected only at the end of the age, namely incorruptibility and immortality. The notion that Paul (or any other New Testament witness) could have conceived of Jesus’ “resurrection” merely as the survival his spirit or justness of his cause, is highly implausible.

Now we have another piece of the puzzle to help us understand the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. The early disciples, the first Christians, understood Jesus’ resurrection as an “end time” event. He was saved from death by God through the restoration of his life and transformation of the body in which he had been born and lived, performed his works, and died on a cross.

“Who is this?” He is the beginning of the resurrection of the dead, the end of the age of sin and death and the beginning of the new age of eternal life. Through his resurrection Jesus’ universal significance is revealed, for the resurrection of the dead is about the destiny of the whole world, all time and space, and everyone. And because his resurrection possesses universal significance, so does his death, his teaching, his acts, and his birth.

Next week we will examine the significance of the resurrection appearances and the empty tomb on the witnesses’ understanding of the nature and significance of the resurrection of Jesus.

Note: If you are interested in knowing more about ideas of the resurrection in documents contemporary with the New Testament and in the New Testament itself, see two books by N.T. Wright: The Resurrection of the Son of God and Surprised by Hope.

The Resurrection of Jesus: What Does it Mean–for the Original Disciples, for Us, and for the World?

In the previous post in this series, I described the earliest witnesses’ testimony about the resurrection of Jesus. I argued from this testimony to two conclusions: belief in the resurrection of Jesus stands at the very origin of Christianity. Belief that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the lens through which the original disciples interpreted all their previous experience with Jesus. Apart from this faith, Christianity would not exist. Additionally, we can conclude that Paul, Jesus’ closest associates, and many others really experienced appearances they believed to be the resurrected Jesus.

I want to delay addressing the question about the truth of the resurrection faith, that is, the question did Jesus really rise from the dead. We need to deal with another issue first: what did it mean to the first witnesses that shortly after his death and burial Jesus’ tomb was found empty and he appeared to them alive? Christianity is not built on the brute fact of the resurrection miracle. The resurrection faith is a belief about an event within the flow of history, and historical events manifest their meaning in relation to their immediate and remote historical contexts. And as we read Paul, Acts, and other New Testament writings, we see the far-reaching significance the first Christians perceived in the event of the resurrection of Jesus.

What is the historical context that gives the resurrection its significance? I have to oversimplify matters a bit, but I think the most important aspects of that context are: (1) the life of Jesus as experienced and remembered by his disciples; (2) contemporary speculations, beliefs, and hopes surrounding death and resurrection and beliefs about God’s historical plan for defeating evil and saving his people; and (3) the impact of the resurrection appearances themselves.

Clearly, it matters who died, whose tomb was found empty, and who appeared alive and to whom. Apart from a few references in the New Testament letters, Acts, Revelation, and Hebrews, we know the disciples’ experiences and remembrances of Jesus from the Four Gospels. Without going into great detail, let’s consider how they remembered Jesus, limiting ourselves to the Gospel of Mark. Jesus enter the public eye when he began preaching “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15). He calls disciples to become “fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17). He exorcises demons from the possessed, and the demons recognize him as “the Holy One of God” (1:24). Jesus heals a leper (1:40-45). When he healed a paralytic man, Jesus accompanies his healing command with “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5). He declared himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (2:28). Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee with the words “Quiet, be still (4:39). A woman received healing at the touch of his robe (5:29), and a little girl was raised back to life from death when Jesus said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up” (5:41). He healed the deaf and the blind and fed 5,000 and 4,000 in the desert. He takes Peter, James, and John up to a secluded place on a mountain and is transfigured before them (9:2-13).

Jesus spoke with authority unlike any rabbi or prophet ever spoke. As we saw above, in dealing with the demons and with death and disease, he spoke in his own name. We can see this also in the Gospel of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says that you have heard it said but “I say to you” (Mt 5:39, 44). And at the end of that sermon, the crowds were amazed because “he taught as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law” (Mt 7:28-29). Jesus performed symbolic actions that pronounced judgment on the ruling powers. He rode into Jerusalem on donkey in triumphal procession. He cursed the fig tree for bearing no fruit, and entered the Temple and drove out the money changers. In Mark 13, Jesus speaks of the coming Judgment on the City of Jerusalem and identifies himself (“the Son of Man”) as the judge who will bring this judgment (13:26-27). And on the night Jesus was betrayed, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. During this memorial of God’s great act of salvation from Egypt, Jesus did something amazing. He took it upon himself to change the meaning of Passover ceremony. As he shared the bread and wine of the Passover, he said, “This is my body” and “This is the blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many” (Mk 14:22-25). In this act, Jesus claimed that his impending death would bring about a new deliverance and a new covenant.

That night Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied him twice. And at his trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One” (Mk 14:61). Jesus answered unambiguously, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (14:62). The next morning Jesus was executed by the Romans on a cross as a blasphemer and a rebel. Joseph of Arimathea, a “prominent member of the Council” asked Pilate to release the body of Jesus. Joseph placed Jesus’ body in a tomb cut out of rock. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses “saw where he was laid” (15:47).

Now we have the first aspect of the historical context that determines the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus. It was Jesus who was resurrected, the person the disciples knew intimately. We will say more later, but even now we can see that the resurrection of Jesus would have validated and made clear the significance of his amazing teaching, claims, and deeds.

Next time: We will continue to examine the meaning of the resurrection by looking at two other aspects of the event’s historical context. And eventually we will have to ask, “Did it really happen?”