“What Christians Believe: Some Basic Elements about the Resurrection of Jesus”
For many individuals, the resurrection of Jesus is a myth just like the Greco-Roman myths of old. Others see it as a religious fable, a folktale, an invention of the early Christians such as Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc. Other critics state that Jesus is a creation of the early Christians and that there was no historical person named Jesus the way Christians present him to the world or talk about the existence of a real Jesus in the Bible and church traditions.
By contrast, for Christians around the world, Jesus was not only existed as a human being; he is present or real in their life today. The majority of Christians around the world also believe the resurrection of Jesus is one of the top historical pieces of evidence that proves the existence of God, and comparatively, they believe the physical resurrection of Jesus is what makes Christianity what it is, that is, its association with Jesus’ divine origin and same nature as Yahweh, the creator God of the universe and all human beings. In this non-technical post, I would like to reflect upon some basic elements about the resurrection and what the majority of Christians believe about it.
- THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS WAS PHYSICAL. According to the Bible, the traditions of the Christian church, and the followers of the individuals who knew Jesus and walked with him while he was alive, Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the grave. They believed that the act of raising from the tomb was not a spiritual resurrection; rather, it was a physical resurrection.
- THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS WAS HISTORICAL. The resurrection of Jesus is presented as a historical event. According to many individuals who knew Jesus before his death, this same Jesus who was crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected showed himself to them on the third day. They also said that the resurrected Jesus talked to them, allowed them to touch his body, appeared to many individuals who are known as eyewitnesses, and even ate with them in group. These same individuals stated that the resurrected Jesus was not a ghost, an angel, a spiritual being, or an illusion. According to their reports, the resurrected Jesus was a real person, a human being with physical features and bodily parts.
- THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS WAS SUPERNATURAL. These same individuals also declared that the resurrection of Jesus was both a historical event and a faith-based event. By the integrating the idea of “faith” in their understanding of the physical resurrection of Jesus, they believed that God worked a miracle, that is, something extraordinary and unnatural, by raising Jesus from the dead by his power. In other words, they established a relationship between faith and divine power, physical resurrection and divine miracle. This kind of faith is not historical, but supernatural; yet the historicity of the physical resurrection required a supernatural intervention. In other words, faith in a God that can raise people from the dead validated the physical resurrection of Jesus–a human being. God raised Jesus from the dead by his power!
- Thus, the resurrection of Jesus means and accomplishes many things.
a) First, it demonstrates that God can use his power effectively to do the unexpected, such as bringing to life a dead person, for example, Jesus who was also dead but God raised him from the dead; Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, who was also dead, but God through Jesus raised him from the dead.
b) Second, the resurrection also shows that all religious beliefs require human connection with the divine, as well as the proximity or presence of God with human beings. God is not far from us; he is near and present where human beings are present or live.
c) Third, the resurrection is a supernatural phenomenon that invites reasonable faith and belief in a powerful God.
d) Finally, the resurrection shows the fragility of human nature and the weakness of human beings. According to Christian belief in the resurrection, because God is not a human being, he is strong and has power over death and the forces of darkness.
- These same individuals in the Bible (the New Testament), the first Christians, and early church reports and traditions constructed a new understanding of Jesus and his identity. What did they say exactly about Jesus’ identity and his deeds after the resurrection.
a) The writers of the New Testament and the early Christian thinkers and writers (i.e. church fathers) reinterpreted the teachings and deeds of Jesus in light of his new identity and in connection to the significance of the historical resurrection.
b) They believed because God raised Jesus from the dead, God also approved the teachings and works of Jesus while he was alive. In other words, Jesus was a man attested by God. The resurrection was a sign of divine satisfaction about the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth. God was pleased about Jesus’ character and how Jesus lived, treated people, and taught people about God.
c) Because of the resurrection, they exalted Jesus to a divine status and believed that Jesus was the “Anointed One,” the Jewish Messiah. Yet these same individuals gave a divine identity to the Jewish Messiah whom they said was Jesus.
d) Because of the resurrection, the early Christians worshipped Jesus the Christ the same way they used to worship God/Yahweh, and used divine titles and attributes they traditionally applied to Yahweh to Jesus.
e) Because of the resurrection, they began to read/reread more carefully about what Jesus really said before his death and investigated the supernatural connection of his sayings and works, such as his miraculous and exorcist activities, with the works and sayings of God of the Hebrew Scriptures/Yahweh.
f) As a result, they said only a God-like person could perform such supernatural works and say things only God could say. Yet these same individuals argued that while Jesus was fully human, he was more than a super hero; in fact, they believed that Jesus was God himself (they did not say it like that though. They used different literary techniques, technical concepts, writing strategies, and ideological concepts to establish Jesus’ divine origin) For example, before his death, the writers of the New Testament and early church fathers wrote many things about Jesus, including the following:
- Jesus offered people eternal life and salvation; he forgave people’s sins;
- Jesus said that God was his father and he was the Son of God–not in the sense that God was his biological son, but in the sense of he possessing the same nature like God or at least, having a direct connection with God like no other human being on earth–, making himself the Son of God;
- Jesus said that he and God are one–not in the sense that God is in all of us or God’s presence is forever with human beings–; rather, Jesus was declaring that he possessed the same divine identity like God and like God, he is also God;
- Jesus calmed heavy winds and told people exactly what was in their hearts. There are many other things the writers of the New Testament and church traditions said Jesus did and said. I have to be selective in this post.
However, both ancient and modern magicians and religious prophets do/did quite a few things like Jesus, and even make/made similar declarations like Jesus. What makes Jesus different than these miracles workers, houngan, mambo, magicians, medicine men? According to the writers of the New Testament and the writings of the church fathers, there were at least five things:
- The physical resurrection of Jesus sealed the messianic identity and divine origin of Jesus. According to the Gospel and ecclesiastical traditions, the resurrection established the deity of Jesus and proved that Jesus existed as God before he became a human being. This is called the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ in Christian theology.
- Jesus’ exclusive and absolute claims of his divine origin or essence, having the same nature and equal power with God to forgive sin and raise people from the dead, and to save people from sins and give them eternal life.
- Jesus’ exclusive claim that he is the “only way” to God. Jesus’ exclusive claim he is “the truth” and “life” itself. Jesus’ exclusive claim that he is the resurrection and life, and that he existed before Abraham was born.
- The recognition of Jesus of his divine status and messianic self-consciousness linked to his messianic mission as God’s special emissary in the world.
- Jesus’ own prophecy about his death, burial, and resurrection.
- Jesus transforms people’s lives and make individuals better citizens and human beings.
Conclusion: Whether you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, Jesus’ deity, or doubted the historical existence of the historical Jesus, it matters how you live your life in the moment and the time to come. Your choice is a personal one. For many Christians, however, the resurrection of Jesus secures their hope in the time to come and guarantees their salvation in God. Christians believe that the resurrection is the gift for all people just like Jesus is God’s universal gift to humanity.
Happy Resurrection Day!
“3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born…
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-19, 55-56