Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Does the Resurrection of Jesus Really Matter?

If the life and death of Jesus perfected our reconciliation with God (see below), why the resurrection? If the words "it is finished" are an apt description of the cross, why was Jesus raised? If we are saved by the blood of Jesus, who could ask for anything more?

These questions show that the way we talk about the saving significance of Christ's life and death seems to make the resurrection an afterthought. This may explain why so many modern theologians have found it so easy to question the historicity of the resurrection. Certainly they are propelled by the modern suspicion of the miraculous. But modern theologians will stand by a miracle when they feel it is needed for the integrity of the faith. Yet again and again, people have found ways to have faith in Christ without faith in the empty tomb.

And before you swiftly dismiss these modern notions of resurrection-less faith, take note of the fact that the resurrection often plays no explicit role in the faith of those who do defend it as history. Sure, they stick by it as a matter of principle, usually connected to the authority of Scripture. But do they really take seriously the function of resurrection in the economy of salvation? If the best we can do is say "The Bible says...", then we have not yet begun to explore the significance of the resurrection for us.

Well, why does the resurrection matter? I would argue that the resurrection is best understood as the revelation of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Who is Jesus in light of the resurrection? Well, people are not raised into glory just any time. For first century Jews, that's something that happens at the end of time to everyone. But to happen in the middle of time to one man shows that this man is actually the Lord and Judge of the world, seated at the right hand of God himself.

What did Jesus do in the light of the resurrection? Since God has raised him, Jesus' life and death is proven to be vindicated. He lived and died for us, achieving for us forgiveness of sins and new life. God has forgiven us in the death of Christ, and we know this to be the case because he raised him from the dead.

But what if Jesus lived and died and that was it? Would our salvation really be won? Yes! But would it do us any good? No! Upon the completion of his history, Jesus Christ now contains within himself the new life of a redeemed humanity. But how will that new life get to us? He must be raised so that what he has achieved for us may become available to us. He must traverse the barrier of time and space so that we can partake of the goods he has in his possession. It is this transition from him to us that makes the resurrection so important, so essential to the story of our redemption.

Any thoughts?

Is it true that allowing certain beliefs to go un-integrated makes them vulnerable to unbelief?
Does this account of the resurrection's significance help to make it more essential to our faith?
Is there some other way to think about the resurrection that better accounts for its significance?

6 comments:

Just . Jay said...

guesses and personal convictions...

1) jesus' death assured the forgiveness of sins, but the resurrection assured life after "death" right? so no resurrection, no raising from the dead for us. am i off?

2) jesus took on the sins of the world, died because of them, and raised again, "victorious" over them (how pentecostal do i feel right now?). so no resurrection, no hope to conquer sin in our own lives. no deliverances from sin (Wesleyans should agree with this one) right?

3) because God cannot be dead.

Ken Schenck said...

I have an unresolved tension in my faith between my sense that the resurrection was incredibly important to the earliest Christians and my sense that Christ as incarnate God is more important for Christian orthodoxy. For Paul and Hebrews (in my opinion), Christ's resurrection was the defeat of the Devil (Heb. 2:14), the fixing of the problem of humans lacking the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; Heb. 2:6-8), and the firstfruits of our own resurrection (1 Cor. 15). For Acts it was the centerpiece of early Christian preaching and the vindication of the gospel message.

But after the councils of the church, Christ's identity as God incarnate seems more central.

I have no resolution to the tension. They don't contradict each other but to me are quite distinct formulations that some could and sometimes do take in conflicting directions. Who will free me from this body of perplexity?

Kevin K. Wright said...

So does recapitulation come into play here? Christ is the archetype replacing the old Adamic mold with a new hope. Where Adam sins, Christ is perfect. Where Adam dies, Christ is raised from the dead. We need the resurrection to not only forgive us of sins, but also ensure to us the promise of eternal life. Otherwise, would we be relegated to Old Testament theologies of "Sheol" with no hope of Heaven? Just some random thoughts. I need to read more of the Cappodocians before I'd say more.

Keith.Drury said...

I love how you do theology for the ordinary person... you take this complex stack of Jinga blocks then suggest thinking about removing one to see how it changes the tower... and often we discover that many of hte blocks are critical for the whole tower to stay standing.

(But of course theology is more than a wobbly Jinga game put together into some sort of tower with the game being to remove things until one's whole belief system collapses (now that I typed that it reminds me this is exactly how some are treating theology though)... perhaps theology is more of the foundation on which we build the wobbly tower of our lives)

Dakotaranger said...

Not only was the resurection the end of death's power over the redeemed. It was the final stamp, the final proof of who Christ was. If it weren't for the resurrection Peter would have not been affective for God, because he needed Christ to show forgiveness for his rejection. I think that it made the Christ's sacrifice fuller

Scrammy said...

What about the inauguration of God's Kingdom?

What were the expectations of the 1st Century Jewish compatriots? From what I understand they were expecting the fulfillment of the prophets regarding the redemption of all things.

Acts 1:6-8 (albeit the disciples are still in a nationalistic mind-set)has the disciples asking if Jesus, having shown Himself as incorruptible, will not bring the Kingdom of God/Heaven to bear in its fullness. This shows us there was an expectation of the Kingdom infiltrating the world NOW. Heaven crashing into Earth NOW. Right?

I mean, Bar-khokba (sp?) a few years after Jesus claimed to be a Messiah and minted temple coins with the year ONE on them... clearly there is an expectation here.

Acts surely suggests, as Ken Schenck mentioned, that the early Christians found the Resurrection, at least, "incredibly important" and more important (though impossible without), even, the incarnation.