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The Resurrection of Jesus

April 23, 2011

The conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory seems to have erupted soon after Jesus’ death, and it was central in earliest faith of the Jesus-followers thereafter.  A few notes about this in connection with Easter Sunday 2011.

  • The conviction was that it was Jesus of Nazareth who had been raised.  That is, there was a direct connection between the crucified figure who had been active in Roman Judea and the figure of earliest Christian faith.
  • This was not a claim that Jesus had been resuscitated and brought back to life of this world, but instead that God had catapulted Jesus forward into life of the world to come.
  • One immediate implication of this claim was that God had vindicated Jesus against the death-penalty imposed by the earthly authorities.  That is, in the earliest setting, Jesus’ resurrection was very much divine vindication.
  • The likelihood that Jesus had been executed as a messianic/royal claimant meant that God’s resurrecting him vindicated this claim.  That’s probably why the messianic claim about Jesus seems to have been so central in earliest Christian preaching.
  • Resurrection of the righteous was, for many Jews (but not all), a central hope and expectation.  That is, “resurrection”, the personal vivification of people by God was by Jesus’ time already a familiar concept.  This hope seems to have emerged sometime in the “post-exilic” period, and in the time of Jesus was still under debate, the Sadducees the main Jewish party portrayed as denying this belief.
  • The unusual thing about the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead was that he had been singled out in advance of the resurrection that was to be given to all the righteous.  This immediately meant that Jesus was somehow special, that God had chosen to favor him apart from and in advance of the vindication to be given to the righteous (such as Moses, Abraham, David, etc.).
  • The references to Jesus’ resurrection include the claim that this involved also his exaltation to heavenly glory “at God’s right hand” (the phrase lifted from Psalm 110).   So “resurrection” in Jesus’ case must be understood as connoting his vindication and glorification.  That is reflected in the “post-Easter” references to Jesus as Messiah and as “Lord”, and the assertion that he now shares in the name and glory of God.
  • In short, the conviction that God had raised Jesus from death was central in earliest Christian faith, and also was powerful in generating attendant convictions as well.
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4 Comments
  1. Excellent thoughts.

  2. Thanks for this helpful summary. Thank you as well for what you’ve done in helping to bring the resurrection back on to the agenda.

  3. The last sentence of your penultimate point begs for elaboration. That this Jesus was identified as Messiah evoked a long and settled – if varied – expectation among the Jewish people, heightened, of course, in that time period. However, the application of the title “Lord” – including its potential equivalence with YHWH in the LXX – would have been a much more startling revelation requiring more explanation to an audience, wouldn’t it?

    Putting my question another way: the Jews of that day were expecting resurrection and expecting Messiah. The two being put together in the way you described in your earlier points was novel, but the constituent ideas were not. Two of the puzzle pieces of Jewish eschatalogy were simply snapped together in a way no one was expecting. However, that the Messiah was “Lord,” sharing the “name and glory of God” does not seem to be a puzzle piece they had in their box. Shouldn’t we be surprised that they did not have more questions about how the Messiah could be taking on the alternative name for YHWH? Or was there some other puzzle piece in their box, not immediately apparent to our minds, into which this puzzle piece snapped?

    Please comment.

    • The title “Lord” (in Greek or Semitic languages, as in British English) can carry a variety of connotations and can be used to indicate a range of respect/reverence. So, the meaning of calling Jesus “lord” depended on the sentences in which it was used and the setting. During his own ministry, Jesus was likely addressed as “lord/master” by his close followers. In the aftermath of the conviction that God had raised Jesus to heavenly glory, believers found new depths of meaning in the term. Most significantly in historical terms, Jesus became “Lord” of the gathered worship circle.
      The application of biblical texts to Jesus (what David Capes has called “Yahweh texts”) is remarkable, but not absolutely novel, as I showed decades ago in my book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (1988, 2nd ed. 1998). In Qumran texts we have a Melchizedek figure (apparently a high angel) identified as the Elohim of Psa 82. In other extra-canonical texts we have figures such as “Yahoel” described as endowed with the divine name.
      The one thing we don’t find is the incorporation of any of these figures as recipient of worship (“cultic devotion”), which we do find in the earliest observable moments of the “post-Easter” Christian circles. That is what seems to break precedents and requires some powerful explanation.

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