In the NT, we see plainly that “an event has occurred which has changed the shape of the creator’s history with the world” – Wright.
- The event, of course, was Jesus resurrection on Easter Sunday.
“All the major books and strands, with the single exception of Hebrews, make resurrection a central and important topic, and set it within a framework of Jewish thought about the one god as creator and judge” – N.T. Wright.
- There can be no doubt that, “Early Christianity was a ‘resurrection’ movement through and through…” – N.T. Wright.
The remainder of our lessons will contend with the nature of Christian resurrection’s place within the Pharisaical Judaism from which it sprang, and within the Hellenized paganism in which it spread.
- We can organize our approach as follows – Christian Resurrection as:
- (1) A “Dramatic Modification” of Jewish resurrection (N.T. Wright).
- (2) In “Direct Opposition” to the pagan worldview (N.T. Wright).
Over the next couple of weeks, we will focus especially on the “Dramatic Modification”.
- We begin now, however, with the “Direct Opposition”.
1) DIRECT OPPOSITION – CHRISTIAN RESURRECTION
Christian resurrection maintained a shape that stood in direct opposition to pagan views of life and death.
- For example, “The point of the resurrection, so far as Paul is concerned, is the reaffirmation of creation, not its denial” – Wright.
- And “Resurrection is precisely concerned with the present world and its renewal, not with escaping the present world and going somewhere else” – Wright.
- These attitudes are opposed to the pagan views of life and death that we learned about some weeks ago.
We saw then:
- That the soul welcomed death; “the soul was well rid of its body” – Wright.
- “Resurrection in the flesh appeared a startling, distasteful idea, at odds with everything that passed for wisdom among the educated” – Wright.
One must ask then, in light of these stark differences, wouldn’t the apostles just smartly speak the Gospel and leave talk of resurrection for another time?
- Here is the problem.
- It needs to be stressed and understood that when Peter and Paul spoke the Gospel, they spoke resurrection.
- To proclaim Christ is to proclaim resurrection.
Resurrection and Gospel in Acts:
Acts 2:29–32 (ESV) — 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
- Then Peter follows up with “Repent and be baptized” in verse 38.
Acts 3:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,
- Then Peter follows ups this call to repentance with, “the time for restoring” in verse 21, and in verse 22, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet…”.
Acts 4:1–2 (ESV) — 1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
- Peter and John’s detractors tell us they were proclaiming resurrection.
- Specifically, of course, that Jesus had risen.
Acts 4:32–33 (ESV) — 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
- The apostles were giving thanks for the resurrection of Jesus.
BTW – Notice in verse 33 of Acts 4 what the nature of the apostles’ testimony was.
- It was a testimony about Jesus’ resurrection (His work), not about the subjective warm “fuzzies” a relationship with Jesus provided.
- Even Paul’s testimonies in Acts were about encountering the risen Jesus.
- The reason he was an authentic apostle.
Acts 5:30 (ESV) — 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.
- Then Peter and John followed this up in verse 31 with, “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins”.
Acts 13:27–30 (ESV) — 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead…that fact that God raised him from the dead (vs. 34)…but he whom God raised up (vs. 37).
- And then Paul follows this up with: Acts 13:38–39 (ESV) — 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
It seems rather clear that Gospel proclamation and resurrection were inseparable.
- But, knowing the pagans’ aversion to resurrection, surely Paul would tone it down a bit?
Resurrection and Direct Opposition:
As with resurrection and the Gospel, Acts can shed some light on this question for us.
- And the answer may surprise us.
(1) Paul at Athens
Notice in the following examples that Paul was proclaiming the Gospel to the scholars of the pagan world.
- He knew they loathed the idea of resurrection and could articulate their objections to it.
- But as we just saw, to proclaim the Gospel was to proclaim resurrection.
- Paul didn’t come up with a “kinder, gentler” Gospel.
- He didn’t attempt to “prettify” the Gospel for easy reception.
- He was clever, but not compromising.
Acts 17:18–19 (ESV) — 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
Acts 17:30–32 (ESV) — 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”
So not surprisingly, Paul was “mocked” and called a “babbler”.
- “It is said that the Athenians applied this name to those who made their living by collecting and selling refuse they found in the market places” – WSNTDICT.
- And it also is “pejorative imagery of persons whose communication lacks sophistication” – BDAG.
- They not only thought resurrection was nuts, they thought Paul was inarticulate.
And what is fascinating is that Paul talked about resurrection so much that they thought he was teaching about two “foreign divinities” – “Jesus and the resurrection”.
“The Athenians even misheard Paul and imagined that he was preaching two new divinities, Jesus and ‘Anastasis’. The Greek word for ‘resurrection’ was so frequently on his lips that they thought she was Jesus’ consort, a kind of Isis to his Osiris” – N.T. Wright.
(2) Paul on Trial in Caesarea
Acts 25:17–20 (ESV) — 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them.
Acts 26:22–24 (ESV) — 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” 24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
Here, Paul is on trial in a pagan court in Caesarea.
- He knows that both the pagan authorities and his Jewish accusers have problems, though differing, with his message of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
- Yet, he continues to proclaim resurrection.
- So it is not surprising that Festus, like the philosophers of Athens, thought Paul was nuts – “out of your mind”.
Why was talk of resurrection such a problem for the pagan who did not “have ears to hear”?
- As we said before, for the pagan, the body was something to be shed.
- The spiritual world was the ideal.
- To speak of a hope that involved bodily coming into the physical world again was foolishness.
BTW – We know from the writings of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, and other 2nd and 3rd century Christian apologists, that the proclamation of resurrection continued to bring derision.
- Celsus, a 2nd century Roman critic of Christianity said this:
“But we must examine this question whether anyone who really died ever rose again with the same body…While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. Buy who say this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination…or, which is more likely, wanted to impress the others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars?”
Conclusions thus far:
- We need to know why Peter, John and Paul were relentless in their proclamation of resurrection.
- We need to know why resurrection moved from the periphery of Pharisaic Judaism to the center of the Christian message.
- It will help us going forward to remember that, in both Judaism and Christianity, resurrection is so much more than bodily resurrection.
We will explore these things by seeing what Paul had to say about resurrection.
- He articulates better than anyone the “Dramatic Modifications” Christian resurrection made to its Jewish roots.
- He tells us what is so significant about resurrection.
- He tells us what the powerful implications of resurrection are for the believer in Christ.
One final question: Why don’t we proclaim resurrection when we proclaim the Gospel?