From the Rector

April 2017

The Resurrection of Jesus

Not long ago I read a rather long book called The Resurrection of the Son of God by Bishop Tom Wright. He was the Bishop of Durham, and is now Professor of New Testament at St Andrews. He is also one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world today.

His book on Jesus’ resurrection is close to a definitive study. I say ‘close to’ because one can never say that a work will never be superseded, but I think his book will stand as a magisterial study for many years. It is a great book abounding in Christian truth, and is not just a dry academic examination of the subject.

The resurrection of Jesus is unique. The first thing that Wright tackles is the claim by some that the idea of Jesus’ resurrection was borrowed from some other similar idea in classical literature or other ancient source.

He examines all of the known extant sources and finds that there are none that claim what the resurrection of Jesus claims – that Jesus’ crucified body, laid in the tomb, was raised to life, but not the life of this passing world, but to the new life of the Resurrection on the Last Day. Further that the resurrection body of Jesus was a physical body, but of the physicality of the New Creation which will come into its fullness at the Resurrection on the Last Day.

Wright goes on to examine the Old Testament and associated Jewish literature such as the Apocrypha, Rabbinic writings, Josephus (a Jewish historian writing just after the time of Jesus, who mentions Jesus), the New Testament and some of the earliest writers outside of the New Testament. In all of this, some 700 pages, he comes back to the irreducible facts.

1) That Jesus really did die on the Cross. Claims that he did not die have no physiological credibility: no one could survive a Roman crucifixion. And of course, there is St John’s evidence of the water and blood from Jesus’ side (St John 19:32–36); the separation of the blood into clot and serum is clear evidence of physiological death.

2) That Jesus, who was raised from the dead on the Sunday morning after his death on the Friday, was a genuine physical person, who was both very much himself but somehow different. Both the recognition that Jesus is the same man, but noticeably different, is testified to by the disciples.

He was recognised and not recognised – Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning and the disciples seeing and encountering Jesus fishing on the Sea of Galilee (St John 20-21). He was not an apparition or ghostly figure, nor was he the projection of dashed hopes. Both St Peter (Acts 10:41) and St Luke (St Luke 24:43) testify explicitly to Jesus’ eating and drinking with the disciples.

3) The thing that Wright draws out is that for us there is a two-stage process of resurrection. Jesus was raised on the third day – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. As Psalm 16:11 says, ‘Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, neither suffer thy Holy One to suffer corruption’. We will see the corruption of the grave, but we, on That Day, the Day of Resurrection, will be raised to the same resurrection life that Jesus was raised to on the third day. The stages are first Him, then us.

And therein is our hope. The New Testament teaches clearly – Jesus (St John 3: 3-18), St Paul (Romans 6: 3-11, Colossian 2: 12-14), St Peter (3: 18-22) – that in Holy Baptism we die with Jesus in his death on the cross, and are raised with him to the new life of his resurrection. His resurrection life lives in us, and by the Holy Spirit it is transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. His Resurrection sustains us in our own physical deaths (St John 11:25-26) in a life in union with him until we receive our resurrection bodies, and enter into the New Heaven and the New Earth.

The Christian belief is not in ‘the afterlife’ or ‘life after death’ or any other kind of vague, disembodied existence. That is an idea alien to Christian faith. One interesting aspect of the whole of the Bible is its intense physicality. Everything is specific, tangible, real. It does not attest to ghostliness or disembodied worlds. There is the unseen world of God and his angels who are on occasion made manifest, but that is something altogether different.

We Christians believe in and hope for a fully embodied life in a fully physical world raised by and transfigured into perfection (Philippians 3:21, Romans 8: 18-25) by the Resurrection of Jesus that will come into being when he returns in glory with his Saints and Angels. And participation in this is available to anyone who ‘calls on the Name of the Lord’ (Joel 2:32, Acts 2: 21, Romans 10: 13).

May everyone have a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Easter.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Douglas Kornahrens

 

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