Monday, October 15, 2012

The Reason for God: The Reality of Resurrection

What can history tell us about the historical Jesus? You can study the life of Jesus just like we study any other ancient person in many universities around the world (using the criterion of dissimilarity, multiple attestations, embarrassment, plausibility, coherence and so on). The most hotly debated question among these historians is: The resurrection of Jesus. It is the holy grail of the quest for Jesus.

Even today, popular culture is obsessed with Jesus – look at Da Vinci Code and the news surrounding discovery of Gnostic fragments, Mary Magdalene, and James’ tomb. Many historians (who made the assumption that a miracle simply cannot happen or should be ruled out of court in a responsible historical research) claim that it didn’t really happen.

But how do you explain how the Christian movement started in Jerusalem? How do you explain the empty tomb and eyewitnesses? It is a serious historical question.

That is not what happened to all the other would-be Messiahs who were crucified by Rome. They either find a replacement or abandon that leader.

The resurrection of Jesus is also a personal question. If Jesus rose from the dead (not merely resuscitated), it changes everything. It means that death will not have the last word. It is a bedrock of hope when you are faced with a Roman sword or cancer.

If he was resurrected, it authenticates the claims He made about Himself and His teachings. If not, our faith is in vain.

What are the alternative explanations?

Perhaps ancient people do not have scientific knowledge of the world and believe in superstitions. So they easily accept reports of a risen Jesus. The heartbroken disciples began to sense he was still with them, perhaps see visions or dreams. These feelings developed into stories that he had risen from the grave to support these beliefs.

But the Gospels were written too early to the actual events (AD50 – 90) for myths to develop. We can see resurrection account in ‘handed down’ statement of faith formula already in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 (third day, physical body, eyewitnesses). Women were the first eyewitnesses and this is likely authentic since their words are not accepted as evidence in court. Why would you invent a fact that would be embarassing to your case? Their Jewish opponents did not challenge the claim of empty tomb, but implicitly accepted it by providing an alternative explanation (stolen corpse).

Taken together, the empty tomb and eyewitnesses form a case for the resurrection. It is not bombproof evidence. But there is a dent we would expect in the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, transforming disillusioned followers into committed evangelists. It is not wishful thinking.
Hallucination theories and stolen body theories assume that Jesus’ resurrection was an open option can is expected to others. But the people of that time would have considered it impossible for different reasons. Why would they create a lie and die for it? “Here’s the plan: We steal the body, come back and tell everybody He is risen and get killed for it. Who’s in this with me?”

 “Chronological snobbery”: Ancient people know that dead people do not come back to life. We should give them more credit. In fact, an individual bodily resurrection was almost inconceivable. Spirit is good, but the body is evil in Greek thought. Even those who believe in reincarnation understand a return to embodied life as a prison for the soul. For Jews, they expect a final day resurrection of all righteous in the renewal of the world. But the idea of an individual being resurrected, in the middle of history, while the rest of creation goes on with sin and death, is inconceivable.   

Wright: Jewish revolutionaries whose leader had been executed had two options: give up the revolution or find another leader. Claiming that he was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was.
That historical event caused the Christians to shift their worldview: Jesus is not only human, he is the transcendent, personal God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.

What does it matter? Many skeptics care for the environment and the poor, yet the material world and all of life came by accident and everything will end up in ashes one day. They wonder why so few people care for justice yet their own worldview undermines any motivation to care and make sacrifices for a better world. In the end there is no difference.

If Jesus is not risen, then Karl Marx is probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems in the material world., and Freud to say it is wish-fulfillment or Nietzsche to say it was for wimps.
But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. Our ultimate future is a new heaven and a new earth. This world we live in will be renewed, transformed and restored. It won’t be abandoned or left to rot.

So we look forward to a resurrection just like Jesus’ where we will be raised to life in an incorruptible and glorified body. What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, decay or violence for God will wipe away every tear and restore all that is good. C.S. Lewis described the future redeemed world to be more substantial, more tangible and more solid than the world as we know it. New Creation: Coming soon to a planet near you…

If that is what Easter resurrection means, shall we not take up some new things that
model (in small ways) the future kingdom of justice, love and hope?

Now, how would that look like?
Surely the surprising reality of Easter Sunday ought to empower us to be witnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection the way it did for the early disciples.

Good to know stuffs about the historical quest for Jesus:

EP Sanders: Any interpretation of Jesus should be able to account for these “almost indisputable facts”:
1.      Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
2.      Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.
3.      Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve.
4.      Jesus confined his activity to Israel.
5.      Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.
6.      Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.
7.      After his death Jesus' followers continued as an identifiable movement.
8.      At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement (Gal. I.13,22; Phil. 3.6), and it appears that this persecution endured at least to a time near the end of Paul's career (II Cor. II.24; Gal. 5.11; 6.12; cf. Matt. 23.34; 10.17).

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