Talking on the resurrection and what happens after death, looking at various views that are held and what does it mean within the grand narrative, God’s judgement and for us today.
Going back 2000 years and see what happens that first Easter Sunday. And what those witnesses of the resurrection of Christ had to say about it.
During the first century, the times of the New Testament writers there were many views as to what happens after we die. Many of these are still held today.
- Death was simply the end, The Dead simply return the dust of the Earth from which they came (ashes to ashes, dust to dust - Genesis 2)
- The ‘righteous dead’ would rise at the close of the age (Mary and Martha)
- Soul separation, under the influence of Greek philosophy that the souls of the righteous went to live with God after the demise of their bodies (Epicureanism)
- Reincarnation. (Christ asked his disciples who do people say that I am)
However none of these familiar frameworks of understanding are involved in the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The gospel writers maintained that the same Jesus who was unmistakably put to death by Roman execution, for which they knew their job e.g. how to kill people, was raised from the dead.
They witnessed that, against all odds, that their friend, Jesus of Nazareth, the same one who was crucified was now physically alive in his own body through the power of God
There was not in a sense that he was vaguely with God and some projection or some kind of ghost or that his soul escaped from his body, (they were not Greeks)
Nor that had he risen in some purely symbolic or metaphorical sense.
Neither were saying it’s about looking forward to all this great day at the end of time when he would rise again with the other righteous dead.
In fact none of the common views they could have used, in order to sound credible applied. What they claimed that this man Jesus whom they knew, whom was put to death and buried was alive again.
To put this into perspective in line with all of the other cultural expectations.
Firstly what was expected for all the righteous dead at the end of time had actually happened in time (now) to this one particular man, this Jesus
This is why Jesus said “I am the resurrection and life” Jesus embodied the resurrection in person.
it was the novelty of the event the gave such energy and enthusiasm that was inferred to the first Christian proclamation, it was this view that was fantastic unique view that perhaps made this stand out.
If they were trading in these old frameworks what would not be particularly interesting or anything different or energetic about it.
However every page in the New Testament starting with the gospels, which lead up to this event, explaining Jesus’ life and restorative work, culminating in the new life found in the resurrection. Following this the rest of the writing then explain and look at the effect of Jesus had on their culture and is a witness to Christ and his resurrection.
These early christian witnesses, the first of whom happen to be women, were not churning up old ideas and trying to relate to an existing idea of after death and Resurrection. There were trying to tell the whole story and stating nothing like this had ever happened before and life would ever be the same again.
So how do we interpret this today. Over the last few centuries some thinkers both inside and outside this church have attempted to reduce the resurrection to a myth or some symbolic representation.
Myth - Some state that Easter was just one more springtime saga - it was a ‘life triumphs after death’ part of an ancient mythology - (many cultures have these in their history)
Symbolism - Others maintain It was more symbolic as in the spirit or cause of Jesus lives on in the life of his followers.
CS lewis talks on this and says that those who think the resurrection story is a myth then people have not read any myths.
Myths tend to deal in Historical archetypes or vague abstract cultural references, they begin with ‘Once upon a time’ or ‘in a galaxy far far away’
However the New Testament writings are not like these stories or great abstractions from the hero stories we love. It's not set in a Galaxy far away but mentions actual locations of actual people involved that have been tested historically with coins and sensors and many books written attest to their existence in history.
They state that Pontus Pilate was governor of Jerusalem which history records these people actually existed and could have disputed it at the time.
Another thing is that No one dies defending a myth, no one would give their life for Zeus, Thor or Emperor Palpatine.
These New Testament witnesses went to their death, standing by the truth of their claim. These are not myths or stories but these are historical events that stood the test of time.
But what does the resurrection mean in our grand narrative?
What is the plan of God for his creation and what is going on with his Son coming to earth.
1. Looking back to the beginning in Genesis, when the Spirit of God hovered over the chaos of the deep. The earth was in chaos without form and void.
There are creation myths that use violence to bring about the order to chaos through power or death. (From Mesopotamia and Egyptian) these mythological stories their tends to be that the strong exercising their power of the weak.
It’s the idea that order only comes when the will of the stronger, using violence as their chief weapon imposes their will upon the weaker.
However in Christian and even Jewish understanding we need to rethink the manner in which we understand order and chaos Or order and violence.
In Christ time it was the Romans that brought about order though violence and punishment, Romans used the brutal public executions such as we saw through the cross.
It was on one of these Roman crosses that Jesus was put to death after being betrayed and abandoned by his friends and without a fair trial, an innocent man was taken in the middle of the night and whipped and scourged and then hung naked to die.
However when Jesus is risen he is not looking for retribution, which is one way these stories are different
When the risen Jesus appeared they were afraid, maybe because a dead man was now living or perhaps maybe just maybe this innocent man was back for vengeance.
In mythology an innocent man comes to visit those who betrayed him abandoned him, he could have taken his revenge on them and then the Roman army.
However after showing his wounds he says Shalom (peace). This teacher who taught turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, who healed the sick and restored humanity is now living out his teaching.
The divine way of turning chaos into order was not through violence, retribution or retaliation, it have to do with a love that triumphs over aggression a love that swallows up all hatred.
This is what the resurrection tells us of what God is like, God is not looking for retribution for the sin of man, he isn't looking to punish people to bring about his kingdom.
2. It means that God has not given up on his creation
He made sun moon stars people animals fish and continually He calls it good or very good.
God brings order into chaos through His word, he speaks and as he speaks we know the word of God accomplishes that which it set out to do.
John wrote that Christ is the word of God in creation speaking things into existence. And that same word was revealed as the Son of God who brings us to a place of trust in him that he only wants good for us. Just like Christ was involved in creation, here he is involved in The new creation and restoration.
Man, according to scripture, messed it up with sin, making a wreck of the creation. So God sent many rescue operations, including Noah, Abraham, the prophets, judges, Moses, the Law and even the Israel as nation to a light to the world.
Then he sent his only son, and we know what Jesus is doing as the image and icon of the creator in the grand scheme of things.
This is why the actual body resurrection matters so much, God is still invested in people. Inspired by this resurrection we know God is not done with us as his creation.
When the end comes he is not looking to destroy the creation but renew and restore it and with the restoration comes the resurrection of his people.
What does it mean for us today?
This is how we know God did not send the covid19 to destroy us or punish us. He is looking to bring about his kingdom by the way of divine peace with a love that swallows up all hate.
Hebrews tells us that the blood of Abel that cried out for vengeance but the blood of Christ cried out forgiveness.
Jesus Christ attested historically lived, preached, healed, and bodily resurrection to prove that God himself was very much still interested in his creation, would provide a pathway to eternity with Him, and that he would someday return for his own, resurrecting those who died, restoring creation and finally and fully bringing the kingdom to the earth.
This plague may be a sign that end is coming but it is not the sign of the end, Christ taught things like this would happen but the end would not come yet, and the gospel of the kingdom must be proclaimed in all the earth, that is THE sign of the end.
“Nations will go to war against each other and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be terrible earthquakes—seismic events of epic proportion, horrible epidemics and famines in place after place. This is how the first contractions and birth pains of the new age will begin!” “You can expect to be persecuted, even killed; for you will be hated by all the nations because of your love for me. Then many will stop following me and fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many lying prophets will arise, deceiving multitudes and leading them away from the path of truth. There will be such an increase of sin and lawlessness that those whose hearts once burned with passion for God and others will grow cold.
But keep your hope to the end and you will experience life and deliverance. “Yet through it all, this joyful assurance of the realm of heaven’s kingdom will be proclaimed all over the world, providing every nation with a demonstration of the reality of God. And after this the end of this age will arrive.”