Thursday, 24 August 2006

Theology for beginners (7): Resurrection

Summary: The dead Jesus was raised into the life of God’s future, and in this way Jesus has become the goal of all history.

Three days after his burial, the dead Jesus appeared to his followers as the Risen One. Though this man had been put to death, he and his message were powerfully vindicated by Israel’s God. Through the power of God’s Spirit, this dead man was raised from the tomb into new life.

Jesus was not merely resuscitated. He did not simply come back to life. Nor did he enter into a disembodied afterlife, or “go to heaven.” Rather, God took this dead man through death into new life, into the life of God’s future. Precisely as a dead man, he lived! Precisely as the Crucified One, he became the Risen One! The power of God’s future entered into death and transformed death from within.

Jesus had proclaimed the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom. He had proclaimed that God’s own future was dawning. He had proclaimed that history was about to reach its climax. All this came true – although not necessarily in the way that Jesus himself had expected! For Jesus died without having seen the kingdom of God – but then God himself came crashing into history from the future, thrusting the dead Jesus forward into the life of the future, into the life of God. And so history’s appointed goal did arrive! The end of history came crashing forward into the present like a missile from the future. Through his powerful Spirit, God raised Jesus from the dead: that was the arrival of the end – ahead of time!

Thus this dead man, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared to his disciples as the world’s true Lord, as the Risen One whom God had affirmed and vindicated even in death. And thus the earliest Christians proclaimed that the Crucified One was Lord – “Jesus is Lord!”

Jesus had been raised into the life of God’s future. The future is the “place” where the risen Jesus now lives. And this means that he is himself the end of history, the final goal towards which everything is heading. In exactly this sense, he is called “Lord” – he is the kingly Lord who lives and reigns from the future of God’s kingdom.

When the early Christians remembered Jesus, their memory of him was wholly shaped by the overwhelming reality of his resurrected life. When they looked back on the course of his earthly life, they saw retrospectively that he had always been the Lord, he had always been destined for death and resurrection, he had always stood in a unique relationship to the God of the future. Thus they understood that Jesus was the “Son of God” – the one who perfectly expressed the Father’s will, the one who had been with his Father from the beginning. Because Jesus had been raised into the life of the future, he must always have been the meaning and purpose and goal of all that exists.

A story makes sense only because it has an end; it is the end of the story that gives meaning to everything else in the narrative. In the same way, the whole story of Jesus has meaning only because Jesus was raised from the dead. The gospel-story narrates the meaning of all reality only because this story ends with the resurrection.

And it is for just this reason that the gospel is also a story about God. For God is the one who lives from the future. God is the context of all reality – he is the context which gives meaning to everything else. The gospel tells the defining story about God, since it narrates the final end of history. The end of history arrives beforehand in the resurrection of Jesus. And the name of this “end” is – God! To tell the story of Jesus is, in other words, to define God by narrating God. Or to put it more sharply, God himself is the event that happens when the dead Jesus is raised into the life of the future.

Further, since the gospel is the story about God, it’s also a story about ourselves. God is our goal – as the end of history, he is the goal of all our personal narratives. So to tell the story of God is, by definition, to narrate the reality of our own existence. When we speak of the resurrection of Jesus, we are also speaking about the goal of our own lives; we are speaking about that final end which will put everything else in its proper context; we are speaking about God as the meaning of reality, and therefore as the meaning of ourselves.

Throughout the rest of this series, then, we’ll be exploring these two dimensions of the gospel: in the story of Jesus, God defines himself, and in the same story God also defines us.

Further reading

  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics IV/1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), pp. 299-357.
  • Dunn, James D. G. Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 825-79.
  • Ebeling, Gerhard. The Nature of Faith (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), pp. 58-71.
  • Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 179-206.
  • Marxsen, Willi. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (London: SCM, 1970).
  • Moltmann, Jürgen. The Way of Jesus Christ (London: SCM, 1990), pp. 213-73.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), pp. 53-114.
  • Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), pp. 587-738.

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