If I’m ever abducted by a disgruntled militia group, who force me to pen their revolutionary manifesto to the world…well, at least then I might get some readers. But I’d also hope that, assuming I haven’t screwed too many people over, my friends might crowdfund a ransom payment for me. I expect they’d attempt to contact the hostage takers and demand proof of life. I mean, there’s no reason to waste $253 if I’m already dead.
Resurrection as Proof
Christians have often faced the proof-of-life question around Jesus. Many sneeringly insist we substantiate our central confession of his bodily resurrection from the dead. Well, it’s not easy. The women who visited the tomb on that fateful first day of the week had clearly left their iPhones at home (I get it…sometimes you just don’t want to be contactable). Otherwise, they might have snapped a few helpful images. And Jesus himself has lived off the grid for a while now and, like most of us, hasn’t maintained his MySpace page. I just checked.
No, since the beginning we’ve trusted the testimony of the 1st-century eyewitnesses to the events. Yet they seemed less concerned with proving their claims than with how Jesus’ resurrection proved something they had long hoped for.
A great many 1st-century Jews expected the present age to end when YHWH finally instituted the Kingdom, rescuing God’s good world from evil and corruption. This would include the resurrection of the righteous dead to participate in that Kingdom.
Jesus’ followers shared this expectation. However, they didn’t expect one man to return from the grave in the middle of the present age. (The resurrection accounts capture the confusion of these witnesses trying to wrap their minds around something almost incomprehensible.) They soon saw Jesus’ resurrection as proof of the coming resurrection for all, proof that God was at last establishing the Kingdom and restoring the world. Here’s how Paul put it:
In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being.
I Corinthians 15:20-21
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
Clearing the Slate?
Unfortunately, many of us assume that this world is not worth saving (thanks largely to our evolution of Reformation-era theology, which has left us eschatologically bankrupt). We imagine God’s hands resting heavily on the detonator to the billion or so tonnes of TNT he’s secretly stored in the earth’s core, waiting for the chosen moment to demolish this shitshow, before going back to square one with a shiny new world.
Jesus’ resurrection cries out against such an assumption. The first apostles, who journeyed to the tomb to prepare and anoint Jesus’ body, found that there was no body. They’d carried all those spices for nothing. Later, the Master appeared, not as Jesus the Friendly Ghost, but as a physical human being. He could be touched. He walked. He ate. He drank. At one point, he even cooked, surely frying the tilapia for two minutes a side on a hot pan – because Jesus would know that that’s the right way to cook tilapia, especially if you want the skin crispy.
But at the same time, he was a strange kind of physical. He could avoid recognition if he chose. He could inhabit both the visible and the unseen realm interchangeably. Locked doors didn’t pose a problem for him.
What I’m saying is that God didn’t fashion a brand new magic phantom body for Jesus, destroying the old one or letting it rot away. No, Jesus’ body was transformed from corruptible to incorruptible, a curious mix of old and new. God affirmed all that was good in Jesus, not by erasing him and starting fresh, but by raising him to a new kind of life.
The scriptures assert that God intends to do the same with the earth – not to obliterate it, but to resurrect it, preserving everything beautiful and noble within it and liberating it from slavery to corruption. That’s what Jesus’ own resurrection points toward: the realisation of God’s Kingdom and proof of life for the world. It has now become our mission (as those who have died and been raised with Jesus) to bring that resurrection life to the world and its people, in whatever ways we can.
If we don’t believe that, then maybe we need to reflect again on Jesus’ resurrection and all that it means.
The Kingdom of God is the key focus of scripture and the message of Jesus. That’s why I’ll be writing exclusively about the Kingdom for the next year. You can view all of the the pieces in the series on this page.
1. Feature Image: Jesus’ tomb? (found at IgnatianSpirituality.com: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/25817/what-happened-in-the-tomb)
2. Wylie Coyote and his dynamite trigger (from TV Tropes.org: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PlungerDetonator)