Now in the context of a deeply divided first century Judaism, Jews in Palestine were quite segregated on how to respond to Greco-Roman culture and Roman rule. And you had many different divisions–Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots–all of whom wanted the Kingdom of God, the rule of God, but had very different notions of how it should come about.
Jesus’ own distinctive proclamation of the rule of God, connected to his own wonder working and to his own inclusion of outcasts, inevitably ran into conflict with the other Jewish leaders. And he finally met his death and was executed by crucifixion, the most painful and shameful form of execution, fit only for slaves, under the Roman authority of Pontius Pilate, around the year 30.
So Jesus’ historical ministry, though provocative and highly fascinating, came to a screeching halt. His followers disbanded. The early Roman observer, Tacitus, remarked that this movement began in Judea, stopped, and then started up again. And it’s that gap–between the failure of Jesus to convert all his fellow Jews and really begin something, and the rise of Christianity–which is the most puzzling feature of this religion.
Christianity is born as a religion because of the resurrection experience.
It is not born because of what Jesus said and did during his lifetime, but because of the experiences and convictions of his followers after his death.
Therefore, understanding the resurrection, and what Christians mean by the resurrection, is critical to grasping Christianity’s claim. This is the part of Christianity that is most offensive to enlightenment reasoning, indeed, to ancient reasoning! That an ordinary human person is not only raised from the dead, but shares God’s life. Yet it is the very thing that makes Christianity a compelling and powerful religious movement.
So we need to understand what it is Christians are claiming by the resurrection.
This is quite enough heaviness to chew on for today–that Christians believe it is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that birthed Christianity, not someone or a group of someones deciding to start a new religion. Tomorrow we will discuss what Christians are claiming by the resurrection.