Yesterday we saw that Christianity was birthed out of the resurrection experience of Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, understanding it, and what Christians mean by it, is critical to understanding Christianity’s claim, to understanding Christianity. Now we will look at what it is Christians are claiming by the resurrection.
- The claim is not that Jesus didn’t really die, but went to be with God. That, in fact, is the Quran’s explanation of Jesus’ sharing in heaven with Allah.
- Nor do Christians claim that Jesus was resuscitated and continued his mortal existence. There’s many stories, ancient and modern, about resuscitations–people who experienced clinical death and then recover and go back to their ordinary existence. But resuscitation merely means that mortality has not been transcended, but simply deferred. People who are resuscitated eventually do die (again). They continue to be mortal.
- What Christians claim of Jesus is that he transcended mortality by entering into a share of God’s life and power. So it’s not that he simply went back to work on Easter Sunday, but rather that he entered into a full participation of God’s life. So this is exaltation, or enthronement. Psalm 110:1, The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet”, became the way Christians understood the resurrection. (Remember this verse as quoted in Hebrews that we looked at a couple months back?) It is not resuscitation, it is exaltation. It is an enthronement to share God’s life.
- So the essential and earliest designation of Christians, Jesus is Lord (as in 1 Cor.12:3), is not saying that Jesus is a powerful human person. It is saying that Jesus shares the life of God. We know this because the word “Lord”– in Greek “Kyrios”–is the word that is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Septuagint) for the distinctive name of Israel’s God, YHWH, or if you’d like to buy a couple of vowels, Yahweh. This personal name of God, Kyrios, is now applied to Jesus. So when the earliest Christians said, “Jesus is Lord,” they were in effect saying, “Jesus is God.” He has been exalted to the status of God and has become, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:45, life-giving spirit. Only God can give life. So what Paul is saying is that Jesus did not only regain his life, he became the source of life for others through this energy–the radiation of this energy field which Christians call the Holy Spirit.
Do you see how huge this is?
In this sense, it is not just a mere historical event. Christians would refer to the resurrection as an eschatological* event, that is, an ending of one kind of history, and the beginning of another. The closest comparison Paul can find to this event is creation itself. So he refers to the fact that if anybody is in Christ, he is a new creation.
And so Jesus’ resurrection is seen as the possibility of transforming all humans through a new power of life. It’s a remarkable claim, a powerful claim, and a paradoxical claim. But it is the claim that is the basis for other fundamental convictions concerning Jesus.
It is to those we shall look tomorrow.
*The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as “The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell’.” In the context of mysticism, the phrase refers metaphorically to the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine.