The remarkable claim by Christians of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the birthing of Christianity as well as the basis for fundamental convictions concerning Jesus.
- The resurrection, for Christians, revealed what Jesus already was implicitly in his mortal life, namely, God’s unique son. Already by the year 55 or 56, Paul in his letter to the Philippians, writes, Although he was in the form of God, he emptied himself out, and took the form of humans. So when Jesus was among other humans in mortal form, it was a kind of emptying out of the obvious divinity, but it was nevertheless really God among humans. Hence, in light of the resurrection, Christians read back from this experience, the Jesus ministry and, ultimately, all the way back to his birth. And they so hold that he is God incarnate–God in flesh among us.
- The resurrection is the premise for the expectation that Jesus will come again as judge of the living and the dead. God’s triumph has begun with Jesus, but it’s not complete. Jesus will be the future judge of humans because, in fact, he shares God’s life and power now as Lord.
- The resurrection makes Jesus not just a Jewish messiah, indeed, he is a failed Jewish messiah! Clearly, things did not get better for Jews because of Jesus. And in Jewish eyes, Jesus is not only a failed messiah, but he is also possibly a false messiah. For Christians, he is not adequately described as “Christ” or “messiah.” He is, rather, a new Adam, the start of a new humanity. So in some sense, as Paul says in Romans 5:12-21, he is God’s beginning of a new way of being human, not simply for Jews, but for all people.
- Finally, the resurrection is what makes Christianity potentially a worldwide religion, rather than a sect within Judaism. If Jesus had been a successful messiah within Judaism, Christianity would remain a sect within it. But Christianity’s claims are potentially worldwide. Jesus is the start of a new creation, and this is based on the resurrection. It is not a matter, then, of a political or temporary rule over a certain population, but rather the possibility of the transformation of all humans throughout all time. Quite a powerful experience and claim!
And upon this claim, the Christian movement established communities across the Roman empire with unparalleled rapidity. And the conditions of its expansion meant that it was diverse from the get go.
Within a span of just 25 years, Christians established communities from Jerusalem all the way to Rome. The rapidity of this expansion, which was unsupported by any political or economic means of significance, testifies to the power of religious experience. It also testifies possibly to the unpopularity of Christianity among Jews, as it was moved from place to place not because everybody liked it, but because many people disliked it.
The rapidity of its expansion is also impressive due to its accompanying persecution. And because it did not have real controls in place, either textual or organizational. It really seemed to simply move almost spontaneously.
More on the expansion Monday. Enjoy your weekend!