The Resurrection of Jesus

What's so important about the resurrection of Jesus? It has been called the central truth of the Christian faith. If the resurrection didn't happen - if Jesus was not raised from the dead - then Christianity is built on a lie and we may as well forget about it. It is nonsense, and we should all just eat, drink and be merry, for "tomorrow we die." But if the resurrection did happen, then our world is turned completely upside down and the implications for our life are enormous.

The most important implication of the resurrection is that Jesus is unique in history, and therefore we should make the effort to find out who he is and what he taught. As Alister McGrath writes:

The fact that there are no other persons who have been raised from the dead may well make it more difficult to accept that Jesus was raised - but it also underscores Jesus' uniqueness. He, and he alone, was singled out in this way. He was not merely special - he was unique. What is it that distinguishes Jesus from Socrates, Mohammed or Gandhi? None but Jesus was raised from the dead by God - and it is this which leads us to take Jesus' teaching with the seriousness it deserves. After all, if you suspect that you are dealing with the Son of God, you will take his teaching more seriously than you might otherwise! For the New Testament, Jesus' resurrection clinches his identity - it proves that he was the Son of God (Explaining Your Faith, pp. 84-85).

But it's hard to believe in the resurrection. Many people have raised questions about the possibility - the rationality and factuality - of such an event. In an article on the resurrection, McGrath addresses one common objection:

Modern critics of the resurrection argue, it was easy for the first Christians to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. After all, belief in resurrections was a commonplace at the time. The first Christians may have jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead, when something rather different actually happened. Although the crude charges of yesteryear (for example, that the disciples stole the corpse of Jesus from its tomb, or that they were the victims of mass hysteria) are still occasionally encountered, they have generally been superceded by more subtle theories. Thus, to note the most important, the resurrection was really a symbolic event, which the first Christians confused with an historical event on account of their uncritical presuppositions.

In response to this, however, it may be pointed out that neither of the two general beliefs of the time bear any resemblance to the resurrection of Jesus. The Sadducees denied the idea of a resur­rection altogether (a fact which Paul was able to exploit at an awkward moment: Acts 23:6-8) while the majority expectation was of a general resurrection on the last day, at the end of history itself. The sheer oddness of the Christian proclamation of the resurrec­tion of Jesus in human history, at a definite time and place, is all too easily overlooked by modern critics, even though it was obvious at the time. The unthinkable appeared to have happened, and for that very reason demanded careful attention. Far from merely fitting into the popular expectation of the pattern of resurrection, what happened to Jesus actually contradicted it. The sheer novelty of the Christian position at the time has been obscured by two thousand years' experience of the Christian understanding of the resurrection - yet at the time it was wild: unorthodox and radical.

There are many other arguments presented in support of the resurrection of Jesus. For one approach, check out what Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have to say (here).

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