“…What sort of an event was it? Just how empty was the tomb on Easter morning?…
What should we believe about Jesus’ resurrection, and why?…
The issue is not whether the Bible is true or not. The issue is not whether miracles occur or not. The issue is not whether we believe something called the supernatural or not. The issue is not whether Jesus is alive today and we can get to know him for ourselves. If we treat the question of Easter as a test case in any of those discussions, we are missing the point.”(pg 33-34)
The issue at hand is the resurrection. We need to talk about that. So, Wright tries to clear out the stage, so we can think clearly about what resurrection actually means.
According to Wright, the first century world had mo misconceptions about what resurrection meant. It only referred a person who was once dead coming to full, bodily life again. The world generally laughed at this idea; resurrection didn’t happen. Some Jews believed in resurrection, but only at the last day when God resurrected all the righteous persons.
The early Church sided with the Jewish belief of resurrection (ie that it did happen, someone once dead could come back to life body, soul, and spirit), but because of the resurrection of Jesus, there sere several modifications made to the Jewish thought.
“The first of these modifications is that within early Christianity there is virtually no spectrum of belief about life beyond death” (pg41)
They believed in resurrection, not life beyond the grave. Or, to put it another way, they believed that life in Jesus conquered death, not lived on after death.
“In second-Temple Judaism, resurrection is important, but not that important… But in early Christianity resurrection moved from the circumference to the center” (pg42)
Resurrection was not some fringe benefit for believing God. Rather, it was the hope God offered in Christ, and that the church was holding out to the world.
“… throughout early Christian resurrection belief is the view that the new body, when it is given, will posses a transformed physicality, but not transformed in the one way the central biblical text might have suggested.” (pg44)
The Christian language when speaking of the resurrected bodies lacks the OT language of “shining like stars” (Dan 12). Instead of some luminous being or a glorious form, the church believed that after we are raised from the dead, we will have physical bodies in a physical world. Granted, they are transformed physical bodies, but they are still flesh and blood.
“The fourth surprising mutation evidenced by early Christian resurrection belief is that the resurrection, as an event, has split into two” (pg44)
Jewish thought held to one resurrection at the last day. Suddenly, Jesus rises in the middle of history, not as an end to history. He raises as an individual, no mass resurrection here. And His resurrection “anticipates and guaranties the final resurrection of God’s people at the end of history”.
“Because the early Christians believed that resurrection had begun with Jesus and would be completed in the great final resurrection on the last day, they believed that God had called them to work with with him, in the power of the spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.” (pg 46)
“The sixth remarkable mutation within the Jewish belief is the quite different metaphorical use of resurrection.” (pg46)
Judaism had been using the metaphor of resurrection to talk about the restoration of Israel. In Christianity, that metaphor is replaced with “resurrection referring metaphorically to baptism (a dying and rising with Christ), and resurrection referring to the new life of strenuous ethical obedience, enabled by the Holy Spirit, to which the believer is committed.” (pg47)
“Nobody in Judaism had expected the messiah to die, and therefore naturally nobody had imagined the messiah rising from the dead.” (pg47)
Instead of Messiah being identified by his victory over the pagan nations, the Christians believed Jesus was Messiah because of his resurrection.
Understanding what resurrection means is important if we are going to rightly think about our hope as Christians. It is not about some sort of spiritual life after death, it is about life conquering death. It is not about a victorious life, it is about the victory of God in the resurrection and us getting in on it, working with God to see the kingdom com and His will be done.