It changes everything…

Seven years ago a film was released about Jesus called The Miracle Maker. After seeing Jesus’ baptism, miracles, and parables, we’re taken to Gethsemane, Calvary and then the tomb. Once the tomb is shut, we see Mary Magdalene sitting on the floor, weeping inconsolably. As the camera pans away from her tear‑stained face, behind her is a man with his hand on her shoulder. Only his white robes and his sandals are visible, his face is yet to be revealed.

I’m sure you know who that man is. But when my wife watched that film in the cinema, there was at least one little girl who apparently did not know what was about to happen. As she watched the camera pull away from Mary, the man behind was revealed. The little girl could contain her excitement no longer: ‘Mum’, she shouted out for all the cinema to hear, ‘It’s him! He’s alive!’ That little girl discovered for the first time something that most of us have long forgotten. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is astonishing, and it changes everything.

The necessity of the resurrection

Imagine a good book where just a few pages from the start a terrible enemy is introduced with devastating consequences. As you continue to read, the enemy is always there in the background; indeed he permeates the entire book. The drama lies not in the inevitable defeat of the enemy, but in the fact that you’ve not the slightest clue how victory is to be achieved. That’s exactly what happens in the Bible. In the early chapters a terrible enemy is introduced. One writer describes it as:

…the greatest of humankind’s enemies, a relentless Grim Reaper that shows not respect for age or wealth. It robs parents of a precious child, leaving them to mourn their loss for the rest of their lives. It deprives wives and children of their breadwinner and protector, leaving them vulnerable in a hostile world. It takes away the ageing spouse, leaving a grey-haired senior citizen without a lifelong companion and closest friend. Sometimes it arrives suddenly and unannounced; at other times it approaches slowly, as if stalking to taunt its helpless victim. Sometimes it hauls away its victims en masse; on other occasions it targets individuals. It uses a variety of methods and weapons, but only rarely does it capture its prey without inflicting pain and terror. Power, beauty and wealth can usually overcome any obstacle, but against this enemy, they meet their match.1

The enemy of course, is death.

In Genesis 1 (before the first sin), almost every paragraph ends with these words: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ What difference does Adam’s sin make? Genesis 5:5 tells us: ‘And then he died’. Verse 8: ‘And then he died’. Verse 11: ‘And then he died’. Verse 14, verse 17, verse 20, verse 27, verse 31, ‘And then he died’, ‘And then he died’.

That should kick us in the stomach! Surely it is not possible for the Bible story to end satisfactorily unless this great enemy is to be defeated? If God cannot defeat death, then He is not God at all. This is how one theologian puts it:

It was this intruder, death itself, that had to be defeated. To allow death to have its way —to sign up, as it were, to some kind of compromise agreement whereby death took human bodies, but the creator was allowed to keep human souls—was no solution.2

The scandal of the resurrection

For the Jews, the resurrection of Jesus was a scandal of immense proportions. They could not believe that their Messiah could die. The Greeks and Romans had the opposite problem. They could not believe that a Son of God would want to be resurrected—many of them thought that men’s hope lay in escaping their bodies through death and becoming a spiritual being like the gods. The Christian message of God becoming a man and having an everlasting resurrection body made no sense at all.

The idea of a resurrection was so shocking that it was impossible to ignore those who believed it. You either condemned them as madmen or heretics, or you joined them wholeheartedly. But if today you say you believe in the resurrection, few will call you a madman or a heretic.

Yet it is a scandal today to say that the resurrection actually matters. It is a scandal to claim that men and women should change the way they live because 2,000 years ago someone was raised from the dead. And it is certainly a scandal to say that the only hope of resurrection for men is found in the resurrection of Christ.


  1. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Leicester: Inter-varsity Press, 1998), ed. by Leyland Ryken et. al., pg 198.
  2. The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), N T Wright, pp 727–8.

I’ll be posting more thoughts on the resurrection in the next few days

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Articles in this series:

  1. It changes everything… <-- This article
  2. It changes everything… (part 2)

Comments

  1. Why did many Jews believe Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the grave, or Jeremiah or Elijah?

    And why did many converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoff at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse, although apparently accepting that God had created Adam from dead matter?

    And why does Paul praise these Jesus-worshippers as people ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift’, and that they have been given the grace of God?

    And why does he tell them that Jesus became a life-giving spirit, implying that Christians will all become life-giving spirits when they are resurrected?

  2. Steven, thanks for your comments. I’ve briefly read your post on the subject, and some of the comments. I don’t want this to turn into a drawn out debate, so let me answer quickly.

    (1) Many Jews believed lots of things. Sometimes they were right. Sometimes they were wrong. The bottom line is that the Jews could not explain the things Jesus was doing and some (unlike you, Scripture doesn’t say “many”) found it easier to believe in a resurrected prophet than an incarnate Messiah.

    (2) The Corinthian church likewise had many strange ideas. Paul has to correct them on many fronts. Only “some” (not many, as you suggest) say there is no resurrection from the dead. The rest, probably the majority, did believe that. Paul doesn’t tell us why some did not. It seems possible that some believed in the imminent return of Christ, and therefore thought that those who died before he returned had missed out. I could be wrong. But I’m not sure where you’re heading with your question.

    (3) Paul praises them because they’re Christians filled with the Spirit.

    (4) You’ll know there is some debate about the meaning of πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν. I take the view of Richard Gaffin and many commentators that the correct translation is “life-giving Spirit”. (See Richard B Gaffin, “Life-Giving Spirit”: Probing The Center Of Paul’s Pneumatology, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 41, 1998). That certainly does not imply that all Christian will become life-giving Spirits.

    I trust that is helpful.

  3. Paul writes ‘the first man Adam became a created being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’

    The typology is very clear. After all, Paul is explaining to the Jesus-worshippers in Corinth that they will have a resurrection like that of Jesus. That is the whole point of the chapter – what happened to Jesus would happen to other Christians. Hence Paul uses ‘Adam’ to explain about the life-giving spirits.

    The other Corinthians were taking part in baptism for the dead, implying that they thought the dead lived on. Presumably they did not believe that the dead had already been resurrected.

    The Corinthians Paul was addressing presumably did not believe the dead had any reward, as they refused to take part in baptism for the dead. They presumably thought that as they only had a body, and the body died, that would be that.

    Paul explains to them that a resurrected being is not made of the dust that corpses dissolve into, which is why they were foolish to worry about corpses rising. That was irrelevant to a resurrection, which is why Paul never has to explain how corpses could be reconstitued from ash or dust.

    Paul writes ‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust, the second man us from heaven.’ Dust does not make a resurrected being.

    Your article explains that people who denied bodily resurrection thought of Christianity as lunacy or hersey. Why then did those Corinthians convert to Jesus-worship? Were they inspired by Jesus saying ‘I am the resurrection’?

  4. Paul’s point throughout 1 Corinthians 15 is that there is both continuity and discontinuity with our physical and our resurrection bodies. An acorn is very different from an oak tree, and yet at many levels they are just the same. That’s Paul’s point.

    Why did the Corinthians convert to Christianity. Paul tells us.

    And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

    The Corinthians weren’t attracted to Christianity just because Christian theology made sense. The Spirit powerfully worked in their lives and they were convinced by apostolic testimony, and the presentation of Christ.

  5. So the Spirit worked powerfully in the lives of people convinced by apostolic testimony, and they still scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse?

    Paul tells the Corinthians that the body they have now is just a seed which DIES. It is dead he is telling them. No wonder he regarded them as foolish for think that the body of Jesus was still alive. It was dead.

    It was a ‘naked’ seed. It had no material of its own to contribute to the resurrected body. God GIVES it a body. It does not have one already. The seed is just to say what kind of body God has to create. If you plant wheat seeds, God will create wheat. If you plant corpses, God will create resurrected beings. The seed is just a marker.

    There is certainly continuity in that sense. If you plant wheat, you will not get resurrected beings (life-giving spirits)

    But Paul is clear. The Corinthians are foolish for wondering what sort of a body a corpse will have when it comes back. You do not plant the body that will be. You plant something which dies. The body is dead. It has ceased to be. It is extinct. Why worry about how it comes back?

    A heavenly being is made out of different materials to an earthly being. A fish is made out of totally different material to the Moon.

    So it is with the resurrection of the dead. The dead are sown in a natural body. The dead are raised in a heavenly body.

    And these earthly and heavenly things are as different as a fish and the Moon.

  6. Just out of curiosity, has anybody read the Gospel stories and described the body of Jesus going into the ground as a ‘seed’, without making it clear he was trying to harmonise the Gospels and Paul?

  7. Steven, you are trying to create a division between Paul and most Christians, but you have only succeeded in creating a division between Paul and yourself. You said, “these earthly and heavenly things are as different as a fish and the Moon”. To use Paul’s own illustration, “these earthly and heavenly things are as different as an acorn and an oak tree”.