Was ‘resurrection’ a major theme of the gospels, and a major expectation of the disciples? N.T. Wright argues “no”. The pharisees believed in the resurrection, as did those who followed Jesus, but the basic understanding was at the end of history there would be a new creation launched with resurrection.
The point is that Jesus rising from the dead was truly shocking and defining for his followers, not an expected next step which they felt compelled to claim regardless of whether it actually happened or not.
for the disciples :
- surprising – resurrection happens after the Messiah completes history, not in the middle of history, right? Apparently not!!
- significant – resurrection now defines what Jesus was trying to teach. The curse of sin has been paid in full and the new creation has begun. Jesus is the awaited blessing and is now the Lord around whom life is to be ordered.
- sensible – resurrection now shows up in promises from Genesis to Jesus and we wonder why it wasn’t obvious before. The hints and promises were there all along.
A “black swan” was an English idiom of improbability, like, “when pigs fly”. Swans were all white, not black; plain and simple. But then a naturalist, John Latham, brought word from Australia: “Actually….”
This overturned idiom then became the title for a book by Nassim Taleb describing phenomena like the rise of the computer, September 11 attacks, etc. Each one is surprising, significant, and in the rear-view mirror, sensible (should have seen it coming). The concept, then, of shocking deviation from expectation, is part of life in a world of limited knowledge and understanding. Jesus’ resurrection fits that criteria.
When Paul preaches to the eclectic pagan crowd at the Areopagus he merges with them for a common starting point and then begins to make a distinction of worshipping the creator vs. the creation. His pivotal point is that the diversity of religious views and practices have been decisively clarified by a black swan event: the ruling judge of right and wrong is now known due to his resurrection from the dead.
Today when we preach, the options are varied as well. There are various religions which are focused and claim that their internal perspective lines up with external reality over and against other beliefs. Muslims tend to think they are right and others are wrong. They do not see themselves as speaking through their experience, or blindly describing an elephant leg. They claim that Mohammed has seen the whole elephant and his description is the only accurate one.
Various other religions likewise claim to actually be true. This thinking is in contrast to the seemingly generous (though actually patronizing) view that all religions are ‘true’ in their own way. In other words, they are voicing narrow views which are wrong but not worth sorting out. There is some sort of ultimate ‘divine’ and all human expressions fall short and are therefore mere variations on a theme and optional at best.
A major counter voice these days is that transcendence is fundamentally wrong headed and bad. The material reality is the only reality, and efforts experiencing and interpreting meaning and transcendence are delusional and unhelpful. Aggressively atheists assert their confidence in the absurdity of all religions, but particularly on religions like Christianity which make firm claims on interpreting reality.
Just like the audience for Paul, we sometimes are able to begin a conversation but run into a definitive fork in the road. Did Jesus actually rise from the dead, and if so, does it affect everyone everywhere? And since I hold to “yes HE did and yes IT does, the next question is: in what way does it affect everyone?
This is where it gets most interesting for me, right now. First there is the clear idea of getting blessing over curse; forgiveness over judgment; adoption over alienation. By grace through faith there is shalom with God as Abba father. And why? So that the original mandate of being His regents to creation can be fulfilled. The ‘so what’ celebrates the changing of the colors, from rebel to royalist, but it celebrates the putting on of the new identity more than the putting off of the old.
I knew a gang thug from Chicago. A guy looked at a girl he and his friends were with. They beat the guy to the ground, and then put his heels on the sidewalk. My thug acquaintance then jumped onto the guy’s legs. Arrests followed and the judge offered a way out. Go to jail for your crimes, or enlist in the USMC and start a new life with a new code. Charlie Brown (what we called him) was glad to have left the consequences of his old tribe and he should be. However, the goal of his induction was not to be happy to be out of jail. It wasn’t as much about what he was not, as it was about who he now was to be. Charlie Brown needed to man up and live out the grace offered to him and be a U.S. Marine with integrity. No, he would not be perfect, but there would be expectations about discipline, courage, integrity etc. which were not a burden, they were a privilege.
The resurrection of Jesus, as Lord over the new and blessed creation, is an exciting opportunity to leave the thuggery of a creation vs creation world and to step humbly into a new order; one of sacrificial love, of blessing not thwarted by those who mock and curse. Though the white swan reality of dog eat dog pervades so much of what I see, hear and experience (even feel), through the resurrection of Christ I have a conviction of something other; something good, something powerful and right. The resurrection is shocking, significant and sensible; it is our blessed hope.