More important than proving the resurrection of Jesus, is what his resurrection proves

Posted: April 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

Acts 17:30-31

If your worldview includes a personal, sovereign Creator who guides the destiny of human history, and constantly sustains every living creature, then believing in resurrection is a no-brainer.

This is the worldview presented by Paul to the Greek philosophers in Athens. He challenged their materialistic view of the universe, and their notion of fate in which God, if real, was nothing much more than an impersonal principle. Similar in many ways to modern naturalism, the Epicureans and Stoics lived in a universe that consisted of space occupied by matter, and guided either by reason (Stoics) or randomness (Epicureans). Both believed that meaning in life can be found in living for the now, as there is no guarantee of anything beyond the grave. To them the concept of resurrection was not only illogical, but completely foreign – to the extent that they thought Paul was speaking of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Anastasis’ as another couple of gods to be added to the Athenian pantheon.

Paul knows that the resurrection of Jesus and its sequel, the general resurrection, is something alien to their worldview. So, rather that trying to prove to them that Jesus rose from the dead, he explains to them how Jesus’ resurrection fits into the reality of God and his world – a reality about which, in their ‘wisdom,’ they were ignorant.

This God has created the world, and has done so with a goal in mind, and so He has been working to guide people and nations, with the aim of bring them into relationship with Himself. He calls all people to repent in light of the coming judgement, and this call is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In this worldview, the appointment of Jesus as judge – the one who will bring the consummation of all human history – is confirmed (assured, proven) by his resurrection. In a sense Paul has communicated to these pagan Greeks the same message as Peter did to the Jews at Pentecost, only in ‘Jewish-jargon free language’.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…

…Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Acts 2:32-33, 36

In the Jewish worldview (apart from the Sadducees’ annihilationsim), the resurrection was the Great Hope. The new Heavens and Earth promised through Isaiah (65:17, 66:22) would mean the restoration of the people, in the land, with Yahweh dwelling in their midst – the realisation of the Abrahamic promise. For them it was not so much a matter of can resurrection happen as when it will happen. The Gospel message was that the risen Jesus was the firstfruits of this general resurrection, which would inaugurate the new creation.

This is why when preaching to the Jews, the Apostles spoke of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, because the issue at stake was whether Jesus truly was the Messiah – the resurrection established his identity as the ‘Son of God’ – the King of the Jews.

For the Greeks however, the concept of Messiah was alien and meaningless. While the Jews demand a sign – ie. miracles that verify a person is from God, the Greeks look for wisdom – ie. something that makes logical sense. (1 Corinthians 1:22). And so Paul shows them a worldview of which they are totally ignorant – a worldview in which resurrection makes sense – and calls them not to believe in the individual event of the resurrection, but in the totality of the worldview.

The Jews on the day of Pentecost were to repent of their rejection of the risen Jesus as their Messiah; the Greeks were to repent of their ignorant worldview that shut out the possibility of a risen saviour. For the Jews, a crucified and risen Jesus was a stumbling block; they were called to see Him as the power of God. For the Greeks, a crucified and risen Jesus was foolishness; they were called to see Him as the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24) In both cases, the Resurrection is proclaimed, not proven.

What does this mean for us as we seek to tell a materialistic, naturalistic generation that Jesus is risen from the dead?

Modern evidentialist apologetics will seek to use the wisdom of the world to prove the resurrection with historical and legal argument, which says that if we can be convinced that if Jesus rose, then we are bound by logic to then accept everything else that the Bible says about Jesus. In the end, such an approach exalts human wisdom, such that anyone who is convinced by the evidence can take pride in the fact that they were smart enough to consider the evidence and come to a right conclusion.

We should, however, take a leaf out of Paul’s book. We need to understand enough about people’s worldview to both respect and criticise it; and we need to know enough about our own worldview to be able to proclaim and articulate it. We need to know why it is that Jesus’ resurrection marks the turning point of both the Biblical story and of the flow of human history, and why it is that our faith stands or falls on the words, ‘He is Risen.’ We need to be bold enough to call people to repent of their naturalistic ignorance, and to embrace the reality of a God who has been seeking and drawing people to Himself through His Son.

We need to accept that the world, by its wisdom, will never know God, but that they will be saved through the foolish message of the cross.

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