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Lecture 301.05-7

Lecture 7 Cross and Resurrection / The Holy Spirit

Theologically speaking, the most unique thing about Jesus is not his birth, his life, or his death. We can find parallels - both mythic and actual - to each of these occurances. What is unique about Jesus for Christians is his resurrection.

First and foremest, we must remember that the resurrection is not something that we see. There is no account of the event of the resurrection in the Gospels - no "view from the cave" as Christ is transfigured into the resurrection body. Instead, what we have in the Gospels is an accounting of the effects of resurrection.

There are some claims that have been made about the resurrection which Christian theology refuses to agree to. Two examplse are:

  • Jesus simply "swooned" on the cross - This claim holds that the trauma of the beatings and loss of blood that Jesus suffered caused him to pass out or go into a sort of coma on the cross. Then, when he was taken away and laid in the cool tomb, he revived and by the third day was able to walk and talk again. You will find groups claiming this position through the ages - from Rabbis writing in the Talmud in the fifth century to our times with the Jesus Seminar making it a main point of their books.

    In contrast to the swoon theory, "orthodox" Christianity has maintained that Jesus actually and absolutely died on the cross. To use the words of one of my theology professors from seminary, "Jesus was dead, dead, dead."

  • When Jesus died, he stayed dead - This is the opposite pole to the claim above, but it comes from a similar mindset. Both are attempting to provide rigidly "natural" explanations of the Gospel accounts, leaving out any trace of the divine or miraculous. So this view claims that, yes, Jesus died - and he stayed that way. It attributes the resurrection accounts to a variety of causes, including a vast conspiracy on the part of the disciples to lie and fabricate the resurrection, or the notion that the disciples were all having mass hallucinations of Jesus risen from the grave.

    In contrast to the notion that Jesus stayed dead, "orthodox" Christianity has maintained that Jesus died - but did not stay dead. The claim that Jesus lives again in the resurrection is, according to Paul, the cornerstone of our faith - the one thing we absolutely must believe.

    The Resurrection

    To think about the cross theologically, we must look beyond it, and realize that the death of Christ is (to the Christian tradition) absolutely and intricately connected with his resurrection.

    The first thing to establish is the matter if the resurrection is what it isn't: the resurrection is not a resuscitation. When a doctor revives a patient who is clinically dead on an operating table, that is not a resurrection. Similarly, the moments where Jesus or one of the prophets brings a person back to life are technically not resurrections, either. In each case, these are resuscitations. Why do we say this?

    First of all, because (for both Jesus and certain of the Jews living at Jesus' time) the matter of the resurrection - and how it was to occur - was pretty plainly understood. At no point do Jesus or the Pharisees (the main group of Jews who believed in the resurrection) think that the resurrection is something that will occur to an individual. The resurrection will be a one-time, general event, occuring at the same moment to all who are to be resurrected.

    Second, the resurrection will involve a transformation of the bodies that are raised. They will have a connection to the body that died, but there will be distinct differences. Chief among these will be that the bodies raised in the resurrection will not die. Since everyone who has come back to life so far (save one, Jesus, of whom we'll speak in a moment) - whether in the Bible or on an operating table - has died again, this fact alone would indicate that resurrection (as Jesus understood it) has not yet happened.

    Now, there is the matter that Jesus himself was resurrected, which seems to run counter to the claim made above. In fact, the matter of Jesus resurrection becomes a minor theological crisis for the early Christian tradition. So much so that Paul himself feels compelled to make an accounting of it. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul uses the individual resurrection of Jesus as a guarantee of the general resurrection - the "first fruits from among the dead".

    The sovereign power of God is the power that even ends death. As Guthrie puts it (p. 278), in resurrection, Christ is Lord. Whose kingdom is it but Christ's, who defeats even the bondage death holds over us?

    The Kingdom as "Already / Not Yet"

    Christ's resurrection, theologically speaking, inaugerates a change in the cosmos. We are living, therefore, in an "in-between time" - between the bondage of sin (which we still see around us as a reality) and the hope of the Kingdom of God (which we know through faith in the assurance of Christ's death and resurrection). As-such, we can see moments in the Gospels when the Kingdom "breaks in" and transforms situations before our very eyes. To take but two examples:

  • Matthew 8:14-15 [NRSV] - When Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.

  • Matthew 9:2-7 [NRSV] - And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." Then some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But so that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he then said to the paralytic - "Stand up, take your bed and go to your home." and he stood up and went to his home.

    In both these passages (and others like them throughout the Gospels), the Greek word which is translated here as "stand up" (anastasia), is the same word used for "resurrection".

    So, while theologically we hold fast to the idea that there is one physical resurrection, of which Jesus is the first fruits, we can also find evidence in the text that these first fruits are at work in the world, transforming and resurrecting our social relationships and drawing the lost back into community.

    In Christ's resurrection, the battle is won, but the war is not over. This is where Christian choice and responsibility finds its proper expression.

    The Holy Spirit

    Like the father and the Son within the Triune name of God, the Holy Spirit is a person - unique and distinct from the other two, while still remaining in unity. Very often, however, this is forgotten or overlooked. The Holy Spirit is not merely an abstract power in Christ or sent by the Father. It is with Christ, but distinct from Christ.

    We must recognize that the Holy Spirit, in the theological sense, is one of many spirits which vie for our concern and attention. Part of our task as those growing in theological understanding is to begin to discern the differences between the Spirit of the Lord and the spirits of this world. What are some of the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit?

  • Community - The Holy Spirit is not givien to me as an individual - it is, rather, that power which gathers and shapes the community of believers to which I belong as a Christian. We see evidence for this in the Pentecost, where the Church is first truly gathered and empowered with the Spirit.

  • New Life - similar to what we see in the work of Christ when he calls people to "stand up" (anastasis), we find the Holy Spirit at work transforming limiting or oppressive social relationships and restoring true community. The work of the Spirit is to take the dead of this world and make them alive again. This was the work the Spirit performed in Christ's resurrection, and it is the work we see evidenced in the "already / not-yet" Kingdom of God.

    What does this Kingdom look like? Is it a gated community? Like a suburban neighborhood, or a prison? No. The mark of the Kingdom in the Spirit is hospitality - the hospitality that prompted the Samaritan to stop and help the bleeding man, the hospitality that prompted medieval Christians to take care of those (believers and non-believers alike) who were sick, the hospitality of Jesus in the general resurrection of the dead to new life.

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    This page is referenced by the following pages:
    Theology 301 FALL 2005