Why the resurrection is so important
Yesterday, I mentioned that Jesus being the Christ and Jesus rising from the dead are essential aspects of Christianity, without which, you'd just have a different religion or no religion at all. Now I want to say why I think that.
Well, I guess I already said why I think "Christ" is essential. Christ is what Christianity is all about. But I also said it means something specific in a Jewish context. Now don't get me wrong. Jewish views about the Christ were quite diverse in and around the time of Jesus. Not all Jews were especting a Christ, some expected a Christ who would reign once Israel became a sovereign nation, others expected a Christ who would be instrumental in liberating Israel, and others expected two Christs.
Christ comes from the Greek word, christos, which means "anointed" or "annointed one." The Hebrew word with the same meaning is mischiac, or messiah. In Jewish tradition it could refer to a king, a priest, or a prophet. Most often, however, it referred to a king. Anointing was part of the coronation ceremony of the kings of Israel, so all kings of Israel were considered "anointed ones" or "messiahs." But the term wasn't limited to Israelite kings. It was also used of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the book of Daniel. (Yes, I realize that's a controversial claim.) It's even used of the Persian king, Cyrus, in Isaiah 45:1. Messiah, then, is basically equivalent with "king" in most cases.
The whole idea of a coming messiah in Jewish eschatology comes from a promise God made to Israel--that they would never fail to have a king seated on the throne of David. Shortly after the Babylonian exile began, the last of the Israelite kings was deposed, and God's promise seemed to have been broken. But rather than completely abandon their belief in YHWY or that YHWY had violated his promise or didn't make any promise at all, the belief arose that YHWY would restore the throne to David. And so you have countless prophecies in the Old Testament that refer to David in an eschatological sense. Ezekiel 37 is a good example. That's the vision of the valley of dry bones which, as God explains, is a symbol referring to the reunification of Judah and Israel. In v. 24, God says that David will be their king, and in the next verse it says David will be their prince forever.
That's basically the messianic hope. Although views varied on how it would actually play out in history, the basic plot is that either David himself or some descendent of David would come to rule over a reunited Israel free from foreign rule, and the kingdom would last forever.
With this in mind, it's perfectly understandable why Paul would say "Christ crucified" is a stumbling block to Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). Jesus died without doing what the messiah was expected to do. He failed. He was just one of about a dozen other pretenders in the first century whose messianic pretentions ended in death. Most Jews even today, if asked why they reject Jesus as the Christ, will say the same thing. He died without fulfilling the messianic role.
The reason the resurrection is so important is because without it, the Jews are entirely right. If Jesus is dead, then he's not the Christ, and if he's not the Christ, then Christianity is not true. But if Jesus was raised from the dead, he may yet be the messiah.
But, a person might object, even if he's still alive, he hasn't fulfilled the messianic role. Quite so. If he hasn't fulfilled the messianic role, then why think he's the Christ at all?
That's a good question, and thankfully for me, I have two responses. First, imagine some descendent of David is born, and suppose his parents begin to imagine, "Do you think he might be the messiah?" Then they get up the next morning, and they notice that the world is as it was before. Would it be reasonable for them to conclude, "Well, he didn't do what the messiah was supposed to do, so I guess he's not the messiah"? Of course not. As long as he's still alive, there are things he has yet to do. Perhaps some day he will fulfill the messianic role. So he can't be excluded from being the messiah merely on the basis that he hasn't fulfilled the role yet. Only when he dies is his chance over. Since Jesus is still alive, he can't be ruled out.
Second, Jesus claimed to be the Christ. Now I know that some people disagree, but that's beyond the scope of this blog. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did claim to be the Christ. Now that, by itself, is not enough to establish that he is. After all, lots of people in the first century claimed to be the Christ. Josephus tells us that during the war with Rome, there were at least three people all claiming to be the Christ and fighting each other while at the same time fighting the Romans. But it seems to me that it would be an odd coincidence if, of all people to rise from the dead, it's this person named Jesus who claims to be the Christ--to be sent from God. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, I think that is proof to any reasonable person that his claim to be the Christ is true.
So the resurrection is important for two reasons. First, without it, Jesus isn't the Christ. He can't be the Christ if he's dead, but as long as he's alive, it remains to be seen if he fulfills the messianic role. Second, the resurrection serves at verification that Jesus' claim to be the Christ is true. Now we don't have to sit around and wait to see if Jesus fulfills the messianic role. Now we have reason to be confident that he will. Jesus is the Christ; the Christ fulfills the messianic role; therefore, Jesus will fulfill the messianic role. We're just waiting.
Man, I can see that I've opened up a whole can of worms that is going to require a whole bunch more blogs before I get it all out.