The God We Don't Expect

One would have to write off the Gospel narratives as any kind of historical record, to conclude that Jesus’ followers had expected some sort of miracle after the crucifixion.

Kevin Moss | 17:09, 31 March 2013

‘Crucifixion’ by Nikolai GeOne of the sustained themes throughout these accounts is the almost pathological inability of the disciples to comprehend Jesus' role as having anything other than a nationalistic dimension to it. Even when you get to Acts Chapter 1 (post resurrection), the disciples resume their obsession with an earthly kingdom (v6). The fact that their confidence was utterly deflated by the events that led to Calvary and the subsequent entombment of their leader is one of the themes which is unavoidably clear and conspicuous in these narratives.

Which makes the common skeptical response to the Christian claim of resurrection all the more mystifying.  For it is readily apparent that belief in the resurrection was not some form of wish-fulfilment on the part of the disciples.  By the time Jesus appears to them, the die is cast for a return to their old lives, with the hope of a national Messiah lying in ruins.  They had no wish – or hope – for a resurrection, for Jewish nationalism had effectively tuned out Jesus' repeated predictions of his own triumph over death.  One does not find a developed concept of resurrection within orthodox Judaism at the time of Christ (as exemplified by the Pharisees), merely hints in Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea et al. And certainly the skeptical branch of rabbinical teaching (as exemplified by the Sadducees) would have had no truck with such fanciful notions, as evidenced by the utterly consistent attack on the very idea recorded for us in Mark 12.

Thus we do not find grounds for a resurrection-expectation reflected in the evidence provided by the Gospel narratives – nor do we find a basis for such a thing in the prevailing Jewish theology of the time.  The grounds for wish-fulfilment are therefore non-existent, another of those strange fantasies indulged in by the pathologically skeptical.  Indeed, the most rational explanation of the text, is actually the one it presents for our attention:

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us…"  (Luke 1:1-12)

These men write because they have to – about matters of astonishing import and significance, that occurred, in full public view, in their midst.  They use the (then) established terminology of trustworthy, sober, documented history in order to demonstrate that they are not concocting myth, but rather to record the kinds of facts that were susceptible to verification.  Myth, by the way, takes a great deal longer to develop than the very brief interregnum that occurred between the events themselves and the writing of the Gospels, or (for example) Paul's pivotal treatment of the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15.

Men may die for a lie which they believe in.  We all know that, just because someone is prepared to pay the ultimate price for their beliefs, this alone does not validate the substance of those beliefs.  But men do not happily go to their death for something that they know is a lie.  And it is quite clear, that until Christ surprised everyone by rising from the dead, nobody had any real expectation that he had the power to deal with our ultimate enemy.  People choose to believe in Christ's resurrection because that is the best explanation of the facts.

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