Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.
After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.
Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.
Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.
The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.
The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].
What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.
How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.
Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.
Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.
Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.
This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.
What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.
Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return to faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.