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The Resurrection of Jesus: A Truly “Progressive” Understanding

Much has been said in recent years about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with a plethora of pseudo scholarship, making the argument that because of our so-called advanced knowledge of science, and how the world ‘really’ works, that it is impossible (for them), that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. This is all in the name of an arrogantly, self appointed status of being a ‘progressive’ Christian. It is a worrying cancer that is seeking to ‘reform’ the Uniting Church with its self professed enlightened ways. But is this view truly progressive? Haven’t we heard it around liberal circles for years, constantly resurfacing as something ‘new’ and each time gathering a new era of followers back into the dark ages? My argument is that this is not a progressive view at all, rather it draws the believer back into the darkness of nebulous and very ancient forms of tribal religion that have been a part of the human religion-concept from the most primordial of times.

At the heart of the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, is not just the fact that the resurrection actually happened, more important, is who it was that God raised from the dead: The Jesus who revealed a God, who was totally unlike the ancient human-generated images of our long totem-making history. Jesus entered into the world of His own people, a people who had enlisted their notion of God as a tribal deity, on their side to wage war against their enemies, having constructed a national religion, with various laws to keep non- Jews, women, the sick, and many others, outside of God’s presence. Based around a temple system that rather than drawing people to God as a house of prayer, constructed barriers to prevent people accessing God (a corrupt system Jesus overturned in ransacking the temple). God was on their side to enforce their national hatred of those outside. ‘God’ being reduced to a tribal deity. It is this notion of god, that Jesus came to upturn. Telling his people to ‘love your enemies’, and in the context of their domination by the Roman empire, told them not to fight back in violent militaristic ways, but rather to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘be merciful for the Lord your God is merciful’. More particularly, that God was not interested in empowering violence and war, but revealed a whole new way, based on the revelation of the only true God, and how he really is, in Jesus. Needless to say, Jesus’ own people, did not recognise Him as Messiah for these very reasons. The true Messiah, for them, would wage war and conquer with God on his side.

Jesus’ refusal to do so, said something powerful about who, and what God really is. But to His people, he could not possibly have been from God, since he failed to follow the national militaristic path of their history. Jesus’ own disciples failed to realise the weight of what Jesus was saying about God, and after his crucifixion, were dismayed that He did not rise up and conquer Rome. Yet for Jesus, His crucifixion was a very important continuation of everything He taught about God. In His death, He is holding fast to the image of the only true God that He came to reveal, precisely, by letting them hit him on the other cheek, by not responding to violence and evil with evil. To the Jews, this apparent failure, said He was not the Messiah and that God was not with Him. To his disciples, years of following this Jesus ended in disappointment as their leader was killed which said to their way of seeing God, and to the Roman way of seeing their ‘gods’, that Jesus was a fraud and a fake. Weak, miserable and defeated. Messiah’s conquer, they are not conquered as this Jesus had been. Jesus failed to match the tribal Jewish and pagan Roman identikit in any way. He not only taught of a God of love and mercy, and the way of peace, he failed to conquer Israel’s enemies. Jesus’ death was, for them, a proof of the falsity of His claims. However, on the third day after His death, the Church confesses that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. In light of this apparent defeat, a rather bizarre claim.

Some propose that the disciples hid the body of Jesus to fake the resurrection, and thereby bring about a new religion. But in the context of everything they believed about God (which Jesus upended), and how this Jesus appeared to them as a failure that God had not protected, this is an absurd claim. It would not have even been a thought for the disciples, since they would be following a weak, impotent fraud according to their way of seeing God. It is not until the actual physical appearance of Jesus to them, that they were confronted with a shocking fact, that forced them to go back and reinterpret everything they believed to be true about God.

Jesus had taught of a God that was unlike any of the world’s notions, including the way they believed YHWH had acted in Jewish history. Up until Jesus’ physical appearance, they were lost in despair and feeling ripped off, because He had failed to bring about the militaristic Messianic hope of Israel. But confronted with the risen Jesus, they were forced to re-examine their notions about God. Jesus was dead. Up until this point, it could be said that all of Jesus’ teachings and radical upending of the world’s notions of God, were simply the words of a man, who obviously got it wrong. However, when Jesus is dead, he can no longer speak, rather, God the Father now speaks with his approval of everything Jesus said and did by raising Him to life. This is the Father’s testimony to Jesus, God’s stamp of approval on everything Jesus said about Him. Indeed the statement of the book of Acts rings true: ‘This Jesus you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ’. And this is the message the disciples entered the world with, a message for which they suffered persecution, punishment and death. Hardly something one would do for a fake resurrection that they had concocted, particularly when preaching this message had no gain for them, rather, quite the opposite.

The fact that God raised this Jesus from the dead, must cause us to totally reshape our whole notion of God as well. ‘God’ is no longer a generic name that can be used by any religion or any person, but is defined as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who raised him from the dead. An image which stands in contrast to the totems of the world’s religions, departing from the ancient, socially constructed, primitive deities and idols of the nations. To say we don’t believe in the resurrection because it is not a progressive or scientifically plausible event, ushers the faith back into a Pre Christ form of primeval ‘spirituality’ that rather than being ‘progressive’ is the most regressive form of ancient paganism one could imagine.

Reverend John Gill is Minister of The Word at Pine Rivers Uniting Church