Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Makes the Resurrection Unique?

Last year one of the eighth graders in my theology class wanted to quibble with me about the Resurrection. Like many eighth grade boys, he was eager to demonstrate that he could handle himself  in an argument and show the teacher and everyone else how smart he was.

What got him rolling was when I said the Resurrection of Jesus was unique and unparalleled, and nothing like it would be witnessed again until the general resurrection when Jesus returns to deliver His Kingdom to the Father, having raised up His people from the dead, conquering it as the final enemy.

My eighth grade friend asserted that Jesus was not the first, or the only, person to have been raised from the dead. He mentioned one of the well-known stories, perhaps it was Lazarus, I don't recall. I told him that while there are a number of examples of people being raised from the dead in both Testaments (my favorite is the man who is revived after being buried with the bones of Elisha!), those are not the same thing as the Resurrection.

I suspect that my eighth grader, if you took away his lack of experience and immaturity, and set just his claims next to mine, would be more likely to gain the assent of a wide swath of Evangelical Christians than would I. In other words, it would not surprise me if many Evangelical Christians (and perhaps other groups too, though I cannot speak as well for them) believed that Jesus' Resurrection from the dead fits into the same category as other people who were raised from the dead. Perhaps I am overly cynical. I'd be happy to be wrong. Quite relieved, actually.

But even if I were wrong, I do wonder what most Christians would say is unique about the Resurrection. I'm sure many would point to Jesus's body and what he was able to do in it--able to walk through walls as he did in the locked upper room to see his disciples for instance. However, the ability to pass through a wall (an example I have myself used before) seems less conclusive a difference when you consider other inhuman feats that figures in Scripture are able to accomplish without a resurrected body--Samson's great acts of strength, Elijah's outrunning of Ahab's chariot, Phillip's sudden disappearance from the Ethiopian Eunuch, and other such feats defy normal human capacity. Jesus's passing through a wall does not seem to depend upon his body having been resurrected, at least, it is not a necessary condition (though it might be sufficient!).

Others might point to the fact that Jesus will never die again, indeed, he could not die again in his resurrection body, since it is raised "incorruptible." This makes for a better argument, since other persons raised from the dead, it is safe to assume, died later.

I haven't given enough thought or investigation to the matter to distinguish all of the relevant Scriptures, arguments, and theological commentary to unpack anything significant here. It is only come to mind because of reconsidering the fact that Jesus passing through a wall is not particularly unique, and so an argument I once thought had some merit in explaining the difference between Jesus's Resurrection Body and our bodies was discovered to be rather weak.

Perhaps a reader out there who happens upon this post will point to some theologian or church father, or some passage of Scripture that I have not considered carefully enough. Until then, not having a knock down argument for the uniqueness of the Resurrection hardly makes its claim to uniqueness doubtful in comparison to other examples of persons being raised from the dead. After all, Scripture affirms that Jesus's Resurrection is the first-fruits, and so there aren't any of those same fruits before he begins it!

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