It’s kind of a necessary doctrine.
Of Christianity’s two big holidays, Christmas is the easier one for pagans to swallow. ’Cause Jesus of Nazareth was born. That, they won’t debate. There are a few cranks who think Jesus’s life is entirely mythological, start to finish, but for the most part, everybody agrees he was born. May not believe he was born miraculously, but certainly they agree he was born.
Easter’s way harder. ’Cause Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. And no, he didn’t just wake up in a tomb after a two-day coma following a brutal flogging and crucifixion. No, it wasn’t a spectral event, where his ghost went visiting his loved ones. No, it wasn’t a “spiritual” event, where people had visions or mass hallucinations of him, or missed him so hard they psyched themselves into believing he’d made an appearance.
Christians state Jesus is alive. In a body. A human body. An extraordinary body; apparently the new body can do things our current bodies can’t. But alive in a way people recognize as fully alive. Not some walking-dead zombie, nor some phantom. Jesus physically interacted with his students, family, and followers, for nearly a month and a half before physically going to heaven.
That, pagans struggle with. ’Cause they don’t believe in resurrection. Resuscitation, sure; doctors can revive frozen people, or people whose hearts recently stopped. Returning from the dead happens all the time. But permanently? In a new body? And took it with him to heaven? They’re not buying it. They’re more likely to believe in the Easter Bunny.
But that’s the deal we Christians proclaim on Easter: Christ is risen indeed. It’s not the central belief of Christianity; God’s kingdom is. But if Jesus didn’t literally come back from the dead on the morning of 5 April 33, it means there’s no kingdom, and Jesus is never coming back to set it up. Nobody’s coming back from death. There’s no eternal life; at best an eternal afterlife, which ain’t life. There’s no hope for the lost. The Sadducees were right. Christianity’s a sham. There’s no point in any of us being Christians.
No, I’m not being hyperbolic. It’s precisely what the apostles taught.
1 Corinthians 15.12-19 KWL
- 12 If it’s preached Christ is risen from the dead,
- how can some of you say resurrection of the dead isn’t true?
- 13 If resurrection of the dead isn’t true, not even Christ is risen.
- 14 If Christ isn’t risen, our message is worthless. Your faith is worthless.
- 15 Turns out we’re bearing false witness about God:
- We testified about God that he raised Christ!
- Whom he didn’t raise, if it’s true the dead aren’t raised.
- 16 If the dead aren’t raised, Christ isn’t risen either.
- 17 If Christ isn’t risen, your faith has no foundation.
- You’re still in your sins, 18 and those who “sleep in Christ” are gone.
- 19 If hope in Christ only exists in this life, we’re the most pathetic of all people.
No resurrection, no kingdom, no Christianity. Period.
Resurrection in the Old Testament.
Originally the Hebrew religion had no afterlife.
Yeah, that fact’s hard to imagine for a lot of Christians: We tend to assume the ancient Hebrews believed the same as we. We forget the L
Christians regularly try to insert the idea of an afterlife into the ancient Hebrews’ belief system. We take the Hebrew word šeól/“grave,” and claim the Hebrews envisioned it as an entire underworld. While that’d be true of ancient Egyptians and Greeks, it’s not of ancient Hebrews. Some of them might’ve borrowed pagan ideas of an afterlife, but read your bible: God hadn’t told them about any such thing. This is why the scriptures have such statements in them as these:
Ecclesiastes 3.18-22 KWL
- 18 I meditated about the condition of Adam’s children—
- how God purifies them by showing them what animals they are.
- 19 Dumb luck to Adam’s children; dumb luck to an animal.
- Dumb luck to one and all.
- Like death. This dies, that dies.
- Spirits in one and all; Adam with no advantage over animals. It’s all vapor.
- 20 They all go to one place:
- All come from the dust, all return to dust.
- 21 Who knows whether Adam’s children’s spirits go up to heaven,
- whereas animal spirits go down to the underworld?
- 22 I see nothing good in this. Enjoy your work, Adam: That’s your lot in life.
- Who can show him the future?
Christians read Ecclesiastes and figure the author was some pessimistic, hopeless crank. But he was simply reflecting what he knew (or more precisely, what he didn’t know) about the afterlife. God hadn’t yet told anyone what would happen. So, he concluded, why speculate? Live your life. Don’t worry about it.
Yes, God finally did clue people in. The first suggestion we get of resurrection is in Ezekiel, when the L
Ezekiel 37.1-14 KWL
- 1 The L
ORD’s hand came on me.
- He brought me out by the L
ORD’s Spirit. 2 He put me in a valley full of bones.
- He made me walk round and round them: “Look how very many, all over the surface of the valley!
- Look how very dry!” 3 He told me, “Son of Adam, can these bones live?”
- I said, “Master L
ORD, only you know.”
- 4 He told me, “Prophesy over these bones. Tell these dry bones: Listen to the L
- 5 My Master L
ORDtells these bones, “Look! I put a spirit in you. Live.
- 6 I put sinews on you. I grow muscle on you. I encase you in skin.
- I give you the Spirit. Live. Know that I’m the L
- 7 I prophesied as instructed.
- At the sound of my prophecy, look: Shaking, and bone came together with bone.
- 8 I saw—look!—sinews and flesh grew on them. Skin encased them.
- But there was no Spirit in them.
- 9 God told me, “Prophesy to the Spirit. Prophesy, son of Adam!
- Tell the Spirit this: My Master L
ORDsays this. Spirit, come from the four winds!
- Blow into these who were killed. They will live.”
- 10 I prophesied as instructed. The Spirit came into them.
- They live! They stand on their feet—a very, very great army.
- 11 God told me, “Son of Adam, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
- Look, they say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is dead, we’re cut off.’
- 12 So prophesy! Tell them this: My Master L
- Look, I’m opening your tombs. I’m taking you out of your tombs, my people.
- I bring you to the very ground of Israel.
- 13 You’ll know I’m the L
ORDwhen I open your tombs.
- When I bring you out of your tombs, my people, 14 I’ll put my Spirit in you. Live.
- I’ll put you on the ground, and you’ll know I’m the L
- I said it; I’ll do it,” promises the L
You likely know of this passage from the occasional preacher taking it out of context to claim it’s about how God can revive our lives. Seems the Pharisees did a little bit of that too. Yeah, they recognized this prophecy is properly about God restoring their nation after it’d been scattered all over the Neo-Babylonian Empire. But they also believed this vision told ’em how the End Times is gonna work: At some point, the L
It’s a big interpretative stretch. The only reason we don’t wholly reject the idea of an End Times resurrection derived from it… is ’cause Jesus also accepted this idea. He defended the idea of resurrection against naysayers.
Entirely a Jewish idea. Not a pagan one.
Nowadays, the average person has no idea what the ancients believed. Most of the time they just assume the ancients were morons. After all, they figure (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) their parents are morons. Or grandparents. Or great-grandparents. People back then didn’t have science and technology. Didn’t have educations and commonsense. They were superstitious fools who’d believe all sorts of things. So of course they’d believe in resurrection.
Thing is, they believed no such thing.
Yeah, there were stories about how gods died and came back to life. Like Hadád, one of the Baals, who died, whereupon his wife Anat sliced him up and seeded him, and this somehow restored him to life. (Kinda an obvious rip-off of the Osiris myth, in which Osiris’s wife Isis did much the same thing.) There’s the stories of Mithras and Balder dying and rising; there’s where Herakles was freed from hades and promoted to godhood. But none of the myths told of ordinary humans coming back to life. And if so, it was only temporary; those folks always died again.
When the Egyptians, Norse, Mayans, and other pagan religions talked about living again, they always meant living again in the underworld. The Norse imagined it on another planet; the Greeks in underground caves at Cumae; the Egyptians on the far side of the planet.
When the Hindus spoke of living again, they meant reincarnation: You were granted another life as a whole other person. Wasn’t the same life, continued. Buddhists taught they could escape reincarnation altogether, and become one with the universe.
The Chinese, Greeks, and Romans believed this was a spiritual existence. Pure spirit, no bodies. The bodies were dead and gone, and who’d want to live in a decaying, rotting carcass?
And some religions believed, same as the ancient Hebrews, same as nontheists today, in no afterlife at all. When you died, you were gone.
I know; people like to point out Zoroastrians believe in resurrection. And I point right back: They didn’t adopt this idea till the 9th century. Likely they got it from Islam—which itself started in the 7th century, and likely got its belief in resurrection from us Christians. This idea any of the ancients believed in, or accepted, the idea of resurrection? That’s the myth.
Not even all Jews believed in resurrection. The Sadducees still believed once you died, you were gone.
Jesus taught resurrection, same as Pharisees.
- Jesus himself, far in advance of everyone else—“the first of a great harvest of all who died.”
- At Jesus’s second coming, he’s gonna resurrect all the Christians.
1Th 4.16-17, Rv 20.4-5
- On Judgment Day, everybody else gets raised—and judged.
Some Christians believe in even further instances. I’ll get to them.
Despite the many times Jesus warned his students he was gonna die (but later rise again), the idea hadn’t really sunk into them. Yeah, they believed in resurrection. But they’d grown up Pharisee, and expected he’d rise at the very end, just like Pharisees taught. That’s the mindset most of ’em had.
John 11.23-27 KWL
- 23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
- 24 Martha told him, “I know he’ll rise again in the resurrection, on the last day.”
- 25 Jesus told her, “I’m the resurrection. And life: Believers in me might die, but later they’ll live.
- 26 Everybody who lives and believes in me: They can never die in the age to come.
- Do you believe this?” 27 Martha told Jesus, “Yes Master.
- I’ve believed you’re Messiah, God’s Son, who came into the world.”
That’s the issue: Nobody expected anyone to rise from the dead before the End. It simply wasn’t in their worldview. So whenever Jesus talked about rising again, either the students figured Jesus meant he’d rise again at the End, or that Jesus was speaking in parables again.
Thus faced with the raw reality of Jesus’s gory death, the students couldn’t imagine anybody recovering from that. Jesus was absolutely dead. Between the blood loss from flogging, the asphyxiation from crucifixion, getting stabbed in the heart by the Roman solder looking for proof of death, and Joseph and Nicodemus wrapping him in 33 kilos of spices, Jesus was so dead.
A popular theory is the cold tomb somehow woke Jesus up. Somehow a man barely alive managed to struggle out of his straitjacket-like wrappings, shove the huge rock off the entrance, crawl past a group of sleepy temple cops, and escape… only to die later. It’s kinda stupid on the face of it. The widespread theory that Jesus’s students swiped his corpse
But even that theory isn’t consistent with any of the other events which followed: More than 500 people saw Jesus alive.
The first reports came back from the women who went to the tomb to embalm Jesus further. They met an angel—or two; their stories weren’t straight—who told them Jesus was alive. Then at some point they saw him. Mary of Magdala definitely claimed she saw him. Quite naturally, Jesus’s Eleven didn’t believe them. To be fair, who would? It’s not that they weren’t trustworthy women; it’s that you tend to trust your own eyes more. They just saw Jesus die horribly and gruesomely. If anyone told ’em Jesus was still alive after that, they weren’t gonna buy it. Jesus’s student Thomas gets a lot of crap from many preachers for doubting it, but Thomas had sense. He held out till he personally saw Jesus.
But the 500 who saw Jesus stopped doubting. James, Jesus’s brother, who’d never followed him before, followed him the rest of his life, and was killed proclaiming him. The rest of Jesus’s family became Christians. The students, who originally fled when Jesus was arrested, later went to their deaths—sometimes deaths as horrible as Jesus’s—insisting he’s alive and they saw him personally. And from time to time they stated they still saw him.
Now, if Jesus wasn’t really raised, his apostles had to be seriously delusional. Not merely lying: Every last one of them embraced nasty punishments and deaths. Every last one of them tried (and succeeded!) to cure the sick, throw out demons, perform various other miracles, and even try to debate educated Romans on Jesus’s philosophical merits. Rather than individually chase their own separate delusions, as actual schizophrenics would, the apostles worked in concert, created a consistent narrative about Jesus, created harmonious teachings about salvation and God’s kingdom, and founded a religion which didn’t fall by the wayside like the many gnostic cults which filled the Roman Empire. Delusional people should’ve instead come up with a religion which makes no sense, whose followers ignore its many outrageous inconsistencies and just believe really hard. In comparison, Christianity has so few inconsistencies, some of us even insist it has none.
Fact is, Christianity simply doesn’t work without a resurrected Christ. It’s the belief by which the rest stands or falls. Either Jesus is alive, is our Master and God, has conquered sin and death, and has verified everything he taught by it. Or it’s all rubbish, wishful thinking, and dumb luck.
I admit I’m biased: I can’t conceive of a world where two billion individual schizophrenic delusions, based on the egomaniacal ravings of a madman, fit together so well. That’s gotta be the dumbest of all dumb luck ever. Even if it were dumb luck, you’d think some kind of evil genius would have to work behind the scenes to manipulate everything neatly into place. But let’s not go down that trail. It doesn’t get us anywhere good.
Christians who don’t believe in resurrection.
Yeah, despite everything I just wrote, there actually are Christians who don’t believe Jesus was resurrected. They come in two sorts:
- Unbelievers. Those who believe Jesus’s resurrection is pure fiction from start to finish, and think the real point of Christianity is to be big fans of Jesus and his teachings. As for resurrection and God’s kingdom: Wishful thinking. Not for them.
- Immaterialists. Those who believe Jesus’s resurrection is “spiritual.” By which they mean he didn’t physically rise from death. Instead Jesus’s ghost appeared to people.
I’m not gonna bother explaining the unbelievers. I’ll just say for the most part, we’re dealing with pagans who think they’re Christian. If you think Jesus isn’t real, it makes no sense to follow him. You’d be just as looney as those people who practice the Jedi religion.
But I run into the immaterialists all the time. They’re kinda everywhere. They figure when we die, we go to heaven, get ghostly bodies, and that’s resurrection.
When Paul and Sosthenes tried to describe resurrection, I gotta admit their explanation is a bit vague and mysterious in parts.
1 Corinthians 15.35-50 KWL
- 35 Some will object, “How are the dead raised up? What sort of body do they come in?”
- 36 You’re being dense. When you sow seed, it’s not brought to life unless it dies.
- 37 And you’re not sowing the body to come:
- You’re sowing a simple kernel, like grain or some other plant.
- 38 God grows it into the body he wants; each seed its own body.
- 39 Not every species comes out the same.
- There’s the human species, animal species, fishes, birds, 40 heavenly bodies, earthly bodies—
- but the heavenly bodies are reckoned differently than the earthly bodies.
- 41 The sun’s deemed different than the moon and stars; one star’s deemed different from another.
- 42 Same with the resurrection of the dead.
- It’s sown rotten, raised fresh; 43 sown unwanted, raised in honor.
- It’s sown in weakness, raised in power; 44 sown in an animal body, raised in a spiritual body.
- There’s an animal body and a spiritual body.
- 45 This is why it’s written, “The first human, Adam, became a living animal.”
- The final Adam is made alive in the Spirit.
- 46 But not spiritual first: Animal, then spiritual.
- 47 The first human was made from earth, animal. The second human is the Lord, from heaven.
- 48 Those made from dirt are dirty. Those made from heaven are heavenly.
- 49 Just as we have the image of dirty humans,
- we’ll also wear the image of heavenly humans.
- 50 Fellow Christians, I say flesh and blood aren’t able to inherit God’s kingdom.
- Nor can decay inherit the indestructible.
How immaterialists spin this passage, is to point out our resurrected bodies aren’t flesh and blood—’cause “flesh and blood aren’t able to inherit God’s kingdom.”
They figure we only live in these bodies in heaven. They’re not meant for earth. Jesus using his spiritual body to visit earth was a fluke. And no, he’s not coming back to earth to set up his kingdom here; the “kingdom of heaven” will only exist in heaven. The righteous go there when we die, and we get immediately “resurrected” into these heavenly bodies. We stay in heaven forever, and Jesus reigns over us. Therefore nobody literally rises from the grave. Not even Jesus did. (So where’d his physical body go? Well, they’re not sure. Somewhere.)
This purely-spiritual “resurrection” idea is based on ancient Greek philosophy. To the ancient Greeks, material things are temporary, decaying, and icky. The human body is just a cage for the immortal soul. Once you die, you finally bust out of your prison, become pure spirit, and leave this old, decaying, trashed world behind.
Once the Greeks became Christian, they brought this idea with ’em. It’s leaked into a lot of churches. It’s become a big part of the End of Days view of the End. But technically it’s heresy. ’Cause it means Jesus isn’t really alive: He’s a ghost.
Whereas Jesus made it plain he’s not a ghost;
True, Jesus now has the ability to vanish and reappear.
Part of the reason people claim Jesus is only “spiritually” alive is because they find a dead Jesus to be more convenient. A living Jesus makes Christianity a little too real. Implies he might want ’em to change their current lives, instead of putting off all their lifestyle changes till the afterlife. Much easier for them to deal with a religion where all the serious stuff happens in some
imaginary spiritual never-neverland. That way it never interferes with our material reality. That way, Jesus is far far away, ruling heaven; not here, instructing, empowering, or correcting ’em.
Yeah, heresy leads us into warped behaviors. It’s why we need to correct it whenever we see it. Jesus is alive. And once he returns, we Christians will be resurrected to life, living the same way he is. I don’t know exactly what that’ll be like. Neither did the apostles, which is why Paul and Sosthenes were so vague in