Tag Archives: resurrection

He Shouldn’t Have Done It

Reflections on resurrection from the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”:

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” the Misfit continued, “and he shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do now but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said, and his voice had become almost a snarl.

How much more if Jesus himself is raised.

Happy Easter!

Sure Deliverance

I’m not sure why, but the kids and I keep reading the Psalms.

I know, it sounds like a really great idea. But in the words of a friend who attempted the same and ultimately was punished by God for it with a PhD in Old Testament, “There’s some really strange stuff in there.”

Ok, so maybe “strange” isn’t the word for the dissonance I’m experiencing. But what I’m finding in the first dozen or so Psalms is that the core of Israel’s religious worship consists of an expectation that for the God of all the earth to what is right, Israel’s enemies must be sent running before her swords.

This, of course, is not everything. And perhaps it’s too much to call military victory the core. It closely resides next to the idea that the unjust will not escape the sight, or vengeance, of God.

As I read these poems, I am constantly moving among several thoughts in my mind. One is that the expectation of military victory as the means of YHWH’s engagement with the world is so deeply rooted that (a) I have constantly refreshed sympathy for the disappointed disciples of Jesus; and (b) I consciously wrestle out Christologically revisionist interpretations of the psalms in order to mesh them with a transformed understanding of the victory God has won, and is winning, through His King on behalf of the people of the earth.

The other is that the expectation that injustice will not succeed is weird. It seems off. It seems overly optimistic. It seems just plain wrong.

And here is where I get caught.

I suspect that for the singers of these songs, the tangible reality of injustice was much more acutely felt on a day-to-day basis than it has ever been in my own life. I bet that for them, there were particular faces of injustice to put to these general hopes.

And these songs were sung in faith.

The songs of deliverance are not, for the most part, triumphant proclamations of how God has socked it to the bad guys, but songs of invocation–celebrations beforehand of the just and powerful God that would not believe that evil will be allowed the last word here on earth, as it is not allowed it in heaven above.

The more that the songs strike me as wrong, as wishful, as overly optimistic, the more I am reminded that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

I need to be reminded that the God of all the earth will not allow the unjust to escape his due recompense, that God will not turn a blind eye to the cheat and the swindler–that God will not allow the cry of the righteous to go unheeded.

And we have the resurrection to prove it.

Made Lord and Christ

Over the past couple of months I have been puzzling afresh over Acts 2:36: “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (CEB).

The clear implication is that Jesus became something that he was not previously: at the resurrection he becomes Lord and Messiah.

This has been judged problematic for Luke’s overall Christology. In particular, the verse sits in uneasy tension with the Gospel of Luke, where the idea of Jesus as lord, in particular, recurs throughout. How can he be made something that he clearly already was throughout his life?

Due to this tension, some scholars have argued that the verse is pre-Lucan, and not his own theology. Alternatively, some have argued that Luke composed it to give verisimilitude to Peter’s speech, but is not something he himself bought into.

This is problematic inasmuch as it does not take the larger context of the sermon into account–or the subsequent sermon in Acts 13. In both, the psalm’s declaration that God will not allow his holy one to see corruption is a clear indication that Jesus, at the resurrection, comes to fulfill the prophecy of an incorruptible Davidic king. In fact, the Acts 13 text cites Psalm 2, “You are my son, this day have I begotten you” in the same connection: Jesus is adopted king, enthroned, made Christ, at the resurrection.

How, then, can we have it both ways? How is Jesus the lord on earth and then made lord at the resurrection?

By taking the death of Jesus with utmost seriousness and by recognizing the resurrection as a fresh and creative act of God.

In an article wrestling with this very issue, Kavin Rowe draws attention to the fact that Jesus is called kurios, Lord, through Luke–right up until Peter denies the lord for the third time and the lord turns to look at him. Then Jesus is not referred to as lord again. Not, that is, until after the resurrection.

Perhaps Acts 13, the other sermon where Jesus’ resurrection is marked as his enthronement as lord and Davidic king, can be of help here.

There, Paul recounts Israel’s story. As he does so, he oscillates between God’s faithful action toward Israel and Israel’s rebellion against God:

    God delivered them from Egypt. Then he had to put up with them in the wilderness for forty years.
    God conquered nations and gave them judges. And the people came and asked for a king–they God Saul.
    God gave them a man after his own heart, David, from whose seed came Jesus as prophesied by John. And the people of Jerusalem killed him by having him executed by Pilate.
    God raised him from the dead, adopting Jesus as Davidic King, a king who will never see decay. Now what will you do?(Acts 13:16-41)

The life of the lord Jesus on earth was, in fact, the life of the lord and messiah. It was a divine visitation to the people from within the line of David. And the crucifixion is the rejection of God’s agent by the very people to whom God sent Jesus out of faithfulness, and as a great act of salvation.

The earthly reign of the lord Jesus is finished as he is rejected and killed. He is not called the kurios from Peter’s denial until the resurrection.

But God acts afresh. The man Jesus to whom God had testified while on earth by signs and wonders receives new testimony when God raises him from the dead, enthroning him in heaven as messiah and lord.

In the oscillation between divine act and Israel’s response, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not of a piece in Luke-Acts. The life is one extended, God-endorsed act of saving presence that is rejected. The resurrection is the next.

When God makes lord the crucified messiah, Israel hears afresh the divine call, now administered through the one who has been given an incorruptible share in the name “lord” by which all people on earth can receive the forgiveness that leads to life.

The Righteousness of God (part 3a of 4)

Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that the fracas over the righteousness of God could not be separated from another favorite perennial NT question: the meaning of pistis, and the pistis Christou debate in particular.

Romans 1:17 reads: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed by faith unto faith as it is written, ‘But the one who is righteous by faith will live.”

Somehow, the good news reveals God’s righteousness “by faith”, as it is written, “But the one who is righteous ‘by faith’ will live.”

The ideas are brought together again at the end of Romans 3:

But now, without law, the righteousness of God has been made manifest (being witnessed by the law and the prophets), the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ (or, through faith in Jesus Christ) unto all who exercise faith. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being righteoused freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement through faith, by his blood, in order to show forth his righteousness, because in his forbearance he passed over the previously committed sins, to show forth his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.

That is one mean sentence! Notice again that the way in which God’s righteous is made known is through faith: either the faith of Jesus in going to the cross or our faith in Jesus (3:22), depending on how you interpret the Greek, it is made manifest through faith and goes out unto the faith of all who believe. The pattern from Romans 1:17 is repeated: from faith unto faith.

But whose faith is it? Christ’s faith in going to death on the cross or our faith in Christ?

Later in the paragraph we’re told: it’s God’s putting forward of Jesus as a sacrifice in his blood that is the act of faith by which God’s righteousness is made known. So when we’re told that the righteousness of God is witnessed to by the law and prophets, it seems that the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus is the event which they foreshadow.

Thus, when we read in the very first scripture citation in the book of Romans, “the righteous one ‘by faith’ will live”, we do well to read this as a reference to the faithful Christ who was raised because of his fidelity.

This then brings us back to the question of what, exactly, this faithful death of Jesus has to do with the righteousness of God. How does the death of Jesus reveal the righteousness of God?

The passage in Romans 3 tells us that this death of Jesus reveals God’s righteousness because it enables him to justly justify his people.

So what?

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you.

Resurrection to New Creation

It has come to my attention that Michael Pahl has started blogging through his excellent book, From Resurrection to New Creation.

The book is an excellent entry point into not only the significance of the resurrection per se but also the importance of narrative theology and knowing how the end of the story transforms the rest.

For you pastor-types or small group leaders or college ministers: this would be a great book to use for a study group, small group, Sunday school class, introduction to what Christians believe class, etc. For the rest: this is a great way to take a step or two forward in that being transformed by the renewing of your mind to which we’re all called.

Anger: Catharsis versus Resurrection

A nice article on You Are Not So Smart challenges the idea that what we need when we are angry is an outlet. “Catharsis,” simply put, does not work.

Here is a summary of the studies cited:

If you think catharsis is good, you are more likely to seek it out when you get pissed. When you vent, you stay angry and are more likely to keep doing aggressive things so you can keep venting.

It’s drug-like, because there are brain chemicals and other behavioral reinforcements at work. If you get accustomed to blowing off steam, you become dependent on it.

The more effective approach is to just stop. Take your anger off of the stove. Let it go from a boil to a simmer to a lukewarm state where you no longer want to sink your teeth into the side of buffalo.

That goes for any number of desires besides anger as well. A couple of important points are worth noting. One of these is that we our bodies and our emotions are intimately connected. There are physiological consequences to how we deal with emotion.

The other thing to ponder is that such psychosomatic unity makes strong emotional responses to situations a very difficult pattern to change. From what I understand about recent research, the “brain chemical” issue isn’t just about how long you stay mad in one cycle of anger and response (for example) but also about on-going patterns of chemical production. Catharsis not only sustains a given period of anger, but such explosions make us more apt to act similarly in the future.

Once upon a time I was looking at 2 Timothy and was struck by the idea that self-discipline was the outworking of the Spirit’s presence. Which is it? The self disciplining or the Spirit? Similarly, the fruit of the Spirit list in Galatians 5 lists self-control as part of the Spirit’s effect.

Perhaps I should wonder at this less. It is the Spirit whose power raised Jesus from the dead; the Spirit who gives substance to and typifies the resurrection body itself. Maybe a rereading of these passages in light of modern psychology and neuroscience consists in recognizing that we ourselves need a physical transformation in order to realize the holiness that God has for us.

The new body that we begin now to participate in in Christ must make itself known as our minds and brains are transformed, the chemical compositions changed, through the Spiritual self-control that makes our actions new.

How Physical Is the Future? (3 of 3)

Over the weekend, I posted the first two parts of a reply I made to someone who wrote to me with this query: “what would be some good new testament verses that I can use to explain how physical our eternal lives would be?  How about on the subject of our culture continuing?” (part 1, focusing on 1 Corinthians 15; part 2, focusing on Romans 8). Here’s part 3:

I think that the last part of your question is the most difficult. What can we say about “culture”? Here, the hints are more faint but I think we have some trajectories set in the NT that we can follow. In general, I think we can anticipate that the beneficial aspects of culture will carry over into the age to come because the picture we get of new creation is not an obliteration of the old to make way for an entirely new one. Instead, it’s a picture of God redeeming and renewing the creation he has already given us.

Perhaps this is an aside, perhaps not, but either way: it seems to me that if God had to entirely wipe out the old creation in order to give us an eternal dwelling place that this would be an ultimate victory for Satan–that the powers of darkness could so take hold of God’s world that God would be incapable of freeing that same world and bringing it into conformity with its original, God-given intentions.

Building on what we’ve already talked about, I think it’s important that in Romans 8 not only do we groan while we await our resurrection-redemption (verse 23), and not only does the Spirit groan on our behalf, asking for things we don’t even know how to ask for (verse 26), but the creation itself groans, awaiting its redemption which will come when we are raised from the dead (verse 22). The created order is not waiting around to be abolished in favor of a better creation, it’s waiting to be redeemed. This says to me that there will be carry-over even of some aspects of creation that seem to us to be physical and/or transient.

Another hint we get of a continuity in the area of culture is in Revelation 21:26 (a passage that Rich Mouw discusses so well in When the Kings Come Marching In). There, we read of the glory of the nations being brought into the New Jerusalem as gifts that God receives to himself. This raises the question in my mind of what could possibly be brought into the city of God from those surrounding pagan environs–places and peoples that the rest of Revelation might lead us to think had been obliterated in the final judgment!

I string this together with a couple of Old Testament passages that, to me, point us in the direction of recognizing that God’s glory is not merely about the things God himself does, but is strongly tied to the things his image-bearers do as they fulfill their primordial calling to rule over and to fill the earth. In Isaiah 6, the angelic beasts sing to each other “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” An alternative translation is, “… the fullness of all the earth is His glory.”

This latter reading makes me wonder if the reason that the nations can bring their glory to God at The End is because this is their contribution to the earth’s fulness, their manifestation of a deep-seated primordial calling to fill the earth and cultivate it as God’s stewards.

With questions of culture, and with music in particular, I see a possible eternal destiny because the New Creation is in some continuity with the Old (even though it is purified through “judgment fires”) and because we get these hints that human activity even outside the bounds of what is done by the people of God has some purchase in the full expression of the glory of God.

What is “the glory of the nations”? This will always remain speculative, but it seems that facets of cultural development such as art, music, science, etc. might qualify. I don’t think there is an easy verse to point to so as to say, “culture continues,” but there is a theological trajectory that might lead in such a direction.

O.k. I’ve gone on far too long!

If you’d like a little more, here’s something I wrote up for Christianity Today this spring: “A Resurrection that Matters.

And if you want a lot more, there’s always Unlocking Romans. :)

Grace & Peace,
Daniel

How Physical Is the Future? (2 of 3)

Yesterday I posted part 1 of an e-mail I wrote in response to one I received asking about the physicality of the future: ““what would be some good new testament verses that I can use to explain how physical our eternal lives would be?  How about on the subject of our culture continuing?

Here’s the second part of my reply:

Romans 8 is a great place to go to see how all these things hold together. As in 1 Corinthians 15, in Romans 8 our identity as God’s people derives from our union with the resurrected Jesus. We have the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, that’s the Spirit that cries out Abba, Father within us and enables us live new lives here and now (Romans 8:9-11).

But even while this Spirit allows us to know that we’re God’s children (Romans 8:14-17), it also creates a deep longing for us to know fully what it is to be God’s child–we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our body (i.e., our resurrection) (Romans 8:23).

Interestingly, if you follow the line of argument from “We are God’s children” in verses 14-17, through “We await the time when we’ll be fully adopted into God’s family” in verse 23, you have to go through a passage that speaks of creation itself groaning, longing for redemption and deliverance from decay.

For Paul, the fact that there is a new human, who creates a new humanity, means that the entire creation has a new representative before God. As the first Adam’s disobedience had ramifications not only for humans’ relationship with God but also for the entire created order, so too Christ’s obedience as the last Adam has ramifications for the whole created order. A new creation has dawned with Jesus’ resurrection.

The idea that our souls only are saved is too small an idea for God’s work of salvation. Not only are our bodies included, but the whole created order is made new. This is why Paul can say in 2 Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ–New Creation! The old things have passed away! Behold! New things have come!” It’s not simply that we are made new creatures, but that our personal newness is one piece of a cosmic puzzle that God is putting together.

Paul gives us some of the clearest indications of this, but I don’t want to pin it all on him. The final scene in the Bible is the arrival of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. The cosmic geography of the last couple of scenes in Revelation is important: it is not a scene of people flying up into heaven to be with God, but of the holy city descending from heaven to the earth so that God now makes his dwelling place among us. New Creation.

There are also hints in the Gospels, such as when Jesus at the last supper says that he will not drink fruit of the vine again until he drinks it new in the Kingdom of God (Mark 14:25). Apparently, the future to which Jesus looks is one in which there will be eating and drinking–even in our transformed bodies.

Tune in tomorrow, same storied time, same storied station, for the rousing conclusion!

How Physical Is the Future? (1 of 3)

Today I got an e-mail asking what the Bible has to say about the physicality of our future: “what would be some good new testament verses that I can use to explain how physical our eternal lives would be?  How about on the subject of our culture continuing?

You’ll be happy to know that I was able to begin answering this question without immediately trying to sell my book or defer to my article in Christianity Today (I saved those for the end). In fact, here’s what I said (Part 1 of 3).

Hi, XXXX,

Thanks for your note. I happily defer to my Old Testament colleagues on Isaiah 25–I went into New Testament so that I wouldn’t have to answer the REALLY hard questions about the Bible!

I do think that there are clear, strong indications that our ultimate destiny is very much physical, albeit with new kinds of bodies.

But before surveying those indications, I should say one word of qualification. Predicting the future is always a precarious business. As I look through the Old Testament, for example, I find that even the most vibrant pictures of the coming reign of God are but shadows of the reality that dawns in Christ. I anticipate that even expectations of the coming future that are solidly built on New Testament data will be in some ways transformed by the reality that God has in store.

The New Testament contains much more extensive and clear indication of the embodied nature of our eternal future than we find in the Old Testament, and the principal reason for this, it seems to me, is Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. When the New Testament writers start to talk about Jesus holding our future in himself, they not only mean that his work for us enable our souls to be right with God, but that we will be raised up with new bodies just like he was (see, for example, the quick discussion in 1 Corinthians 6:12-14).

Paul makes this same point in several places. One of the most extensive discussions is in 1 Corinthians 15. That chapter is, in fact, a lengthy answer to this very question: Is there a bodily resurrection of the dead? It begins with Jesus’ own resurrection as a foundational component of Christian confession (1 Corinthians 15:1-15).

Paul then makes the argument that Christ determines the destiny of all who are “in him”: “For as by a man came death, so also by a man came the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” People who are “in Christ” (by the Spirit, faith, and baptism) will share in the new, resurrection life that Christ brings about (1 Corinthians 15:16-28).

The latter half of the chapter Paul spends exploring what kind of body it might be that would be an eternal, resurrection body. He concludes that it’s a different kind of body, a Spiritual body that comes from above. We will have bodies, but they will be transformed.

For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Jesus is the new Adam, the firstborn of God’s family, the firstborn of a new humanity. And, if there is a new Human representing a new humanity, the New Testament is also convinced that there will be a new creation to host this future life. The ultimate hope in scripture is not my soul flying off to heaven to be with God forever, but God coming down from heaven to dwell with us on a renewed earth forever.

(cont’d…)