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Thursday, April 20, 2006 

Et Resurrexit: Initial Implications Part 2

"when his disciples were confronted by the resurrection of Jesus, they no doubt also understood this as the beginning of the universal resurrection of the dead, as the beginning of the events of the end of history. " Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man, p. 66. (emphasis added)

Pannenberg expresses in this passage the belief discussed in the previous post, namely, that the disciples upon encountering the resurrected Jesus would have understood this as meaning the general resurrection of the dead had begun. But more importantly, the beginning of the general resurrection would have further entailed that the eschaton had arrived.

Now I am not going to belabor this point since it has been made many times before. The notion that the primitive believers thought the end was just around the corner, or had occured is not a novel interpretation. There is plenty of evidence within the New Testament documents that suggest this. For a detailed study concerning this early primitive interpretation see especially Dale Allison's The End of the Ages Has Come: An Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Allison convincingly exhibits how early interpretations of Jesus' resurrection first gave impetus to this pervasive belief in early Christianity that the eschaton had, at least in some sense, arrived.

In reality these two results of Jesus' resurrection should probably be integrated since the belief that the end had come (or was nigh) cannot be seperated from the belief that the general resurrection of the dead had begun. The former is a direct result of the latter. Thus the initial implication of Jesus resurrection as understood by the earliest followers would have been that since the general resurrection had started the end had either occured or was very soon about to take place. At any rate the transition between this age and the age to come began via Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

But apart from its ostensible eschatological meaning, the early believers would have viewed the resurrection of Jesus to signify something further: his vindication. Just days earlier Jesus had been condemned and crucified as a criminal under Roman law. His resurrection could only mean the reversal of the verdict previously placed on him. By raising him from the dead, God was declaring Jesus to be in the right, i.e. to be justified or as Karl Barth would put it, the "No!" uttered against Jesus had now been vanquished by God's "Yes!".

This also meant God's seal of approval on the itinerant ministry of Jesus. Everything that Jesus said and did throughout Galilee and Judea was in accordance with the will of God. Most importantly the resurrection involved the vindication of Jesus' Messiaship. Of course, some doubt that Jesus ever claimed this title for himself. This is not the time or place to enter into that discussion. Suffice it to say that since I'm dealing with the early believers' interpretation and not Jesus' own self-claims this is a moot point. What is clear is that the earliest followers of Jesus believed that he was the Jewish Messiah (most likely prior to the resurrection) even if they forced the title onto him. Thus the resurrection would have meant the vindication of this belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the long awaited King of the Jews.

Now when we combine these two initial insights that Jesus' resurrection meant the arrival of the eschaton and his vindication, especially concerning his Messiahship, we end up with one final initial implication which results directly from a synthesis of these two beliefs. This I will discuss in the next post.

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