summary of Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Part 2)
The implications of His death and resurrection brings forth a new reality we cannot ignore.
N.T. Wright emphatically establishes that the resurrection of Jesus is the single most defining moment for Christianity. No resurrection, no Messiah. No Messiah, no Kingdom. No Kingdom, no church. The entire perspective of N.T. Wright hinges and is powered by the resurrection of Christ. The question is how he sees the resurrection and where he takes it. And this is one of Wright’s most significant contributions to the church today.
In the first century, the resurrection of Jesus — and in fact the very idea or mental framework of it — was peculiar, incomprehensible and even an unsophisticated notion to the Greeks (imagine snobbish highbrow Greeks pooh-poohing the idea). (Not to mention that He died a criminal’s penalty). As mentioned in Part 1, Greeks generally believe that people just go to Hades when they die. Unless you’re a god or related to one, you don’t die and rise up again. It’s just not how things work in the scheme of things. Plato thinks it’s better for the invisible soul to be torn away from the body where it can live happily ever after freed from its bodily corruption, while Aristotle thinks it’s better to just live a good life here on earth by indulging the body.
For the Jews, it just wasn’t widely thought of that way that the Messiah would be raised first in advance of the final day of resurrection, which was already a given fact. Either way, the Gospel proclaimed by Paul was to the world around him quaint and lacked sophistication because of those worldviews.
As we can see, the Gospel either brought disgust and mockery, or conviction and change of heart. What was the single reason that people believed, if the Gospel could not play to the philosophical and Messianic expectations of that time? What was it that so urged people to follow The Way without needing to be enticed by the grandiosity of a sophisticated theory (as the Greeks were looking for), or needing to satisfy the Jewish expectation of an overthrow of Roman rule (as the Jews were looking for)?
I believe Tom Wright is saying: The resurrection happened. Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead as a historical fact and because of this something new has happened that we cannot ignore. The implications of His death and resurrection brings forth a new reality we cannot ignore.
Tom Wright says that the resurrection effectively makes Jesus Lord of the world. And Jesus didn’t come to be King and Lord by defeating Caesar. He defeated the real enemy: sin and death! He triumphed over sin and death to announce and launch a Kingdom of truth, justice and righteousness. And this whole entire grand act is plainly referred to in Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
It makes me ask myself, do I believe this? That Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9)? Remember that these things were hard to hold fast much less confess in those days. Before we try to apply this understanding to our day and age, it is useful to first understand what Jesus is Lord and Him being raised means.
Jesus is Lord
The word euangelion or Gospel rings as a royal declaration of kingship, especially back in the day of first century Roman empire. Euangelion is a word oft used as an announcement of a new king, a new Caesar. I also searched up online for some historical background information on the word and this was really helpful to understand a bit more what notions and nuances euangelion conjures up and the results are fascinating.
By looking back to the first century, we are going back to the essence of the proclamation of the Gospel, that Jesus is, effectively, Lord of all things through victory over sin and death by way of resurrection. Christ resurrection launched the ever-expanding plan of God moving out of Israel and to the ends of the earth, the Kingdom of God now open to form His ecclesia, His church. And as His church proclaims the Gospel and establishes His Kingship, we look forward when all will in actual fact come under the reign and rule of Jesus the rightful King.
Do I believe that Jesus is Lord and Messiah of this world? If so, what is the way in which we live and move and have our being in this world?
God raised him from the dead
Wright doesn’t deal with the scientific impossibility of this matter by shutting down the argument. He offers a different but rationale path – one based on the historicity of the event. First, Wright established that the disciples wouldn’t have even had the framework of resurrection to even invent such a theory. It simply wasn’t in the Messianic framework.
Secondly, Wright said that if the disciples wanted to make resurrection a super legit event, they would not have assigned women to be the first witnesses. This is because women were not thought of to be credible witnesses at that time. They would have invented in a more spectacular manner. As it is, the resurrection of Jesus was in the most modest circumstances.
One of my favourite bits is this: Tom Wright looks science in the face and says, science deals with things that we know of, that has happened. I quote: “Science deals with the repeatable, history deals with unrepeatable.” Sciences deals with materials and facts that we already have that have a pattern of existence. But what happens when it confronts a piece of data it has never encountered? It can’t compute! This new piece of data dramatically changes even the understanding of the scientist or the experiment.
And this, if you believe in the resurrection, is the impact of the resurrection. Scientifically, it would change, reorient, everything we knew about what life is all about that we scientifically tried to measure. The resurrection changes everything. The resurrection changes life as we know it, even public life. In Wright’s words, “a new creation has begun”!
It makes me ask myself, do I truly believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? If so, what is this new life and new creation that we have entered into?
Wright, N.T. (2008). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne: New York
Available at Canaanland
Other reference: 1 Corinthians 15 as one of them
Pic: The four philosophers whose strands of thought Paul engaged with. L-R: Socrates, the Cynics, the Skeptics and the Epicureans.
Disclaimer: Apologies if I misread Tom Wright or communicated it poorly. Happy to discuss it with you here or firstname.lastname@example.org