LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR
April 11, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129
In the mid-nineties I wrote a series of articles on the recorded appearances of Jesus following his resurrection from the dead. In teaching at the congregation I attend this Easter season I reviewed these articles and got the impression that it was time to revisit this subject. The essence of the introductory article is shared here.
Unbelievers are strapped for an explanation of the origin of the Church. Some have suggested that the resurrection could be explained psychologically as hysterics or group hallucinations. Such theories evidence a failure to understand the historic context of the first century. There was no mental framework which would give birth to the idea of physical resurrection.
It is true that the Pharisees with whom Jesus most closely identified did believe in the resurrection of the dead. However, this faith was a part of their concept of the final judgment – something that happened when history was over. It had no place within history.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, did not even believe in the immortality of the soul.
Within pagan culture the old philosophies had worked themselves into a dead end. The great philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – had been dead for just less than 500 years, a span of time equal to that between Luther and the present. But, their appeal had worn out. Some schools still held on. The Stoics were pantheists who believed everything was spirit. The Epicureans were materialists. Each has its equivalent in today’s world in New World thought and scientific materialism. Mostly, as today, the first century intellectual world wallowed in disillusionment.
There was the normal group of kooks; just like today. The mystery cults were around to fill the vacuum created by the disappearance of any concept of truth, goodness and beauty. There were also the radical rebels against the establishment which was Rome.
It was into this world that Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. And, it was against this contest that the Church was born out of a confrontation with a risen Messiah.
All the early followers of Jesus were unbelievers in the resurrection before they were believers. When Jesus appeared to the Apostles in the Upper Room they were discussing their plans based on the assumption that Jesus was dead – gone from their world. They were not conducting a séance to establish contact with him. They were confronted with a reality they were totally unprepared to accept, even though Jesus had tried to prepare them.
The resurrection hit the disciples as an inescapable fact. They witnessed to it only days after the emotional events of the crucifixion. Such a witness would have been impossible if they themselves were not totally convinced. They knew there was no chance their enemies could disprove it. The stone was rolled away. The grave was empty. They had seen their resurrected Messiah with their own eyes.
The elite of the first century had condemned Jesus to death. God reversed their decision.
If you are interested in pursuing this line of thought, let me know.
(Bill Scarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org). END-whs