MidWeek Message (May 13-May 19

Eastertide is for reflecting on the resurrection, of course. In reading about this, I’ve found the thoughts of New Testament scholar G.E. Ladd very insightful this week. Here’s a somewhat shortened version of his explanation of how the bodily resurrection of Jesus was a radical change in the way things work:

“The Gospels go to great lengths to attest that the resurrection of Jesus was indeed a bodily resurrection. Here lies the significance of the empty tomb. . . . The empty tomb by itself was a puzzling fact that needed explanation. … Apart from the appearances of Jesus, the empty tomb was an enigma. The empty tomb, therefore, is not a witness to the fact of the resurrection so much as it is a witness to the nature of the resurrection; it was a resurrection of Jesus’ body.”

“The bodily character of his resurrection is attested in other ways. [He appeared physically, in sight, touch, and sound.]”

“However, Jesus’ resurrection body possessed new and wonderful powers that set it apart from the natural and physical body. It possessed capacities never before experienced on earth. It had the amazing power to appear and disappear at will.” (See Jn. 20:19, 26; Lk. 24:31; 24:36-37)

“Furthermore, a close study of the text [of the Gospels] nowhere suggests that the stone of the tomb was rolled away from the tomb to let Jesus out. The earthquake and rolling back of the stone are recorded in Matthew (28:2) as a sign of a wonderful event, not as the event itself. There can only be one conclusion: the body of Jesus was gone before the stone was rolled away. It did not need to be removed for him to escape the tomb; he had already escaped it. The removal of the stone was for the disciples, not for Jesus.”

“These two sets of items point to a twofold conclusion: the resurrection of Jesus was a bodily resurrection; but his resurrection body possessed strange powers that transcend physical limitations. It could interact with the natural order, but it at the same time transcended this order. . . . Jesus’ resurrection belongs to a new and higher order: the order of the Age to Come, of eternal life.”

“The resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of those who belong to Christ constitute two parts of a single entity, two acts of a single drama, two stages of a single process. . . . Jesus’ resurrection is the ‘first fruits’ of the eschatological resurrection at the end of the age. First fruits were common in Palestinian agriculture. They were the first grain of the harvest, indicating that the harvest itself was ripe and ready to be gathered in. The first fruits were not the harvest itself, yet they were more than a pledge and promise of the harvest. They were the actual beginning of the harvest. The act of reaping had already begun: the grain was being cut.”

“Jesus resurrection was not an isolated event that gives to men [and women] the warm confidence and hope of a future resurrection; it is the beginning of the eschatological [i.e., “age to come”] resurrection itself. If we may use crude terms to try to describe sublime realities, we might say that a piece of the eschatological resurrection had been split off and planted in the midst of history.”

“The resurrection of Jesus is not simply an event in history. It ought not to be described simply as a supernatural event—a miracle, as though God had interfered with the ‘laws of nature.’ The resurrection of Jesus means nothing less than the appearance upon the scene of the historical of something that belongs to the eternal order! Supernatural? Yes, but not in the usual sense of the word. It is not the ‘disturbance’ of the normal course of events; it is the manifestation of something utterly new. Eternal life has appeared in the midst of mortality.”

George Eldon Ladd on the Resurrection of Jesus, from “Theology of the New Testament”, Eerdmans, 1974. Pages 324-327