Without the resurrection, Jesus and his movement would have incurred no more than a paragraph and maybe as little as a footnote in the history of Judaism. On what we now call Holy Saturday Jesus was a zero. Dead, buried and all but forgotten. That Jesus was raised from the dead is as certain as the existence of Christianity itself. Working from the objective fact of the empty tomb and the subjective experiences of eating and drinking with the risen Jesus, the followers of Jesus knew he was the Christ, the hero sent from God, and told that to everyone they met. We know that because they were named Christians (not Jesusians).
There was a story to tell about Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and the resurrection impacted on the telling of the story. A good kind of mayhem was caused by this foxy fact in the chicken coop of sayings and deeds of Jesus. Each New Testament writing in its own way probes the real significance of Jesus of Nazareth in the light of being raised from zero to hero. The four gospels are especially interesting because we read them naturally forwards from beginning to end and it takes a certain amount of educated effort (e.g. through biblical studies) to read them as stories which have been revised backwards, from resurrection to beginning.
One simple example illustrates this, the example of what the gospel writers actually say about the beginning of Jesus. Mark presents Jesus from his baptism. Matthew gives us Jesus from his conception and birth contextualised with a genealogy going back as far as Abraham. Luke similarly but offers a genealogy going back to Adam the son of God. John - if it were a competition, he wins by an eternity - goes back before time: as the Word, Jesus existed before the beginning of creation. Where does the not zero but hero, not dead but raised One come from? The gospel writers do not disagree with one another in their respective answers: rather they outdo one another in how far back they can see in the light of the resurrection.
Then, as they move forward in telling the story, perhaps here telling it as they have heard it (revisions having occurred, perhaps, in the prior handing down through Christians sharing stories about Jesus) and maybe there retelling it as they strain to make certain points to the audience they have in mind as their readers, the gospel writers tell the story insightfully in the light of the resurrection as its significance dawns on them. I suggest we particularly see this as readers today as we appreciate the presentation of Jesus through the whole of a gospel as a certain kind of heroic figure.
Thus Matthew marshals his material about Jesus to present Jesus as the New Moses, who gives the law of the kingdom both authoritatively and in five Torah-like blocks of preaching. Mark more than any of his evangelical colleagues presents Jesus as a 'hero', a divine man who heroically stands up to Satan, releasing people from Satan's grip of illness and possession, and establishes a new power in the world, the kingdom of God. Luke takes a huge risk in simultaneously presenting Jesus as a non-threatening do gooder comfortable with Roman imperialism who is also the real Caesar of the whole world establishing a rival kingdom on a global scale. John, perhaps with the most time lapse from resurrection to composition, accepts the insights of his gospel predecessors and pushes them further: Jesus is the Word who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us, that is, the Son of God both one with the Father and sent by the Father to transform the world.
What is then fascinating is to read the gospels as these forward-yet-backwards documents which effectively are theological histories of Jesus of Nazareth. Just when we might expect that more of the impact of the resurrection would be worked into the history of Jesus, we do not find it. The resurrection, for instance, provoked mayhem on the question of identity: did a Gentile believing in this Jewish rabbi need to adopt identification as a Jew through circumcision? The controversy over circumcision rumbles through the early life of the Christian church, but it is never woven backwards into the life of Jesus. Chalk one up for the reliability of these theological histories as histories.
Approaching Good Friday we observe that the theological meaning of the death of Jesus, elucidated through Paul's writings and the Epistle to the Hebrews, scarcely impacts on the gospel narrative. Presumably the historical Jesus said very little about the meaning of his death and, remarkably, the gospels are faithful to Jesus when it must have been tempting to put words in his mouth.
Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus triggered a flood of reflection on what happened on the cross. To be sure, the risen Jesus before ascension may have contributed to this flood (Luke at least hints at this). Why does Jesus die only to be raised from the dead? Couldn't the victory and vindication of the hero be expressed through a rescue operation which prevented Jesus' death (cf. Isaac/Abraham)? Effectively the early Christians said 'Yes' to the latter question and furrowed their brows to find the answer to the former. The former question faced the reality of what actually happened to Jesus. The latter question was hypothetical (though, later, Islam would teach that it was so).
PS. Following on from yesterday, like the glory days of my youth, when the NZ cricket team beat Australia and England for the first time, NZ stands on the verge of a great win. England are 90 for 4 chasing 481 to win.
On the ongoing matter of gay marriage in NZ, Dan Dolejs of Nelson has a few words to say.
Interesting claim here that Diana's death ended the English Reformation. Er, maybe.