And when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; and others said, We will hear you yet again concerning this. —Acts 17:32
The resurrection of Jesus poses a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to the natural mind.
When Paul was announcing Jesus and the resurrection as the gospel in the philosophical milieu of ancient Athens, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers dismissed him as a babbler. The philosophers in the Academy weren’t the only ones stumbled here. The believers in the church in Corinth, right next door to Athens, also wavered. The Greek mind had infiltrated the church and produced devastating skepticism toward resurrection. Therefore, Paul devoted the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 to the topic, showing that resurrection is the life-pulse of God’s economy.
Today, people still scoff at the empty tomb. They question the validity of personal testimony.
However, the historical enigma of the emergence of Christianity as an immediate, explosive move poses counter-questions.
Here is how Hans Küng poses the questions to the questioners:
How did a new beginning come about after such a disastrous end? How did this Jesus movement come into existence after Jesus’ death, with such important consequences for the further destiny of the world? How did a community emerge in the name of a crucified man, how did that community take shape as a Christian “Church”?
After leaving this man to die in complete isolation, how did it come about that his followers not only clung to his message under the impact of his “personality,” his words and deeds, not only summoned up their courage some time after the catastrophe to continue to proclaim his message of the kingdom and the will of God… but immediately made this person himself the essential content of the message?
How did they come to proclaim, therefore, not only the Gospel of Jesus, but Jesus himself as the Gospel, unintentionally turning the proclaimer himself into the content of the proclamation, the message of the kingdom of God into the message of Jesus as the Christ of God?
What is the explanation of the fact that this Jesus, the man who was hanged, not despite his death but precisely because of it, became himself the main content of their proclamation? Was not his whole claim hopelessly compromised by his death? Did he not want the greatest things and yet hopelessly failed to get what he wanted? And, in the religio-political situation at the time, could a greater psychological and social impediment to the continuance of his cause have been devised than this disastrous end in public shame and infamy?
Why was it possible then to link any sort of hope with such a hopeless end, to proclaim as God’s Messiah the one judge by God, to explain the shameful gallows as a sign of salvation and to turn the obvious bankruptcy of the movement into its phenomenal new emergence? Had they not given up his cause as lost, since his cause was bound up with his person?
Where did they get their strength from: these men who came forward as his apostles so soon after such a breakdown, the complete failure of his plans; who spared no efforts, feared neither adversity nor death, in order to spread this “good” news among men, even to the outposts of the Empire?
Why did there arise that bond to the Master which is so very different from the bonds of other movements to the personalities of their founders, as for instance of Marxists to Marx or enthusiastic Freudians to Freud? Why is Jesus not merely venerated, studied and followed as the founder and teacher who lived years ago, but—especially in the worshiping congregation—proclaimed as alive and known as the one who is active at the present time? How did the extraordinary idea arise that he himself leads his followers, his community, through his Spirit?
1. Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, pp. 344-345