The conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory seems to have erupted soon after Jesus’ death, and it was central in earliest faith of the Jesus-followers thereafter. A few notes about this in connection with Easter Sunday 2011.
- The conviction was that it was Jesus of Nazareth who had been raised. That is, there was a direct connection between the crucified figure who had been active in Roman Judea and the figure of earliest Christian faith.
- This was not a claim that Jesus had been resuscitated and brought back to life of this world, but instead that God had catapulted Jesus forward into life of the world to come.
- One immediate implication of this claim was that God had vindicated Jesus against the death-penalty imposed by the earthly authorities. That is, in the earliest setting, Jesus’ resurrection was very much divine vindication.
- The likelihood that Jesus had been executed as a messianic/royal claimant meant that God’s resurrecting of him vindicated this claim. That’s probably why the messianic claim about Jesus seems to have been so central in earliest Christian preaching.
- Resurrection of the righteous was, for many Jews (but not all), a central hope and expectation. That is, “resurrection”, the personal vivification of people by God was by Jesus’ time already a familiar concept. This hope seems to have emerged sometime in the “post-exilic” period, and in the time of Jesus was still under debate, the Sadducees the main Jewish party portrayed as denying this belief.
- The unusual thing about the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead was that he had been singled out in advance of the resurrection that was to be given to all the righteous. This immediately meant that Jesus was somehow special, that God had chosen to favor him apart from and in advance of the vindication to be given to the righteous (such as Moses, Abraham, David, etc.).
- The references to Jesus’ resurrection include the claim that this involved also his exaltation to heavenly glory “at God’s right hand” (the phrase lifted from Psalm 110). So “resurrection” in Jesus’ case must be understood as connoting his vindication and glorification. That is reflected in the “post-Easter” references to Jesus as Messiah and as “Lord”, and the assertion that he now shares in the name and glory of God.
- In short, the conviction that God had raised Jesus from death was central in earliest Christian faith, and also was powerful in generating attendant convictions as well.