The resurrection of King Jesus is about the church. So claims Matt Levering in his book Jesus and the Demise of Death. I am sometimes surprised how rarely theologians, pastors, and lay folks talk about the principal enemy in the Bible: death (a tool and design of the Satan) is the enemy and life is the act of God that overcomes death. What Genesis 3 threatened Adam and Eve with was death and what Paul saw as the problem was death (read 1 Corinthians 15 or Romans 6–8).
Sheol, so says Jewish scholar Jon Levenson, is the place of “untimely death” and not simply the place of all the dead. The place of life is Eden and the Temple (Psalm 133). And raising the Shunnamite woman’s son in 2 Kings 4 shows that resurrection and restoration of the people go hand in hand. One more point made by Levenson: exile is a form of death (Ezekiel 37). Resurrection here means the restoration of God’s people, not just immortality after death. So though Daniel 12:1-3 is probably the first clear affirmation of resurrection in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), the theme of God rescuing his people from death and re-creating life in the land is found in numerous places. God will vindicate himself and his people through resurrection. Levenson, in fact, argues that resurrection is not borrowed from other religions or regions but is inherent to Israel’s faith itself.
Leaning on Tom Wright, Levering sees NT resurrection themes as new exodus and end of exile and restoration of Israel. So many themes then coalesce around Jesus and the Story of Israel finding its new center in him as God becomes King through Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection transcends expectations: an embodied existence of life beyond death (life after life after death). Dale Allison is more convinced by hallucinatory visions as the core of resurrection faith. Jimmy Dunn disagrees: the word “resurrection” does not fit visionary experiences; it transcends them. Something happened to Jesus, in his body, and not something to the disciples.
Levering now brings in Aquinas, who has been criticized for not giving sufficient attention to the Jewish story and context of resurrection, the very points made by Wright and Dunn. But Levering argues Aquinas connects resurrection to the People of God.
Here’s an issue: when Paul says Jesus was raised “according to Scripture” in 1 Cor 15:3-5 there is no clear text to which he is pointing, leading some to think there is a pattern — and that pattern is what Aquinas grabs. Thus, Luke 24:44-47 connects all of Jesus to all of the Story. So Aquinas finds five reasons for the necessity of resurrection:
1. Vindication of God’s justice.
2. To confirm our faith that Jesus is Son of God.
3. To inspire our hope in resurrection alongside Jesus.
4. To give us the capacity to love and holiness.
5. Vindication of God’s people.
Aquinas connects each theme to Scripture — Old and New Testament, beginning with the Magnificat for #1, etc. “In sum… [he] provides a biblical theology rooted in the vindication of Israel’s God, which inspires faith, hope, and love” (37). Aquinas reads “on the third day” mystically — or iconically — seeing through it to a theology of history and redemption. In other words, Levering says it amounts to much the same thing as Wright’s view of history.
Christ’s Body, then, is a community of faith, hope and love. One does not perceive the resurrected Christ apart from faith, and with faith one enters into the resurrected Body of Christ. The strongest case for Aquinas is the Scripture, but alongside that comes angels and signs.
Levenson and Wright, then, see a pattern of God as the God of life (not death) in the Scriptures and its Story. Aquinas, too, sees the accomplishment of eschatological purposes in Christ. He proposes a theology of glory rooted in the history of God’s people and manifested in God’s Messiah.