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I was shocked when I first realized that the book of Acts doesn’t speak about Jesus’ crucifixion as a meritorious death that promised postmortem bliss. The author’s focus is rather on the resurrection of Jesus, one who had been executed unjustly by those in control of an unjust system. His resurrection marked the beginning of that long-awaited work (rooted in the hope of the ancient Hebrew prophets) that the oppression, violence, and injustice of our present iteration of our world would be put right.
This was profoundly curious to me. I began to notice the message of Acts and the gospels was rather different than the cross-focused preaching and teaching I was used to.
The author of the gospel of Luke also includes resurrection in a category of “musts,” things that must happen:
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, emphasis added)
The Jewish early followers of Jesus had a similar focus to the ancient Hebrew prophets. Their dream was not of one day going to a far distant “heaven” and escaping either this world or a postmortem “hell.” Their focus was very much on this present world, and the gospels showed a Jesus who taught a path toward righting oppression, violence, and injustice. Their message was that Jesus’ unjust execution interrupted his liberation work, and his resurrection overcame or reversed the death that unjust systems dealt.
Consider the following from Acts, and pay close attention to how the passage emphasizes the resurrection and describes what resurrection accomplished:
”Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power . . . God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact . . . Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22-36, emphasis added)
We’ll look at more of this emphasis in Acts as we continue.