During the Passion Week, I am examining the earliest statement of the Christian faith, which is found in I Corinthians 15:
That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Twice, this formulation emphasizes that what had happened with Jesus had occurred “according to the scriptures.” N.T. Wright argues – and I agree – that this statement is more than an effort to refer to one or two individual prophecies. Rather, it is an indication that everything in the Jewish scriptures had been building up to this event: the “death” and “raising” of Jesus.
What relationship did this event bear to the story of the Jewish scriptures? I think the answer is fairly simple: The Jewish scriptures recognized that God’s created order, while originally something that was good, had been tainted by man’s actions and subsequently “cursed” by God. God, however, had repeatedly promised a day when he would forgive man’s sins and undo the curse on creation. When the earliest Christians said that Jesus had died and was raised “according to the scriptures,” they were saying that such event represent the cumination of the story of the Jewish scripture – that God’s day of reconciliation and redemption of creation has now begun.
Jesus’ appearance, then, was more than an appearance of a mortal body, subject to the laws of death for a second time. Instead, as Paul’s writing in I Corinthains 15 will bear out, it was an immortal, imperishable body.
Paul will later compare the mortal body to a seed, which – when fed life-giving substances such as food, water, and soil – carries within it the genetic power to become something much more elaborate and beautiful. I think this image is quite useful.
What the disciples had experienced when Jesus “appeared” in other words, was not only the “seed” of Jesus’ body (though it was that as well) but the “plant” that can only bloom when God has breathed a life into his new creation. In other words, they were experiencing something that no human had ever seen before: a small piece of what God’s new world would one day look like. It was not less real, like a ghost, but more real than anything they had ever seen.
Next, we will consier the question of Why Jesus? In other words, what did it mean that God chose to raise up Jesus?