Easter Expectations (Part 4)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

This is a 4 Part series exploring the question of resurrection expectations held by ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The primary question of this study is, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In other words, did the historical Jesus expect his resurrection to be a unique event in history detached from the future general resurrection or did he expect it to be at the general resurrection? Before we can answer this question, we must first answer another: “What did ancient Jews expect of the resurrection of the dead and was there any connection with it to the Messiah?”


Previously in Part 1, we explored the ancient Jewish expectations of the resurrection before the time of Jesus and Paul within Intertestamental Judaism, also known as Second Temple Judaism – the time period between the Old and New Testaments.

Last time in Part 2, we continued exploring the ancient Jewish expectations of resurrection, only this time we looked at expectations during and after the time of Jesus and Paul. Here, I provided a summary and conclusions about resurrection expectations in ancient Jewish thought before, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul.

All of this was laying the groundwork for our main question at hand – “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?”

In Part 3, we looked at Jesus’ view of his own resurrection.

Here in Part 4, we will look at Jesus’ view of the general resurrection, and then make our final judgment as to what the historical Jesus expected of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection.

Overall, I will argue that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be a unique and individual resurrection with no relationship to the general resurrection.


THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS

Here in Part 4, we now turn to explore what the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) claim that Jesus said about the general resurrection prior to his death.

Jesus on the General Resurrection

When examining what Jesus said about the general resurrection, there are only two passages in the Synoptics: the question about the resurrection and the last judgment. However, given the lack of the historicity of the last judgment in Matt 25:31-46, we will only examine the former.[1] In doing so, we will survey it and observe Jesus’ view regarding the nature, scope, number, agent, and time of the general resurrection. We will also report whether allusions to Messiah appear.

The Question about Resurrection

Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40

In this passage, the Sadducees come to Jesus and ask him a question concerning the resurrection, particularly with regard to marriage in the resurrection. In doing so, they are trying to stump Jesus in his beliefs in the resurrection since the Sadducees do not. Jesus’ response to them is two-fold. First, he addresses the issue of marriage in the resurrection and then he addresses their unbelief in resurrection.

In analyzing his view of the general resurrection from his response, we can first decipher that the nature of it is bodily and is “like angels” in that the resurrected do not engage in marriage. Furthermore, he does not explicitly state what the scope of resurrection is, though the mention of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may indicate that Jesus is thinking of a resurrection of the righteous alone. In addition, the number seems to be both corporate and individual. The corporate dimensions are found in that Jesus frequently uses the plural, while the individual aspects come again from his mention of the three patriarchs. Also, Jesus asserts that God, being “not of the dead, but of the living,” is the agent of resurrection, that is, resurrection life comes from the living God. Concerning time, Jesus gives no reference as to when this general resurrection will occur. Lastly, there is no trace in the triple tradition here of Jesus making a connection between his resurrection and the general resurrection. Moreover, he makes no connection between resurrection and Messiah.

Below is a chart summarizing our study concerning the question about resurrection:

Nature Scope Number Agent Time Messiah
Bodily Righteous? Corporate & Individual God NOS No

Conclusions from the Question about Resurrection and the General Resurrection

Overall, the question about the resurrection only fulfills one criteria of authenticity, that is, it is multiply attested in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, it fails to fulfill the criterion of dissimilarity because here Jesus adopts a view of the general resurrection that is more or less consistent with ancient Jewish views, namely, that the general resurrection will be corporate and that no connection exists between resurrection and Messiah. Moreover, it seems to have some elements of theologizing upon the resurrection here, brief though it may be. Unlike the predictions above, the passages here give details about there being no marriage in the resurrection, describe the nature of resurrected persons being like angels, and expound upon what it means for God to be the God of the patriarchs.

For these reasons, then, we can only tentatively conclude that this Jesus saying on the question about the resurrection was from the historical Jesus, although with below moderate certainty. However, if we could conclude with stronger certainty that this came from the historical Jesus, then we would deduce that the historical Jesus here expected his resurrection to have no connection with the general resurrection.

CONCLUSIONS

In conclusion, we have thus far explored the question of resurrection expectations held by the ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The first question we explored was, “What did the ancient Jews near the time of Jesus and Paul expect about the resurrection of the dead and was there a connection between the Messiah and resurrection?” We concluded that there was not a monolithic view on resurrection in this intertestamental period, though the majority of Jews believed in a bodily and corporate resurrection of the righteous with God as the agent and with no connection to the Messiah. The second and primary question that we asked was, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In exploring the three passion/resurrection prediction and the question about resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels, we have established the historicity and authenticity of these texts. In addition, we have discovered that what has made our task in this present study difficult is that we have relatively little extant information about what Jesus taught and said concerning his resurrection and the general resurrection. While Jesus probably taught more on resurrection than what we have in the Gospels, we unfortunately do not have any more extant evidence today.[2] Nevertheless, with the information that we do have, we have argued above that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be bodily in nature, unique and individual in number, shortly after his death, and a totally separate event from the general resurrection. Furthermore, this hypothesis fulfills the criteria of embarrassment, dissimilarity, multiple attestation, and the lack of theologizing in many places, and thus bolters our thesis concerning the historical Jesus’ resurrection expectations.[3]

 

POSTSCRIPT: FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION

What about the Parousia?

Those who may not be convinced of the resurrection of Jesus and do not see this as historical will have many more issues to deal with and difficult questions to answer. The question of Jesus’ parousia predictions will need to be taken into account here then; such questions as: Did Jesus really predict his parousia? If so, did he mean that his parousia was in fact his resurrection, his coming? For he was gone, and then came back to the realm of the living. Perhaps his resurrection is his parousia? Given his teaching about his parousia, I do not think this is the case. However, more research needs to be done searching out such questions.

What about the Disciples’ Expectations?

Another area for further study should be done on the disciples’ expectations concerning Jesus’ resurrection and it in relation to the general resurrection. It is clear from the Gospel texts that Jesus’ own disciples do not expect Jesus to be resurrected after his death, at least not immediately as he predicted. This has cast doubts in the minds of some historical Jesus scholars particularly with regard to the historicity of Jesus’ passion and resurrection predictions due to the disciples’ eccentric response to Jesus’ death had he indeed foretold the events.

How does one account for their response? One possibility perhaps is that the disciples did not think that Jesus would be raised at all. This seems improbable given their Jewish heritage and given that their teacher holds to a more Pharisaic view, namely, that there will be a resurrection. Another possibility is that the disciples thought that Jesus would rise, but at the end in the general resurrection with them. This seems to best account for how they respond. They are grieved and have lost hope. Moreover, their response certainly demonstrates that they did not expect Jesus’s resurrection to be imminent, whether it would be unique or general. If they thought that Jesus’ resurrection would be unique and immediately after the third day, then they would not have been mourning in such despair. Also, if they thought his resurrection would be at the general resurrection and that this was imminent on the third day, then we would expect them to have excitement because the end would be near with their own resurrection on the way. However, what is recorded in the Gospels is the exact opposite. There is not the slightest hint that the disciples are expecting Jesus to rise immediately. Due to the fact that the Gospels also record Jesus predicting his resurrection (whether they were historical or not), this gives a somewhat embarrassing tone in depicting the disciples as not anticipating Jesus’ resurrection. Overall, more work needs to be done in this area.


[1] The historicity of this saying is doubted (1) because it is not multiply attested, (2) it is more concurrent with Jewish views on resurrection than dissimilar, and (3) it is highly theological in nature.

[2] In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus speaks more of the resurrection, though we do not consult these occurrences here.

 

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