Tom Wright’s new book, Surprised by Hope:, has just about become required reading for my Jesus of Nazareth class. In twenty gentle pages Tom sums up his massive study on the resurrection: Resurrection of the Son of God.
How do people speak of the after life in your community? Is it more of a spiritual existence or a resurrected body in a new heavens and a new earth?
Here are the highlights:
It begins with a wonderful tale about Wittgenstein, Popper, and all those in the room that night when the poker was pulled out and everything fell apart. This is, Tom says, an analogy to the resurrection accounts. We might not know all that happened, but by golly something happened. What was it? Resurrection is what Christians called it. And it is precisely here that Wright brings his whole book into a clean and crisp summary.
For the pagan world, there was no such thing as resurrection. There were those who wanted a body but couldn’t get it and those who didn’t want a body after death. Homer and Plato. Resurrection meant, not life after death, but a bodily life after a life after death. (This is one of Tom’s famous spins that says a lot.) Resurrection meant bodies. So, when Christians said Jesus was raised “they were not talking abouit Jesus’s soul going into heavenly bliss” (37).
In the Jewish world, there was some variety. Sadducees — no resurrection; Pharisees — yes. But, what united those who believed in it was that it would all happen at once, to everyone, and it was bodily.
When Jesus began talking about his own resurrection his disciples were muddled — they didn’t know what he meant by just his rising. Resurrection was general, for all, not just for one. So, when Jesus was crucified it all fell apart: “they had backed the wrong horse” (40).
Now one of Tom’s innovations: heaven refers not to eternal life but to the place of postmortem existence — Paradise is the same. Heaven is the temporary stage after death before resurrection. There is a two-step process: death and heaven, and then second a new bodily existence in a remade world.
Into this world Christians make seven innovations:
1. There is no spectrum of belief among Christians; they believed the same. (Apart from a few minor irritants.)
2. Resurrection moves from the circumference of Jewish belief to the center.
3. The body will be a transformed body.
4. Resurrection has split into two: first Jesus and then the saints.
5. Collaboration: God has called us into working with him to implement the achievement of Jesus.
6. Metaphorically, resurrection got connected to baptism (death, burial, resurrection) and ethics (raised to new ethical life).
7. Connected to Messiahship, to which it had not previously been connected.