The Resurrection Experience
Jesus can be viewed, in a somewhat secular sense, as the founder of Christianity. In this limited light, then, Jesus becomes an historic figure whom we could place alongside other founders of great World Religions: Moses, Buddha, and Mohamed.
But, in reality, Christianity only begins after Jesus death and resurrection. At the time of his arrest, Jesus’ followers abandon him and nearly disband. It is the encounter with the Risen Jesus that produces a unique experience among Jesus’ followers. Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson challenges us to regard the phenomenon surrounding the events that follow Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The unique aspect of these events is represented by the Holy Spirit, that part that we regard as one of the three forms in which humans experience God: that is to say, as part of the Trinity. For the early church, however, there is no need of doctrine. Events are moving far too fast!
The Spirit transforms Jesus’ followers into healers and preachers; and they prophesy.
Jesus is no longer the teacher, but is transformed into another entity: Jesus is Lord. It is the same designation given to God. In fact, as Jesus foretold in the gospel writings, the Risen Jesus shares in the life of God.
Jesus communicates that life, this New Life, to others.
Now, a lot of time could be spent hammering away at the human aspect of Jesus. Many of the claims for a persistent, historical Jesus (resuscitated, continuing to live) make for great scripts for movies and for fiction and other publications. However, it does not account for the astounding transformation of the otherwise impotent and disorganized group of followers that were Jesus’ disciples. Nor does it account for the phenomenon of the movement that became Christianity after the Resurrection.
We can turn to recorded literature for confirmation of the movement itself. Non-Christian writers note the rise of the Christian movement. Of course, we have Paul’s epistles: the letters to the churches and the description of his experiences in meeting the Risen Christ. They contain a detailed description of his conversion experience, saying far more than the Gospels about the power of the Risen Lord. His encounter and first-hand description are powerful, even more so than the dramatic telling in the Acts of the Apostles.
The gospel writers attempt to transmit the story of Jesus’ resurrection as description.
However, the first-hand accounts of the epistle writers describe the phenomenon and the experience more directly and succinctly.
For Dr. Johnson, it all comes down to the uniqueness of Christianity’s character: its own paradox and its source of power in performing mighty acts. We will address these in more detail in the coming segments.
Until then, we should each consider the uniqueness of our own revelation and experience in Jesus, our Risen Lord.
Princeton Theological Seminary