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Surprised by Hope III

As he continues, in Chapter 4, his analysis of the basis of Christian hope in the New Testament witness to the resurrection of Jesus, N.T. Wright makes a point that came as a surprise to me: one of the features that the varying accounts of the resurrection found in the four gospels have in common is that they never mention the future Christian hope. They do not connect the resurrection of Jesus with the believer’s hope of resurrection when Jesus returns, though this connection is indeed made elsewhere, particularly by Paul. But in the gospels:

Insofar as the event is interpreted, Easter has a very this-worldly, present-age meaning: Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun – and we, his followers, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven! (56)

The last phrase just quoted may raise suspicions that Wright goes too far in emphasizing the human role in establishing the kingdom, though elsewhere in the book he will make clear that God alone will bring about the culmination. None of that, though, should be used to avoid the penetrating claim made by each of the four evangelists in their distinct ways: the resurrection means that Jesus is the Messiah and therefore our Sovereign as citizens and agents of the new kingdom, living in the midst of the present age with its rulers and authorities.

This is why Surprised by Hope – a book about resurrection and eschatology – is a powerful text for Christian social thought and for the interests of Adventist Peace Fellowship. The resurrection demonstrates that the movement started by the teacher from Nazareth did not, like that of other would-be messiahs of second Temple Judaism, end in failure with his execution, but that instead his universal reign has been inaugurated. His teaching and way thus become authoritative over all other standards and norms for matters of peace, war and violence, and for all of our interaction with society.

But, then, why should we believe it? Wright devotes much of this chapter to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. “Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which skepticism of various sorts have been hiding,” he writes (64).

Dismissing the Christian resurrection hope as yet one more manifestation of the longing for afterlife that runs through the literature of many human civilizations, or attributing the disciples’ reports about an empty tomb and encounters with the risen Lord as the product of some sort of collective but inward spiritual experience, simply avoids rather that refutes the New Testament witness that something happened in history.

As for the temptation to Christians to soften claims about the physical reality of the resurrection or make them more compatible with the canons of modern scientific thinking, the verses Wright quotes from the late John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter” hit home:

Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.


Let us not make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

less, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

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