RESURRECTION, PAUL, JESUS AND EASTER
We are going to chase Jesus down this rabbit hole of history until we discover the Jesus that walked the earth, loved God with all his heart, all his soul, all his mind, and all his might, and taught us to follow him on the journey to ecstasy that he shared with “Abba” (God).
In the last episode, we explored some of the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr.; both Jesus and MLK were the founders of a great movement, taught social reform, non-violence, and love of God and our fellow man. The singular difference between these two men, who taught in an almost identical way, and had followers that loved them with all their hearts, can be summed up in one word—resurrection! Many of the followers of Jesus believed that they “saw” him after he died; the followers of MLK did not.
But, what does that mean? What did that mean to the original Apostles and disciples? What did that mean to Paul, and what did that mean to later followers? Did it change over the decades?
There were many apocalyptic preachers during the first century in Judea and Israel; some had thousands of followers, some were hailed as the long-awaited Jewish messiah, some were purported to have performed miracles, and some were even killed and crucified by the Romans, but only one teacher became the founder of a new religion that changed the world, and that was the one who was called Jesus. What was the difference between the other “messiahs” and Jesus?
It was the belief of the original followers that Jesus survived the horrible death that he was subjected to. The followers believed that he survived death—but what did that mean to them? Did that mean that they saw him physically (as later Christians believed, and still believe), or was it something else, something far more important to them, and to us today?
Almost immediately after Jesus died, stories began to be told about his appearances to his Apostles and disciples. The stories that were told (and recorded in the Gospels) varied. Was it on the road to Galilee as the despondent disciples headed back to their homes (Mark 28:7; Matt. 26:32 and 28:7)? Perhaps it was in Jerusalem (Luke 24:13), or could it have been both (John 20:19 and 21:1)? Did 500 see him as Paul says (1st Corinthians 15:6), or was it just his intimate followers as mentioned in the Gospels?
No matter, it was Paul’s vision of Jesus that ended up being the game-changer. He plopped himself down right in the middle of history, and interjected himself into the mix. He proclaimed that he had the same authority as Peter, James (Jesus’ brother) and the other Apostles that had known Jesus personally (remember, Paul never met Jesus!). The Apostles and disciples had lived with Jesus for years; traveled the dusty paths with him, watched him minister to those that he encountered, and suffered the slings and arrows from the doubters right along with him. It is understandable that some of them didn’t take kindly to Paul’s assumed authority, nor his non-Jewish teachings. And, more importantly, Paul presumed to tell them that he was not only equal to them, but also superior to them when it came to telling the world what Jesus and God’s wishes were for the world.
Paul’s only contact with the disciples were two weeks with Peter and James (I “met with James, our Lord’s brother”), but this occurred at least three years after having had his vision of Jesus—he says himself that they were the only two disciples that he met with in Jerusalem on his first trip. It was during this initial meeting that he learned all that he was to know about Jesus the man, but he boldly states, “Let me make it clear, friends, the message I announced does not conform to human expectation. I say this because it was not transmitted to me by anyone nor did anyone teach it to me. Rather, it came to me as an insight from God about Jesus as God’s Anointed.” Gal. 1:17-19 Wow! That’s quite a statement. In his mind, it was he, and he alone, that had the “true” connection with Jesus and God. It was he alone that knew what God and Jesus wanted of their followers. It was he alone who knew the heart and mind of not only Jesus, but God himself. He alone was privy to the knowledge of what it took to gain—and lose—salvation. It is hard for us to understand how important this observation is to understanding the Christianity that we all inherited; but more importantly, to our understanding of Jesus, who would become the Messiah to billions.
Paul ripped Jesus out of his homeland, moved him into the Greco-Roman world, and elevated Jesus to a whole new level to match the demands and expectations of that world, where Paul taught and competed daily with the gods of his listeners. His letters and tireless teachings in many countries became the game changing event. Without Paul—who wrote about his vision, his philosophy, and his beliefs about Jesus the Messiah—I seriously doubt if we would have Christianity, as we know it today. The reason is simply that the other Apostles wrote nothing, at least nothing that we know of; and conversely, Paul wrote copiously. His many letters ended up being copied over and over, transmitted from one group of Christians to another, being read then, and for generations that followed. I say again, if we hadn’t had Paul, we wouldn’t have Christianity as we know it today—period.