Alright, Jesus Rose From the Dead. So What?

Most people know exactly what is meant by the phrase “doubting Thomas”. “Why are you such a doubting Thomas? “Don’t be such a doubting Thomas!” For over 2000 years this is how Thomas, one of Jesus’ core disciples has been known. And why? Because he wanted proof? Because, like most of us, he trusted what he could see and feel?

I feel for Thomas. His whole world collapsed in a matter of days. Jesus was taken by the Jewish religious leaders and crucified by the Romans. Imagine what Thomas would have felt about all of this.

I wonder what the atmosphere would have been like for the disciples huddled together after Jesus was crucified. We know they never expected Jesus to come back. They didn’t even expect him to die. Their leader was dead. The movement was over.

And then he appears. Right in the middle of the room. Jesus shows everyone the wounds from the nails and the spear. They believe.

But Thomas isn’t there. He shouldn’t be called doubting Thomas; he should be called unlucky Thomas! The only one not there. His friends say “Thomas we saw him. Jesus is alive.” Would you believe? Or would you react just like Thomas did: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) These words are sacred. They are so important.

Eight. Days. Later. Jesus appears once more. Thomas waited eight days. But there stood Jesus right in front of him. Jesus says to his friend, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)

Thomas comes face to face with the risen Jesus. But what did all this mean to Thomas? And what did all of this mean to the early Christians? Who was this risen Jesus?

Jesus: The “Son of God”

For the early Christians, the resurrection demonstrated that Jesus was the “son of god”.

In The Resurrection of the Son of God, historian N. T. Wright explains that, “When the early Christians declared that the resurrection had marked out Jesus as ‘son of god’, they were building on the Jewish critique of Paganism to make a statement not just about Jesus but also about Israel’s god, a statement designed to confront the Pagan world with the news of its rightful Lord.” (725)

The early Christians meant 3 things when they referred to Jesus as the son of god:

  1. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah.

In Jesus, God’s covenant plan, to deal with the sin and death that so radically infected his world, has reached it’s long awaited and decisive fulfillment. Jesus was everything that Israel was waiting for and promised. Their hope had been fulfilled.

  1. Jesus is the true king

If you said the word “messiah” to a first century Jewish person, they would not be picturing Jesus; they would be picturing Caesar. This is because this title was often applied to pagan monarchs.

However, to the early Christians, the resurrection constituted Jesus as the world’s true king. He is the sovereign (not Caesar or any other ruler on earth) and claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation.

  1. Jesus is God revealed

When the early Christians said, “Jesus is the son of God,” they meant it in the sense that Jesus was the personal embodiment and revelation of the one true God. As Wright explains, Jesus “is the one in whom the living God, Israel’s God, has become personally present in the world, has become one of the human creatures that were made from the beginning in the image of this same God.” (733)

Wright summarises all of this so well: “the whole point…was that this ‘son of God’ had not only come in the flesh but had died in the flesh; had not only died and been buried but had been raised three days later; and that this resurrection…was the public announcement by the one true God, that this Jesus really was, and had always been his son in this full, self-revealing, self-embodying sense.” (734)

Jesus stood in front of Thomas in that room. He invited Thomas to reach out and touch him. And at that moment Thomas knew exactly who was standing before him. This is why the only words Thomas could gasp in that moment were, “my Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

As C. S. Lewis put it, Jesus Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.

So, how do you respond to the risen Jesus?

The Evidence Doesn’t Matter, Jesus Didn’t Rise from the Dead

A few years ago, I came to the conclusion that God did not exist and the resurrection of Jesus couldn’t have happened. I actually woke up one day and realized I couldn’t describe myself as a Christian anymore. If I didn’t believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, I couldn’t claim to be a Christian. That’s because this alleged historical event is the very thing that Christianity is founded on. No resurrection equals no Christianity.

But how do we even begin to look at the resurrection from a historical perspective? And if it’s true, if this really happened, how is it that so many people say that it didn’t? This may really come down to what Michael Licona refers to as our horizons.

We need to wrestle with our horizons so that we can wrestle with the resurrection.

What is a “Horizon”?

In his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Michael Licona says that horizons can be understood as one’s “preunderstanding”. Licona explains that “it is how we view things as a result of our knowledge, experience, beliefs, education, cultural conditioning, preferences, presuppositions and worldview.”

We see all things through our horizons. They aren’t what we’re looking at, they’re what we’re looking through.

They are the glasses we are each wearing when we look at anything. We all have them. Do you have beliefs? Knowledge? Preferences? Experiences? Then guess what: you have a horizon. And whether you realize it or not, you interpret everything through it.

We See What We Want to See

The pesky thing about our horizons is that they influence how we view everything. Especially something as out there as the resurrection of a Jewish carpenter 2000 years ago.

If you want to see resurrection when you look at all the historical data around Jesus allegedly rising from the dead, you’re going to see resurrection. If you want to see that the all the witnesses hallucinated a risen Jesus, that’s what you’ll see. If you want to see that the disciples pulled off one of the biggest hoaxes in history, that’s what you’ll see.

But if you want to make sure that what you’re seeing is the truth, you’ll do everything you can to (1) be aware of your horizon, and (2) remove it.

How Do We Transcend Our Horizons?

Our horizons are parts of us. They influence our perceptions all the time. If we want to investigate something like the resurrection, we must be aware of our horizons and remove them (or at least diminish their influence) if we are going to be truly open to discovering the truth. But how do we do this?

1. Admit your horizon and name it.

First, just admit you have a horizon. You’ll never transcend it if you aren’t honest about having one. And figure out what makes up your horizon. If you believe that the supernatural exists, the resurrection is possible. But if there’s no room in your worldview for supernaturalism, why would you ever consider that a supernatural event has even occurred? You wouldn’t. The investigation is over before you even start.

2. Face you doubt.

Some have been given the gift of faith. Others have been given the gift of doubt. I fall into the second category. I hated doubt at first, and now I truly see that it was and is a gift.

I don’t care if you’re a Christian who’s doubting their beliefs, or an atheist doubting theirs: face your doubt if you want to truly get past it. Don’t burry your head in the sand. Don’t fake it till you make it. And don’t give up. Keep pushing into your doubt. Either your doubts will be confirmed, or they’ll be obliterated. Either way, you’ve put yourself in a position to rise above your horizon and find the truth.

3. Crack the echo chamber.

The echo chamber is the room we lock ourselves in where all we listen to on the overhead speaker are the voices of the people we already agree with. If you don’t want to challenge your worldview, don’t listen to anyone who has one that’s different from yours. If you don’t want to challenge your beliefs, don’t listen to anyone who believes differently from you.

If you want to crack your echo chamber, ask questions. And listen to anyone who’s got an answer. Especially the people you think you might not agree with. This takes humility and empathy. If we can’t put ourselves in the shoes of the people we disagree with, we will never truly see their perspective or how they got there.

A few years ago, my horizon exploded into a million little pieces. My worldview shattered. I no longer believed a man named Jesus rose from the dead. There was no God. And no life after death. This was contrary to everything I had believed for 20 years before this.

But now I had a blank slate. And this is where things really got interesting. With my horizon out of the way, I became open to all the options. I just wanted to know what was true. And as a result of all of this, today I am more confident in the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and that Christianity is true than I have ever been.

So, ask yourself, how much does your horizon influence how you see the resurrection of Jesus?