To the disappointment of many, Easter isn’t about a bunny.
It’s about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In our scientific age, resurrection is viewed as an impossibility at best, and as an opiatic myth created by Jesus’ original disciples at worst. Some people respect the belief in an effort to promote religious tolerance, many scoff at its absurdity, few think it’s an intriguing fantasy, and still fewer actually stop to consider what the raising of this particular dead man means.
Yet, for professing Christians, the Resurrection is the cornerstone of our entire belief system. Without it, our faith is useless (1 Cor. 15.14). Without it, we may as well believe in the Easter Bunny.
The Greek word σκάνδαλον (skandalon), is used in 1 Cor. 1.23 and Gal. 5.11 to describe the nature of the cross and its offense to Jewish sensibilities. The word refers to an impediment which causes one to trip or fall, and is often referred to as a stumbling block. For Jews, a crucified Messiah was a major hiccup in their religious schema. While they waited expectantly for a Messiah, a suffering and tortured one wasn’t on their radar. Jews believed God’s promised Messiah would ride victoriously into Jerusalem, defeat the Romans, and reinstitute Israel as a political force within the world. Thus, when their Messiah rode in on a donkey and was nailed to an instrument of the Roman criminal justice system, they were a bit disillusioned. The cross created cognitive dissonance, and according to Paul, was an impediment to Jewish salvation.
In many ways, the Resurrection had the same effect; in many ways, it was just as scandalous as the cross.
Outside of the Sadducees, belief in the resurrection of the dead was a commonly held view by Jews both in, and prior to, the first century. While this hope involved individual resurrection, it also included a more holistic understanding of the renewal of all things at the end of the age. The world, the cosmos, all of creation would be delivered and renewed; however, this renewal was expected to happen on the other side of death, at the end of all things as we currently know them. This is why the disciples didn’t quite get it when Jesus said his body, the temple, would be rebuilt in three days. Resurrection in the midst of history, rather than at the end of it, wasn’t on their radar.
Thus, when God did in fact raise Jesus from the grave three days later, the disciples, and those who bore witness to the Resurrection, were thrown for a loop. They were tripped up, and left reeling with the question, what is God up to?
The answer: Yahweh, the covenantal God of the Old Testament, was again intervening in history to bring about his promises of deliverance, freedom, and new life for his people.
This is why the claim of Jesus’ resurrection is so huge. Jesus healed, forgave sins, and proclaimed the nearness of God’s Kingdom. He did and said things which led people to believe (or completely misconstrue) that God was in fact actively bringing about his will in history. If Jesus had merely been a great moral teacher, a common day thief, or a political radical, his resurrection, while shocking, may not necessarily have been something for the New Testament authors to grapple with or write home about. Yet, there was more to the Resurrection than this, precisely because Jesus was more than this.*
He was God incarnate; God made flesh; a God who was continuing the work he had inaugurated in the life and death of his Son. The Resurrection was God’s crowning achievement and victory; an ultimate vindication of Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and crucifixion. What was once considered to be a future hope, was already happening this side of death. God’s people didn’t need to wait for the present world order to pass away, but could experience deliverance, freedom, and forgiveness of sins in the present.**
So too, can we.
Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of what is to come for all of those who believe. The end of the age hasn’t yet arrived; however, we can experience the life-giving ramifications of the Resurrection in the here and now. Like the first witnesses to the Resurrection, we can stand in awe, recognizing that God often works counter to our expectations. We can embrace the Resurrection's scandal and rejoice in the hope that awaits, as we loudly proclaim:
He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
*Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. pp. 399-401. Fortress Press, 1992.