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The Sharp Sword of Resurrection

“Divide and conquer!”, or as Jesus said it: “A house that is divided against itself cannot stand.” It was Paul against the world. Knowing that he wouldn’t get a fair trial from this group, he needed a way to keep the whole Sanhedrin from condemning him before the tribune. Since the Sanhedrin was a collective body made up of leaders from several different parties representing different beliefs within Judaism as a whole, Paul used the Pharisee’s belief in resurrection as a doctrinal sword to divide the assembly and get a vocal group on his side.

Some people fault Paul here for using a debate trick as a shady distraction tactic. And make no mistake, this is a tactical move by Paul. He reduces the Jewish court to shambles just by mentioning the idea of resurrection. He hasn’t even gotten to the part about how the resurrection that all good Pharisees expected to come at the end of history came early for this particular man Jesus, and how that fact changes everything about the temple, the people of God, and the customs of the Jews. Just the idea of resurrection itself is enough to rip the Sanhedrin apart.

But this is not just conniving legal wrangling. Paul really is focusing on the central issue. If the Sanhedrin make room for resurrection, they will see that Paul’s entire life and ministry can be explained on that basis. Paul does not put the resurrection at the center of his defense because it makes tactical sense. He puts the resurrection at the center of his defense because he has already put the resurrection at the center of his life. Give Paul a resurrection-sized hole, and he can fit his entire gospel into it.

This is because Jesus’ resurrection is God’s divine verdict of “not guilty” over everything Jesus did, everything He said, everything He taught his followers to do. Since God raised Jesus from the dead, then Jesus really is the Messiah. The resurrection is the proof of the Christian faith, the touchstone, the North Star. Paul is telling the truth: it is with respect to the hope and resurrection of the dead that he is on trial. Without resurrection, there is no way to justify any change from the Judaism of his past. But because Christ has been raised, everything changes.

Since the Pharisees believed in resurrection, they recognized that Paul was claiming to act in line with their beliefs, and thus, they gave him the benefit of the doubt. No Pharisee would defile the temple, like Paul was charged with doing, but a Pharisee who had seen a spirit or an angel might very well have gotten overeager and could probably be forgiven for thinking that the resurrection was happening. “Maybe a spirit or angel did speak to him!” They said, “Nothing wrong with that!”

By starting up this intra-Jewish debate all over again, Paul wins the Pharisees over to his defense. More importantly, Paul moves the center of the debate off of himself and onto Christ. He’s not interested in having a discussion over proper temple protocol. He wants people to be confronted with Christ, because since the resurrection is a historical fact, it not only justifies his own behavior, but more importantly, it becomes something that everyone must deal with. By raising Jesus, God is saying “Yes, when Jesus claims to be the Son of God and have authority to forgive sins, I’m okay with that. He did not deserve death for blasphemy. He’s telling the truth.” And if God says that, then everyone, Sadducee, Pharisee, Roman Tribune, Gentile, everyone, needs to believe in Jesus and live a resurrection-shaped life that honors Him as Lord.

Let this be your challenge: does the resurrection explain your life? Have you made the resurrection so central to how you live, so that when it comes time for you to give an answer for your hope, you are able in good conscience to claim that your life can be explained by the resurrection of Jesus? If not, what needs to change?

The goal of a resurrection shaped life is to share in Christ’s sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so somehow to attain the resurrection of the dead. Live your life now in light of Jesus’ resurrection, and when the great day comes, you will share that resurrection with Him.

Posted on Thursday, May 21, 2015 by CJ Bowen