γενήσομαι «ge-ney-soh-mey : i am becoming»
These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
the spiritualisation of easter
Good Friday and Easter are important events we as Jesus-followers mark especially on our calendars—they comprise a major holiday weekend for those of us in 'the fold.'
These two are, combined, what in many ways the Christian faith is in fact all about.
But how we talk about Good Friday/Easter makes a huge difference for what it is trying to tell us—and tell the world.
I have attempted—in many convoluted, complicated, and meandering words—to show that the narrative about Jesus' death and resurrection which traditional theology/classical theism (i.e., evangelicalism) represents is in fact unbiblical.
It is, to put it simply, a spiritualisation of the story.
If this sounds familiar, it should—and if you're noticing a pattern then I applaud you.1
That Jesus took on the sins of the world is the typical presentation of the culmination of Jesus' existence—it was, we are told, his purpose to die for each and all of us. His death meant forgiveness. It's what we're taught his whole life lead to.
However, I think this greatly misrepresents the Jesus Narrative. To say that his greatest accomplishment—and indeed his focused plan—was to save you and me from our sins is neglecting the overarching trajectory of Jewish theology. To say that Jesus' story ends with the hope of a spiritual 'next' is a misunderstanding of what Jesus—and Paul!—taught.
Furthermore, reading the New Testament through this lens contributes to the misinterpretation of a large portion of Scriptures.
And such misinterpretations have given birth to some very harmful theology.
I intentionally do not want to get bogged down in this single post by all the contextual nuances and theological details—though I do fully intend on getting into this more deeply in the future. Instead what I want to do is set out here plainly what I believe the Bible is saying about Easter.
So what do I believe?
I believe Jesus' death, in the framework of Jewish theology, was a redemption for God's particular people—for Israel. It was for them he was wounded, for them he was crushed, for them he was pierced. It was for Israel's disobedience that Jesus was punished and killed.
I believe Jesus' resurrection was the confirmation of God's blessing and approval—and that it also serves to confirm Jesus as God's appointed King, being given rule over all and being given the seat at God's right hand. The resurrection is vindication, yes, but it is equally enthronement.
I believe that together, Jesus' death and resurrection inaugurated the era in which Gentiles, the outside nations, are invited and welcomed into the Kingdom of God—provided they believe what God has done for Israel through Jesus and they acknowledge Jesus as the One and True King.
For that is the gospel. The gospel (εύαγγέλιον) has traditionally been defined as the good news that your sins are forgiven, but gospel in the first century context was a political proclamation. The gospel was declared to communities and cities of the Emperor's arrival before a visit—or indeed at the birth of a new Emperor. The gospel then is the news that God's King has arrived—it is the good news that Jesus has been ordained as the supreme ruler.
I believe the death of Jesus, in the framework of the Passover, is about the creation of a community. And this is the part where we find the most grounding aspect of Good Friday/Easter.
The Passover story is about the liberation of the Israelite people and the (re-)creation of a nation. No longer slaves, the people are freed to be their own separate corporate entity, existing under God.
With Jesus' death as the passover lamb—the blood of which was to be upheld as the sign that the people believed God was not only with them but would liberate them—the community of believers has been set apart as a distinct community. Once Israel's redemption was accomplished, the new community could be formed. And that community now consists of a diverse group of people, not distinguished by race or gender but instead by the aforementioned belief of what God has done for Israel through Jesus—and the belief that Jesus has been set at the right hand of God's power.
This new community is one that is (supposed to be) recognised for its justice. Justice toward each other and the created order. The new community is a Kingdom fashioned after its King and is a radical counter to the culture around it and the empire it lives within.
The new community, the Kingdom, is to be a place where all are taken care of—the marginalised are held with the same esteem as those in power. In effect, therefore, within the Kingdom there are no marginalised. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God—only the King and his people.
You see, within this theological framework, the 'spiritual' as we know it has no place. The danger of focusing Easter on the spiritual is that we look upon others as 'needing to be saved,' and by that we mean telling them they must believe what we do and act how we do. It neglects the 'now' and looks toward a 'celestial future.' This is the sort of mentality that leads to a 'holier than thou' or 'lording it over the unsaved' attitude—and in turn leads to a 'we are the saviours of the world' arrogance.
It's an 'us and them' worldview. The saved and the unsaved. The Christians and the Lesser Thans.
Instead of looking to repair or remove the maladies that ails the marginalised, this spiritualised mentality only looks to 'heal the heart.' It's a so-called Ticket to Heaven, and not much more. And this looks to only a portion of the person, not the whole.
As followers of Jesus, as members of his kingdom, we are called to take care of each other and particularly those who are pushed aside by society, and particularly those who are oppressed by society. Not by preaching forgiveness but by providing aid and pushing for justice—pushing for shalom, the flourishing of all creatures.
Jesus as King should make a difference to the world—and that difference comes at the hands of those within his Kingdom.
That is the message of Easter.
That is what it means to declare Jesus as the Risen Lord. ✤
1. I touched on similar themes in one of my Christmas posts last year: Missing the Mark.