By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Easter is about resurrection and it’s the focal point of the Christian religion. It’s about belief in a miracle that’s beyond human reason, but a mystical reality. Jews and Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet, but not as the risen Christ; and while Muslims do not believe in the resurrection, they believe that Jesus will return on the last day to usher in God’s kingdom.
Something truly miraculous happened on that first Easter, but until the Apostle Paul proposed his atonement doctrine the nature and meaning of the miracle remained mysterious. Jesus never taught that God sent him as a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of all believers, but Paul’s atonement doctrine has remained at the foundation of Christian beliefs.
Paul was a Pharisaic Jew who understood blood sacrifice as an atonement for sin and believed in the resurrection of the dead, and Paul and many other Jews had been expecting a messiah who would usher in God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus taught of a coming kingdom of God, but like other prophets before him, Jesus emphasized a God of mercy, not sacrifice.
The events leading to the crucifixion reported in the Gospel accounts are inconsistent with the crucifixion being a divine sacrifice. The Gospels report that religious leaders who felt threatened by the radical teachings of Jesus convinced Roman authorities to execute Jesus as an insurrectionist. The crucifixion of Jesus was itself a terrible crime, not God’s holy sacrifice.
Today we can see the resurrection in a new light. Rather than being a blood sacrifice to atone for sin, the resurrection can be understood as God’s validation of the teachings of Jesus as the Logos, or the living word of God (John 1:1-14). That would make the teachings of Jesus the way, the truth and the life and the only way to salvation (John 14:6).
In John’s Gospel Jesus is presented as the Logos (John 1:1-5). If God is love (I John 4:16-21), then the new command of John’s Gospel to love one another (John 13:34) is the heart of the Logos. To emphasize belief in Jesus Christ as God at the expense of following Jesus as the word of God is to distort God’s truth; but exclusivist church doctrines do just that.
Robin R. Meyers has argued how to save a declining church in the title of his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus (HarperOne, 2009). It’s not a new idea. Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man” and disdained exclusivist church doctrines.
Christianity and Islam both promise salvation to believers and condemn unbelievers; and Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet and accepts the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as a common word of faith. The two religions should be reconciled on the altruistic teachings of Jesus as the universal word of God.
In a world of increasing religious pluralism and with people of all faiths suffering from a devastating world-wide pandemic, Christians and Muslims should reaffirm their common word of faith in the greatest commandment to love their neighbors of other races and religions as they love themselves. Then the light of God’s love can dispel the darkness of the pandemic from our spirits and reconcile us into the universal family of God.
It’s time to see the resurrection in a new light. Easter is a time for new beginnings and spiritual rebirth for all people. The Hymn of Promise says it well: In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be; in our death a resurrection, at the last a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. It’s God’s universal promise of reconciling love.
Notes and References to Resources:
The Hymn of Promise (by Natalie Sleeth, 1986) is at page 707 of The United Methodist Hymnal.
This commentary was originally posted on April 5, 2015 as commentary #19 at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/seeing-resurrection-in-new-light.html. On later related commentary, see Trump and The Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a
Profession of Faith? (12/8/18), and Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity (11/23/19). It’s related to Life after death and the resurrection in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law:The Heart of Legitimacy (the J&M Book) at page 74. On the Islamic understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, see commentary on Jesus on the cross in the J&M Book at pages 203-208. The Gospel of Mark has no post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John are unique and uncorroborated in the other Gospels.
On Paul’s understanding of resurrection, see I Corinthians, chapter 15; and on the atonement as it applied to the crucifixion and resurrection, see Romans 3:21-26.
On Jesus’ preference for mercy, not sacrifice, see Matthew 9:10-13 and Notes on Promoting Religion through Evangelism, posted February 8, 2015.
On Christian creeds and exclusivism, see The Rest of the Story in the J&M Book at pp 333-334.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith with the story of the good Samaritan in Luke’s version, see blogs posted on January 11, 2015, and on January 25, 2015.
On the new command of John’s Gospel, the J&M Book at page 325; on Jesus as the Logos and the way, the truth and the life, see Faith and Eternal Life in the J&M Book at page 394.
On the Logos, see Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son or the Logos? see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html.
On Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God (1/4/2015) see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/religion-and-new-beginnings-salvation.html.