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Christ's Resurrection: The 'Aha' Moment
It happened to Jesus' friend Cleopas; it happened to His disciples; and it happens to us—the moment when it dawns on us who He really is.

Think about it: When was the darkest period in Church history? It would have to be that period of time between the moment Jesus perished on the cross and His appearance in the upper room some days later.

Between those events it looked like the Jesus movement and all He stood for had come to an abrupt, screeching halt. The Gospel writer Luke perfectly captured that despairing time in his description of Jesus encountering the two disciples walking disconsolately along the Emmaus road after His own resurrection.


"He (Jesus) asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?'

"They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked Him, 'Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?'

"'What things?' He asked.

"'About Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied. 'He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:17-21).

Only a prophet?

There's a world of insight packed into this short passage. It also provides excellent indirect evidence both of the fundamental integrity and veracity of the New Testament and of the resurrection of Jesus.

How so?

Simply this. Clearly, Cleopas and his friend were not expecting the resurrection. Jesus had been their hero, their adored Master but … well, not really the all-conquering, invincible Son of God with life inherent. Or so they thought. Perhaps, they mused, He was a great prophet, such as Moses had predicted, but God in the flesh—few were thinking in those terms after the crucifixion. In this Cleopas was just like all the other disciples, the closest friends of the man who had been executed and buried three days before. They had heard reports of an empty tomb but they scoffed at them (see Luke 24:22-24). Even eyewitness evidence failed to move them. In their case it took personal teaching and Jesus' own distinctive behavior at supper to convince them. That was the catalyst. They suddenly realized they were eating and drinking with a man back from the dead! Not just believed dead but dead by all public attestation outside the busy city gates of Jerusalem! Depend upon it, Roman justice was thorough and a Roman execution squad knew what death was.

No, Cleopas and his friend were not expecting the resurrection of Jesus. It was not that as pious Jews they had no awareness of the word "resurrection" and what it meant. N.T. Wright explains: "'Resurrection' for them was something that would happen to all dead Jews, and perhaps all dead humans. It would happen on the great future occasion when the True God (who after all was the creator of the world) finally brought history round its last great corner, into that new day that was about to dawn. 'Resurrection,' in other words, was about God's restoration of His whole people, about His coming kingdom, about the great reversal of fortune for Israel and the world. It was about the birth of a whole new world order."

This squares with Martha's earlier answer to Jesus just before the dramatic raising of her brother Lazarus. Jesus had said, "Your brother will rise again." Martha replied, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24). Their sacred books had recorded incidents of dead people being resuscitated—the dead child in Elijah's day, the man who touched Elisha's bones, and now Lazarus himself. But for Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth, to return from the dead in such a way that He showed His conquest of death with eternal life streaming from Him—announcing that new life began with Him alone—no, the disciples were not expecting that. The evidence is clear from the Gospels and it makes fascinating reading. In other words, New Testament teacher Gordon Fee is right: It took the dramatic post-resurrection appearances for what Fee calls the "aha" moment to hit: "Aha! So that's who He really was."

No Passover plot

The stark fact that the closest friends of Jesus were totally unprepared for His dramatic post-resurrection appearances is good internal evidence that there was no "Passover Plot" involving Jesus and His dramatic rising as even recent books such as The DaVinci Code insinuate.

Most of the time they saw Him as a sensational, miracle-working prophet …

No. The Gospel documents make an eye-opening tale. They reveal both the humanity of the first disciples and the rugged honesty of the Gospel accounts. Jesus was always someone special to them—a healer, a teacher, a rabbi. But the incarnate Son of God with eternal life to impart? Well, yes, on some occasions they caught a glimpse of Him in that role, but certainly not all the time and not consistently. Most of the time they saw Him as a sensational, miracle-working prophet and often a quite human one at that.

This has been called the Messianic Secret, and Mark's Gospel is the best place to see it in action for it is here that Jesus appears most "human."

The paradox of Jesus

In Mark 1:4 John the Baptizer is given first billing. Jesus is baptized by John. Then the Spirit sends Him into the wilderness (see Mark 1:12). After submitting to these preliminaries Jesus launches a powerful new teaching (see Mark 1:27). People are amazed. But not everyone. In Mark 3:21 Jesus is almost accosted by His own family who claim "He is out of His mind"—not a positive reaction. It gets worse. The Pharisees, the religious experts, accuse Him of being demon-possessed (see Mark 3:22). When Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4:35-41 the disciples are duly impressed, even terrified, but the awe doesn't last. Mark 6:1-6 records the unusual fact that Jesus "could not do any miracles" in Nazareth because of hometown familiarity. Think of that! Jesus feeds the 5,000 but the disciples soon forget this stupendous miracle for "their hearts were hardened." The Messianic Secret is at work.

The disciples are again jolted back to recognition that Jesus is someone special when He walks on the water (see Mark 6:45 -52). Bible teachers refer to this seesaw reception as "the paradox of Jesus." On the one hand He is a miracle-working traveling teacher; on the other hand He seems just like them. "Why not some really spectacular miracles, Jesus?" Fee asks, creatively recapitulating the disciples' attitudes. "Why not levitate the Temple or call down fire on the Roman army?" No. Nothing like this. Jesus' miracles are more in the helpful, homey, away-from-self category—healing lepers, restoring sight to the blind, curing diseases.

It is true that Peter makes the Grand Confession in Mark 8:27-30 which is placed strategically smack in the middle of the second Gospel. But almost instantly afterwards Peter has to be strongly corrected for "taking Jesus aside" and "rebuking Him" about His negative predictions of his coming death. Imagine Peter calling Jesus out and rebuking Him! Can you feature it? Well, it happened. The "aha" moment had not yet struck and would not occur until after the resurrection and such dramatic encounters as those in the upper room.

Imperfection as evidence

These events make the disciples so human and so ordinary and (can you believe it?) so much like us. Which is precisely the point! The venerable Adam Clarke explained it years ago: "This very imperfection in them is a strong evidence of the truth of the doctrine which they afterwards believed and proclaimed to their world. Had they not had the fullest assurance of these things, they never would have credited them; and it is no small honor to the new-covenant Scriptures that such persons were chosen, first, to believe them; secondly, to proclaim them in the world and thirdly, to die on the evidence of these truths, the blessed influence of which they felt in their own hearts, and fully exemplified in their lives" (Clarke's Commentary , Luke 24).

Even after his "Grand Confession," blundering Peter interprets the vision of the Transfiguration incorrectly. He asks that three shelters be put up to commemorate Jesus, Elijah and Moses (see Mark 9:2-5). Peter is told, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him" (Mark 9:7). Jesus "trumps" Elijah and Moses but Peter just didn't "get it" … yet. Even when Jesus tries to explain the suffering He will undergo, His disciples shrink from the implications. They "did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it" (Mark 9:32). But they were not afraid to ask for high position and favour—at least James and John were not (see Mark 10:35 -45).

The "aha" moment … Jesus was alive and because He lives we can live also!

Who would have picked such men? God. Only God could have done it. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (1 Corinthians 1:25). In the Providence of God it just so happened that the disciples' very obtuseness and lack of imagination made them (later on) excellent witnesses for the truth of the resurrection. After they had seen and eaten with and conversed with the resurrected glorified Christ, after they had touched His wounded side and felt His nail-scarred hands, they were totally convinced. The "aha" moment meant everything to the eleven just as it did to Cleopas on the Emmaus road. Those reluctant disciples came streaming out of Jerusalem with the most important message human ears had ever heard: Jesus was alive and because He lives we can live also!

N.T. Wright reviews the context: "We know of lots of other messianic and similar moments in the Jewish world … In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of the authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better … Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, He was"

Jesus was alive. His followers had seen Him. The "aha" moment forever changed their lives and the world could never be the same again. They could not help speaking about what they had seen and heard.

How about you?

Neil Earle is the pastor of the Worldwide Church of God, Glendora, California congregation.

Originally published in The Northern Light, March/April 2005.




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