The Subversion of Jesus by the Rich and Powerful, Part Three: The Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus happened before the crucifixion.

Furthermore, I suspect it was the rich and powerful who reversed the order of events. Confused? Let me explain.

In part two of this series on the subversion of Jesus, we saw that there were disciples of Jesus in addition to those who were with him physically. I call them the “movers on”, people who were encountered by and changed by Jesus and who left him and continued living elsewhere the new life they had found. As a testament to their existence, we have documents they left behind, Q and the Gospel of Thomas. Based on what Jesus taught and how he lived, they believed in human equality and justice and they believed in divine love and compassion. This new life, in contradistinction to the oppression rampant in their society, can be called “resurrected” life inasmuch as for them the essence of true humanity, crushed by the economic order, had been liberated and come to life again.

The same is true for the inner circle of disciples. They too had been awakened by Jesus, but stayed with him, as a community of friends and disciples. They lived a new life, sharing what they had, oppressing no one, and spreading this “good news” to others. They were distraught when Jesus was killed, but their faith had already been established and grounded in their life with him, and that faith enabled them to persevere and rejoice. The crucifixion did not bring on lasting despair, but rather renewed commitment.

The inner disciples and the movers on were all living the new (resurrection) life before Jesus was crucified. And it was a life that offered an alternative to a society that relied upon oppression of the poor, women and slaves in order to support the wealthy elite, an oppression not found in the Jesus groups. For the rich and powerful, therefore, these people were a problem to be dealt with.

In part two I shared one suspicion: that the death of Jesus at the hands of the authorities was re-invented by the elite. They changed the execution of a potentially dangerous revolutionary into a sacrificial appeasement of an angry god. Sacrificed lambs were much more tolerable than zealots on the loose. So too with the resurrection, I suspect that the disciples’ living a new and subversive political/economic paradigm was transformed by the same elite into belief in a resuscitated body, acceptance of which would guarantee your own personal eternal life. The revolutionary power of the new life, resurrected from the horrors of life under the empire, was now seen as something personal and future that did not challenge the current regime.

In short, all the disciples, inner and movers on, became aware, during their time with Jesus, of what it meant to be fully human. They shared, they loved, they acted with justice and equality. Jesus had been crucified, but their shared faith sustained them through that horror, and their conviction enabled them to realize that Jesus lived on. That revolutionary faith, I propose, threatened the status quo of the wealthy elite and they reacted not only with persecution, but also by insidiously transforming the belief of the Jesus community as second and third generation believers joined the groups. Murder by the elite became appeasement of god and the continuation of an alternative and equal life style became resuscitation of one body. The end result, most blatant in 1 Timothy but also present in other books of the New Testament, was that the church came to proclaim that women must obey husbands, slaves must obey masters, and everyone must obey the authority of the rich and powerful. Just the opposite of what Jesus had in mind.

Read Part One Here

Read Part Two Here

Read Part Four Here

Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith, and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Norwich, VT.

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