If this whole argument, from start to finish, has not made my point abundantly clear, let me attempt to summarize. Based on the social context of the day, crucified leaders were failed leaders. Rome killed people for political agitation or heinous crimes. Jesus and his followers who suffered persecution and death carried a message of loving enemies which is anything but a heinous crime. Logically, Jesus and his martyred followers, based on their executions, looked like political agitators. Of course, they proclaimed the empire of G-d rather than the empire of Caesar, and they refused to consider Caesar divine, both politically charged and subversive claims. As people of Israel, they believed G-d would resurrect and vindicate the people who lived rightly under the foreign occupiers who had ruled most of Israel for roughly 800 years. Messianic movements sprung up in Palestine as a way to reinstate Israelite independence. As a messianic leader, Jesus ostensibly attempted national restoration. His crucifixion ended this. Nevertheless, his followers traversed the world teaching how to resist the injustice of empire (a point proven by their martyrdoms; remember, they were killed as political threats) as though Jesus had not failed. In the social and biblical context, the 1st century Jewish people believed one thing proved the proper way to deal with foreign occupiers: resurrection. Reading Daniel 7 in which the “Son of Man” receives vindication and dominion over all the earth, the apostles (women and men) interpreted the Jesus movement to be bigger than just an Israelite restoration. The only explanation for all this activity resides in the confirmation of what they believed: Jesus’ resurrection proved his way of dealing with the foreign occupiers to be G-d’s way, and the resurrection, G-d’s vindication of Jesus’ message, established Jesus as the one with dominion over all the earth. By nature, this claim was big enough to appear threatening to Caesar’s power. The followers of Jesus did not care. They saw Jesus risen from the dead.
So what are the politics of the resurrection? First, the resurrection reveals the impotence of the state. The state, who owns a monopoly on force within certain boundaries, fails to keep Jesus dead. The resurrection teaches us not to fear the state. When it comes time to
stand up in the face of powerful, violent rulers (like every U.S. President ever), Jesus’ resurrection assures us the empire will not win. This assurance of victory should motivate us toward action. Some say the impotence of the empire should motivate us to indifference and withdrawal. This is what the Essene community did. It is not what Jesus did. To proclaim the Kingdom of G-d demands confronting the powerful head on. If it did not, Jesus would not have been crucified; Jesus would have had no need to resurrect. Acts of mercy and kindness are the way of living in the Kingdom of G-d; confronting the oppressive elite is how the movement becomes universal.
The resurrection established Jesus as the “Son of Man” with “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him”. As an Anabaptist, this idea played strongly in my faith formation. Jesus and no one else is in charge. Moreover, unlike the earthly elite, Jesus wears a crown of thorns, rules from a cross, and lives among the oppressed rather than far from them in mansions on Pennsylvania Ave. or in Sepphoris. Our petty, imaginary national borders that keep people excluded from resources or justice mean nothing to the one who rules the entire world. Why, then, are Christians concerned with national policy and patriotic reclamation of “our” country? We should work tirelessly to supersede national restrictions. We should move beyond arguments framed by national interests and privilege. Our message should be against flags, against nationalism, and against the injustice of the American global empire. Our gospel should be for the dissolution of borders, for justice, for the love of enemies, for the economic equality of all, for community made up of the formerly “haves” and “have-nots”, and for a world where the cross, not the sword, rules.
The resurrection moves us beyond our aesthetic differences. It drives us toward discipleship, and it pits us against those who try to replace the true ruler of the world: G-d. Our belief in the resurrection should come with our resistance to the injustice of the type of power structure that killed Jesus, those he defended, and those who followed him. We can choose not to believe in the resurrection, or we can live in a way that says it does not matter. However, I believe we can do nothing to change the fact that it happened. Despite all our pride, we are powerless to alter the position of the Creator. As followers of this Creator, our lives need to reflect the radical love and resistance to power that comes with the Holy Spirit’s continuing presence in the world. The resurrection means we can do this without fear and with ultimate hope of justice! Thank G-d for Jesus!