The Resurrection –overnight change?

He died on a cross at a distant outpost of the Roman Empire. He was cut down in his prime, in his 30s.

Apr 10, 2021

By Anil Netto
He died on a cross at a distant outpost of the Roman Empire. He was cut down in his prime, in his 30s.

His followers — the only witnesses to his words — had fled in fear, except for a few women keeping watch by the cross.

He proclaimed a new kingdom of love, of compassion and justice, but appeared to have little to show for it in the end.

He had nothing written down, no social media, no internet, no electronic media, no photographs. The earliest accounts of his ministry would have to rely on an oral tradition at first.

For an effective dissemination of his message across the globe, Jesus appeared to be in the wrong place, in the wrong time, in the wrong era even. After all, it would be 14 centuries later before even the printing press would be invented.

The Gospel accounts paint a bleak scenario of Jesus’ death — when darkness had descended across the land.

Historians of his time barely took note of Jesus’ life, let alone his ministry. His life was like the proverbial footnote in history, meriting just a couple of lines here and there in the history written by officialdom of the time.

And then the Resurrection took place - and changed the course of history. But it would be easy for us to think that the Resurrection changed things overnight.

The followers of Jesus continued to be persecuted, especially those in Jerusalem. The Apostles who had fled the scene of the  trial and execution still cowered in fear behind closed doors — at least until Pentecost. They must have felt it was not safe for them to move around as they had openly associated with someone who was executed as a threat to the powers of the day. And who can blame them?

The only bright spot was the women who courageously followed Jesus to the end, even visiting the tomb, for which Mary Magdalene received the honour of being the first witness of the Resurrection. 

So, while Jesus’ followers could scarcely believe he had risen, everyday life in Jerusalem must have carried on as usual. Little appeared to have changed on the surface.

The massive curtain of the temple, torn into two, must have been hurriedly replaced or mended. The empty tomb would have been placed under guard or watched. 

The renovation and construction of the grand Temple continued apace.

Jesus appeared to have lost out to those who wielded oppressive power in his time. After the turbulence of his execution, the leaders who presided over this trial and death must have sat back and believed the Jesus  Movement had suffered a crushing blow with the loss of their leader. Their positions were safe and the status quo had been restored – or so they thought.

But then, they would soon realise that their power itself was just fleeting. Almost simultaneously, they disappeared from the scene in a matter of years.

Caiaphas carried on as High Priest for a few more years until AD37.

The Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, would rule Judea until AD36-37 as well, completing about a decade in power.

These two characters probably had a close working relationship, given their long tenures and the decade when their tenures coincided.

But both Caiaphas and Pilate were unceremoniously booted out by the Roman governor of Syria, Vitellius.

Vitellius had received complaints about Pilate’s cruelty from the Samaritans.

And, perhaps, there was local unhappiness about Caiaphas’ own close cooperation or even submission to Roman imperial rule, as Caiaphas’ long period in office — 18 years —might suggest. By that time, there was  also a sense that the temple priesthood had grown corrupt and out of touch with the locals. 

At the time of Jesus’ death, Tiberius Caesar, the gloomy, reclusive Roman Emperor, was ensconced at the Isle of Capri. He had built a Roman palace known as Villas Jovis (Villa of Jupiter) atop a hill on this island to get away from the political manoeuvring in Rome, some 130 miles away.

Here he must have felt safe from assassination. But that too was not to be. He was smothered in his own bedclothes at the age of 78, in AD37, just a day after the anniversary of Julius Caesar’s assassination on 15 March 44BC.

Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, did not last long either after Tiberius’ death. The new Emperor, Caligula, exiled him to Spain in AD39, after he was told that Herod had conspired against Tiberius. Herod died in exile.

These leaders, under whose watch Jesus was executed, thought they had got rid of a local nuisance. 

But the impact of his Resurrection just grew and grew.

Even today, world leaders may think they have the time and resources to consolidate their power and accumulate extraordinary wealth.

But it is the Good News to the poor and the captives that carries with it the force and power of the Resurrection, that is still ushering in a new kingdom, a new Creation— moment by moment, day by day.

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