The Necessary Reality Of The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

From “The Apostles Creed In Light of Today's Questions”
by Wolfhart Pannenberg, 1928-2014

The resurrection of Jesus is the event which was, historically speaking, the point of departure for the history of Christendom. In particular, the Easter event forms the starting point for the history of faith in Christ and this starting point is at the same time the permanent, substantial foundation for that faith. Historical origin and substantial foundation are here one.

It is only possible to assert even that Jesus is Israel's promised Messiah, the Christ, in view of the confirmation of his mission through the raising of the one who was crucified. For it was through this, and through this alone, that Jesus, who was rejected by Israel, was shown to be God’s only Son and our Lord as well as Lord of the whole world. It is only in the light of the raising of Jesus that we have reason to speak of a divine incarnation in his person. The doctrine of the incarnation only develops in retrospect what the raising of Jesus means for the whole of his earthly activity and his person. And finally, it is only in the light of the raising of Jesus that his death takes on the meaning of the vicariously accomplished reconciliation of mankind. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, it would be impossible to ascribe any saving meaning to his death, for that death could then only have meant the failure of his mission and nothing else. The Apostles’ Creed’s further statements about Jesus Christ are also in fact based on the Easter event: both the acknowledgement of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God, to participation in the divine power, as well as the expectation of his coming again to judge, are to be understood as consequences arising from the fact of his resurrection from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is the sustaining foundation of the Christian faith. If this collapses, so does everything else which the Christian faith acknowledges. Of course, this does not mean that the event of the raising of Jesus, taken as an isolated happening, would have this absolutely fundamental significance. It rather belongs originally within the same context as the life of Jesus which preceded it. It thereby gives this context a new foundation. and sets it in an entirely new light, by bringing the final endorsement of Jesus’ earthly activity and his incomparable claim to authority in an unforeseen way, in the light of the last judgment, though not yet as the discontinuance of mankind's history through that divine judgment. The resurrection of Jesus is, on the one hand, that is to say retrospectively, bound up with his earthly activity. On the other hand, it points forward. being linked up with the eschatological expectation of the judgment and the transformation of all things. This whole context only emerges in the way which is characteristic of the Christian faith in the light of the resurrection of Jesus; it stands and falls with that event.

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