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The Resurrection of the Son of God

I’m in the midst of the most entangled thread I have yet produced in my well-over-three-years of doing the blog.   It started with orthodox scribes who were altering their texts of Scripture (specifically Luke 22; this was part of a thread I began in April!  I’ll get back to it….) and it has now managed by a number of intricate twists, turns, and interweavings to end up at the resurrection of Jesus.

I have been arguing that the resurrection radically changed the disciple’ understanding of the belief that he was the messiah –  a belief that he himself had, and that they shared.  I have argued that given everything we know about Jewish beliefs at the time, almost certainly anyone hearing that a man (such as Jesus) was the messiah would have thought that this meant that he was (or would become) the king of the Jewish people.   That’s certainly how the Roman governor Pontius Pilate took it.  It was because Jesus made such a claim that Pilate ordered him crucified.

The crucifixion proved beyond any doubt that Jesus was not the messiah.  But then something equally dramatic happened.  The disciples came to believe that he was raised from the dead.  That showed them that God had showered his special favor on Jesus.  That meant he was not cursed by God (as one hanging on a tree) but was the one specially blessed by God.  And that is absolutely the key to the disciples’ subsequent train of thought.

They had previously thought,

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They had previously thought, during Jesus’ life, that he was the one anointed by God to perform his task on earth, his future king.   They now came to think he really was the one anointed by God.  In fact, he had been taken by God up to heaven – and as I pointed out before, ancient people, whether Jews or Gentiles, who came to think that someone was taken to heaven came to believe that he had been made a divine being, the Son of God, or a god himself.

That’s what the followers of Jesus (those who came to believe in the resurrection) came to think of Jesus.  For most Jews, the messiah was indeed to be the son of God – but only in the way that David had been the son of God, or that Solomon had been the son of God (see 2 Sam 7:11-14).  That did not (for most Jews) make David or Solomon *God*.   They were, instead, sons of God because they were the ones who mediated God’s will on earth.  But with Jesus it was different.  He was not only the messiah/son of God (a human called by God to mediate his will) .  He actually had been made a divine being.  He was THE Son of God!

And that means that he was a “messiah” in a different sense from what they disciples had originally thought, during his lifetime.   At that time, the disciples thought that the future scenario was to be this:  sometime during their, and Jesus’, lifetime a cosmic divine figure called the Son of Man would arrive in judgment from heaven to destroy the forces of evil and set up God’s kingdom on earth, with Jesus at the helm.   But once the disciples came to believe in the resurrection they “knew” that he was himself a cosmic divine figure.   And it was he himself who was coming *back* from heaven in judgment.  Jesus himself was the Son of Man.

In the Gospels Jesus frequently speaks of himself as the Son of Man.  Why is that?  It is not, in my opinion, because the historical Jesus understood himself to be the Son of Man.  Jesus thought someone *else* was that cosmic judge of the earth (as I have argued on the blog before; I better deal with this again in a subsequent post).  But when his disciples came to think that he had been exalted to heaven, they also came to believe he was that one (the Son of Man), and so they transformed his sayings to reflect their beliefs.

Moreover, when Jesus was to return from heaven in judgment (a common belief in the early Christian communities) he would not establish someone *else* as the king over the people of God in God’s new kingdom.  He himself would be installed.  In other words, the disciples still thought of Jesus as the future king.  But he would be installed as king in a cosmic sense as a divine figure.  This was a different kind of messiah from the one the disciples had originally imagined.

More than that, Jesus who had been exalted to God’s right hand was already in some sense given power and authority, he was already ruling with God in the heavenly places, he already was sovereign over the earth, he was already the Lord, he was already the King.   And so in that yet further sense Jesus was believed to be a cosmic, and all-powerful messiah.  He wasn’t simply the ruler of Israel.  He was the ruler of All.

I have argued that the death and resurrection of Jesus in and of themselves would not have led anyone to call him the messiah, since these things were not supposed to happen to the messiah.  They were the last things that could possibly happen to the messiah.  But since they happened to someone who had already been *thought* to be the messiah, they came to be interpreted in light of that belief, and the belief itself – that Jesus was the messiah – in turn came to be interpreted in light of those events.

What emerged was an altogether new way to understand Jesus.  He was not simply the one to be installed on the throne in some future act of God.  He was to come from heaven himself to destroy the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth, in which he, the powerful Son of Man, Lord, and King of All would rule forever.   As exalted as the view was that the historical Jesus appears to have had of himself, it pales significantly in comparison with the view that his followers had of him after his death.   He was the one that God Almighty had made the Lord of heaven and earth.


Jesus the Suffering Messiah
Did Some Disciples Not Believe in the Resurrection?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    nacord  December 16, 2015

    Thank you for your examination of this topic. I appreciate how you logically present ideas in an open-minded but critical manner. As a believer in the supernatural aspects of Jesus life and identity, I never feel attacked or belittled by the way you approach your blog–rather I’m inspired to study and think more critically about what I believe. I’ve never understood how your critics claim that you are hostile toward people of faith.
    More to the point, I’m still struggling to understand how Jesus could have thought that the Son of Man was someone other than himself. It is so prevalent in the Gospels (albeit absent from most of the rest of the NT) that it seems unlikely to have not been a part of Jesus’ common vocabulary. Even if he speaks in the third person, in most recorded instances he seems to be self-identifying. Hoping you’ll be able to cover this more in future posts. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    CGCHuck  December 16, 2015

    “Jesus thought someone *else* was that cosmic judge of the earth (as I have argued on the blog before; I better deal with this again in a subsequent post).”

    Prof. Ehrman,

    I agree that you should deal with this topic again in a subsequent post. I believe it would be beneficial given the topic at hand.

    Thank you in advance.

    Christine

  3. Avatar
    godspell  December 16, 2015

    That’s one way to interpret it–but suppose Jesus thought he was to be taken up into heaven? As a person of his bent of mind might well have believed. Suppose he believed that he would be transformed into this strange new being the Son of Man? No longer human, but born of humans–else why would he go by that odd title? Angels are Sons of God–that’s how they are referred to in Genesis. Why is this particular divine being the Son of Man? Because he was born a man, of human parentage, and then taken up into heaven, and remade into an instrument of God’s will, to transform the world of man into the Kingdom of God.

    How could the disciples have made such an abrupt leap from thinking of Jesus as a man who was destined to be a king to thinking of him as a divine or semi-divine being? Because Jesus had prepared them for this–they were confused as to his meaning (since he was rarely direct in his mode of communication), disturbed at what he was suggesting. He clearly did intimate he might die in the near future, and how could he not think that was his likely fate after what happened to John the Baptist, his former master?

    Possible Jesus thought John was to be the Son of Man–that would explain why he said no one born of woman was ever greater. There’s a lot of possibilities. But much as I agree Jesus was not referring to himself as a mortal being when he used that term, I’m not convinced he wasn’t referring to his future self. And I still don’t think he believed God would just come and install him on a throne. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t match up with his speech or his deeds at the time of his death.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 16, 2015

    A problem I was thinking about before I read this post… Haven’t you said Jews who believed in a coming messiah who was human, and not a high priest, expected him to be a *warrior* king? If Jesus saw himself as somehow becoming that, wouldn’t the Romans have interpreted it as the military uprising we’re supposed to believe he *didn’t* intend? And if he expected God or the Son of Man to do all the work and then simply hand him a crown, wasn’t *that in itself* a departure from what the messiah was expected to be?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      Usually he is seen as a warrior. But the important feature is that he is a ruler. The key point is that there was no *one* expectation, but a range of expectations with similarities among them.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  December 16, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, would it be possible in a future post for you to outline your own personal view of what Jesus’ followers did from the time of his death during Passover up to Shavuot (The Pentecost scene from Acts)? For instance, do you think they stayed in Jerusalem all or most of that time (as Luke suggests), or did they return home to Galilee (as Mark suggests)? Did they even return to Jerusalem for Shavuot? Would they have kept a low profile during that time, or did they continue their preaching? Would they have scattered or stuck together? I know these are fundamentally unanswerable questions, but what does your gut tell you?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      I think they fled town, and it would not have occurred to them to come all that way back to Jerusalem for Pentecost; in all probability that Passover was the one and only time they had been there. It was not normal for poor Galileans to make the long trek to Jerusalem for the festivals.

  6. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  December 16, 2015

    hello Bart

    since you believe that jesus thought he is going to returrn soon and be the end of the world so it does not make sense to say to his disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world. do you think that the historical jesus said such thing if yes then how do you explain when he said : i was sent but to the lost sheep of the house of israel

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      No, I don’t think Jesus thought he was going to return soon. I don’t think he thought he was going anywhere.

  7. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  December 17, 2015

    Bart: ” He wasn’t simply the ruler of Israel. He was the ruler of All.” > and what was God then? He must have been even one step higher up in the hierarchy. Since Jesus got exalted to God’s right hand. It’s not like God was exalted to Jesus’ right hand, right? Also ‘son’ implied that there’s a ‘father’ who came first. In my opinion that makes it impossible for people to equate Jesus/the Son to God/the Father because logically the latter precedes the former.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      The idea is that God exalted Jesus to be his equal.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 18, 2015

        Yet it still was God exalting Jesus to be his equal, not Jesus exalting God to be his equal? Doesn’t this prove that the claim that Jesus ‘has always been God’ is bogus? If that had indeed been the case ‘since forever’ then God would not have needed to have exalted him.

        That said, the whole concept of ‘the trinity’ isn’t logically sound anyway.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 19, 2015

          Yes, for those who hold this view (such as Paul), Jesus was *not* always equal with God. Paul was not a trinitarian.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 19, 2015

            Ok. But how do Trinitarians square that circle then?? Do they simply ignore the exaltation language and the difference in hierarchy (a father precedes a son; Jesus/son sits to the right of God/father and not vice versa, which clearly indicates who’s the actual boss or superior)?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 21, 2015

            Yes, these passages are very difficult for trinitarians, and always have been.

  8. Avatar
    Blackwell  December 17, 2015

    There are good reasons to conclude that the concept of a divine Christ came from Paul and not from the disciples.
    The idea of gods becoming human and humans becoming gods was a Greek and Roman one, not a Jewish one.
    Jews considered their single god to be so exalted that no one could even mention XXXX by name, so it is unlikely that the disciples would have put a resurrected Jesus at the same level, especially as they had known him personally for years. Paul, on the other hand, was more in tune with Greek ideas and the gospels were written by his followers who had an interest in making it seem that the disciples shared his beliefs.
    In his epistles, Paul repeatedly claims that he has received a special message direct from God:-
    Romans 15: 14-16 ”My friends, I have written to refresh your memory, and written boldly at times, in virtue of the gift I have from God.”
    Romans 16: 25-26 ”According to the gospel I brought you and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of that divine secret kept in silence for long ages but now disclosed”
    2 Timothy 1: 11-12 ”Of this gospel, by his appointment, I am herald, apostle, teacher.”
    Titus 1: 2-3 ”It is eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, and now in his own good time he has openly declared himself in the proclamation which was entrusted to me by ordinance of God our saviour.”
    What is this special secret message that Paul thinks God has entrusted to him?
    I suggest that it is the idea that Jesus was not just an ordinary human who had been resurrected as a sign of an imminent apocalypse but was actually a manifestation of XXXX.
    What natural experience could have caused Paul to make this claim and to suddenly change from persecutor to foremost apostle?

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 17, 2015

    In your debate with Bass, you mention the divinity of Sophia, I googled “Sophia” and can’t quite figure this out. Could you educate us about Sophia?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      Good idea. In Jewish circles the idea goes back to “Wisdom” in Proverbs 8.

  10. Avatar
    Jana  December 18, 2015

    I realized that I separate the Resurrection into two parts … the empty cave is one and then visitation before disciples as the second. While I may discount the first (empty cave) for reasons you’ve explained, I am disinclined to discount the second. However, I think when you are using the word “Resurrection” you mean both activities. And again this is a question.

    Please correct me but it seems to me that given how literal the early scribes were, that they had to do was connect the dots explaining how was Jesus able to manifest before disciples .. well, he had to have “risen” and escaped the cave and a story was created … just how far off am I Dr. Ehrman ? 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      YEs, that’s pretty much how I see it too…

      • Avatar
        Jana  December 20, 2015

        At my age and amid the prolonged strain and stress of my communities epidemic, you can’t imagine how delighted I feel when you confirm that my little gray cells (Poirot 🙂 are still bouncing along … on another personal note I attended the Catholic wedding of one of my students last night and my experience of the environs, the mass (and I am also a baptized Catholic), the priest’s berating was entirely different than ever before because of reading and learning from your writing! My new found knowledge did not detract from participating in my student’s joy but it has altered my perception of the setting.

  11. Avatar
    paulheeney  December 18, 2015

    Hi Professor, I’m just reading How Jesus Became God (again) and I wondered, as Paul believed that Jesus was resurrected in a transformed body, do we think that when he appeared to Cephas, the 12, the 500 and “finally to me”, he believed that had an encounter with the physical resurrected Jesus, or had a purely spiritual experience? I am aware that it’s usually referred to as the latter, but in context the former seems to be what he’s talking about.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      He’s stressing that it was a physical encounter, since his whole point is that the nature of Jesus’ resurrection precisely in the body shows that Christians too will experience a resurrection in the body (the thesis of 1 Corinthians 15)

      • Avatar
        paulheeney  December 18, 2015

        Thanks, so to be clear, Paul’s story of his own encounter with Jesus would be at odds with the one in Acts?

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 18, 2015

        but it is absolutely not clear, from 1 cor 15, that Paul is speaking about a corpse getting transformed! Paul rather speaks of the ‘spirit’ being ‘clothed’ with a NEW, ‘cosmic body’.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 18, 2015

        According to Paul it’s only the bodies of those ALIVE at that moment that will be CHANGED. The dead, on the other hand, will be resurrected into these ‘new bodies’. Which makes sense because in most cases the physical bodies of the dead don’t exist anymore. So why first reconstruct their OLD bodies only to then change them into totally different ones?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 19, 2015

          No, he says “we too shall be changed.”

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 19, 2015

            Bart: according to the NET version, 1 Cor 15:52 says: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” Did they forget the ‘too’ there then?

            And I know that we have discussed this before, but Paul really seems to imply in his descriptions of the resurrection that the ‘spirits’ will be called from the ‘realm of the dead’ and be ‘clothed’ with NEW, in some way ‘physical’ bodies.

            So we agree that Paul believed that the dead will end up with ‘physical bodies’ (whatever that’s actually supposed to be) but not on the process: you seem to think that the corpses would need to be ‘restored’ (and the ‘spirits’ attached to them again) only to then get ‘changed’, while I think that the ‘spirits’ will immediately get clothed in these new bodies, without the detour via the old bodies. Paul explicitly claims in 2 Cor 5:2 that ‘the earthly house’ (= the physical body) will be dismantled/destroyed and ‘the spirit’ will get a new ‘building from god’ ( = the cosmic body): For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens.

            Can you totally exclude my theory (that Paul did not expect corpses to rise)? If yes, why? Thank you

          • Bart
            Bart  December 21, 2015

            The author is *contrasting* the “dead” with “we.”

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 21, 2015

            but he also contrasts between ‘the dead will be raised’ and ‘we will be changed’. why assume that this means ‘the dead will be raised into their reassembled and reanimated corpses only to then be changed the way the living will be changed’? why wouldn’t the dead be immediately raised into those new bodies, bypassing the corpses? Paul seems to indicate this in multiple places (1 Cor 15, 2 Cor 5, 1 Phil 1)

          • Bart
            Bart  December 22, 2015

            OK, no point pursuing these questions. I understand your views and I assume you know mine!

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 22, 2015

            True. I still think you’re misinterpreting Paul’s words though, in this case. Maybe because it’s such a ‘given’ that Paul believed in corpses getting reassembled and reanimated …

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 18, 2015

    I have been reading “Zealot.” It’s interesting that the author of this book, the best that I can tell, never quotes one of your books and does not list any of your books in the References. I find this odd.

    I have a question stimulated by my reading of “Zealot” as well as by my having read your past blogs about “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”: How do we know that there were lots of Jewish apocalyptic preachers during the first century? Moreover, do we know anything about whether these preachers, by and large, considered themselves, and were considered by others, to be divine, or god, or the messiah? Finally, do we know anything about how first century Jews viewed these preachers? In other words, were they usually viewed as being genuine prophets or viewed as being odd “street preachers” not to be taken seriously? Obviously, I am trying to figure out why Jesus has been followed for centuries and the others were not followed in this way. Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2015

      We know about them because they show up a good deal in our sources (NT; Josephus). None of them considered themselves divine, and there’s nothing to suggest any of them considered themselves the messiah. They seem to have been taken very seriously.

  13. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  December 18, 2015

    Bart: what about this line of thought?

    – Jesus gets executed and taken down from the cross
    – the Apostles witness this from afar and then return to Galilee, crushed
    – Jesus gets thrown into a mass grave
    – Peter and/or Mary have an epiphany, trying to rationalize what has happened and how they (and Jesus) could NOT have been wrong
    – they come to the conclusion that the essence/spirit of Jesus has somehow survived, received a cosmic body and returned to Heaven, waiting to return soon (quite close to what Paul would believe a little later on)
    – they tell ‘the good news’ to the other Apostles, a lot of them are skeptical
    – the ‘good news’ spreads though and gets, as it happens so often, distorted, misunderstood, exaggerated, etc
    – Gentile people hear ‘resurrection’ and imagine a corpse getting reanimated
    – since they assumed that Jesus had been buried in a tomb there had to be, obviously, an empty tomb then
    and the rest is ‘history’ …

    Personally I’m quite convinced that the beliefs of the early Church in Jerusalem (with Jesus’ brother et al) was very different from the beliefs that later found their way into the Bible and are now taken to be ‘the Gospel truth’.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 19, 2015

      I agree with it till near the end. It was not gentiles who saw resurrectoin as a significant physical event to happen at the end of time, but Jews.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 19, 2015

        But do you think then that Peter and/or Mary believed that Jesus’ corpse had indeed been reanimated and walked out of a tomb too? Or that this belief only got introduced by later Jews who misunderstood what Peter and/or Mary actually thought had happened to Jesus post-mortem?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 21, 2015

          Yes, that’s what I think.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 21, 2015

            So: Peter/Mary had visions of Jesus therefore they believed he walked out of the tomb?

            I’m not sure how that necessarily follows though? Or why it would/could be the only explanation?

  14. Avatar
    Eric  December 18, 2015

    “…ancient people, whether Jews or Gentiles, who came to think that someone was taken to heaven came to believe that he had been made a divine being, the Son of God, or a god himself.”

    So did ancient Jews, contemporaries of Jesus, consider Elijah a “divine being” because he had been (supposedly) taken up into heaven? And by a transitive property by way of the transfiguration story, was Moses considered in some sense “divine”?

  15. Avatar
    Thomasfperkins  December 20, 2015

    Dr Ehrman, Are you familiar with the book: When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger et al? If so, is that how you see the disciples altering and maintaining a belief in Jesus even after their original expectations were shown to be false?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2015

      Yup, brilliant book. If you want to see the implications of the theory for what happened to the disciples after Jesus’ death, see John Gager’s book Kingdom and Community.

  16. Avatar
    shakespeare66  December 26, 2015

    Wow, talk about a transformation the life of Christ took after his death! I would hope that my passing will cause such a stir in the universe, but alas, I am afraid that it will end “not with a bang ( as Christ’s life did) but with a whimper.” How is it that he they came to exalt him so quickly? Perhaps it wasn’t so fast?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2015

      It was almost certainly at the point they came to believe he was raised from the dead.

  17. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  January 28, 2016

    Bart just want to blog the fact that it might be true if I told people these earthly things they wouldn’t Believe me anyways. So why would I tell them heavenly things?
    Jesus changing his form ? Others carrying cross for him ? Or what about when gaurds 2 men and a CROSS as tall as that sky receive Jesus? Like I said them not knowing whether it was day or night ? People need to read more! That’s why I support this blog ! Free knowledge !

    Have you heard this again Bart ?

    “shall no stone touch your feet ”
    ” May no stone touch the feet of the earth!

    These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.
(1) And he said, “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.”
(2) Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.”
 Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him

    all rule and
 will becomes troubled he

    when until seeks
let death will of
 finds he
“
    Down judas spoke thee
    
secret these”

    
SECRET THE SPOKE

    TWIN “wrote”
WHOEVER INTERPRETATION “sayings”
EXPERINECE HIM,
    “continue “HE,

    HE “will”
    “WILL”he

    He “CONTINUE “Him

    experience”SAYINGS”

    Interpretation whoever
“
    WROTE” twin

    Spoke the “SECRET”
    “These secret The spoke
 judas down He finds

    Of will death let Seeks
 when he troubled
becomes Will and rule all “

    ” Jesus there ! Gods ! gods are one with Jesus! ”

    ” Undivided given things I disciple come ! It come ” for a saying is !” My master has invited you !”

    He is not here for he has risen ! I will show you !

    Him sent to guest ! To spread ! To master ! Come it come !
    My master has invited you! “

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