Tom Wright: The Day the Revolution Began

An extract from, The Day the Revolution Began by Tom Wright:

“Young Hero Wins Hearts.”

Had there been newspapers in Jerusalem in the year we now call AD 33, this was the headline you would not have seen. When Jesus of Nazareth died the horrible death of crucifixion at the hands of the Roman army, nobody thought him a hero. Nobody was saying, as they hurriedly laid his body in a tomb, that his death had been a splendid victory, a heroic martyrdom. His movement, which had in any case been something of a ragtag group of followers, was over. Nothing had changed. Another young leader had been brutally liquidated. This was the sort of thing that Rome did best. Caesar was on his throne. Death, as usual, had the last word.

Except that in this case it didn’t. As Jesus’s followers looked back on that day in the light of what happened soon afterward, they came up with the shocking, scandalous, nonsensical claim that his death had launched a revolution. That something had happened that afternoon that had changed the world. That by six o’clock on that dark Friday evening the world was a different place.

Nonsensical or not, they were proven right. Whether we believe in Jesus, whether we approve of his teaching, let alone whether we like the look of the movement that still claims to follow him, we are bound to see his crucifixion as one of the pivotal moments in human history. Like the assassination of Julius Caesar around seventy years earlier, it marks the end of one era and the start of another.

And Jesus’s first followers saw it as something more. They saw it as the vital moment not just in human history, but in the entire story of God and the world. Indeed, they believed it had opened a new and shocking window onto the meaning of the word “God” itself. They believed that with this event the one true God had suddenly and dramatically put into operation his plan for the rescue of the world.

They saw it as the day the revolution began.

It wasn’t just that they believed Jesus had been raised from the dead. They did believe that, of course, and that too was scandalous nonsense in their day as it is in ours. But they quickly came to see his resurrection not simply as an astonishing new beginning in itself, but as the result of what had happened three days earlier. The resurrection was the first visible sign that the revolution was already under way. More signs would follow.

Most Christians today don’t see it like this—and, in consequence, most people outside the church don’t see it like that either. I understand why. Like most Christians today, I started my thinking about Jesus’s death with the assumption, from what I had been taught, that the death of Jesus was all about God saving me from my “sin,” so that I could “go to heaven.” That, of course, can be quite a revolutionary idea for someone who’s never thought of it before. But it’s not quite the revolution the early Christians were talking about. In fact, that way of putting it, taken on its own, significantly distorts what Jesus’s first followers were saying. is not left behind. I want to make that clear from the start. But it is contained within the larger story. And it means more, not less, as a result.

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