Sunday, Nov 10, 2002: “The Historical Jesus as We Know Him”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”  a reflection of God’s Work on Salvation in Jesus Christ

“The Historical Jesus as We Know Him”

Sunday, November 10, 2002


One of the most important and hotly contested topics of discussion for Christians is the person of Jesus Christ.  For more than 100 years, Christian scholars have attempted in various ways to conduct a “Search for the Historical Jesus.”  Theologians today are proposing new approaches, yet approaches that are still based on Scripture and tradition, of answering Jesus’ ancient question to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  Over the course of six weeks Mike Kreutzer will lead us in trying to ask the right questions and help us to offer possible approaches to answer it.  Following are Mike’s notes on the discussion from the third session.

Sunday, November 10:  “The Historical Jesus, as We Know Him.”  What can be said with confidence about the historical Jesus?  What do we know about his death?  How can we understand his resurrection?

The historical Jesus is important:

1)      helps us to understand the genesis of Christology

2)      theologically, the revelation of God takes place in the historical Jesus

3)      it gives us some sense of what our God is like.

Some “basics” of what can be said about Jesus:

1)      Jesus of Nazareth was a Palestinian Jew; he was not opposed to mainstream Judaism, but was critical toward it

2)      He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and was baptized by John

3)      He was a prophet in the long line of prophets; he was perceived as one; he thought of himself as one; he was a prophet of the end of time, both future and immanent

4)      He was a teacher of Wisdom.

5)      He proclaimed the reign of God.

6)      He gathered disciples and formed a community; they shared his mission of preaching and teaching and healing in the service of the reign of God.  (Meier, Vol. 3: he gathered the crowds, selected disciples, and appointed apostles; the “disciples” are the “main players”)

7)      He had a special place for sinners and those on the margins of society, the sick and the handicapped; he ate meals with those on the margins in anticipation of the messianic banquet.

8)      Jesus was a God-centered person, deeply in touch with the Spirit of God;  he believed that God was calling him and was sending him on a mission.

Some important points for understanding the death of Jesus:

1)      There was a close relationship between the state and the synagogue.

2)      The Romans appointed the High Priest in Jerusalem

3)      There was no clear state / synagogue demarcation.

4)      The preaching and teaching of Jesus was religious, but it had a social and political import.

5)      It is far too simplistic to attribute responsibility for the death of Jesus either to Roman or Jewish authorities alone; there was joint responsibility and collusion.

Two styles / approaches to the New Testament’s accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus:

1)      kerygmatic statements  (especially in Paul)

2)       narrative statements  (in the gospels)

Six models or expressions that the New Testament uses to talk about what happened after Jesus’ death:

            1) glorification       “that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)

2) exultation            “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior”  (Acts 5:31)

3) outpouring of the Spirit            (Acts 2)

4) ascension            (Luke 24; Acts 1)

5) resurrection            (Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20)

6)  living again            (John 20 and 21)

Reduction of the mystery to one model is a distortion in which much is lost.  The result has been that one of the most powerful symbols of the Gospel has been literalized and robbed of its power.


There are a great variety of experiences pertaining to Jesus’ “resurrection” in the New Testament.  The many discrepancies are a sign of authenticity.

Bultman:  “Jesus rose in the kerygma of the early Church.

Marxsen:  “The cause of Jesus continues.”

Paul:  cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-9 – Christ died, was buried, was raised, appeared

“ For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.”  


            “third day”: Abraham was released form sacrificing Isaac; Israelites entered the promised land;  the people will be definitively saved by God

The most powerful argument in support of the reality of the resurrection is the continued existence and growth of the Church, and the dedication and commitment of Jesus’ followers, once disillusioned and disappointed.

Impact of the resurrection on the lives of the disciples

1)      They saw a universal significance (cf. Rom 5:12-21, Adam and Christ).

2)      They saw the resurrection as a divine seal of approval / recognition / confirmation of everything that Jesus had said and done.  They came to see Jesus as the “Ebed Yahweh.”  Jesus is Lord.  He will come as “the Son of Man.”  There was soon a plethora of titles for Jesus.  The resurrection served as a catalyst enabling the Church to make the transition from a low Christology to a high Christology.

3)      The resurrection is understood as eschatological (“Jesus crystallizes and personifies Jewish hope and expectations.”  He is seen as a realization of Jewish and human history.

4)      “The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the highpoint of God’s revelation in history.”

5)      The resurrection is salvific.”  “Jesus embodies God’s salvation.”  “In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the future has dawned.”


The early Christians would have viewed the resurrection of Jesus within the context of the Jewish expectation of a general resurrection.

There is a link between resurrection and human experience, e.g. the cycle of nature, the rhythm of death and new life.

Resurrection has cosmic significance: cf. Rom. 8:18, creation groaning in the act of giving birth.

Human condition:  Humans are “clay grown tall”; yet we experience ourselves as incomplete, restless, broken, fractured.


1)      “Resurrection is about the fullest realization of the human potential.”  “The real meaning of resurrection is something that happens in the journey of life.”  In life, there are moments of resurrection of wholeness, of salvation; not just “pie in the sky when you die.”

2)      Resurrection is about the gathering up of history into a totality, into a meaningful wholeness.”  “resurrection is about the transformation of history into a new creation.”

3)      Resurrection addresses questions about the value of unselfish commitment to causes of the flourishing of humanity: peace, liberation, the common good.  Resurrection asserts that justice does triumph, an idea that arose our of the search for justice in Judaism c. 200 B.C.

Expressions of resurrection in the early Church:

1)      a purely Jewish expression of the meaning of Jesus; “Maranatha”; imminent parousia; focus on the future

2)      Jesus as Lord (Jewish-Hellenistic expression of the meaning of Jesus); focus on the present in his death and resurrection

3)      Hellenistic expression:  “Christ, who is the Lord, the Word made flesh”; the life of Jesus is seen as Christological