Section 4—The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The death and resurrection of Jesus is one of the most hotly contested doctrines of the Christian Faith. For many it is central to their faith and confirms their understanding of a God that is able to transcend the natural, the ordinary, and enter into the realms of the supernatural.

There is no denying that the death and resurrection of Jesus forms a momentous event in the history of Christianity. In an attempt to do justice to this important topic I would like us to examine the subject as two separate issues, even though in many ways they are inexplicably joined.

First, let us examine The Crucifixion of Jesus.

Can I suggest we set aside such words as Sacrifice, Salvation, Redemption, Atonement etc. as these words have little meaning to anyone who has not studied theology or sat through endless Easter sermons? However, can we allow a little time to reflect on three questions:

  • Was the death of Jesus pre-determined?
  • Could it have been prevented?
  • What lasting effect has it had on civilization?

Was the death of Jesus pre-determined?

There are numerous references in the bible supporting the theory that God sent His Son to earth to die for the sins of humankind. Therefore, for many there is the acceptance that Jesus being “put to death” was part of the scheme of things, God’s master plan!

The difficulty I have with this understanding is that it would appear to remove any opportunity for self-determination. If Jesus “came to die” then we can assume that no matter what the response of the people, high and low, the outcome would have been inevitable. Surely if the death of Jesus, at the hands of humankind, was predetermined, then no matter what the response of the authorities of the day we must conclude that we, as ordinary humans, have no ultimate control over our actions or our lives. Our fate too is predetermined!!! A scary thought!

Could His death have been prevented?

I can understand the need for Jesus to enter Jerusalem and face the conflict caused by his words and his actions, even though he would have known without a doubt that his Ministry did not sit comfortably with the Roman and Jewish authorities. The Romans would have been concerned that his power and influence could be used to incite political rebellion and the Jewish authorities would have been feeling that their power and influence would be threatened by the radical views of this itinerant upstart! However, we all know that it is sometimes necessary to confront opposition to the truth. Sadly, quite often in many situations there is a personal, hidden agenda driving actions and attitudes, as with the Scribes and the Pharisees and their attitude to Jesus. I am sure that we as individuals have sometimes risked rejection on a point of principle, or even been tempted to abandon our principles in order to remain popular.

Yes, Jesus could have continued a “low-key” ministry, avoiding conflict with the authorities, but surely his credibility would have been questioned. What kind of Good News was he proclaiming if it needed to be covert for him to survive? Would you support a leader who refused to stand up and be counted? Throughout history all great change for good has demanded challenge and sacrifice. Was it any different for Jesus?


  • Do you believe in predetermination?
  • Do you think Jesus would have achieved more in his ministry if he had stayed away from Jerusalem?

What lasting effect has the death of Jesus had on civilization?

Some would say that the theological understanding of God, made known through Jesus, has transformed the world, and that the willingness of Jesus to “give his life for the sins of humankind” has brought about a new life through Christ. Although I am not able to embrace this doctrine, I am reluctant to disagree with this understanding for I know that for many millions of Christians is it a belief central to their faith.

However, we do have to acknowledge that throughout history the interpretation of Christianity has resulted in many undesirable actions: To name but a few:

  • The crusades, resulting in the mass murder of the infidels.
  • The dissolution of the monasteries and all the bloodshed that involved.
  • In more recent times the persecution of the Jews.
  • Sectarian killings in Northern Ireland.

Even to this day we have many attitudes within the church that would deny the Gospel of love, acceptance and tolerance as found in the teachings of Jesus. In some cases we have strong opposition to women priests, to homosexual relationships, to mixed marriages, to divorce, to abortion—even in cases of rape.

One could also ask why does the established church, of various denominations, hoard millions of pounds in property and gold artefacts while giving lip service to caring for the poor? Why do churches maintain buildings that are used perhaps one hour a week when we have a crisis of homelessness? Sorry if I’m getting too political, but Jesus was political and that’s what cost him his life!

Surely it was attitudes of greed, selfishness, power and intolerance that crucified Jesus, just as those same attitudes sacrifice Jesus (or what he stands for) today.

Is it human nature to be selfish?
How do you think the behaviour of Christians should be different from those without a faith?
Ordinary people give their lives for others through acts of bravery or selflessness. Is their sacrifice different from that of Jesus?

The resurrection of Jesus

I think it would be fair to say that the individual’s understanding of “The Resurrection” will be determined by their understanding of “The Crucifixion”.

For those who are able to subscribe to the supernatural, God able to transcend the natural, then the miraculous events surrounding the “Resurrection” will pose no problems. For others, who see the death of Jesus as a man-made rather than God-made event—the resurrection poses many problems.

If, like me, your theology is centred around “The Incarnation”, God with us, God within us, then there are huge issues with credibility. Whatever discipline we follow from maths to medicine, from science to sociology it is essential to have a goal that is ultimately realistic. All great discoveries have been pursued through difficult stages because it was believed that the end result was obtainable, to think otherwise would result in defeat.

Therefore, did Jesus really rise from the dead in the way the gospel writers would have us believe or was it their use of poetic licence to make the message more astounding? Does the Son of God become more or less credible as a human if he was able to achieve feats that are definitely outside the realms of possibly for the likes of you and me?

In order for our doctrines and theological understanding to make sense when examining the “Resurrection” we have to acknowledge the universally accepted link between the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of Eternal Life.

The promise of Eternal Life is a topic that must be examined with great delicacy for it is an essential belief to countless millions and probably one of the greatest “selling points” for the Christian Faith. It is quite understandable that for many, especially those whose earthly life is one of hardship and deprivation, the promise of eternal life is a hope to cling on to. For some it is seen as a reward for good behaviour!

Because of the delicacy of the subject I would like to address it by posing the following questions (forgive me for sitting on the fence! I know what makes sense to me but would like to invite you to explore for yourself).


  • When considering the resurrection of Jesus do you understand it as a physical resurrection?
  • Do you find it easier to believe when considered as a spiritual rather than a physical re-birth?
  • What would be your explanation of Mary’s failure to recognise Jesus in the garden, or the disciples on the road to Emmaus?
  • Would a physical resurrection make it more, or less, obtainable for us?
  • Is it reasonable to celebrate the “Risen Lord” in the lives of all who try to follow his teachings and way of life?
  • What is your hope and expectation when your earthly life is over?

As I have suggested throughout these studies it is essential for our theology to “make sense”, each belief needs to be a strong link in forming an unbroken chain, so able to withstand pressure from life and all that it throws at us.

I believe that every Christian should have some understanding of theology. To ask ourselves what is it that we truly believe? Perhaps one of the reasons the church is in decline is the fact that much of what we proclaim does not ring true to those who have sampled it but walked away.

Once we have studied, considered and accepted a credible set of beliefs, beliefs that link together and make sense, then we are on an amazing journey of faith and discovery. As we journey on, we shall discard certain baggage as it no longer serves a purpose, we shall collect refreshing thoughts and ideas, and we shall travel on with hearts and minds open to the power of God within us and the opportunities of the world around us.

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You can find the next section of this study here.