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The resurrection of Christ is the fulcrum of everything we believe, and a turning point in history, no matter what you believe. If it's real, the implications are immense. If it didn't happen, the implications are immense. Let's talk.

What was the Jewish response to the resurrection?

Postby Dorf Man » Thu Nov 16, 2017 3:07 pm

What did the Jews think at the time of Jesus's resurrection? To expand, I want to better understand the impact of Jesus’s resurrection among Jews who rejected his teachings. When proof of the empty tomb and news of the resurrection came, shouldn’t that have impacted the beliefs of the Jews? Why didn’t they become followers of Christ en masse?
Dorf Man

Re: What was the Jewish response to the resurrection?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Dec 14, 2017 10:28 am

As far as I know, we don't have any writings to that effect, so we can only try to put pieces together from what we know.

According to Dr. N.T. Wright, in his book "The Resurrection of the Son of God", Jews believed in resurrection. There were differing views on it, however. The more that is dug up, the greater the variety. "Almost any position one can imagine on the subject appears to have been espoused by some Jews somewhere [from] 200 BC to AD 200." Most Jews believed in some form of resurrection to a future disembodied existence, but they had differences as to exactly how that came about and progressed through stages, and exactly how YHWH would accomplish it all.

The Sadducees (we read about them in the NT) rejected any notion of resurrection: there was no future life (Matt. 22:23 = Mk. 12.18 = Lk. 20.27; Acts 23.7-9). (Luke describes the resurrection in significant detail in his Gospel, which makes clear that the resurrection body of Jesus was neither an angel nor a spirit.)

The Pharisees believed in a resurrection where, after death, souls existed as angels or spirits, and then later received some kind of new embodiment.

Neither of those groups of believe "for a moment that Paul has actually been a witness of the resurrection itself; that is out of the question as far as they are concerned. 'The resurrection,' from their point of view, will take place at a future date when all the righteous dead are raised to share God's new world." They wonder whether Paul has had a vision or a visitation from someone (an angel or spirit) who, though not yet bodily raised, is present in the intermediate state between death and resurrection, and whose state provides evidence that they *will* be raised in the future. We see this same mindset in Acts 12.14-16.

The disciples' message of resurrection was from the beginning a revolutionary doctrine, and not well received. No Jew readily believed what the disciples were saying. Such a resurrection (back to life in a physical body on this earth) was absurd and patently impossible. "Nobody imagined that any individuals had already been raised, or would be raised in advance of the great last day. there are no traditions about prophets being raised to new bodily life. ... There are no traditions about a Messiah being raised to life." Most Jews hoped for a Messiah, and most Jews hoped for resurrection, but nobody put those two hopes together until the early Christians do so. "It may be obvious, but it needs saying: however exalted Abraham, Isaac and Jacob may have been in Jewish thought, nobody imagined they had been raised from the dead. However important Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets may have been, nobody claimed that they were alive again in the 'resurrection' sense. The martyrs were honored, venerated even; but nobody said they had been raised from the dead. The world of Judaism had generated, from its rich scriptural origins, a rich variety of beliefs about what happened, and would happen, to the dead. But it was quite unprepared for the new mutation that sprang up, like a totally unexpected plant, within the already well-stocked garden."

Acts 2.41 mentions that 3,000 accepted Peter's message of Jesus and resurrection on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem probably had a population of about 60,000 in this era, so 3K added to the church amounts to about 5%. Acts 2.47 mentions that there were others, but doesn't specify. Acts 4.4 claims they numbered about 5,000 by that time, just a few days later. There is no way to corroborate these numbers, but they seem realistic given the population or the city and what we do know about the growth of Christianity in the Empire.

As to what the Jews thought who rejected the message of resurrection, that's harder to get a handle on. We know of persecution, but not what they thought. No source specifies their thoughts or rebuttal. Even Gamaliel in Acts 5.33-39 is fairly non-committal.

Acts 13.45 says they "talked abusively against what Paul was saying," but it doesn't specify.

In Athens (Acts 17.17), Paul reasoned with both Jews and Gentiles. We are told that "some sneered" (17.32), though they are likely from the group of philosophers (17.18), not Jews in specific.

In Ephesus (Acts 19.8-10), there were several years of presentations, debate, and teaching. It says, "some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned The Way."

Why didn't more become followers? It seems they didn't believe it. It didn't fit their theology or their science. Only a handful (500-600) actually got to see Jesus after the resurrection, and it seems that others just didn't buy it.

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