Understanding the Cross in Light of the Resurrection

This post is a part of my ongoing (slow and steady) blog series on The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann (CG). You can view the other posts in this series here.

Much has been said here about how Moltmann relates to the question of the historical Jesus (which I blogged about here and here, in conversation with Wolfhart Pannenberg’s “Christology from below“). In Chapter 5 of CG, Moltmann wraps up concerns about the historical Jesus by drawing attention to Jesus Christ as the object of eschatological faith:

Primitive Christian recollections of Jesus were determined from the start by the experience of his resurrection through God. That was the only reason why his words and his story were remembered and why people were concerned with him. Even today, it is doubtful whether there is any other adequate reason for being concerned with the person and history of Jesus Christ which lie so far back in the past. As a merely historical person he would long have been forgotten, because his message had already been contradicted by his death on the cross. As a person at the heart of an eschatological faith and proclamation, on the other hand, he becomes a mystery and a question for every new age.
If we are to understand the truth about Jesus according to the witness of the New Testament, we must take two courses at the same time: we must read his history both forwards and backwards, and relate both readings, the ontic-historical and the noetic-eschatological, to each other and identify the results we achieve.
The Crucified God, p. 161-162

This “forwards and backwards” reading can be thought in terms of relating the cross “forwards” into our understanding of the resurrection, and the resurrection “backwards” into the way we think about the cross. In this post we will look at how we understand the cross in light of the resurrection, while in the next post we will do the same thing for the resurrection in light of the cross.

What does the resurrection mean for the cross?

1. Resurrection means that God has come to us in our suffering, that judgment has been made in favor of the accused, and that the new creation has begun in and around Jesus:

Now when it is seen in terms of the hope that sheds its light backwards, that means that the glory of the coming God has been manifested in the helplessness and shame of the crucified Jesus. The final judgment has already been made in his execution. Jesus’ deliverance to men and their attitude to him are decisive for the final judgment. His forgiveness of sins is God’s law of grace.
The coming God has been made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The future of the qualitatively new creation has already begun through the history of Jesus’ suffering in the history of the suffering of the abandoned world. The judgment has been anticipated and by his death has already been decided in favour of the accused. If, as the Easter vision implies, God has identified himself, his judgment and his kingdom with the crucified Jesus, his cross and his helplessness, then conversely the resurrection of the crucified Jesus into the coming glory of God contains within itself the process of the incarnation of the coming God and his glory in the crucified Jesus.
The Crucified God, p. 168-169

2. Resurrection means hope for ‘life from the dead’, not ‘life after death’:

‘Resurrection of the dead’ first of all excludes any idea of a revivification of the dead Jesus which might have reversed the process of his death. Easter faith can never mean that the dead Jesus returned to this life, which leads to death. Were that the case, then he would have to be expected to die once more like, Lazarus, who according to John I I was raised by Christ, although his corpse was already stinking, and who then later died again. The symbol of ‘resurrection from the dead’ means a qualitatively new life which no longer knows death and therefore cannot be a continuation of this mortal life. ‘Christ being raised from the dead will never die again,’ says Paul (Rom. 6.9). Resurrection means ‘life from the dead’ (Rom. 9.15), and is itself connected with the annihilation of the power of death. On the other hand, ‘resurrection of the dead’ excludes any idea of ‘a life after death’, of which many religions speak, whether in the idea of the immortality of the soul or in the idea of the transmigration of souls. Resurrection life is not a further life after death, whether in the soul or the spirit, in children or in reputation; it means the annihilation of death in the victory of the new, eternal life (I Cor. 15.55). The notion of ‘life after death’ can coexist peacefully with the experience that this life is a ‘life towards death’. But the ‘resurrection of the dead’, understood as a present hope in the midst of the ‘body of death’, contradicts the harshest facts of life which point in the opposite direction, and cannot leave either death or the dead in peace, because it symbolizes the future of the dead. Thus the expression ‘resurrection of the dead’, which seemed to follow from the Easter visions, does not deny the fatality of death, whether this death is the death of Jesus on the cross or death in general, with the help of ideas of a life after death in some shape or form.
The Crucified God, p. 169 – 170

A theology of the cross must still be a theology of hope. Here we find a major practical take-home from Moltmann’s thought: Resurrection does not mean a denial of the pain we see in this world, nor does it mean resignation to it. The resurrection of Jesus is the defeat of death, which enables us to live in contradiction against all things that lead to death.

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