A few days ago, I sent a tweet that said the following:
“The most politically consequential event in all of human history is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”
To back this claim up, I cite to 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. I conclude the tweet with this statement:
“You are either cooperating with the subjection of all things to Christ, or you are trying to thwart his legitimate rule over all things.”
For context, here’s what 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 says:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, the people of Christ; then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death. For He has put everything under His feet: but when it says ‘everything’ is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception. And when everything is subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all.1 Corinthians 15:20-28 HCSB
Obviously, there’s a lot to unpack in these verses, not all of which has to do with the political consequences of the resurrection. Although these other issues are not less important than the political consequences of the resurrection, my focus here is on these political consequences.
There are many self-described Christians and self-described Evangelicals who claim that one can be a Christian, believe in the resurrection, and yet also believe that the resurrection did not physically occur, that it did not involve the actual human body of Jesus, and/or did not actually occur in space-time at some specific, objective point in the past.
My goal here is not to go too far afield by debating the fine distinctions and narrow points of these arguments. Instead, I want to focus on what Paul wrote and what he meant when he wrote.
Paul’s purpose in writing about the resurrection of Jesus was not to give a one-off doctrinal teaching to the church in Corinth. Rather, Paul was responding to Gnostic-like influences within the church, which were spreading the idea that the future culmination of God’s kingdom would be spiritual and not physical in nature. This meant that there would be no future resurrection of the dead. These teachers of Gnosticism encouraged the rejection of the early Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead, a belief that the early Christians adopted–and adapted–from Second-Temple Judaism. This rejection of the resurrection of the dead was derivative of the Gnostic belief that the physical body, and the physical creation generally, was evil.
To counter this false teaching, Paul did not attack the Gnostic arguments directly, but instead reminded his Corinthian readers of what it was that compelled them to believe the Christian gospel in the first place: that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
In a nutshell, Paul’s argument is that if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus has not been raised from the dead. And if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then there is no cause for the Corinthian church, or anyone else, to believe in the Christian gospel. That is, without the this-world, objective, empirical fact of Jesus’ resurrection, there is no good reason for anyone to claim that the Christian message is true.
In making this argument, Paul is taking a big risk. He’s handing the opponents of Christianity precisely what they’re looking for: the key to Christianity’s defeat. All anyone has to do to defeat the Church is offer undeniable proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
But what does any of that have to do with the resurrection being the most politically consequential event in human history?
The answer comes not just in the fact that Jesus rose from the dead but in who Jesus is. He is the Son of God–the “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). God “crowned Him with glory and honor and subjected everything under His feet” (Heb 2:7-8). Paul takes notice of this in 1 Corinthians 15, making reference to the same text in Psalm 8:4-6:
What is man that You remember him, the son of man that You look after him? You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him lord over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet.Psalm 8:4-6 HCSB
The New Testament consistently refers to Jesus as the Son of Man, to include Jesus’ own self-referential words (Matt 8:20; Matt 9:6; Matt 16:13; Mark 9:9; Luke 9:22; John 3:13-14; Rev 1:13; Rev 14:14). Thus, Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man, the one to whom the responsibility falls of judging the nations (Matt 25:31-32). This judgment of the nations is derivative of the fact that God has given to the Son of Man “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Dan 7:14).
The ways in which many Christians have been taught to think about the kingdom of Christ is clearly not in line with the testimony of Scripture. I include myself in this. For most of my life, I was taught by parents, teachers, and pastors that the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of Christ–whichever formulation you prefer–was something otherworldly and/or something future. But this isn’t what the Bible says.
Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven as a present reality and instructed his disciples to do the same (Matt 3:2; Matt 4:17; Matt 5:3; Matt 10:7). If the Kingdom of Heaven was a present reality 2,000 years ago, and if it is a kingdom that “shall not pass away” and “one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14), then it is incorrect to speak of it as only a future reality. If it involves the “peoples, nations, and languages” of the world (Dan 7:14), then it is incorrect to speak of it only in spiritual, rather than physical, temporal terms. Paul himself wrote that the whole creation–not just the souls or spirits of people–anticipates the renewal that comes with the Kingdom of Heaven (Rom 8:19-22).
But isn’t the renewal itself something that is future?
Again, this isn’t what Paul seems to think. A little further down in Romans 8, he writes:
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.Romans 8:28-30
These, too, are present realities: the called, justified, and glorified citizens of God’s kingdom already exist.
If God’s kingdom already exists, and if the participants in that kingdom already exist, then it would be nonsensical to think that those participants would not, should not, or could not behave in ways that are consistent with these facts.
This is why I write–and fully believe–that the resurrection of Jesus is the most politically consequential event in human history.
If Jesus is raised from the dead, then the Kingdom of God has its Crown Prince and he lays claim to the ultimate loyalty of all his subjects. This makes the resurrection politically consequential because, not only does the risen Jesus lay claim to dominion over “all peoples, nations, and languages” but, of all the institutions and social structures erected by humans, the only one to lay claim to the ultimate loyalty of people is the state.
This is why, back in my first post, I asserted that the socio-political establishment is the greatest threat to the Church, which means also that the Church is the greatest threat to the socio-political establishment. The socio-political establishment–what one might broadly construe, in the United States, as the liberal order–controls governments and, thereby, states. The socio-political establishment competes against Christ for the ultimate loyalty of individuals and institutions.
The goal of the Church is not to bring everything into subjection to Christ. According to Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection is evidence that everything is already subject to Christ. The Church’s job is to make people aware of the fact, not just of Jesus’ resurrection but of their subjection to him as “heir of all things.” This, as far as I can tell, is what constitutes the “prophetic office of the Church.” It is this prophetic office that makes the Church dangerous to human governments. It isn’t that the Church wants to take over the state. It is that what the Church has to say may make those with the power to take over the state want to dislodge those anti-Christ elements that currently hold sway.
In this light, we can classify human governments into two classes: Saul-like governments and David-like governments. Saul saw the prophets as threats. David saw them as messengers, even when he didn’t like what they had to say. I’ll have more to say on this as time goes on.
For now, I’ll close by restating my core case:
If Jesus is risen, then all things are subject to him. The Son of Man lays claim to dominion over the earth’s “peoples, languages, and nations.” This is an explicitly political claim. Therefore, the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is politically consequential. He is the object of the Christian’s ultimate loyalty and, therefore, a direct threat to the state insofar as it is controlled by forces that resist his dominion.