Contrary to the ludicrous assertions of theologians, there is only one true 'mystery' in the New Testament and that is the 'Resurrection' of Jesus of Nazareth. All else is quite straightforward.
'Mystery' though it may be, there are still analogies to draw and observations to make.
In my view, the Resurrection story must be read in conjunction with that of the Transfiguration. Only then will we recognise that there are vital parallels between these accounts and the Old Testament account of Moses and the Israelites at Sinai.
These parallels are just too significant to ignore and I cannot help but think that there are unstated premises behind the New Testament accounts - ones that would have been readily understood by contemporary witnesses but not to us, now, in the 21st century.
A central theme of the New Testament is that Jesus was the promised "prophet like Moses." [See The Prophet like Moses]
So if we read the account of Moses at Sinai, what parallels will we discover?:
The morning of the third day
"And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled." [Exodus 19:16]
"On the first day of the week, early in the morning and while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and noticed that the stone had been removed from the tomb." [John 20:1]
"Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead." [Acts 10:40-41]
The Old Covenant
The New Covenant
The three named and the seventy unnamed witnesses
"And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them." [Mark 9:2]
"Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come." [Luke 10:1]
The Shining Countenance
"...and he was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light." [Matt.17:2]
The Glory Cloud
"While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them..." [Matt.17:5]
The Voice from the Cloud
"...and there came a voice out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." [Mark 9:7]
"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, voice to him from the excellent glory, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount" [II Pet. 1:16-18]
If Luke is also the author of Acts, then one has only to look at the ending of his gospel and Chapter One of Acts to notice that something has occurred to him - perhaps further investigation has revealed to him that the whole resurrection and ascension story cannot be isolated to time and space but needs to be placed within a much wider and more comprehensive redemptive framework.
As probably the first person to reduce to writing the various resurrection accounts circulating within the early Christian communities, it is to Paul's interpretation that we must look for insights. For him, Jesus' body was "sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body." [Tom Wright in his Resurrection and the Son of God has pointed out that Paul does not speak of some ethereal, non-material body in this verse from 1 Corinthians 15. Rather, he says, the phrase 'pneumatikon soma' refers to a physical body totally empowered by the spirit.]
If we add to Paul's interpretation the later Gospel accounts, we can distil some central pieces of evidence -
- Jesus' resurrected body had physical substance;
- He was not however immediately recognisable by physical appearance;
- He was recognisable only when his personality revealed itself through physical acts such as speaking or eating;
- His body was not subject to the limitations of space and time;
- The manifestation of his body was a profound and permanently life-altering experience for those who witnessed it.
One intriguing and perhaps telling point is that only those chosen beforehand were able to see his resurrected body:
Because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." [John 14:19-20]
We may not be able to comprehend the resurrection stories with minds nurtured on the principles of science and natural laws but, having myself undergone a permanently life-altering experience in Jerusalem, I can at least say this: With God, nothing is impossible.