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The Resurrection Is the High Point of Revelation

General Audience — March 8, 1989

—    Paul's personal experience of the Lord

In St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, several times quoted during the course of these reflections on Christ's resurrection, we read: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14). Evidently St. Paul saw the resurrection as the basis of the Christian faith. He saw it as the keystone of the entire edifice of doctrine and life built up on revelation, inasmuch as it is the definitive confirmation of the whole ensemble of truth taught by Christ. Hence all the Church's preaching, from apostolic times down the centuries and spanning the generations even to the present day, makes its appeal to the resurrection. It draws from it its driving and persuasive force and its vigor. It is easy to understand why.

The resurrection was first of all the confirmation of all that Christ had "done and taught." It was the divine seal stamped on his words and life. He himself had indicated to his disciples and adversaries this definitive sign of his truth. On the first Easter the angel told the women at the empty tomb: "He has risen as he said" (Mt 28:6). If this word and promise of his are revealed as true, then all his other words and promises possess the power of truth that does not pass away, as he himself had proclaimed: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mt 24:35; cf. Mk 13:31; Lk 21:33). No stronger, more decisive and more authoritative proof than the resurrection from the dead could have been imagined or asked for. All the truths, including those most impenetrable to the human mind, find their justification, even from the rational point of view, in the fact that the risen Christ gave the definitive proof, promised beforehand, of his divine authority.

Thus the truth of Christ's divinity itself is confirmed by the resurrection. Jesus had said: "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I Am" (Jn 8:28). Those who heard these words wanted to stone Jesus, because for the Jews the words "I Am" were the equivalent of the unspeakable name of God. In fact, when asking Pilate to condemn Jesus to death, they presented as the principal charge that he had "made himself the Son of God" (Jn 19:7). For this reason the Sanhedrin had condemned him as guilty of blasphemy. In reply to the high priest's question, Jesus had declared that he was the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mt 26:63-65; Mk 14:62; Lk 22:70), that is to say, not merely the earthly Messiah as understood and awaited by Jewish tradition, but the Messiah-Lord announced by Psalm 110 (cf. Mt 22:41 ff.), the mysterious personage perceived by Daniel (cf. 7:13-14). This was the great blasphemy and the charge for the death sentence: that he had proclaimed himself the Son of God! Jesus' resurrection confirms the truth of his divine identity, and justifies the self-attribution of the "name" of God which he made before the Pasch: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am" (Jn 8:58). For the Jews this was a claim punishable by stoning (cf. Lev 24:16). "They took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple" (Jn 8:59). If they had not then been able to stone him, they later succeeded in "lifting him up" on the cross. The resurrection of the crucified proved that he was really I Am, the Son of God.

In actual fact, Jesus, while calling himself Son of Man, had not only asserted that he was truly the Son of God. But in the upper room, before the passion, he had also prayed the Father to reveal that the Christ-Son of Man was his eternal Son: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you" (Jn 17:1). "Glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made" (Jn 17:5). The paschal mystery was the answer to this prayer, the confirmation of Christ's divine sonship, and indeed his glorification with that glory which he "had with the Father before the world was made": the glory of the Son of God.

According to John's Gospel Jesus, in the prepashcal period, had on several occasions alluded to this future glory which would be manifested in his death and resurrection. Only after the event did the disciples understand the meaning of those words of his.

Thus we read that during his first Pasch at Jerusalem, after having driven the merchants and money-changers out of the temple, Jesus replied to the Jews who had asked him for a sign of his authority for doing as he had done: "'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up....' But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken" (Jn 2:19-22).

Moreover, Jesus' reply to those sent by the sisters of Lazarus who besought him to come to visit their brother who was ill, referred to the paschal events: "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it" (Jn 11:4).

It was not merely the glory which he could acquire from the miracle, all the more so since it would have been a contributory cause of his death (cf. Jn 11:46-54). His real glorification would have come precisely from his being raised up on the cross (cf. Jn 12:32). The disciples had a clear understanding of all this after the resurrection.

Particularly interesting is St. Paul's teaching on the value of the resurrection as the determinant element of his Christological concept, linked also to his personal experience of the risen one. Thus at the beginning of his Letter to the Romans he writes: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the Gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh, and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1:1-4).

This means that from the very first moment of his human conception and birth (descended from David), Jesus was the eternal Son of God become Son of Man. In the resurrection this divine sonship was manifested in all its fullness through the power of God. God restored Jesus to life by the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:11) and constituted him in the glorious state of kyrios (cf. Phil 2:9-11; Rom 14:9; Acts 2:36). Jesus merited under a new, messianic title the recognition, worship and glory of the eternal name of Son of God (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb 1:1-5; 5:5).

Paul had expounded this same doctrine in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia on the sabbath day. At the invitation of the leaders of the synagogue, he spoke to announce that as the high point of the economy of salvation, effected between the lights and shadows of the history of Israel, God had raised up Jesus from the dead. For many days Jesus had appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem and these were now his witnesses to the people. "And we," the Apostle concluded, "bring you the good news that what God promised to our fathers, he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm: 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you'"(Acts 13:32-34: cf. Ps 2:7).

For Paul there is an assimilation of ideas between the glory of Christ's resurrection and Christ's eternal divine sonship, which is fully revealed in that victorious conclusion of his messianic mission.

1.  Paul's personal experience of the Lord

This glory of kyrios manifests that power of the risen one (Man-God) whom Paul had known by personal experience at the moment of his conversion on the road to Damascus. Then he too heard himself called to be an apostle (though not one of the Twelve), inasmuch as he was an eye-witness of the living Christ. Paul received from him the power to face all the toil and bear all the suffering of his mission. Paul's spirit was so marked by that experience that in his teaching and witness he gave precedence to the idea of the power of the risen one over that of sharing in Christ's sufferings, which was also dear to him. That which he had verified in his personal experience he proposed to the faithful as a rule of thought and a norm of life: "Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...so that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:8-11). At this point his thought turned to his experience on the road to Damascus: "...because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Phil 3:12).

As appears from the texts quoted, Christ's resurrection is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is its fulfillment, according to God's eternal plan. Rather, it is the supreme crowning of all that Jesus had revealed and wrought throughout his whole life, from his birth to his passion and death, by his deeds, miracles, teaching, example of perfect holiness and above all by his transfiguration. He had never revealed directly the glory which he had with the Father "before the world was made" (Jn 17:5), but he concealed this glory in his humanity until the definitive emptying of himself (cf. Phil 2:7-8) through his death on the cross.

The resurrection reveals the fact that "in Christ the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily" (Col 1:19). Thus the resurrection completes the manifestation of the content of the Incarnation. It can therefore be said that it is also the fullness of revelation. It stands therefore, as we have said, at the center of the Christian faith and of the Church's preaching.