This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Street theater, physical resurrection

When we watch a play, we focus only on the stage. We do not think of the weeks of planning or the jumble of costumes and props behind the curtains. Good choreography and good acting bring us right into the story.


We now shift from texts on the Holy Spirit to Palm Sunday — to the human Jesus who rides triumphantly into Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover festival. Rather than a stage play, our text describes political street theater. And six of 11 verses involve behind-the-scenes maneuvering before the performance begins.

Let’s probe the background of this theatrical event. First, although Mark mentions Jesus going to Jerusalem only this one time, Jesus has actually been here before. He knows exactly where to find a colt to ride. He knows the owners of the colt, who recognize him as “Lord” and freely lend him the animal (11:3-6). In that sense, John’s Gospel, which details several of Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem, is chronologically more accurate.

Second, Jesus knows and builds on his scriptures. In Gen. 49:9-12 Jacob prophesies that his son Judah will be king forever, “binding his . . . donkey’s colt to the choice vine.” He and those with him can recall previous triumphal entries: the Ark of the Covenant brought from Philistia to Jerusalem (1 Sam. 6:1-18) and Jehu’s takeover of the Northern Kingdom, complete with trumpets and cloaks spread on the ground (2 Kings 9:11-13).

More recently, they would remember Simon Maccabaeus, who, after liberating the Jews from Hellenistic rule in 167 B.C., entered Jerusalem with “praise and palm branches” (1 Maccabees 13:51), no doubt singing the victorious Psalm 118 (see verses 19-27). Jesus on Mount Olivet (Mark 11:1) harks back to Zech. 14:1-5, when God stands on the Mount to save Jerusalem in the final apocalyptic battle at the end of time.

From blind Bartimaeus shouting, “Jesus, Son of David!” (Mark 10:47) to the hosannas of the crowds, this is carefully orchestrated political street theater intended to convey a powerful message.

But the message turns out to be a nonviolent parody of conquest. There are no weapons. The humble king rides a donkey, not a warhorse (Zech. 9:9). And when he reaches the Temple, that pinnacle of religious and political power, he just looks around and then leaves. The crowds pick up their cloaks and melt away. Jesus returns the colt and trudges back to stay with friends in Bethany. Our text ends in anticlimax.

In Mark, much has happened during Jesus’ last week: the Temple’s finances disrupted, public teaching and debate, anointing, Passover meal, arrest, Peter’s denial, two trials, execution, burial — and a brief resurrection report.

As we reflect on the resurrection, we turn to 1 Corinthians 15, our earliest account of Jesus rising from death. Paul wrote this letter only two decades later, around A.D. 53, after planting several house churches in Cor­inth. Paul responds to a report of factions tearing the assemblies apart, much of it along divisions of moral-religious practices and social class.

Paul opens by proclaiming “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), then demonstrating what a self-emptying, cruciform life looks like. He closes with the promise of the coming reign of God — linking Jesus’ physical resurrection with that of all those who are “in Christ.”

Here are a few salient points from chapter 15. Not an original witness himself, Paul first hands on what has already become bedrock tradition: Jesus died “for our sins” and was raised “according to the scriptures” (15:3-4). Paul includes both named and unnamed witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, mostly confirming the later Gospels and Acts. He may have omitted the women at the tomb because, in that culture, men assumed women’s testimony was less trustworthy than theirs.

Second, as a creative thinker, Paul makes a theological leap in 15:20-22 that the Gospel writers do not: Jesus’ resurrection is “the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being.” Although our Old Testament does not speak of bodily resurrection of the godly, by the time law-observant Jews were being slaughtered in the Maccabean Revolt of 167 B.C., we find such hope expressed in 2 Maccabees 7 and Dan. 12:2. But Paul is the first writer to tie Jesus’ resurrection to a general resurrection of faithful believers.

Third, Jesus’s bodily resurrection is political. He will return to destroy “every ruler and authority and power” (15:24). The souls of believers do not “go to heaven when we die”; rather, Jesus will return to an earth renewed for those “in Christ” who will have resurrected bodies so animated by God’s Spirit that they will never die again (15:50-57).

Beliefs about resurrection differ widely in our churches today, just as they did in Corinth. Was Jesus’s resurrection physical or metaphorical? What are the implications of each view?

Reta Halteman Finger is writing a Bible study blog on the Gos­pel of John at

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