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The Sticking-Point

by Tim O'Hearn

On the night of July 16-17, 1918, in Ekaterinburg, Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered. Those shot in the basement of the Ipatiev House included the Tsar and his wife Alexandra, as well as their son Aleksei, and daughters Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia. Over the years, many people have believed, with absolutely no evidence, that at least one of the daughters survived. Some said Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna lived. Most commonly, though, the survivor was believed to have been Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Famously, one woman claimed to be Anastasia. That story led to a movie starring Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergman (1956) and a Disney animated movie (1997). One thing that makes the theories of the survival of the youngest daughter most interesting is her name. Anastasia is the Greek word commonly translated resurrection.

The anastasis (resurrection) appears to have been one of Paul’s main themes. He wrote extensively about it to the churches in Corinth and Thessalonica.

On more than one occasion it was the sticking point that caused his message to be rejected. In Athens, Paul was asked to tell the philosophers about his “new” ideas. His sermon carried the listeners from multiple gods to the God who is not made by man’s skill who will judge the world by one man, which he proved by raising him from the dead. “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” (Acts 17:32) But it was not just gentiles who could not get beyond the resurrection. Years later in Jerusalem, he intentionally antagonized some Jews while defending himself against charges of defiling the Temple.

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. (Acts 23:6)

It was this belief in the resurrection, not the supposed defiling of the Temple, that caused the Jews to demand Paul be put into custody, and which eventually led to his transfer to Rome to appear before the emperor.

What was it that made this such a difficult point for people to accept? They could accept Jesus as a good teacher, or a moral man. Some might even accept the concept of Jesus as atoning sacrifice, as long as he was still in the grave. But when the resurrection comes into the picture, people began objecting to the teaching.

Resurrection stories were not new, even then. For two millennia the Egyptians had based their whole theology on a resurrection story, that of Osiris. The Greeks had resurrection stories about Adonis and Eurydice. They used a resurrection story to explain the seasons. Even the Jewish scripture was full of resurrection stories. Most famously, both prophets Elijah and Elisha had raised people from the dead. Even after his death Elisha was able to resurrect people. (2 Kings 13:21)

It would be easy to argue that these resurrections were effected by someone else (Isis, Orpheus, Elijah, Elisha); easy but inaccurate. Some of the ancient myths involved self-resurrection as well. So what is the difference between the familiar resurrections and the one Paul preached? Perhaps the difference was a matter of time. Other than the miracles of the Jewish prophets, most of the resurrection myths happened long before they were recorded. Nobody had a personal acquaintance with Osiris, or Persephone. Paul, on the other hand, said he had personally seen the resurrected Christ. And if nobody believed him, “he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present.” (1 Cor 15:6) Resurrection is well and good when it is an abstract concept. It becomes a sticking point when it is a provable fact.

The resurrection of Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova has been, at best, a nice theory. The resurrection of Jesus was well established. For some, that was a problem; for others, that is hope.