The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright can be considered the quintessential book on the resurrection. In this massive tome, Wright covers every aspect of what resurrection was understood to be in the ancient world. He provides a full historical profile, describing the beliefs of Judaism, paganism, and the surrounding culture. From this landscape, Wright shows how the historical account of the resurrection of Christ fits into the big picture.
The author clearly defines what resurrection is and is not. Resurrection is not the afterlife; it is not life after death, or mere resuscitation. Resurrection is clearly “life after life after death.” That is to say, resurrection is when someone dies and then, after life after death, comes back to their resurrected body in this life once again. Using numerous examples from the religious beliefs of the day, Wright shows us that no one outside of Judaism believed in resurrection. The narrow definition of resurrection quickly silences any claim that the Christian understanding of resurrection could have been borrowed by a Pagan religious belief in a dying and rising god. The resurrection of Christ was altogether original in manner and form.
The author deals with the historical evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the rise of Christianity. The combination of the aspects of Jesus’ unique life, teachings, subsequent death, burial and resurrection all coalesce into a strong case that Jesus was truly the Messiah. What would make the early Christians even believe that Christ was the Messiah? Wright argues that: “…the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus, alive again…though admitting it involves accepting a challenge at the level of worldview itself, the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead.”
What caused this belief in the resurrection of Jesus? Wright suggests that the combination of the empty tomb and the appearances of the living Jesus together necessitate such a conclusion. The author points out that the fact that people do not ordinarily rise from the dead is itself part of early Christian belief, not an objection to it.
The book as a whole is one large cumulative case for the Lordship of Jesus Christ, based entirely upon the vast and substantial evidence surrounding this central point in history. There is no other plausible explanation for the rise of the Christian faith than the veracity of the resurrection of Christ. Perhaps a greater miracle would be the rise of Christianity without the resurrection!
The Resurrection of the Son of God is recommended as reading for the serious student, as its sheer length and detail would overwhelm the casual reader. However, for those looking for the most scholarly depth on the historicity of the resurrection, this is it.