While important to the entirety of Pannenberg’s theology, the ability to make historical affirmations remains central to the content and persuasiveness of the theology itself. Under the theme of revelation the importance of God’s self-revelation was highlighted and here in the discussion of Jesus the historicity of the resurrection plays a critical role in connecting the historical person Jesus to the incarnate eternal Son. The resurrection cannot be limited to a story or an existential event, but must occur in the history of creation. If not it is subject to the anthropological critique and can hardly be understood as the self-revelation of God. Its occurrence is the means by which unity is maintained between Jesus and God.
In Jesus – God and Man Pannenberg developed 7 theses on the significance of the resurrection and returns to them in a more developed way in volume two of the Systematic Theology.2 Important in both discussions is the unity of the resurrection event and word. The significance of the resurrection is to be found in the inherent significance of the event itself and so “the idea of raising from the dead to a new eternal life has its roots in Jewish eschatological hope” (II, 347).
Previously, Pannenberg had connected the resurrection to Jewish expectations, but not to the development of the tradition before the coming of Christ. In the systematic it is Israel’s developed terminology of eschatological hope, that came from their wrestling with the problem of evil and suffering, that the disciples utilized when they understood “that it was the reality of the life of resurrection that Jesus [had] made known to them” (II, 349). The resurrection event was recognized in the apocalyptic framework of Judaism, but the resurrection of Jesus from the dead interpreted the apocalyptic tradition. Thus Pannenberg states that the received vision was “profoundly altered by the linking of this idea to the reality of Jesus encountered in the Eater appearances” (II, 349).
The resurrection is the means by which Pannenberg attaches the history of Jesus to the history of God, the future of Jesus to the destiny of humanity, and opens the message of the salvation beyond Israel to all God’s creatures. The Christian message then rests on the actuality of Jesus’ resurrection.
In thesis six Pannenberg points to two separate traditions in early Christianity that separately and simultaneously affirm the resurrection of Jesus as a reality, namely the empty tomb tradition and the appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples. While Pannenberg argues that the case can be made for the resurrection as a historical occurrence, it is often dismissible because the secular or deist mindset does not see creation as the field of divine that makes the resurrection within the reach of God. Short of the coming of God the resurrection of Jesus is not going to be proven, but what Pannenberg has done is argued for an understanding of the Triune God that includes a God–World relationship that includes the possibility of resurrection and then demonstrated its likelihood within this framework. Having been in the public dialogue over truth and extensively engaged in scientific and philosophical debates makes Pannenberg’s proposal in the systematic more thorough and convincing than in his previous monograph. By setting the discussion of the resurrection within an entire systematic Pannenberg also demonstrates the dramatic importance the actual historical resurrection plays in the truth claims of Christian theology.