Was Jesus Raised in the Same Body in Which He Died?
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Christians have a tome of teachings from the Bible that are important to our faith that relate to the existence and nature of God, the origin and nature of human beings, as well as the sinful propensity of humans, salvation and the afterlife, as well as what the future holds for us, and the rest of creation. Among these, one of the most important biblical teaching surrounds the coming of Jesus the Messiah, His life, death, resurrection, His current activity as one who intercedes between us and God, and His future coming.
Within the doctrine of the Christ (Greek for anointed one, the Messiah) is the passion and exaltation of Jesus in A.D. 33, when He suffered on the cross for the sins of all that who believe in Him and His subsequent resurrection.
In the last blog I sought to demonstrate that the historical and biblical evidence is clear that Jesus rose from the dead. The subsequent question, however, is what rose? Did He materialize in something that looked like His flesh, as a spirit being of some sort similar to a hologram, or did His flesh actually not see corruption, and He was brought back to life a human being, albeit no longer subject to death or decay?
The biblical text speaks of the Christ be raised from an empty tomb (Luke 24:1-, et al). Either His body de-materialized or in His body He came out of the tomb, and interacted with Mary of Magdala in the garden (John 20:11-18). He showed Himself alive to the Twelve and other disciples, even offering His flesh to be touched by them, “because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). John’s Gospel invited Thomas, who wanted more proof of His resurrection to touch the scars in His hands and side (John 20:24-29). The apostolic preaching that we observe in the Acts affirms that the flesh of Jesus did not see decay (Acts 2:25-31; 13:34-37), and before His ascension He had a meal with certain disciples demonstrating a resurrection of His actual body from the dead (John 2:25-31; 13:34-37). More could be given, but two more will suffice. In 1 Corinthians 15, the visible and physical resurrected Lord served to support the reason for our faith (1 Cor 15:1-19. When Paul later speaks of Jesus’ body as a “spiritual body” this is not the same as a “spirit body.” Gifts of the Spirit are not “spirit gifts” and “spiritual body” refers to a body energized by the Holy Spirit.
The church fathers and church creeds were specific about the fact that Jesus was resurrected in a body of flesh. The biblical passages are perspicuous that we will be raised like Christ, and when this creed speaks of this it says, in Latin and Greek, “the resurrection of the flesh.” The Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed say the same. One of the earliest church father to speak of this was around A.D. 150, who said “Why did he rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh?” Tertullian, the great Latin father (ca. A.D. 180) wrote a book on the Resurrection of the Flesh, saying that the saved and unsaved, like Jesus, will have the “restoration of their flesh.” The first theologian of the church, Irenaeus, says that the church believes in the “resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven in the flesh of the the beloved “Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
One would think this issue would settled, seeing how the biblical authors speak of Jesus’ post-resurrection body, and how the church through its Fathers, and its creeds have spoken so clearly about the resurrection of the flesh of the Christ, but such is not the case.
Nonetheless, in our day, I believe largely due to the growing influence of existential thought that has invaded the United States from the European Continent, several scholars who were recognized as evangelicals, embraced something less than the orthodox view of the post-resurrection body of Jesus. Without mentioning names or the full statement of their views, let me state their positions. Though each of these scholars is essentially orthodox in other biblical doctrines, they have a sliding scale of heterodoxy in this subject. One has said that at one point the dead corpse of Jesus did not return back to life, but simply disappeared. He entered into the invisible world of God, with Jesus making Himself visible to the senses of the disciples. Another believed that Jesus was essentially invisible and immaterial, though He could materialize at will. During the forty days after His death and at His ascension He was visible for the benefit of the disciples, not because this was His true form. Last of all a respected evangelical theologian argued that the body of Jesus was in fact mortal during the 40 days before His ascension, but then finally became spirit in nature.
Of course, one of the main reasons for this deviation is that Jesus “walked through walls,” or “vanished” from the sight of the disciples, and He ascended from the earth. I remind the reader that before the resurrection of Jesus in His mortal body walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee, transported with the devil during His temptations (once to the pinnacle of the temple), and was transfigured, shinning as the sun. None of this required a non-physical body, and neither does the resurrection body of our Lord.
Let me end this with a portion of wonderful poem from John Updike, in his “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” who eloquently speaks to the meaning of the Resurrection of our Lord.
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was His body.
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
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