WAS THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS PHYSICAL OR SPIRITUAL – OR DID IT HAVE TO BE BOTH!!??
Beware of a Spreading Heresy: The View that the Resurrection of Jesus Was a Spiritual, Non-Physical Resurrection Only.
But Also Beware of the Teaching That the Resurrection Was Purely Physical!
An increasing number of evangelicals are being affected by a teaching on the resurrection which puts them close to a Jehovah's Witnesses teaching, this is the belief that the resurrection of Jesus was a purely spiritual resurrection!
The Centrality of the Resurrection
The teaching on the resurrection is right at the heart of truly biblical Christianity, indeed, without any teaching of the resurrection of Jesus, there is simply no Christianity!
'And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith'
(1 Corinthians15:14, NIV throughout).
If the Resurrection did not really happen, the apostles were false witnesses, our faith stands nowhere, and we are all dead in our sins; moreover it would mean that the 'dead in Christ' down through the ages have all eternally perished, and we're the most pitiable of people (1 Corinthians 15:19).
If we deny the resurrection of Jesus we simply have no hope or basis for any hope of salvation (Romans 10:9), so this is obviously a vital issue. The resurrection of the dead has rightly been described as standing right at the heart of the Christian Faith. But now let us carefully check out two vitally important aspects to the resurrection which the Holy Bible is careful to uphold:
The Physicality of the Resurrection
The teaching in many of the cults and sects is that the resurrection of Jesus was a “spiritual” one, but one has to be very concerned at the vagueness of the theology involved in this. Jesus Himself rejected any notion that He was like a spirit, or a ghost, in the resurrected state,
'They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”' (Luke 24:37-39)
To make it even more plain that His resurrection was fully of the body, Jesus then ate food in the presence of the disciples (verses 41-43). In fact, He ate food on four occasions after the Resurrection (Luke 24:30, 42-43; John 21:12-13; Acts 1:4).
There can be no doubt that Jesus stressed the physicality of His resurrected form. This is not surprising since the concept of spirits, ghosts and phantasms existed everywhere in the world of His time and He wanted the disciples to be in no doubt that His resurrection was an utterly meaningful resurrection of the body!
Plainly, Jesus also wanted to make it clear that the resurrection was based on the same body which had died. Thomas said he would not believe that the Lord had risen unless he could see the nail marks in His hands, put his finger where the nails had been and put his hand into the side of Jesus which had been torn by a Roman spear. Jesus was apparently able to satisfy these things for Thomas – see John 20:24-28 !
The Spirituality of the Resurrection
However, to say that the resurrection was an entirely physical resurrection may also lead us astray. I am a little concerned that in (correctly) opposing the 'spirit resurrection' teaching of certain of the cults, some evangelical writers seem to want to say that the resurrection was purely physical - but obviously this cannot be so and to say that the resurrection of Jesus was purely and wholly physical seems to be an example of having unwarranted confidence in the flesh, an approach which the New Testament would certainly reject! Notice this:
'On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them...' (John 20:19).
Quite obviously locked doors were no barrier
to the risen Jesus on this occasion nor one week later when He
again ignored locked doors – John 20:26. Jesus obviously
appeared unexpectedly on many of His post-resurrection
appearances. Yet in over-stressing the physicality of the
resurrection, a few evangelical writers now appear to claim that
Jesus was constantly in the company of the disciples
post-resurrection but this is not the picture which the
Holy Scriptures portray.
In his 1992 CRI newsletter interview with Ron Rhodes, for instance, Dr Norman Geisler, in rightly opposing the errors of the cults on this topic appears to go too far when he states his opposition to the view that Jesus,
“...only materialized on a few occasions”
(An article from the Interview column of the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 5: Number 1, 1992).
In fact, I would suggest that the New Testament itself makes it plain that Jesus, post-resurrection, was not always available to the disciples but appeared in times and places of His own choosing and the main reason for these appearances was to offer proof that His resurrection was genuine and true – see Acts 1:3-5. There were many of these appearances during the 40 days, but the text is clear that Jesus was concerned to offer evidence that He was alive (if He had lived among the disciples just as before, it would have been obvious to them that Jesus was alive!)
As further evidence of the suddeness and unexpectedness of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus just check out these verses: Matthew 28:9; Mark 16:9-14; Luke 24:13-16, 28-31 – especially note verse 31; Luke 24:36; John 20:19,26; John 21:1-4. To claim that the resurrection of Jesus was wholly physical does not do justice to these verses!! The resurrection was both physical and spiritual – it had to be! - otherwise the promises of God are of simply yet more physical existence!! Moreover, as we have seen, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus had a certain unpredictability to them.
'...The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual . The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.....just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.' (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
In rightly opposing the teaching that Jesus was 'as a spirit' following His resurrection, we should indeed affirm that He rose with the same physical body which He had had previously and that God is able to raise us too with our original bodies despite the fact that they may have apparently decomposed many hundreds of years previously! This is, of course, miraculous but the God we serve is the Creator and Sustainer of Heaven and Earth! We serve a miraculous God!
However, the renewed physical bodies would be useless to us but for the fact that the resurrection of the dead will also be a wholly spiritual resurrection. As we have been creatures of the dust, so we are to become as 'The Lord from Heaven' – inhabiting eternity in the company of God and His angels! Yes, there will still be a purpose for our physical bodies which – in the resurrection – will be dynamic, powerful and never again subject to any disease!
Praise the Lord!!